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Support the Compromise

The agreement that could free California from its financial straitjacket is at grave risk. The education community did not get everything it wanted when the governor and state Legislature reached this agreement and now may not support the complex package when it goes before the voters as a constitutional amendment next June. State Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig says, “The whole deal is up in the air.” A California Teachers Assn. official describes the group’s position as “probably more hostile neutral than neutral neutral.” Those attitudes are indefensible.

In the long run, everyone benefits from giving the state more fiscal maneuvering room--the schools included. Therefore, everyone should work together to encourage voters to pass the financing agreement--schools included.

The artificial spending limits imposed on the state by the 1979 Gann initiative have severely restricted the state’s ability to finance health-care and mental-health programs as well as provide services for poor people. At last there is the opportunity to relax the rigid Gann limits and increase the gasoline tax to meet critical transportation needs while increasing school spending with an unexpected tax windfall.

As negotiators strained to reach this agreement last month, Honig was at first a help, then a hindrance. He compromised when legislators from rural and suburban school districts wanted a larger share of education money, and he was even willing to give up some of the potential gains for schools that voters had passed under Proposition 98.

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Then he objected to deleting several guarantees in the agreement, including one that would have built any future state surplus money into the schools’ basic budget for the following year as called for in Proposition 98. But it is important to remember that schools still will receive more money than they did before Proposition 98 passed, although not as large a share of the surplus as they would have received before 98 was modified.

Honig said as much himself in withdrawing his opposition to the settlement the day it was announced. The negotiators did not make “the very extreme changes in Proposition 98 that were being considered,” Honig said then. “Basically, we were successful in beating back efforts to gut 98.”

California is a state in search of a financial solution for a host of problems, only one of which is the critical need for better education for its youngsters. In this constitutional amendment, it has the start of that solution, a compromise that deserves the widest possible public support.


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