“Education Finance Districts” Headed to the Governor

Awaiting a final vote on the Assembly floor is legislation aimed at making it easier for school districts to raise local revenue.

The measure, AB 267, was sent to the Assembly Sept. 3 by the 40-member Senate, which approved it on a party line 23 to 14 vote. The Assembly is expected to send the bill to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger before Sept. 11, the end of the 2009 legislative session.

While it does not lower the two-thirds voter approval necessary to raise taxes both at the state and local level, the bill creates “education finance districts” in which three or more contiguous school districts can band together to try to increase local taxes.

After agreeing on how to divide and spend any new tax revenue, the districts could then collectively place a parcel tax on the ballot for voter approval.

Under current law, only individual school districts can attempt to increase parcel taxes within their district boundaries.

“Our schools are being starved for funding, and communities must be able to act to ensure that the education of our children doesn’t suffer,” said Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, an Antioch Democrat, the bill’s author and a candidate for state superintendent of public instruction in 2010.

“This measure brings local communities together so they can take their case for funding directly to their voters.”

In counties in which there are only two school districts both can create a finance district. Similarly, in counties where there is only one district it can join with two or more districts in neighboring counties.

The measure also forbids wealthier districts from refusing to allow a neighboring lower-income district from joining a finance district.

Torlakson and the bill’s backers assert that given the state’s containing fiscal woes and sharp reduction in state support for public schools – more than $10 billion over two fiscal years – districts need more mechanisms to attempt to generate more local income.

This year, Torlakson also introduced a constitutional amendment, ACA 10, which, if approved by voters, would lower the approval threshold for increasing local parcel taxes from two-thirds to a simple majority. That bill, however, never got past the Assembly floor and cannot be acted on until next year.

Opponents of the bill, the California Taxpayers’ Association and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, object to making it easier to increase taxes.

Republican senators voted against the measure.

Their action prompted one Democratic senator to privately quip: “Thought these were the big believers in local control.”

The GOP governor has not taken a position on the measure but has said repeatedly during budget negotiations this year that the level of state cuts in public school support require individual districts to have more spending flexibility.

Torlakson introduced an identical bill last year as well as a constitutional amendment to lower the voter approval level. Both measures died in the Senate.



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