At age 74, Jerry Brown, has become the political hero among California’s Latino students who are among the biggest beneficiaries of the tax measure that the governor championed to victory against long odds.
It is Latinos who make up half the students in the state’s public schools—more than half in urban districts—that will see some of the biggest gains from Proposition 30 passed by voters last week.
The Cal State system will refund a $249 tuition hike to its 425,000 students and reconfigure financial aid packages as it reduces tuition downward to last year’s $5,472 rate.
Community college campuses will get an additional $210 million this fiscal year that can be used to enroll 20,000 more students.
Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest school district, is typical of how K-12 schools have been helped as it alone would have had to cut $255 million this year and forced teacher layoffs and furloughs.
Until passage of Proposition 30, California had ranked 47th in per-pupil spending.
“I know a lot of people had some doubts, had some questions—can we really go to the people and ask them for a tax?” Brown said. “Well here we are, we have a vote of the people.”
“I think this is the only place in America where a state actually said, ‘Let’s raise our taxes for our kids, for our schools, for our California dream.”
Jerry Brown’s fight for Proposition 30
Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, credits Brown for almost single-handedly pressing for passage of Proposition 30 at a time when the state’s unemployment exceeded 10 percent and most tax measures elsewhere were defeated.
“Voters are very reluctant to raise taxes at any time, and they’re even more reluctant to tax themselves,” said Schnur. “As skeptical as they are about about politicians, they’re even more worried about the state of our public schools.”
Brown motivated Democrats, especially Latino and young voters, behind the measure with a final month blitz that reminded many of the Jerry Brown of the 1970s when he served two terms as governor.
“This was classic Jerry Brown—the Jerry who can perform political magic that few other politicians can,” said Hollywood restaurateur Lucy Casado, a founder of the Mexican American Political Association and a longtime Brown supporter.
One governor, for instance was recalled by disgruntled voters in 2003 over the state’s growing financial problems, and even movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger left office two years ago highly unpopular over troubles managing California’s budget.
But by championing the ballot measure, Brown has insured that for the first time in almost a decade and a half, the state has truly balanced its budget.
For the first time in more than 120 years, Democrats also won two-thirds of both houses of the Legislature, freeing Brown to move on a more visionary path that may determine his ultimate political legacy.
“I’m very optimistic,” Brown said. “We have quite a big agenda facing us.”
Brown and others say the extra political boost for Proposition 30, which won by 8 percentage points, has also made California a solidly Blue State.
“It was saved by a transforming electorate who mobilized in the last few weeks,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director at the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles.
“A broad-based tax increase is political poison on the ballot, and it didn’t stand a chance.”