Key Supreme Court Case Could Increase School-choice Possibilities In California

The week of January 27th is National School Choice Week, which is appropriate since a potentially landmark case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court could have wide-ranging implications for California parents who want more education options for their children. 

The case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, involves a Montana school-choice program that gives Montanans a tax credit if they contribute to a non-profit organization that provides scholarships to children to attend private schools, including religious schools.  The Montana Supreme Court struck down the program based on a so-called Blaine amendment provision in Montana’s state constitution that prevents government funding going to religious schools.

Blaine amendments are named after U.S. Congressman James Blaine, who proposed a failed U.S. constitutional amendment in 1875 that sought to bar government dollars from supporting schools “under the control of any religious sect.”  While Blaine’s proposal died in Congress, his idea gained support in many states because of the religious bias of the time. 

As the U.S. Department of Justice’s amicus brief in the Espinoza case notes, state Blaine amendments were adopted “during an era of widespread hostility to Catholicism in general and to Catholic schools in particular.”  In all, 37 states adopted Blaine amendments, including California. 

There are two provisions in the California state constitution that include Blaine amendment language.  

Article IX, Section 8 says, “No public money shall ever be appropriated for the support of any sectarian or denominational school, or any school not under the exclusive control of the officers of the public schools.” 

And Article XVI, Section 5 says that no state or local government entity will use public funds “to support or sustain any school, college, university, hospital, or other institution controlled by any religious creed, church, or sectarian denomination whatever.” 

Besides their biased history, there are a lot of things wrong with these amendments both legally and educationally. 

In 2017, the United States Supreme Court issued an important ruling in the case of Trinity Lutheran of Columbia v. Pauley, which involved Missouri’s Blaine amendment and the denial of a state grant to a church-run playground.  While not overturning all Blaine amendments, the Court said that U.S. Constitution’s Free Exercise Clause “protects religious observers from unequal treatment” and prohibits “laws that target the religious for ‘special disabilities’ based on their ‘religious status.’” 

Further, the Court said that Missouri’s policy “expressly discriminated against otherwise eligible recipients by disqualifying them from a public benefit solely because of their religious character.”  The Court declared that this penalty was “odious to our Constitution.” 

Thus, as the Justice Department’s brief points out, Montana’s Blaine amendment (and, by extension, California’s similar amendment) “discriminates on the basis of religious status” and “incapacitates a school from receiving public funds simply because of what it is—a ‘sectarian’ school, or a school controlled by a ‘church, sect, or denomination,’” and therefore “is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause.”

 Finally, given that Montana’s Blaine amendment was used to nix tax credits for donations to scholarship-granting organizations, the Justice Department harshly concludes, “It is bad enough for a State to discriminate against religion when distributing funds itself; it is even worse for a State to prohibit private parties from independently directing funds to religious entities.” 

Besides the legal argument against the Blaine amendments, there are important educational arguments as well. 

The educational choice programs that these amendments try to block have been shown, overall, to improve academic performance, graduation rates, college enrollment, civic engagement, crime rates, and student and parent satisfaction.

Former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement and Center for Education Reform CEO Jeanne Allen note, “Religiously affiliated schools in particular improve student achievement, attendance, and civic engagement.” 

Erica Smith and Dick Komer, who are senior attorneys at the Institute for Justice, which represents the plaintiff families in the Montana case, have writtenthat the Supreme Court “should make clear that Blaine Amendments are repugnant to religious neutrality and, in so doing, pave the way for greater educational opportunities, not just for Kendra Espinoza and her daughters, but for hundreds of thousands of families nationwide who desperately need these options.”  

If the Supreme Court does invalidate all state Blaine amendments, including California’s, it would clear the way for the enactment of an array of school-choice options, such as tax-credit scholarships and vouchers.  In California, polls show strong support for school choice, and without the obstacle of the state Blaine amendment, that support could become a political force for education change.

Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute and the author of the 2019 book Choosing Diversity: How Charter Schools Promote Diverse Learning Models and Meet the Diverse Needs of Parents and Children.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

Bonds a Risky Way to Deal With Pension Woes

Recently, this column exposed the foolishness of two proposed statewide bond measures: A $15 billion school bond, which will be on the March 3 ballot, as well as a “climate resiliency” bond.

Both are horribly flawed for several reasons, not the least of which that it makes no sense for California to go further into debt when we have a large surplus.

But at the local level, taxpayers need to be aware of a recent resurgence in the use of pension obligation bonds, a risky financing method that fell out of favor during the recession but is now making a comeback.

Fortunately, there is more scrutiny on this form of debt financing than in years past, which may help to dissuade our elected leaders from making ill-advised decisions.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Voters face hundreds of local tax measures

California voters have seen a deluge of local government tax and bond measures in recent elections and will face even more this year.

The California Taxpayers Association has counted 231 local sales and parcel tax increases and bond issues (which automatically increase property taxes if approved) on the March 3 primary ballot alone.

Hundreds more are headed for the November ballot as local officials capitalize on the higher voter turnouts of a presidential election year.

Turnout in March will be very lopsided in favor of Democrats due to the state’s increased role in choosing a presidential nominee of their party and November’s turnout also will be heavily Democratic, given the unpopularity of President Donald Trump.

Democrats are generally more willing to increase taxes than Republican or no-party-preference voters, so it makes perfect political sense to load up this year’s ballots with taxes.

Do cities, counties and school districts really need all of the new taxes they want voters to approve, given the strong increases in revenues from existing taxes they’ve enjoyed during nearly a decade-long economic boom?

Oddly enough, many do, because their costs, particularly for pensions and health care, have been rising faster than revenues — but don’t expect local officials to acknowledge those costs as they make their pitches to voters.

They will vaguely tell voters that the additional funds are needed for “public safety” or such popular services as parks.

Why the deception? They fear voters will be less willing to vote for new taxes if they are told the money would be spent on retirement costs, and they know their unions are less willing to finance candid campaigns.

The pending measures do comply, at least sketchily, with a recent state law that local officials dislike, requiring them to declare in their ballot summaries the tax effects of their proposals.

Last year, the Legislature voted to partially repeal that law, but Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the measure.

“I am concerned that this bill as crafted will reduce transparency for local tax and bond measures,” Newsom wrote in his veto message.

Yes, the measure would reduce transparency, and that was the whole point. Its author, Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, publicly declared his concern that telling voters how much their tax burdens would increase might discourage them from approving local tax measures.

At least one March tax measure also regenerates a simmering dispute over the vote margins needed to raise taxes for specific purposes.

Long-standing state law says that general purpose local taxes require only simple majority voter approval, but those for specific purposes take two-thirds votes.

A few years ago, the state Supreme Court indirectly hinted that special purpose taxes placed on the ballot by initiative petition might require only simple majority approval. Since then, local judges have both affirmed the two-thirds requirement and ruled that simple majorities are sufficient, creating a legal conflict that only the Supreme Court can resolve.

Overarching the battles over local taxes is whether the high Democratic turnouts this year will also favor a statewide measure to modify the iconic Proposition 13 property tax limit, enacted in 1978, and thus allow increased taxes on commercial property.

At the moment, polls indicate that it’s a tossup, but that’s before public employee unions and commercial property owners spend tens of millions of dollars to sway voters one way or the other.

This article was originally published by

How a Fake Rationing Scare Highlighted the Absurdity of California’s Actual Water Policies

Stamping out incorrect social-media information is like trying to halt those computer viruses that multiply bad files every time you close one. You can sometimes convince someone that the story isn’t quite right—only to see it pop up on myriad other feeds. After trying to serve as the “truth police” recently, I finally gave up. There are so many real problems to worry about, but lots of people seem determined to be upset by bogus ones.

The specific story involved water rationing. Former Gov. Jerry Brown signed two conservation-related laws in 2018 that were supposedly going into effect on Jan. 1. According to various social-media and blog posts, the new laws banned Californians from showering and doing laundry on the same day. Apparently, water inspectors would monitor each person’s water usage—and impose fines of $1,000 a day on water-wasting scofflaws.

In reality, the laws do not impose any such individual water limits. They “set water efficiency standards for utilities to follow in the decades to come,” explained The Sacramento Bee. The 55-gallon daily standards are systemwide average targets (by 2023). Any fines would come from the agencies, so ratepayers could technically be on the hook—but only in an indirect way. The allotments are close to the water levels Californians typically use in a day, anyway.

Nevertheless, it’s obvious why this fake news spread faster than water flowing over Oroville Dam’s collapsing spillway. It was yet another example of California’s wacky progressive politics, and the way lawmakers force residents to change their lives in the name of environmental uplift. Because the information was inaccurate, liberal wonks could easily dismiss the hullaballoo as a conspiracy theory with no connection to reality.

Yet despite the story’s bogus claims, conservatives are onto something serious—namely, a state water policy that prioritizes environmental interests over human uses, and that ultimately could lead to the kind of rationing that some people wrongly believed was happening now. The outrage is California policy makers have time to deal with a coming water crisis, but are doing little to avert it. Many seem almost eager for a world of rationing and limits.

The state’s historic drought is over, but Gov. Gavin Newsom is pushing a conservation-heavy approach to the water crisis and even is suing to stop the Trump administration’s plan to release more water for farms. California’s lawmakers haven’t built serious new water infrastructure in decades, since the time when the state’s population was roughly half its current size.

If you don’t build freeways, you shouldn’t wonder why the roads are constantly jammed.  If you don’t build water storage, you shouldn’t wonder why the reservoirs are empty during a drought. California officials don’t do much of either, no matter how many tax increases voters approve.

Depending on whose statistics one uses, between 48 percent and 65 percent of California’s water flows unimpeded to the Pacific Ocean. Instead of building new dams to capture water during wet years, California is, for instance, engaged in the largest dam-busting project in the nation—as it plans to demolish some dams on the Klamath River along the Oregon border.

In the midst of the drought, state and federal officials were depleting reservoirs to help a few salmon swim toward the Pacific (where they’re eaten by bass on the way). That epitomizes the state’s water policies—a constant push for “pulse flows,” and less emphasis on saving water for cities and farms. Californians have passed multiple water bonds over the past few years, but very little of it funds new storage. In fact, recent bond money is going to help tear down those Klamath dams, thus reducing storage.

The 602-foot Shasta Dam in the far north was actually designed to reach 800 feet. A plan to raise it a mere 18.5 feet—providing enough water to fill two-thirds of Folsom Lake—has been scuttled after steadfast opposition from environmentalists and state officials. These policies aren’t even helping fish populations, but serve as a handy excuse to always deprive Californians of the water that helps our communities thrive.

“Droughts are nature’s fault,” said U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock (R–Calif.). “But water shortages are our fault. They are a deliberate choice we made in the 1970s when we made the construction of new reservoirs endlessly time-consuming and ultimately cost prohibitive.”

Ultimately, we can pursue water abundance or scarcity. That Bee story rebutting the water-rationing scare quotes a State Water Resources Control Board official who thinks a target of only 40 to 45 gallons a person is more reasonable. That gives the game away. The state can keep lowering the targets until there’s no choice but to ration water.

Sure, those social-media posts were wrong to suggest that water-rationing policies already have arrived in California. But unless state officials take a different approach to water policy, that day may be coming sooner than we think.

This column was first published in the Orange County Register.

Gov. Newsom’s Housing Promises Fail to Produce

A Governor’s Budget summary always boasts more than it has delivered, as well as what it promises to deliver in the future.  Governor Newsom’s description of the 2020-2021 Budget – his second effort – is no exception to that truism.   

The budget document’s so-called “A” pages, summarizing next year’s fiscal blueprint, are full of wishful look-backs, numerous “investment” citations (as if simply spending billions is the solution to a problem) and still more hollow assurances of serenity for the private sector.   

Truth is, the record shows that few of the Governor’s past hoped-fors have come true.  Nor is there much expectation that throwing more of the same – legislation, public policies and money – at complex matters will do any good.  

Take housing, for example. When he ran for office two years ago, candidate Gavin Newsom promised that under his leadership the state would add 3.5 million units of housing to the state’s insufficient total by the year 2025 – equating to about 500,000 per year.  (That might have been asking too much since only twice in its 169-year history has California produced even half that number of new homes in one year.)  The building industry and other housing advocates cheered the vow and expected radical change to follow.

Yet, last year, after the Governor – and the Legislature – spent billions of dollars and purportedly “streamlined” the local approval process, building permits went down, to an annual level of just more than 110,000 units, a full 12 percent, according to the state’s Department of Finance (DOF).  The agency also reported that permits for multifamily housing were down nearly 20 percent. This occurred despite the Governor’s report that with last year’s legislation and administrative actions Sacramento had “paved a way for the state and local jurisdictions to address” California’s housing crisis.  One wonders whether governmental actions were instead “paving a way” to more malaise.

Could it be that lawmakers and the Governor have gotten the housing fix wrong?  After all, the state’s chief executive, in addition to pointing out how he’s taken considerable administrative actions to stimulate desperately needed production, highlights several legislative accomplishments from last year, as well.  For example, although his overview of the housing problem in this year’s budget speaks to the laggard local approval process and mounting local barriers to new construction, in the same document the Governor celebrates bills he signed into law that seriously constrain or discourage it. 

AB 1482 is one of those bills.  AB 1482 (Chiu) among other things, subjects a California landlord’s eviction actions to dispute – typically requiring a court’s review and response.  Such cases are costly, including a loss of rent, and rarely vindicate the landlord. The bill – now a gubernatorial-approved law – also caps state rent increases, ultimately discouraging builders from building.

Governor Newsom doubled down on AB 1482 by spending millions in state funding last year – in keeping with “the need to create stable housing among renters” – to further assist the legal maneuvering of tenants.

Furthermore, in this year’s Budget recap, the Governor lauds as reform of California’s arcane land-use and project-approval practices the enactment last year of SB 113 (Skinner).  He calls it a win for housing. Yet, the legislation, while prohibiting certain local policies which inhibit production (an unmistakable good thing), it preserves housing’s biggest constraints, such as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and locally legislated limits on growth. 

Also in the summary, the Governor has harsh things to say, as he should, about local impact fees – especially since they run as high as $150,000 per house.  But, as the solution he touts a voter-approved bond for K-12 public schools and higher education because theoretically the more money that goes to schools means that districts will demand lower fees.  That’s sort of true since SB 50, which passed in 1998, restricts gouging builders. But, school tariffs add up to less than 10 percent of the problem of locally skyrocketing fees. What about the remainder?   

Finally, the Governor can’t make up his mind between using a carrot or stick in dealing with communities’ reluctance to build new housing.  Indeed, Budget summary rhetoric includes superlatives about local governments, using such terms as “encourage”, “technical assistance” and “working with” to illustrate a more cooperative approach.   

Yet, just a few short paragraphs later the Governor embraces different language, talking about new legal remedies available to state government and threatening to withhold cash from localities which don’t approve housing.  And, in case you didn’t believe his courtroom strategy, remember that the Governor sued the City of Huntington Beach for its failure to identify adequate sites for development.

This year’s Budget summary talks a good game, so far, but we’re still waiting for the Governor to produce matching results.

Timothy L. Coyle is a consultant specializing in housing issues.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.

Homelessness Task Force Isn’t Up To The Task

A state homelessness task force is recommending that local governments be hauled into court if they aren’t moving people off the streets. It’s unlikely to help. The most probable outcome is an increased burden on the courts and a higher dose of politics into an arena where politics have already failed.

The idea is part of a recently released set of proposals issued by the 13-member group appointed last year by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The task force wants to amend the state constitution so that the state could sue counties and cities if they don’t cut their homeless populations. Newsom wants the amendment on the November ballot.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who with Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg is chairing the Council of Regional Homeless Advisors, “argues that the state needs to carry a big stick to convince local governments that they will face consequences if they don’t get people off the streets — including the possible loss of local control.”

Some local governments have already found a way to cut their homeless populations. They herd their homeless residents out of their jurisdictions and into other cities, where they become someone else’s problem. It’s not hard to envision an environment in which an amendment weaponizes the practice and cities play a numbers game, moving the homeless around from locality to locality as if they are pieces in a game of hot potato.

While the ballot measure has received the most coverage, the task force is also, according to Ridley-Thomas’ office:

  • Recommending “strengthening renter protections, cracking down on rent gouging,” which will only make matters worse since those steps will inflame the housing shortage.
  • Hoping to provide the homeless “with rent subsidies and other support to remain housed,” a moral hazard that will swell the numbers of those demanding subsidies and support.
  • And suggesting the “streamlining the construction of permanent supportive housing, affordable housing, and service-enriched temporary shelters,” an idea that is about half right, as the permitting process for all housing needs to be streamlined.

There’s not much from the rest of the task force’s 40 recommendations to inspire confidence. It naturally includes new spending, but only a single reference to the “substance abuse” problems that are a significant part of the problem. Little happens unless that factor is thoroughly addressed.

As PRI’s Tim Anaya has noted, the task force’s members “all represent a government-only approach to addressing California’s homeless crisis.” Meanwhile, the infantry doing the dirty and real work on the streets, made up of the private charities and nonprofit organizations that have no political or bureaucratic agendas to follow, and are not part of the homeless-industrial complex that doesn’t want the problem solved, was shut out. This is a government show, doomed from the start.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

California State Budget Proposal: More of the Same

With all the breaking national news, many taxpayers have little bandwidth in their attention span to focus on the state budget. Moreover, the state budget process can be indecipherable even for political insiders. But taxpayers should be paying attention for the simple reason that it’s their money that is being spent.

With no pretense at being comprehensive, here are the most important things taxpayers should know about the state budget proposal that was introduced by Gov. Gavin Newsom on January 10th.

First, the proposed 2020-2021 budget submitted by the governor in January almost certainly will be different from the final budget, which must be enacted by June 15, 2020. There is much wrangling among politicians to be done before we get a final spending plan. Also, unlike years past, the budget will likely be on time. Budget stalemates are now rare given that California is awash in taxpayer dollars and legislators no longer get paid if the budget is late.

Second, the governor’s budget is huge. Its proposed $222.2 billion in spending is larger than any in California history. What else would one expect?

To read the entire column, please click here.

Gavin Newsom’s Solution to California’s Homelessness Problem: Throw Another Billion Dollars at It

California’s homeless population keeps skyrocketing, and so has the number of bills aiming at solving the homelessness problem. Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a billion-dollar plan designed to get more houses built for those who need it. But even that much money isn’t likely to help many people if the underlying problem remains unchanged. To solve California’s homelessness problem, you have to address inflexible zoning rules and ineffective municipal bureaucracies.

Newsom’s executive order allocates $750 million to build more affordable housing units and to establish a California Access to Housing and Services Fund within the state’s Department of Social Services. The goal is to pay rent for individuals facing homelessness and to make vacant state properties available immediately as shelter options. An additional $695 million will be used to boost preventative health care measures for the homeless through Medi-Cal Healthier California for All.

This follows 18 housing bills that Newsom signed into law last fall. The bills are supposed to accelerate housing production, but they don’t have much teeth. They require local jurisdictions to publicly share information about zoning ordinances and other building rules—not to roll the regs back, just to be more transparent about them. They also ask cities and counties to maintain an inventory of state surplus land sites suitable for residential development.

California voters also approved $4 billion in bonds last year for affordable housing programs.

“You can’t just throw money at homelessness and a lack of affordable housing and expect that you’re going to achieve the result that you’re hoping to achieve,” says David Wolfe, legislative director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. After all, it hasn’t worked so far.

California is home to almost half of America’s homeless population, and the median price for a house there is more than twice the national level. Fixing that problem means building more houses, but zoning laws and anti-development activism make that difficult. Serious reform will require moves like modifying city codes to let developers build units that aren’t single-family homes. And dialing back rules, such as the California Environmental Quality Act, that let neighborhood activists block new construction with faux-environmental concerns. And, in general, clearing away the thicket of state and local regulations that get in the way of meeting the demand for housing.

“If you’re a city council,” San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting told Curbed San Francisco, “the people who vote for you oppose the housing you’re creating, and you’re creating housing for the people who have yet to move in.”

Californians also have to contend with a perverse incentive built into Proposition 13, a measure that limits property-tax increases on homes until they’re sold. This gives cities a reason to encourage commercial instead of residential development.

As legislators continue to pour money into housing programs, perhaps they should think more about how to address the broken system responsible for the mess. In the meantime, others will look for ways to route around the system. Silicon Valley giants have begun to propose their own housing projects, underscoring the state government’s inability to move forwards with its own reforms.

MASHA ABARINOVA is a Burton C. Gray journalism intern.

This article was originally published by

California’s SB 50: A Model For Addressing the Urban Housing Crisis

Earlier this month, California state senator Scott Wiener began the third year of his push for a state law to override local zoning and authorize midsize apartment buildings near transit stops. The latest version of his bill, SB 50, comes with a twist that augurs well for its passage and eventual impact. 

The bill tackles a thorny problem. Longtime residents, especially homeowners, resist neighborhood change. They’re also the dominant force in local politics. The preserve-the-neighborhood norm would be innocuous if it was limited to a few locales, but when all of a metro region’s municipalities throw up barricades to new housing—and just as environmentalists are rallying to protect exurban greenfields—the cumulative effect is disastrous: wildly unaffordable housing, a working-class exodussprawling homeless encampments, and enormous foregone productivity. This is the story of coastal California since the seventies.

The ambition of SB 50 is to turn the clock back to an earlier era—not just pre-1970, but before the Great Depression, when single-family homes in growing cities were commonly torn down and replaced by small apartment buildings. After World War II, this pattern of incremental densification largely disappeared. Today, the expansion of urban housing stock is basically confined to formerly industrial and commercial zones. The majority of buildable land in major cities remains locked up in the zoning straightjacket. Once a tract has been zoned and developed for single-family homes, it’s stuck.

Two questions have dogged Wiener’s effort to loosen the straitjacket. First, how could a bill that upsets so many homeowners and local officials ever pass? And second, even if the bill passes, what’s to keep homeowner-dominated cities from making the nominally permissible new housing practically impossible to build? To mollify opponents, Wiener has made it clear that his bill would not touch local authority over demolition controls, design standards, permitting procedures, impact fees, and more. But the less that the bill preempts, the easier it will be to evade.

The new version of SB 50 deftly resolves this dilemma. Instead of immediately “up-zoning” all residential parcels within a half mile of a transit stop—as the prior versions would have done—the bill defines a default zoning “envelope” for these parcels. Local governments will get two years either to accept the default or propose an alternative “local flexibility plan” that creates an equivalent amount of developable space in the aggregate, while also scoring well on certain transit and fair-housing metrics. A flexibility plan takes effect only if approved by the state housing department; otherwise, the SB 50 up-zoning kicks in, by default. 

The provision for local flexibility plans should make SB 50 both easier to pass and more resistant to local gamesmanship. Though some local governments may pursue the old strategy of regulatory obstruction, that approach carries legal risk. The more prudent course for many local officials will involve submitting a local flexibility plan that lightens the density load on their most resistant constituents while authorizing commensurately greater heights and residential density in more supportive neighborhoods, as well as in formerly commercial or industrial zones.

Once a local government follows this path, the state housing department will exert significant control over the stratagems by which a municipality might kill development on newly up-zoned sites. A local flexibility plan must “increase overall feasible housing capacity,” as the new SB 50 declares. To deliver on that goal, the state agency could insist that a flexibility plan put reasonable limits on fees, permitting times, demolition controls, and more.

The state agency might even allow regional local governments to exchange “SB 50 density” with one another. Beverly Hills mayor John Mirisch has made a name for himself fighting SB 50. If another Southern California city were willing to take Beverly Hills’s mandated density—for a price—Mirisch could propose a deal, perhaps even subsidizing an expansion of the other city’s transit system. His wealthy constituents would have no trouble affording it. However outlandish Beverly Hills’s land-use practices may be, California will be better off if Mirisch devotes his formidable resources to wheeling and dealing over flexibility plans, rather than spearheading a campaign for SB 50’s repeal.

California has long been the poster child for housing-policy dysfunction, but the problems facing San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Diego are also playing out in superstar cities across the nation and worldwide. The new SB 50 is a model that can travel. Urbanists everywhere should take heed.

Christopher S. Elmendorf is Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Law at UC Davis School of Law.

This article was originally published by City Journal Online.

Change in Priorities for California Voters

The new Public Policy Institute of California poll shows a continuing trend in voters moving their top priority in state spending from K-12 education to health and human services. The homelessness issue is undoubtedly fueling that movement. 

Looking at the current PPIC poll issued yesterday, there is little space between voters’ choosing the top two concerns for California government spending. PPIC asked likely voters which area of state government spending should be the top priority. Likely voters chose health and human services at 40%; K-12 public education 38%; higher education 12% and prisons and corrections 7%. All Adults polled broke dead even on health and human services and K-12 public education at 39% apiece. 

The PPIC release accompanying the poll noted that Californians were slightly more likely to name K-12 public education as the top priority for state spending last January. So there seems to be only a slight difference between the two areas.

But take a look at the trend over the last four years of likely voter responses to the same question.

In January 2015 when PPIC asked the question, 57% of likely voters chose K-12 public education as the first priority. Health and human services got 19%, just above higher education at 17%.

The trends generally continued as measured by the PPIC January polls in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 with K-12 education dropping percentage points and health and human services gaining. No loss or gain was more than 5%—until this year.

The change from 2019 to 2020 for both K-12 public education and health and human services was much more dramatic. K-12 lost 11% from last year as the top priority for likely voters, dropping from 49% to 38%. Health and human services gained 10% from 30% to 40%.

Look no further than the question on the top concern for California voters to find the reason for the shift.

When asked which one issue the governor and legislators should work on in 2020, homelessness topped the list by more than two to one. Likely voters chose homelessness as the top priority at 23% over the second closest concern, housing costs, at 11%.

In another sign of changing priorities for likely voters, jobs and the economy, usually one or two on past lists of concerns, was fifth at 7%, although certainly within the margin of error of the two items before it: environment, pollution, global warming at 9%; immigration, illegal immigration at 8%.

Education funding was not in the top five.  If the new attitudes hold, that could be a significant factor come election time.

Mark Baldassare, PPIC president, CEO and poll master observed as voters go to the polls to vote on tax increases for education measures: “This recent shift in spending priorities could have implications for California voters support for K-12 spending measures in the 2020 election cycle.” 

Joel Fox is editor and co-publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.