The Trouble With Measure EE

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

California’s schools are woefully underfunded. Taxes on property should be higher. So why am I rooting against Measure EE, the L.A. Unified School District measure on the June 4 special election ballot?

Because process matters when it comes to democracy. And L.A. Unified flunked the basics of process on this measure, even when it didn’t have to.

The measure is the product of the settlement of this year’s teachers’ strike in Los Angeles. After that bitter negotiation, the goal was to go and get voters to approve more money to do all the new things—especially around class size and assistance to schools and teachers—that were issues in the strike.

But the school district and union wanted to move fast—too fast. And they weren’t careful in writing the measure. It included a mistake that created confusion about what property would be taxed under the parcel measure. Then, when L.A. Unified superintendent Austin Beutner sought to change the language and correct the mistake, he went forward without public debate or approval of the board.

As a result, there is real and unnecessary confusion about what is being taxed. And the measure is subject to an ongoing legal challenge—so even if it wins the necessary supermajority from voters, it may never go into effect.

Yes, sometimes there are very minor technical errors in ballot measures that can be ignored. But this problem isn’t minor or technical; it’s about the tax at the heart of a tax measure.

If Measure EE’s supporters were wise, they would have slowed down, got everything right, and called an election later in the year, perhaps in the early fall. That also would have allowed more time for debate. Instead, they may be wasting everyone’s time.

If you vote against Measure EE, you shouldn’t feel bad. Ballot measure elections are not opinion polls; they are direct legislation. And lawmakers vote against things that they agree with in general because the details aren’t right. In fact, such no votes are often the wise thing to do if your goal is to advance the correct policy.

Here’s hoping that Measure EE goes down—and that the district comes forward with another measure that is clean and gets even more money to educate kids.

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