There’s no free lunch here. To the extent that school districts pick up the cost, kids in school today will be hurt because more dollars will go to pension costs and fewer dollars will go to classrooms. To the extent that the state picks up the cost, residents will receive fewer services. Either way, voters will get little for the tax increase they approved in November.
What if a corporation raised $500 million in a securities offering on the premise that the proceeds would go for operating expenses, then disclosed a few months later that $300 million of this amount would instead be used to service a debt that wasn’t disclosed in the offering document?
This would be false advertising, subject to sanction by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Unfortunately, the SEC doesn’t have jurisdiction over state politicians engaging in the same behavior, and, in the case of California, involving sums that are 100 times bigger.
Last November, California politicians persuaded voters to support a proposed seven-year, $50 billion tax increase, largely on the vow that the money would go to public education. The first five words of the initiative’s title were “Temporary Taxes to Fund Education.”
Now, just four months after the election, the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office has announced that the California State Teachers’ Retirement System requires an extra $4.5 billion a year for 30 years — $135 billion — to cover its unfunded liability for teacher pensions and that the money will have to come from some combination of school districts and the state. To the extent that it comes from the school districts, $4.5 billion a year is 167 percent of the annual amount those districts expected from the tax increase. To the extent that it comes from the state, $4.5 billion is more than 100 percent of the annual amount it expected in new revenue.