Brown re-funds some lost school jobs earmarks
By Wayne Lusvardi
The public never really knows what is going on in politics because public policies are described in words that make government sound like it is a church rather than coercive government. Such is the case with Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2013 State of the State address.
Brown called for the reform of the tax sharing-arrangements with public schools based on the Roman Catholic doctrine of the “principle of subsidiarity.”
As defined by Brown, subsidiarity is:
“[T]he idea that a central authority should only perform those tasks which cannot be performed at a more immediate or local level. In other words, higher or more remote levels of government, like the state, should render assistance to local school districts, but always respect their primary jurisdiction and the dignity and freedom of teachers and students.”
Now what does all the above political mumbo jumbo really mean? Put in less flattering and non-religious sounding terms, Brown wants to decentralize the school jobs patronage system from the state legislature to local school districts. But you will never hear it expressed that way. Every act of a governor has to be made to sound as if it was coming from a god.
Categorical jobs programs
What Brown is talking about is better described when he said, “My 2013 Budget Summary lays out the case for cutting categorical programs and putting maximum authority and discretion back at the local level — with school boards.” But once again, one vague term leads to another vague term. What does the term “categorical program” mean?
It means the existing system of the state Legislature whereby certain mandated job categories are protected in return for votes. We’re not talking core teacher jobs or extra layers of school administrators. What we’re talking about is what Brown calls “supplemental” or makeshift jobs: extra school librarians and assistants, bus drivers, nutritionists, arts and music teachers, school dentists, extra building maintenance workers, jobs in American Indian education centers and American Indian early education programs, staff mentors, school counselors and after school programs.
This is what Brown means by “subsidiarity”: returning funding decisions for whether to hire arts teachers or bus drivers from the Legislature to local school boards by use of block grants.
Block grants and pork
The vehicle for decentralizing the funding decisions is called a “block grant.” A “block grant” is a grant or block of funds for discretionary use. It allows schools to decide how the money should be spent within a broad category of funds.
By contrast, “earmarks” are politically protected categories of funds or protected jobs often meant to buy political patronage and votes. Earmarks are funding mandates. The term “earmark” comes from the large ears of a pig. Pork-barrel politics is spending which is intended to benefit constituents of a politician in return for their political support.
In California, school block grants are discretionary rather than mandated earmarks. In a time of austerity, this means school boards cannot fund all the supplemental jobs programs. They have to prioritize spending! What a revolutionary concept.
Brown didn’t invent “subsidiarity”
What Brown omitted from his new “subsidiarity” policy is that it wasn’t his idea in the first place. The state Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended ending “categorical” jobs programs mandates after the Mortgage Meltdown and Bank Panic of 2008. In response, in 2009 the Legislature enacted Assembly Bill AB-X-4-2, which ended funding for some, but not all, jobs program earmarks. This reform saved public school budgets but didn’t hurt poor school children. Despite all the hysteria, the “sky didn’t fall on public school budgets,” even though that is what we were told would happen.
Brown wants to portray himself as a budget-cutting reformer. But he only cut 1 percent of all the mandated jobs earmarks recommended by the Legislative Analyst.
In 2009, the Legislature recommended that the public school categorical jobs system be replaced with a system of “block grants” under Assembly Bill 18. This failed to pass in the Legislature. Brown is now trying to get the Legislature to adopt the decentralization of funding decisions for earmarked jobs.
Subsidiarity is re-funding lost political pork jobs
What Brown is doing is paying back some of the $11 billion borrowed from the state education fund since 2008 to patch the state budget deficit. During that time, there were no core teacher layoffs statewide. In other words, public schools were overfunded by $11 billion from 2008 to 2012 without any core teacher layoffs. All the school budget cuts came from cutting back politically earmarked jobs. Now Brown wants to pay back $3 billion of those borrowed funds, but wants local school boards to make the hard decisions on which earmarked jobs get re-funded. Brown wants to shift the blame from the Legislature and the governor to local school boards for whose earmarked jobs get funded.
Subsidiarity is derived from the Latin subsiduum – the same root for the word subsidy. Subsidiarity thus means re-funding some political pork jobs subsidies lost due to previous budget cutbacks. But you would never guess that is what Brown really meant by the term subsidiarity.
May 19, 2013