What Really Happens if Both Prop 30 and 38 Pass in November?

There's an argument that runs like this: If people vote for only one of the two income tax measures in November, then both are more likely to fail, and if both fail, then woe be it to students and teachers across the state. It's better, then, to vote Yes on both.

The argument refers to propositions 30 and 38, both of which aim to increase the personal income tax in California and use the extra revenue to help pay for education. If neither one passes, public schools would face cuts of more than $5 billion, and that's in addition to the decreases they've already experienced.

That scenario is a scholastic apocalypse to organizations like Educate Our State, a grassroots nonprofit that advocates for better collaboration in fixing and improving public schools.

"Our opinion is that it's very dangerous to send the message that these [two ballot measures] are competing," said Crystal Brown, the organization's board president and a parent of three daughters in the public school system.

Media outlets, KCET's Ballot Brief included, have framed the story as a battle between supporters of Gov. Jerry Brown, who spearheaded Prop 30 to help close the state's yawning budget gap, and Molly Munger, the wealthy civil rights attorney who has bankrolled Prop 38 almost single handedly. That narrative thread, as accurate as it may be, is beside the point for Brown of Educate Our State.

"I think what's really important is that passing taxes in California is really hard, so dividing this vote is sort of the wrong message. People can vote yes on both, and we would be in the best case scenario if both passed," Brown told me in a recent interview by phone.

Voters in fact do have the option to vote Yes on both measures, a strategy that could help to secure for each some of the votes that may otherwise have been lost to the "competition." It's a strategy that could increase the probability that at least one of the measures passes, but the question remains: what really happens if both pass?

The immediate answer is that the one with the most votes will prevail, and the other will be thrown out. That's in part because the state Constitution spells out what to do in such cases, but also because each measure contains a clause that would nullify the other should they both pass. But there's more nuance to it than that.

Brown argued that whichever gets more votes, the winning measure only precludes certain provisions -- and not the entirety -- of the losing measure from going into effect. That means a dogged proponent could pick through the pieces like scrap from the scrapyard and try to salvage what remained, possibly even fighting in court to get the parts worked into the winning measure.

For instance, in addition to the income tax hike, Prop 30 calls for an increase to the state sales tax to fund local public safety programs. If 30 were to pass but get fewer votes than Prop 38, it stands to reason that the income tax hike and the education funding tied to it would get the axe, while the sales tax and the public safety funding could pass into law.

That line of thought may amount to wishful thinking, or it may be sound strategy. It's tough to say.

Representatives of the California Legislative Analyst's Office, which is charged with providing nonpartisan fiscal and policy analysis of state bills and voter initiatives, would not surmise either way. Their official assessment is included in the voter information guide in a special pullout box under the heading, "What Happens if Voters Approve Both Proposition 30 and Proposition 38?" Their answer is the same as the one given earlier, that the measure with the most votes prevails.

"Could pieces survive? That's something that would need to be interpreted," said Edgar Cabral, the principal fiscal and policy analyst for the LAO.

It's unclear whether the Franchise Tax Board or courts would simply step in to decide which pieces are valid, or whether someone would need to file a formal complaint first. Either way, that scenario could spell delays and ratchet up the ultimate cost of the election. But Jason Sisney, the deputy legislative analyst, said there would be incentives for courts to act very quickly.

"Prop 30, for instance, would affect 2012 income taxes, so the state Franchise Tax Board would have a lot of interest in moving quickly in regard to putting together tax forms," Sisney said.

In any case, compared to the $5 billion at stake for schools, the amount spent figuring out what to do if both measures pass would probably look like pocket change.

Sisney may also have offered the most honest observation possible of this tax measure showdown when he prefaced our conversation this way: "I don't know if we've had quite this situation with two high-profile tax measures. So we don't know quite what would happen."

Neither campaign is actively encouraging people to vote for both measures. Nor are they going out of their way to harm each other.

"We don't want to poison the atmosphere around tax measures. That doesn't make any sense for us, because we're a tax measure," said Nathan Ballard, a campaign strategist for Prop 38.

Still, the Munger camp does seem to view the contest as winner-take-all.

"Our position is, as awful as it is to contemplate, if we get one fewer vote, it's our understanding that Prop 30 would go into effect, not prop 38," Ballard said.

Meanwhile, at least one major stakeholder in the Prop 30 campaign has indicated that they believe they could still eke out a partial victory if their measure passes but gets edged out by 38.

"If Prop 38 gets the most votes, presumably the income tax portion of theirs goes into place. However, that still leaves the sales tax portion of Prop 30," said Fred Glass, communications director for the California Federation of Teachers, which is one of the biggest financial backers of the measure.

Glass acknowledged that if push comes to shove, they would be willing to go to court to salvage what they can of the measure.

In the end, though, electoral strategies like the one proposed by Educate Our State exist precisely because we cannot predict the future. Vote for both, vote for one, or vote for none. It's your decision.

Top Photo: Justen Eason/Flickr/Creative Commons License

About the Author

Web Editor for SoCal Connected, KCET's award-winning television newsmagazine. He has worked in just about every medium, with stories appearing on TV, radio, Web, and print. He is also the editor of the Online Journalism Review at ...
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The 2005 report from Stanford University made the very salient point that throwing more money at California's dysfunctional public education system is a waste. Until serious education reforms are passed, sending more money to Sacramento simply enourages the broken status quo. We need to take special interest dollars out of Sacramento politics, not mindlessly send more money to feed the beast.


Of course these measures are competing. Why would Molly Munger be pushing her initiative, with so much personal funding? She believes the Governors initiative is not satisfactory for California’s needs. Thus, she created her own distinct initiative to COMPETE with the Governor’s. That is basic logic.

The fact remains, during such a dire economic situation in California, an additional financial burden cripples those barely struggling to survive. In addition, Sacramento mismanages the funds it currently has. They can not be trusted with additional funds until we see some reforms in the way of increasing fiscal responsibility and accountability.


First of all, I disagree with the premise that any of these proposals will help our students nor Californians at large. On the contrary, it will hurt our economy in the long run. We already have a hefty tax burden for our working people, especially the Latino community. The hollow Public Employee Pension reform recently signed by Gov. Brown, the commitment to fund a Bullet Train to no were and the hidden money found to be stashed in State agencies is a clear sign that we can not afford any more taxes. In my opinion, neither of these propositions will do what they claim they will do for Californians.


The California State PTA supports Prop 38 because it is the only initiative that guarantees money for our schools. This money does not pass through Sacramento and cannot be touched by the legislature. This is funding is over and above the legal minimum the governor sends down to our school districts. Even with the governor's threatened trigger cuts, students would still come out ahead if Prop 38 gets the most votes.


Year after year we see this happen. Sacramento runs out of money. Sacramento begs for more money, threatening to cut schools if voters do not comply. Voters give Sacramento more money to save schools. Sacramento wastes the money and schools do not improve. Sacramento runs out of money. Rinse and repeat. It's time to break the cycle! Sacramento spends and spends on pet projects and the like, and our schools NEVER get any better! Time to let the legislature know we won't be their ATM anymore!


Californians won't want to give more dime politicians can learn to be more fiscally responsible with what they currently have. Threatening the future of education is a definite low blow for politicians. We can all agree that reform is needed now more than ever to get this state back on track.
California is around the fifth highest taxed state in the union and if the bill goes through we will be closer to the number 1 spot.


Do we really know where the money is going to go? We've heard so many different versions of the story, and politicians have failed to yield an honest honest. I would not be surprised if the money ended up benefiting donor campaigns and special interests projects.


Good question. If both pass, we all lose. They both place an undue burden on working class people, and don't have the state's best interests in mind. Why would Californians trust Sacramento with more after they've shown us scandal after scandal how irresponsible they truly are?

We need extensive reform before we think about doing anything else.


If they both pass, California loses. Any additional burden on working class Americans in this recession is just irresponsible. The good Governor and Mrs. Munger are just simply out of touch with the needs of hard working Californians