Students of civics might think the California state budget is crafted by the elected representatives of the citizenry, who debate and amend proposals working their way through various committees, ultimately leading to a spending plan with majority support and the signature of the governor.
All that happens, of course, but no budget makes it to the governor’s desk without at least the tacit approval of the state’s public employee unions. Since public education alone makes up a minimum of 40 percent of the state budget, the California Teachers Association has an outsize influence over the construction of that budget.
This has been true for at least the 27 years I have covered the union’s operations. In 2000, for example, then-President Wayne Johnson boasted to his members about how he had the governor and state legislative leaders on the phone with him, falling over themselves to place more money in the education budget, until Johnson finally relented at an additional $1.84 billion.
This year’s budget, however, rivals any previous examples of teachers union benefits sewn into state law.
Imaginary money. The budget relies on two sources of funding that do not exist, and may never exist. First, it hopes that the U.S. Senate will approve, and President Donald Trump will sign, the HEROES Act, which contains $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments. Should that fail to happen, California will issue $12 billion in deferrals to school districts. Deferrals are essentially IOUs to be paid in the next fiscal year. This is also money that doesn’t yet exist.
Should deferrals become necessary, the state also authorizes school districts to transfer money from any account they hold to any other account in order to pay their bills. Money targeted for a specific purpose or program can be used for any purpose or program. Districts can also use the proceeds from the sale or lease of property for any general fund purpose.