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Opinion: Prop 30 Is Attacked on its Best Point

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Opinion: Prop 30 Is Attacked on its Best Point

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Volunteers Angel Zuniga and Zizi Bandera of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles are dressed in Halloween costumes while conducting a phone-a-thon as part of statewide get-out-the-vote efforts to encourage immigrants, Latinos and new citizens to vote and vote yes on Prop. 30, October 31, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Five hundred volunteers are participating statewide to get out the vote. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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Prop 30 is being hammered for the best piece of policy in it: some of the tax money raised by it can be touched by politicians.

Of course, Prop 30's backers aren't embracing that fact. They are declaring the money would go to schools, citing a fund established by the measure for schools.

That's mostly a matter of accounting. The money raised should go to the general fund -- which is good. California has been doing damage to its general fund for more than a generation -- taking money out of it for special funds and protecting pieces of the fund behind special formulas and accounts.

That shift has made it nearly impossible to balance the budget. Elected representatives -- politicians -- have less and less flexibility to make trade-offs and set priorities because so much is off limits.

Feeding another $6 billion or so into the general fund -- albeit temporarily, since the tax increases in Prop 30 are temporary -- helps a little, but not much. That's because formulas within the general fund limit what those politicians can do.

One irony of the misbegotten debate over Prop 30 is that much of the money will go to schools -- but not because politicians can touch but because the constitutional school funding formula known as Prop 98 guarantees that.

Another irony of the debate is that another piece of Prop 30 further limits the discretion of politicians; the initiative incldues a constitutional amendment that permanently ties certain tax revenue streams to local government.

In all these ways, Prop 30 has the worst of both worlds. It's being criticized for turning money over to "politicians" -- which it does in some ways -- even though the measure preserves, and extends, a budget system that keeps politicians, or anyone else, from making trades offs and governing.

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