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Assembly Republicans questioned Wednesday whether the state budget meets a constitutional requirement for school funding in a letter sent Wednesday to Attorney General Kamala Harris.

The formula-based requirement, Proposition 98, determines the minimum amount the state must provide K-12 schools and community colleges each year. That amount increases whenever the state receives more revenues, which posed a challenge for budget writers this year because they relied on a revenue spike to help fill the state's $26 billion hole.

To ensure the state could apply more money to the deficit rather than increasing school budgets, lawmakers shifted more than $5 billion in statewide sales tax revenues to counties. They said that because this money was headed to county coffers, rather than to the state's, schools weren't owed an additional $2.1 billion they might otherwise receive.

This theory was one of the underpinnings of the overall budget deal struck in June. School advocates -- most notably the California Teachers Association -- could have sued the state under the same argument that Assembly Republicans made Wednesday. But Democrats satisfied CTA by providing additional layoff protections, imposing district restraints and ensuring schools will be made whole in future years.

Republicans did not vote for the budget in June. They also opposed additional taxes that could have provided more school funding. They contend in their letter that the budget was unconstitutional because Democrats needed a two-thirds vote to set school funding as low as they did.

But to date, no one has filed suit against the state on the Proposition 98 issue. Asked why GOP lawmakers are soliciting an opinion from the Democratic attorney general rather than taking legal action, caucus spokeswoman Sabrina Lockhart said, "We just wanted to get the attorney general's opinion on those two key provisions." She was referring to whether the Legislature can suspend Proposition 98 with a majority vote and whether the Legislature can reduce the guarantee by shifting sales taxes.

Harris spokesman Shum Preston said his office had no initial response to the letter.


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