A Dialog On State Spending

Over at Calitics there is an interesting diary from ‘zeroh8’ asking “Why Are We Spending So Much More?”  zeroh8 looked at the changes over the last ten years in how the state spends money.  The result, according to the diary, is a per-capita increase of $1088 as follows:

California Government Department
2007-08 less 1997-98 Per Capita Spending

Criminal Justice $185
General Government $14
Health $265
Education $109
K-12 Education $399
Resources & Environmental
Protection $27
Social Services $59
Transportation $30
Total $1,088 

Robert Cruikshank commented that the appearance of an education spending increase is an illusion, (sadly California still ranks 47th in education spending-per-pupil)

Much of the “increase” in K-12 funds is illusory. When Arnold cut the VLF in
2003 that money had to be backfilled by the state. That backfilling is listed on
the books as “spending” and so it appears as a huge “spending increase” when in
fact it is no such thing. Schools didn’t actually get more money. It’s an
accounting trick.

Robert is pointing out that this appearance of a large increase in education spending is actually just replacing spending that was already there, but that was cut from local budgets when Governor Schwarzenegger cut the Vehicle License Fee, so the state had to make up (backfill) the loss.  The state is spending more because local governments are spending less, but the total hasn’t increased.  Lesson: you have to look at the whole picture including local budgets to see the whole story because the state has to step in when local governments lose their funding sources.

Health care spending increases are certainly not isolated to California state government.  This is the health care crisis that is eating up government, business and family budgets around the country.  So far We, the People, in our wisdom, had avoided the kind of “socialized medicine” that the rest of the world has, which means we spend vastly more for health care with vastly worse results.  There is little California can do about it, except to further deny health care to people.  Is that the kind of people we will decide to be? 

Then there is that huge increase in criminal justice (prison) spending.  Was that necessary?  Well, we decided to pass laws that put people in prison for life for stealing a pizza or for years for smoking a joint.  And in the last few decades we have cut education spending, which to some extent has necessitated the increases in prison spending, because we know where that inevitably leads,

“18-to-24-year-old male high school dropouts have an incarceration rate 31 times
that of males who graduated from a four-year college”      

We’re seeing the health care crisis eating the state budget, and the problem of the prison costs.  Part of our problems today are because yesterday we were “penny wise
and pound foolish,” saving some money by cutting education only to
spend it on prisons (and who knows how many other ways) later.  Along with foolish tax cuts like cutting the VLF, and cutting property taxes for big corporations, and instead borrowing which has led to huge interest payments, those are the spending problems that brought about the budget crisis and that keep our government from being able to spend more on things We, the People need.

About those choices:  zeroh8 did a ton of research because no California citizen would know any of this from sources available to most of us.  The corporate media is not explaining the state budget and the functions of government to the public.  The example of the state making up local revenue losses in order to save our schools is a great example — instead it is just presented to people that the state is “spending even more”.

So what is the point of this exercise? To give the people the facts, not the phony sound-bites designed to further anger people against government and rail even further about having to pay taxes to fund the programs and services. The goal of the conservatives is to simply unfund government, thus making “We the People” powerless against the big moneyed interests — the people who brought you the sub-prime fiasco, the Wall Street boondogles, the Haliburton no-bid contracts and the Blackwater mercenaries.  As long as the bucks are flowing, what do they care if government can’t do its job…. what do they care about long lines at the DMV, wildfires that burn down communities, gangs that take over our streets and oh, yes……swine flu epidemics that kill millions?  They can just fly away in their private jets or sail away on their yachts — that california won’t tax.

On Jerry Brown’s Campaign For California Governor

He was called “Moonbeam” and mocked, but he was right, and we were right, and the country needs to come to terms with this this so we can move on and finally DO right.

Jerry Brown was Governor of California from 1975 to 1983. He was a symbol of “the 60’s” even though it was the 70’s, because he came from the times, cared about the issues of the times, spoke the language of the times and governed for the people, from the times. He opposed the Vietnam war. He talked about protecting the environment and conserving energy and providing education and “Buddhist economics.” He fought corporate power and sued large corporations, particularly in the area of campaign finance. He was right.

For taking these positions Jerry was called “Moonbeam” and mocked for advocating things that we now all understand were correct and necessary. It is 30 years later and the country needs to get past that mocking of the people who were right. But the mocking and obstruction by entrenched interests are still in the way of letting us move on and do the things we need to do for the economy, the country, and the planet.

Now Jerry is again running for Governor of California and I think this is important to our current national conversation at a time when we must come to terms with the reasons that we have waited 30 years to start doing something about major problems. Jerry’s campaign will force a conversation that will clarify for the country that the “dirty hippies” were right, that we need to learn to ignore the mocking that is a primary weapon of the corporate right, that we need to take care of the planet, that we need to take care of each other, that we need to be in charge of the corporations, not the other way around.

In his speech to the California Democratic Convention he talked about how 30 years ago he changed California’s energy policies, and how the result has been that California has barely increased its energy use since while the rest of the country has. He talk about a number of things like this, but what most resonated with me was when he talked about how we educate kids. The current emphasis on testing is stifling the creativity of kids. He says we need to bring back education that stimulates creativity. Wow — how long since I have heard “60’s” talk that’s so right?! Talk that recognizes our humanity and says that we are not just cogs in a corporate machine. Who talks about these things today?

A few years ago, when Jerry was running for Attorney General, I wrote,

I’ve loved Jerry Brown since his 1992 campaign for President. During that campaign he proposed boosting the economy and helping the energy/pollution/Middle East problem with a national program to hire unemployed people to retrofit buildings to be energy efficient. Imagine if we had done that! So now 13 years later we have the Apollo Alliance but Jerry doesn’t seem to get much credit for being so far ahead on this.

A few years before that I wrote,

In the 1992 campaign Jerry Brown made a suggestion that I haven’t forgotten. He suggested putting the unemployed to work retrofitting buildings and homes to be energy efficient. It requires an up-front investment but it returns a more efficient economy (everyone paying less for energy) and national energy independence as a foreign policy bonus. Meanwhile all those unemployed people are getting and spending paychecks, boosting the economy. It helps everyone but the oil companies. Oh. I guess not, then.

I don’t know right now if Brown can or should win and this is not an endorsement. But I think this is a conversation that we all need to have and learn from.

Public Still Trusts Corporations More Than Self-Government

Marketing works.  But we already knew that.  Big business has been marketing the idea that corporations making decisions for us is better than having government run by the people.  And a lot of people have bought into that idea.

But is it really better to be government by corporations?  In February I wrote,

After decades of anti-government speeches claiming that government holds back business, government takes money out of the economy and government is less efficient than corporations, people came to believe that, as Ronald Reagan famously said, “Government is the problem, not the solution.”  This led to deregulation and budget cutbacks in all areas including education and infrastructure. 

If you think about it, government really is what We, the People want it to be.  In a democracy we jointly make decisions about the best way to manage our affairs.  So saying that corporations do things better is really an anti-democracy message.  What they are saying is that organizations run by a few wealthy elites telling everyone else what to do, with the benefits of everyone’s work mostly going to those few at the top, is a better way to manage society than to have everyone making the decisions and sharing in the results.

Just for fun, here is the video from that post again:

Here is more proof that marketing works:  A recent Gallup Poll of public trust of government vs corporations found that the public still would rather be governed by big corporations than by themselves.

Gallup’s recent update of its long-standing trend question on whether big business, big labor, or big government will be the biggest threat to the country in the future finds Americans still viewing big government as the most serious threat. However, compared to Gallup’s last pre-financial-crisis measurement in December 2006, more now see big business and fewer see big government as the greater threat.

Gallup’s results, graphically:

GallupGovtBusResults.gifMarketing works.  Especially when it is repeated over and over for decades, unopposed.  This blog reaches a moderate audience, but the message that government by the people is a good thing needs to reach people who don’t hear it very often, and only hear the marketed anti-government, anti-democracy message that is spread by the corporations.  Did you know that Speak Out California also provides speakers to talk to local groups across California and do radio and TV interviews discussing the benefits of government and democracy? Please contact us at info@speakoutca.org to schedule a speaker for your event.

Don’t Blame Me, I Didn’t Vote For Anything

The Republicans in Sacramento refused to vote for any budget, saying each budget didn’t cut spending enough, while also refusing to specify what items they wanted to cut and by how much.  The result was that the Democrats in the legislature had to vote to dramatically cut the school budget — along with everything else the state does.  And then after the legislature came up with those cuts, the Republicans voted against them, too

Now citizens are weighing in expressing their anger over these massive budget cuts, and the same Republicans are sending letters saying “don’t blame me, I didn’t vote for the cuts.”  A recent letter to constituents from State Senator Tony Strickland is most likely a standardized “boilerplate” budget statement that has been provided to Republicans to send out.  Let’s see if we can translate it into English:

As your Senator, I voted against the budget and the education cuts included in the proposal.  To answer your questions, I would like to share my reasons for opposing the budget and education cuts as well as why the Legislature decreased spending on K-14 education. 

Translation: don’t blame me for budget cuts, I voted against them.  I voted against everything you don’t like, and will claim to support everything you did like.  Whatever it was.  I can do that because I didn’t vote for anything.

In order to ease the impact of the funding decreases, the budget has granted local educational agencies unprecedented funding flexibility, which is the authority to move state funding for most categorical (special-purpose, such as principal training, English learner programs, and the arts) programs to supporting the highest locally-determined priorities through 2010-2011.  The spending flexibility should provide local agencies significant relief during this economic downturn.  However, if the agencies abuse the funding, then they have missed the opportunity to demonstrate that local communities are superior to managing their education funds than the bureaucrats in Sacramento. 

Sorry, I can’t figure out what this means.  Leave a comment if you can figure out what it says.

I will continue to support protecting education and providing local communities the flexibility to determine how to invest in their children.  Please be assured I will continue to oppose cuts to education because the state’s greatest asset – our children – will be the future workforce essential in reviving our economy.  Thank you, again, for contacting my office and sharing your concerns.  It is citizens like you who make the difference.

Translation: While voting against every budget, and being against any form of revenues — especially if they would be collected from the large corporations that funded my campaign — I now claim to support not cutting the education budget. 

This is an interesting strategy: Just vote against everything, and leave it to the responsible people to come up with ways to get around this obstruction.  And then, when citizens are angry about the huge mess this creates, send them letters saying you supported whatever spending they wanted, and that’s why you voted against everything.  Meanwhile, you collect your state paycheck, and receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate “contributions.”  Nice work, if you can get it.

This is a dilemma for responsible legislators.  When you face an extremist group with just enough votes to block everything, how can you keep the kids in schools, provide oxygen tanks and other necessities to the elderly, provide police and fire protection and continue other essential government services?  When the state’s major media just won’t inform the public of the facts and makes this budget standoff seem as though government is little more than children squabbling over some cookies, with “both sides” refusing to compromise, the state slides toward becoming ungovernable.

What you you do about this?  There will be a ballot initiative tp roll back the rule that any revenue increases require a 2/3 majority to pass.  This initiative is currently named Restore Majority Rule, and you can visit the early website at ca.restoremajorityrule.com. Please sign up to help pass this initiative, and tell your legislators, friends and family that you support this change.

Recommended Reading on Taxes

The California Budget Project’s Budget Bites blog has a post up, Taxes Are What We Pay for a Civilized Society, that begins,

“Taxes are the collective price we pay for public goods and services.
State and local taxes support our public schools, streets and highways,
public hospitals that form the backbone of the state’s trauma care
system, parks and beaches, the public health infrastructure that
ensures that our food is safe to eat and our water is safe to drink
(and that delivers water to homes across California), as well as a
range of other services. While the primary purpose of a tax system is
to raise the money needed to support public services, tax policy can
also serve as an end in itself, providing incentives for taxpayers to
engage in desired activities or providing cash assistance to certain

Please go read the rest.

Tea Party Contradictions

Let’s take a look at yesterday’s tea parties.   I am hearing from people who attended tea parties around the country that the people who showed up were by and large good, honest Americans who are upset about the bailouts, deficits and general direction that things have been going for some time.  I say good for them for getting involved, speaking up and showing up.  We need more of that in this country, after so many decades of apathy.

There is a problem with the tea party events as presented, however, in that the sentiments and concerns of these regular people were largely hijacked by professional manipulators, who wanted to make it appear that the the people at the rallies support an anti-democracy, anti-government, pro-corporate and right wing agenda.  These were the FOX News and Rush Limbaugh audience, and the people from militias with racist signs, and paranoid people convinced that President Obama is a “fascist,” etc. and who claim that the economic distress we are experiencing is somehow the fault of Obama’s and the Democrats’ policies even though he only took office less than three months ago

There are distressing photos of these event-hijackers, and there was troubling and violent rhetoric at many of the rallies. The Governor of Texas actually talked about his state seceding from the union — the very definition of hating America and the kind of talk once that led to a savage civil war. (FOX News called such talk “patriotic.” One has to ask, “patriotic to what country?”)

An obviously focus-group-tested phrase was repeated at the rallies: “Obama is going to raise taxes on our kids by borrowing for unnecessary government spending now.” But what did the people at these rallies think us “liberals”
have been saying all this time about the effect of all the Republican borrowing to pay for these huge tax cuts they gave to the rich and corporations, and to pay for the Iraq war and other military spending increases? This is the reason we have these huge deficits!

And, of course, no one ever says which spending is “unnecessary.”  Do they mean unemployment checks? Bush made those necessary.  How about money to rebuild roads and bridges and schools? Bush made that necessary.  How about money to reduce our oil use? Bush and Cheney, both former oil company executives, made that necessary. How about money to continue funding the Iraq war? Bush made that necessary. The bailout money? To the extent that it was necessary (I don’t agree that it was) it certainly was not Obama who wrecked the economy.

Which spending in the stimulus plan, specifically, is “unnecessary,” and which was made necessary by the Republicans who messed things up so badly?

Some contradictions from the rallies: 

  • The people at the rallies were presented as protesting tax increases, yet in the current Obama budget only tax cuts have been proposed. (There are hints that there will be a request for a small tax increase on the very wealthy after a few years.)
  • Many at the rallies were protesting against “government spending,” but did not seem to understand where the government actually spends a huge portion of our budget, such as on military and huge subsidies for big oil, agriculture and other corporations (like Wall Street bailouts) — but instead were protesting against imagined spending like “welfare” and foreign aid, which add up to only a tiny fraction of the budget. 
  • Reagan’s and Bush’s tax cuts for the rich have created so much debt that we
    currently pay out over $500 billion to interest each year — paid to people who can
    afford to loan us trillions.  Now that is some serious government spending. 
  • Many rallies were rebranded by their corporate-funded organizers as “Fair Tax” rallies. But the so-called “Fair Tax” is really about cutting taxes on the rich and making up for it by raising taxes on everyone else. This is an example of corporate astroturf convincing people to support raising their own taxes or cutting their own benefits so that taxes on the wealthy and big corporations can be further reduced.  (You can’t cut taxes for that group without making up for it somewhere.)

This all brings to mind something that I have said about marketing: with good enough marketing you can convince people to kill
themselves.  Think about cigarettes and the comet-suicide cult and you’ll understand what I mean.

Continue reading

A Warning About The Tea Parties

A number of people I have spoken with are planning to attend a “tea party” tomorrow, so I thought it might be a good idea to write about this.  They are not what they claim to be.  They are not “spontaneous” or “grassroots.”  They are another corporate-funded campaign to trick people into supporting more cut taxes for the rich.

The idea is supposed to have started on February 19, when Rick Santelli of CNBC “spontaneously” complained about plans (click link for video) to help people avoid foreclosure, saying this is the government “subsidizing the loser’s mortgages.”  Santelli called for organizing a “Chicago tea party” against helping people pay their mortgages.  But investigators starting finding clues that the on-air rant was not spontaneous, and signs that the campaign was organized by the right-wing, corporate-funded Freedomworks .  According to a March 2 New York Times story,

“Mr. Santelli’s televised commentary appeared spontaneous to viewers. However, the Internet domain name ChicagoTeaParty.com was registered in August 2008 — well before his commentary — but not used until afterwards.”

The events have been widely promoted by corporate-funded conservative PR professionals who specialize in “astroturf.”  This is a term for the use of money to create an appearance of widespread “grassroots” support.  Currently the corporate-funded conservative lobbying groups Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity, are organizing the events and conservative media including talk radio and FOX News are widely promoting them.  Support appears to be coming from Koch Industries, the largest privately-owned company in the country.  According to the Think Progress blog post, Spontaneous Uprising? Corporate Lobbyists Helping To Orchestrate Radical Anti-Obama Tea Party Protests,

“This type of corporate ‘astroturfing
is nothing new to either organization. While working to promote Social
Security privatization, Freedom Works was caught planting one of its
operatives as a “single mom
to ask questions to President Bush in a town hall on the subject. Last
year, the Wall Street Journal exposed Freedom Works for similarly
building “amateur-looking” websites to promote the lobbying interests of Dick Armey …

Americans for Prosperity is run by Tim Phillips, [a] former partner in the lobbying firm Century Strategies. The group is funded by Koch family foundations — a family whose wealth is derived from the oil industry. Indeed Americans for Prosperity has coordinated pro-drilling ‘grassroots‘ events around the country.”

The “tea parties” are promoted as a “grassroots uprising” against “high taxes.”  Tea stands for “Taxes Enough Already.”  However, 95% of Americans will received a tax cut in the next year if the upcoming Obama budget passes.  Only Americans with incomes above $250,000 will receive a small tax increase — and even then their taxes will be much lower than almost any time in the last 80 or so years.   This increase on the top incomes will help pay for some of the Republican-caused economic damage as well as reduce the budget deficits that the country has faced ever since the same income group received tax cuts after George W. Bush was elected.  (This is similar to the tax increase in first Clinton budget that led to the great economy of the 1990s and large budget surpluses.)

The other complaint from tea party organizers is that President Obama is “spending too much.”  The increased spending in the stimulus package and upcoming budget funds education, unemployment checks, efforts to ward off foreclosures and other programs designed to help bring us out of the recession and provide jobs.  These are programs that benefit regular people instead of big corporations and the rich.

So regular people who go to these corporate-organized tea parties are asking the government to undo their own tax cuts and reduce their own government services in order to keep taxes low for the very rich.  I wonder if people have really thought this through?

Forbes List Of Highest-Taxed States Lists California


The Forbes list of states that tax their citizens the most is out!  And California ranks … well, California isn’t even on the list.

Forbes: Where Americans Are Taxed Most:
10. Pennsylvania (not California)
9. Wyoming (not California)
8. Washington (not California)
7. Massachusetts (not California)
6. New York (not California)
5. New Jersey (not California)
4. Minnesota (not California)
3. Connecticut (not California)
2. Hawaii (not California)

Drum roll ….

… keep scrolling …

— And the winner is …

1. Vermont (NOT CALIFORNIA!)

So yesterday I’m driving and KGO radio has a show about the “tax revolt” that is “taking place all over California,” with people rising up and having “tea parties” to protest the “incredibly high taxes” in California.  Here is KGO’s program listing:

2 PM – Growing Anti-Tax Revolt in California? And What About Prop

Taking inspiration from a landmark 1970s tax revolt, a determined group of
activists say the moment is right for another voter uprising in California,
where recession-battered residents have been hit with the highest income and
sales tax rates in the nation. And like Proposition 13, the 1978 ballot measure
that transformed the state’s political landscape and ignited tax-reform
movements nationwide, they see the next backlash coming not from either major
political party, but from the people. How real is the latest anti-tax sentiment
and has Prop 13 run it’s course?
Guest: John Coupal, president Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Mr. Coupal was on the show to say that California is the highest-taxing state,
and state taxes should be lower, and the government wastes all the
money it takes in, and can’t be trusted, and is too big.  He talked about how other states get by with lower taxes while providing better services than California. He said, for example, that there is no income tax at all in Texas — without mentioning that Texas taxes oil taken out of the ground while California doesn’t.  He said that California spends more on schools than any other state, and called for “school choice” — which is getting rid of public schools and
only having
education for those who can afford it.

He said a lot of things that turn out not to be factual if you look into them.  But you can’t bother be factual and argue for lower taxes and spending.  As Dave Dayen points out at Calitics,

“Right now we’re at the bottom of per capita spending in almost every major
category – 44th
in health care
, 47th
in per-pupil education spending
, dead last in
highway spending and 46th in capital investment among all states

But here’s the thing.  HE was on the radio, telling Californians that we are the highest-taxing and spending more on schools, etc. than any other state.  And the other side was not on the radio telling Californians the truth.  So he wins. 

Californians don’t really have much choice except to believe the anti-tax, anti-government, pro-corporate arguments because they are not hearing anything else

This was just one radio show of the hundreds of radio shows every month that repeat this message.  And the newspapers repeat it.  And the TV shows repeat it.  And there are even public speakers, funded to go from civic group to civic group around the state to repeat this message!

Why is it that he was on the radio and the other side was not?  Because there are so few “other side” organizations for radio stations to call on, funded, with people trained and ready to talk on the radio and TV, write columns, speak to public groups, and generally make the case that government serves a purpose, roads and schools and public safety and are beneficial and that democracy is better than rule by corporations.  Corporations are enabled by our laws to amass incredible sums of money with little oversight, and are using some of that money to influence the state’s policies, always to further reduce oversight and amass ever greater power.  That money leaks out of the corporations and into the political system, while pro-democracy organizations have few sources of funding.  

The result is that the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is very well funded and is widely quoted in the media. Organization that makes the case for government and democracy are not.  And democracy in California is the loser.  So if we think we’re going to be able to persuade Californians to overturn the 2/3 vote requirement for a budget or to increase taxes, we’re going to have to come out swinging… At the moment, we don’t even have a batter at the plate.

Getting Ready Ahead Of Time

Right now the Republicans are laying the groundwork for the next budget
fight.  That fight might come if the
propositions fail on May 19, or it might come next year.  Whenever it is, they are working now to get
the public to support their side when
it comes. 

For example, the extremist right is having “tea party” rallies, claiming “taxes are theft” and any government spending is too much.  Their radio stations are saying California is the state with the highest taxes (false).  Etc., etc.

Now, most people really don’t pay much in taxes, but have
been led to believe they do.  And most
people don’t understand that government spending is spent on them.  This is especially true among those who listen to extremist-right radio or read their op-eds.

All of this amounts to getting ahead of things now, before any next battle even begins.  They are making it that much harder to get a needed tax increase passed, or to spend enough on our schools to properly educate kids so they can drive the economy of the next generation, or to invest in the transportation, energy, water conservation, and other technologies that will help us grow the economy in the future.  No, they want to “save” that money and pass it along to the wealthy today.

But people should learn from history.  The real tea party was not a public uprising against taxes at all.  It was an action against
corporate cronyism and taxes set without democratic processes.  The roots of our country come from another time when favoritism and cronyism and special breaks for the rich ran rampant.  The public figured it out then, and a revolution resulted.  Our democracy was the result, and our democracy will recover and reinvigorate itself once again.

Of course, it would help if the public didn’t have to figure these things out entirely for themselves.  The Republicans are out there reaching the public-at-large, making their case.  We should be, too.