No Schools For You

Here is an idea for solving California’s budget crisis.

What if the California legislature temporarily budgeted for districts according to the wishes of the district’s legislators.  If an Assembly or Senate representative demanded cuts to schools, fire, etc. then the schools, fire, etc. in that representative’s district receive the entire cut!  This would be an honest application of representative democracy, allowing the citizens of an area to be governed according to their wishes without it affecting all of the citizens in the state.

Wait, you say, why should only certain districts be punished with cuts?  Why should only a few citizens shoulder the burden of balancing the budget through cuts?  The answer is because those are the people who elected the extremist minority who are forcing the cuts, while refusing to ask the rich to pay their fair share and actually cutting taxes for huge corporations.  (Yes, the budget “solution” included a huge tax cut for the Wal-Marts and Exxons.)

With this plan the residents of Santa Clarita (the
right-wing bastion of northwest LA County
) could get their wish to have no schools, police, road maintenance, firefighters, etc. while the residents of San Francisco could keep their government services.  And the residents of both areas would have what they want.

Or, at least, they would have the opportunity to understand just who they elected.

CA’s Budget Problem Is Paragraph 10

Today’s San Jose Mercury News front page story is about California’s budget problem: that they are still one vote short.  But Californians reading the story are not told why one more vote is required, not are they told who it is required from — until the 10th paragraph.  The 10th paragraph reads,

The votes were there in the
Assembly. But in the Senate, only two Republican senators were prepared
to buck party orthodoxy and vote to raise taxes. Three were needed.

Even in this 10th paragraph readers are not informed that every Democrat is voting for the budget. 

Before this paragraph, readers are told that “lawmakers” cannot agree and that “the deal still was held hostage by the thinnest of margins.” But there is nothing telling them who or why

The reason this is such a problem is that the people of California need this information, to help them play their part in the functioning of our state government.  The voters need to know who to hold accountable or they will not make their wishes known through calls to their Assemblymember’s or Senator’s office.  And they can’t make informed decisions at election time. 

This is typical of stories about the budget impasse — across the state the major newspapers, radio and TV stations are not giving the voters the information they need in order to participate in their government.  The result is that the state is becoming ungovernable — and going broke.

So let’s be clear about what is happening here.  California’s elected Republicans have all signed a “no-new-taxes” pledge with Grover Norquist’s organization.  (He’s the guy who says the plan is to make government small enough to “drown in a bathtub.”)  So now they see the budget crisis as an opportunity to force mass layoffs of state employees and reductions in support for people who need things like state-supplied oxygen tanks.  They call that “reducing government.”  And even with all the budget cuts that the Democrats have all voted for, they still will not vote to pass a budget.  They want more, and then more, and then they want the state government to go away.

This is ideology. They repeat an ideological mantra that will ruin the state.  And they say this is their goal — to get rid of government.  They say government is bad.  They say government spending is bad.  They say taxes are bad.  They say corporations are good.  Ideology.

California can not continue to fund our schools, universities, roads, public safety, firefighters, health services, services to
the poor, blind and elderly, provide funding for local government, etc.
without additional revenues.  Do the Math (George Skelton, LA Times):

It’s Republican dogma in the Capitol that to vote for a tax increase is
“career-ending.” Even if true — and there’s evidence both ways — so
what?

These are folks, after all, who sermonize against making politics
a career, publicly pretend to worship term limits and preach the
virtues of private enterprise. You’d think they’d be eager to return to
the private sector. Yet, they’re afraid to risk losing out on their
next political job.

Another item not reported is that the Republicans demanded a huge tax cut for large corporations — the very kind that are killing off California’s smaller independent, job-creating businesses.
And they still won’t vote for the budget.  And the public still doesn’t have a chance to learn what is going on here.

Recommended Reading

Take a look at The Conversation: Tax 101, Who pays, how much and why it might change this week with a state budget, by Daniel Weintraub in the Sacramento Bee, Sunday, February 8. It begins,

California’s long era of tax cutting might soon end. With the state deep in a financial hole and unable to pay all of its bills, even some business leaders and Republican lawmakers are acknowledging the inevitable: The state government cannot balance its books with spending cuts alone. It needs more revenue.

Take a look.

ACTION ALERT – STIMULATE CALLS SUPPORTING THE STIMULUS

After the Presidential election we at Speak Out California were rejuvenated and renewed in the hope and expectation that the divisive politics of Republican extremism were
over.   Sadly, it is clear that they are not and so we must re-commit
to our values and Speak Out loud and clear.

Please join us in our first action-alert of 2009 with as many clear
and strong voices as we can to say to our new President and the Congress:
 WE WON this election, now let’s get to work putting our nation and
our state back on track!

Thanks to Rush Limbaugh, US Senators report the calls they are receiving
about the Stimulus Package are running 100 to 1 against passage. Our voice needs to be heard.  And thanks to California right-wing talk radio,
Republican legislators think the public supports their sabotaging budget talks.
 We
need to step up!

ACTION: Tell California’s US Senators that you support the stimulus package and tell
California Republican legislators that the Democrats have agreed to cut after cut
and they just can’t cut any more — now they need to agree to raise revenue!  Details below.

The Stimulus Package

Continue reading

Something Good On CA Budget Mess?

There is some good news on the prospects of getting a budget in California. 

Eleven
California newspapers
including
Sunday’s San Jose Mercury News carried a near-unprecedented
front-page editorial titled, Outrageous
budget fiasco has shamed California
, calling out the Republicans for not
participating in the budget process, saying,

“… [M]ost of the blame for the
immediate crisis falls on Republicans in the Legislature, who this past summer
— to a person — signed a pledge to not raise taxes.   
Democrats and the Republican governor have offered significant
compromise, but GOP lawmakers cling to ideological purity — schools, health
care and other essential responsibilities be damned.”

The reason this is good news is that this is a sign that California’s media may be beginning to explain to the public that there is indeed a bad actor in this fight.  Until now the public has been hearing from the media a simplistic “they’re fighting like children in Sacramento” or “both sides refuse to compromise.”  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

The fact is that the Democrats have voted for cut after cut, and have tried and tried to reach a compromise.  They are trying to govern the state.  But every single elected Republican signed a pledge with a Washington, DC anti-government organization — the one that said they want to “drown the government in a bathtub” — promising to vote against any budget that increases state revenues in any way.  They took what they call “the pledge” and have refused to budge and refused to compromise in any way.

California’s major media is finally, finally starting to bring these facts to the public, which means that the public will begin to apply the pressure that is needed in a democracy to move the Republicans and get them to participate in the budget and governing process.

And in the longer term, this information means the public will be able to decide whether they really do want to elect people who hate government — and who take vows to defund government — into positions of responsibility for managing the government.

If we cannot get an increase in revenues California’s economy will be in real trouble.  On a national level Rush Limbaugh says he “wants Obama to fail” and in California the far right is driving failure as well.  We need responsible information sources to reach California’s voters with honest information.

Our Businesses Thrive On The Infrastructure We Built

The key to California’s successful business environment are education and infrastructure.  It is not an accident that our semiconductor and computer and Internet industries, and biotechnology and pharmaceutical and genetic engineering and our other world-class competitive industries
developed in California instead of in “low
tax” states like Mississippi and Alabama.  These industries thrived here because of our well-educated people and our modern, well-maintained infrastructure. 

There has been a dramatic wealth-building return on our investment in education and infrastructure.  Investors could count on California as a good place to start and grow a business, and it has paid off.

But how much would it cost if businesses had to pay fair market value for use of the infrastructure that We, the People
built?  What would it cost if companies had to pay the full education cost every time they hire someone who was educated
at a California public school or state college or university? 

Continue reading

Help Stop the Cuts

Over at SEIUVoice.org there is a petition to Governor Schwarzenegger asking him not to balance the budget using cuts that hurt homecare workers.  The Governor is proposing to cut state funding for In-Home
Supportive Services, which helps provide crucial assistance to thousands of
elderly and disabled people in California.  The
proposal would reduce state funding for homecare workers to minimum wage and eliminate care.  This would cause thousands of workers to lose their health benefits.

here’s the thing: it would also force many current homecare patients into nursing homes.  So in future years this would be a
far greater cost to the state.

Here is the wording from the petition page:

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger-

Balancing the budget shouldn’t be done on the backs of homecare workers whose hard work allows hundreds of thousands of Californians to live safely and with dignity in their own homes.  Cutting California’s homecare workers to the minimum wage with drastic cuts in benefits is unacceptable.

I stand in solidarity with the homecare workers who are gathering on Saturday, January 24th in Sacramento, San Francisco and Fresno to stop the cuts.

Go to the page and sign the petition.

Society is only as strong as its weakest link, and it is the responsibility of the people and our government to protect those who are genuinely unable to care for themselves.  We are morally and duty bound to do whatever we can to assure every human being a level of basic dignity. That is what these workers provide for those whom they serve.  We are talking here about cutting this kind of care rather than, for example, asking oil companies to pay something when they take our oil out of the ground to sell back to us.  How have we gotten to this point?

The State Of The State Is Ungovernable

“People are asking if California is governable.”  Governor Schwarzenegger said in the State of the State address today that California faces insolvency within weeks.  He said there is more gridlock in Sacramento than on our roads, if that is possible.

The governor gave a very short speech, saying there is no sense talking about education or infrastructure or water or anything else as long as we have this huge $42 billion deficit.

But the fact remains that the state’s requirement that 2/3 budget-approval requirement means that the state is, in effect, ungovernable.   A few anti-government extremists are able to continue to block the budget, refusing to compromise or even negotiate, demanding that the state lay off tens of thousands of workers, slash medical help for the elderly, slash police protection and firefighting capability, slash funding for courts, raise class sizes to 40 or 50 students, stop repairing roads and levees and everything else the state government does.

David Greenwald writes at California Progress Report wrote, in State of the People is Grim: More Budget Cuts Are Exactly the Wrong Prescription,

“Budget cuts totaling $16 billion over the last three years have already
had severe consequences for the people of California. And the
Governor’s proposed 09-10 budget would further harm California families
and our economy with an additional $17 billion in cuts to schools,
health care, homecare, and state services.”

Leading up to the speech, David Dayen at Calitics wrote, in The State Of The State Is, Well, You Know, “Typically he has done this speech to coincide with the evening news.  This year he’s trying to hide it.”

We at Speak Out California want to invite readers to come up with some solutions for the budget mess.  We are working on some ideas for a prize for the best ideas.

The “Tax Freedom Day” Trick

It takes a 2/3 vote to pass a budget in California. As we have seen this means any budget that does not completely meet the hard-core anti-tax, must-cut-government position of the Republicans in the legislature is voted down. Even though there is enormous public support for government – schools, roads, firefighters, etc. – they will not compromise at all. They demand that we gut the government, lay off tens of thousands of workers, or nothing. So California races toward economic ruin.
What do your taxes buy you? The average person benefits greatly from strong government. By gathering together into a community that is jointly managed (i.e. government) people can pool their resources and accomplish great things that cannot be accomplished by people who are on their own. Roads and bridges are examples of things that people cannot accomplish individually. Police, firefighters, public schools are other examples. Law and courts and a monetary system are still more. And then there are benefits like Social Security and the “safety net” of programs for people who lose jobs food programs for those of us without enough to eat.
The reason we have almost everything that we value as a society, our education and (until recently anyway) jobs, the internet, buildings that don’t easily burn down or blow away, drinkable water coming to our houses and sewage systems leaving them and (until fairly recently, anyway) a health care system that stops epidemics is our government. All of the businesses we see around us exist because of our government — a corporation cannot even exist without the government that establishes it and the legal system that maintains it.
But there are some who would personally benefit more in the absence of government than in its presence. History has taught that there are some who would organize themselves to take what others have worked to build rather than do that work themselves. One need only look at the walls built around cities in the past to understand this. There have also been organized gangs and other criminal enterprises that take rather than build, and more recently we have seen that organized predatory enterprises also find ways to victimize and prey on people. Fraud, confidence and ponzi schemes, consumer scams and all manner of trickery prey on people who are left unprotected by their community. Government is what has always protected regular people from such predators.
Government — the people banding together to guard and accomplish their interests — serves to protect people from those who would just take rather than work with the rest of us to build.
So why did Ronald Reagan famously say “government is the problem” in his first inaugural address and he loudly and repeatedly attack the idea of taxes? The foundation and strength of government is the taxes it collect. Taxes are what provide government with its strength to do all of the good things described above. This is why anti-government ideologues reason that the way to cut government (and thereby bring in its alternative) is to cut taxes. They say that if they can just cut out the foundation of government, it will fall. Or, more famously, that they can “drown it in a bathtub.”
One way that anti-government ideologues have worked to accomplish this is to turn people against their own government, tricking people into misunderstanding how taxes work and what government does for them. last week, in What Are Tax Brackets, I explained how one of these tricks works — that you only pay bracket rates taxes on income that falls in that bracket, not on all income earned up to that bracket.
Another way they turn people against taxation and government is to misrepresent how much is collected and how it is used. Exaggerated statements like, “We pay half our income in taxes” are commonly heard, along with under-representation and misrepresentation of the benefits we receive from government.
“Tax Freedom Day” is one example of this technique. Tax Freedom Day is a product of The Tax Foundation, which is funded by the very same collection of right-wing donors that fund the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute and so many other components of the anti-government “conservative movement.”
Tax Freedom Day is widely publicized by corporate media, and usually described as being when “the average American” has earned enough income to pay their taxes. Tax Freedom Day for 2008 is April 23. To calculate Tax Freedom Day the The Tax Foundation adds up all the taxes paid to the government from all sources, but it only includes certain forms of income. It doesn’t include capital gains income, for example, yet includes capital gains taxes on the tax side of the calculation. These misleading calculations of course result in a much higher tax amount than “the average America” really pays. So while they say that 30.8% of “our” income went to pay taxes in 2008, anyone reading this who looks at their own tax bill can see that their taxes are substantially lower than this figure.
So the next time you hear about Tax Freedom Day, keep in mind who is making this claim, and why.

A California Carol

From the Courage Campaign:

When Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the Democratic budget solution last week he gave a lump of coal to every Californian. His veto places the state in danger of bankruptcy as Arnold demands spending cuts and rollbacks of laws protecting workers and the environment. Arnold has become California’s own Ebenezer Scrooge.
So we thought you might enjoy this special video we put together about Arnold’s nightmare before Christmas. What do the ghosts of California past, present, and future have to say to the Governor after a year of failure? Watch the video and see!