Regarding Brown’s 2014-15 state budget proposal

Dear Gov. Brown,

What are you thinking? Or maybe it’s, what are you drinking? Stop sipping that Tea Party-flavored brew and drink some refreshing reality-check waters, please!


Dear California citizens,

We deserve better of our leaders. The good governor, who I have on reliable authority is a registered Democrat, is on a “fiscally prudent” kick that is merely more of the same—kicking those already down. To say priorities and parties are a little mixed up is to put it mildly. What reasoning says we must pay down the “wall of debt” and save for a “rainy day” before helping those who are getting drenched—not in some mythical future but right now, or, to take another angle on basically the same issue: how about investing in the stuff that will really pull the state’s economy out of the doldrums and shift state policy away from our apparent “compassion fatigue” to figuring out how to apply a culture of caring for the collateral damage of a broken economy that works great for the 1 percenters (or even the point-one-percenters) but leaves the super-majority behind? Instead of more tax breaks so the already wealthy can do more of that virtual job creation they do so well, making solid investments in the public sector can do the trick in real time. This so-called responsible, fiscally “conservative” reasoning the governor is spouting played a leading role in putting us in this mess in the first place. We can do better than to adopt the slight-of-hand, disingenuous, disconnected logic of the dastardly right.


California’s great turnaround

Wow. Amazing. We’ve traveled from the fiery pit of economic red ink of tens of billions of dollars to the lofty heights of single-digit, billion-dollar surpluses—and our governor thinks he gets bragging rights. He must be some kind of magician. Not! So, how do you go from gigantic deficit to a pretty-big surplus in so short a time? Well one way was to cut spending, and cut we did—mostly from the bottom. Another way was to raise revenue, and although approximately 90 percent of Prop. 30 funds come from the better-off class in our great state (and better off they are, with 95 percent of the gains in the post-2008 “recovery” flowing upward to the top one percent in our great “jobless” recovery), there is still that little regressive part of sales tax that has possibly made things a little harder for those with not enough. You know the ones, those folks who work full time and aren’t making it and those without the jobs that the “job creators” are always so selflessly working so hard to create (a.k.a. in tee-party, neo-con logic: the undeserving among us). I’m sorry Mr. Governor but you don’t get to brag about a surplus made up partially from cutting 100,000-plus children from state-supported child care. You don’t get to brag about mediocre re-investment in a positive future for our children and our state as opposed to, say, pushing plans to build even more prison cells. It’s the world turned upside down, where we are rushing ahead with plans to house more cellmates in the self-fulfilling prophesy of lowered expectations —instead of making plans for desperately needed classmates.


Forget history, rinse and repeat

Way back when, there was this Gov. Brown, see. He happened to be in office in the late ’70s when Prop. 13 finally passed. I say finally because that was the third-charmed time it was tried. What was different from the first two tries? The state piggy bank was bursting at the seams with surplus dollars, already saved up waiting for the proverbial “rainy” day. The anti-tax, anti-public-sector freaks, Jarvis, et. al. (I say freaks to distinguish them from those who are not against all taxes, but would rather see the burden shared fairly among all entities of the state) had plenty of ammunition to fire at the political class in Sacramento and to convince the people with arguments like, “Give the money back to the people and let them decide how to spend it.” And, lo and behold, that was the charm that carried the day and the state has suffered under the shrinking public sector—you know, the part of government that serves working people—ever since.


Now we are being set up for failure a second time, and I call it a failure when the political class can’t convince the people that it is in our own interests to pool our wealth and take care of state citizenry rather than allowing the class-with-most-of-it-all-already to take and horde even more. The set-up? Proposition 30’s progressive taxation is temporary. It runs out by 2017. At that point we will be back to square one. If the governor gets his way the state will be sitting on surplus dough trying to convince state voters that we need more. Thanks governor for the ready-made argument against extending the temporary relief from Proposition 30, handed to the neo-cons on a platinum platter. It says on paper you’re a Democrat, but whose side are you really on?


Proposition 30 was half savior and half scourge to begin with, saving those on fixed income from losing their homes, true, but it also opened up massive loopholes that older corporations who play the game right have used to lessen their tax burden significantly and capitalize on the unfair business advantage over newer enterprises, not to mention the other two main affects, that of switching the state’s income burden from an equal share of corporate, income, and sales taxes to predominately more volatile taxes on income and sales. Now, when the economy gets a cold the state gets influenza. The solution, of course, is simple. Can you say split tax roll? Where in Brown’s program or, dare I say, “vision” was anything on this? MIA. So what happens now if Brown gets his way for the new-improved “rainy day” measure II (or is this version III?) and stock away some dough? (Hey, wasn’t the previous governor, who was a Republican, pushing us down the same path? It’s deja vous all over again!)


The “Great Crime” of 2010

The “national debt” was not a concern until the tsunami of billionaire-funded propaganda washed over the public conversation drowning out any common sense whatsoever. We know how to get out of bad economic times in our continuously dysfunctional economic system. The last time this was the Great Depression (represented by the captains of industry of the day) vs. the New Deal (represented by FDR and the people). The sequel, this tired rerun, is the Great Recession (represented by the banksters who broke the economy) vs. the increasingly desperate people who haven’t a clue how to get out of this being lead by a political class that says either cut everything or only cut some things. But we know how to effectively eradicate hunger and at least substantially address the worst effects from abject poverty. That effort was LBJ’s War On Poverty. We also know that most of the protections put in place by those efforts have been just about eroded and even decimated, all to pay down something called “the national debt” that was supposedly bankrupting us.


Sacramento’s budget battle this time

In theory there doesn’t have to be a battle. Didn’t we put all that behind us with the super-Democratic-Party-majority and the passage of the simple-majority budget rule? Under Brown’s proposal, I’m hoping there will be a fight, but, thankfully, the Republicans will be watching from the sidelines. But with governors like Brown, who needs the Republi-thugs of old to hold the state back? The opposing sides are lined up with progressive Democrats on the left bank —standing up for those 100,000 children and their families—with the good governor, hoisting his flag for putting the banksters first and something called a “rainy day” fund, on the right bank. But when you think about it, why shouldn’t the state become a player in the hold-back-on-society game? Hey, everybody’s playing it. It’s easy (for some, at least). The rules are simple (just in case you want to play along): 1) Extract and horde society’s wealth, and 2) Sit on it until some grand get-rich-quick scheme presents itself so you can have more to play with.


The state wants to get in the game by sitting on 2.2 billion “rainy-day” dollars (so Wall Street can continue to gamble with our future). Meanwhile society crumbles around us due to lack of investment. Meanwhile, one of those lost causes, the Master Plan for Higher Education, the economic and democratic engine that fueled California for decades, turning us into a world leader in education, business, and living standards (that is before the banksters and Republicrats broke it), is rapidly going down the tubes.


The CSU in its official pronouncements has gone from “very encouraged” over Speaker Perez’s budget proposal to being merely “encouraged” over the governor’s. Of course, the former fully funds the CSU’s budget request of a modest increase of $237 million over this fiscal year’s budget, while Brown only provides $142.2 million. So, in a sense, the CSU is stating what we need at a minimum and the governor is saying sorry, we have to pay the banksters first and “save” the rest, to the tune of $2.3 billion in umbrella insurance.


Part of the problem is that Brown has taken the disingenuous “tax-and-spend” critique to heart. The right likes to throw out meaningless phrases like that, tax-and-spend liberals to avoid discussion of the real issues, what are we spending on? Some tax spending is wasteful.


One of the fundamental problems here is, of course, what side of the ledger sheet you put education. It isn’t a cost but an investment. Seen this way the state of California cannot afford to not invest in education. Here is what CSU Chancellor White said in December: “Higher education is the antidote to poverty, crime, and violence. An investment in higher education is an investment in the fabric of California.”


As a result of the “anti-tax” pledge, etc., whether this is their intent or not (somewhat open for debate), those with power get taxed less under the Jarvis-Tea Party rhetoric and policy as implemented and those without get taxed more. (See studies done by the California Budget Project). What we need is a conversation on tax fairness and beyond even that, are those with wealth, not just income, taxed fairly? Hell no! The rich have tons of loopholes to squirrel away the dough into off-shore tax havens, etc. Better idea: go the way of North Dakota. ND you say? Good ol’ conservative ND has got us beat. Since [tk] they have a state bank to take care of state business. They don’t need to save for a “rainy day” because they can draw funds from their own bank. They don’t need to pay the banksters interest on state income, those who gambled (and lost and broke the economy) to make the state run. The ND bank is more like a credit union, with the state residents as shareholders. For those who would claim that this is socialist, they would be wrong. It is putting the capital of capitalism to work for the community instead of expanding the off-shore accounts of the one percent. The bank makes profit by making sound investments in the state, like the old days when we had a national Savings and Loan system that, by law, had to invest locally. Wall Street does not reminisce over those good old days because the money wasn’t flowing through their coffers. So what are we waiting for?


The state Legislature’s Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) calls the governor’s budget proposal “prudent.” These days that’s Wall Street speak for “he’s in our pocket.” The LAO agrees with the governor that the state needs to be on stronger financial footing. Guess what? North Dakota avoided the 2008 financial collapse. [reference?] That seems pretty strong to me. I say there is nothing for California to gain from making our Wall Street overlords stronger. It is time for a vision that makes us stronger by better serving the citizens of California. The idea of the public good needs to make a come back.


Back in the day when the state had a surplus, during Brown’s first round as governor, and the political class was arguing about what needs they were going to take care of first, the anti-tax folks attacked and took advantage of the golden opportunity to push their agenda of “defunding the left.” Included in that definition of “left” was anything public. They are still pushing the myth of the inefficient public sector, that you can hold the private sector accountable and government equals waste. What bunk. If this were the slightest bit true then why did our economy collapse? Both sides of the aisle have been scheming and cutting since the golden age of Reagan. Where has that left us? Shrinking and struggling public services, public buildings for sale cheap, public lands stripped of their resources at a horrific scale of environmental rape of the planet, and, predictably, the gap between the many and the few growing by leaps and bounds beyond the historic excesses of the Gilded Age.


Chancellor White got it right when he said in December, “We need to renew public interest in publicly funded higher education.” To do that we need to find champions of the public sector, or if we can’t find them, then create them and give them the support of a movement for economic and social justice and recommit to serving all the people of California. Now’s the time. Peace.


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