Posts Tagged ‘California’

Letter to “Rolling Stone” magazine re. Gov. Action Hero

June 13, 2015

Editors,
I suppose some of your readers may care about the People-magazine-esque piece on Arnold Schwarzenegger written by Jonah Weiner in the May issue, but it pretty lame for RS fare. Now let’s see the same story done by the likes of Matt Taibbbi. There certainly is plenty of juice here to tell a story of substance and explain why and how California fell so low beyond being merely being a “casualty” of economic forces outside the former governor, or anyone’s, control.

That Schwarzenegger’s grand ego is still intact despite his dismal failure as a political leader the article captures, not to mention other controversy that followed him like a dark cloud (the unfaithfulness to spouse mentioned pales to the seemingly-legitimate, but unexplored charges of the “Heir-gropenegger” stories).

What it misses by a wide mark is explaining who he was politically and what he did to California’s economy before the 2008 crash that compounded the damage ten-fold. We are just starting to climb out from under Schwarzenegger’s legacy and dark vision of America. The article seems to play along with Arnold’s grand fantasy—the blame is obviously on us for failing to understand that he was born to lead and we failed our part to blindly follow, never venturing beyond his social-policy libertarian side, but says nothing about his neo-con, Chicago-school, economic views best captured in his “starve the beast” rhetoric—the “beast” being, of course, the public sector.

Candidate Schwarzenegger ran as a Republican but also on an almost “independent” platform, saying he was not connected to Sacramento—a real “outsider” who could come in and, like a Hollywood action-hero script, clean up the mess. That un-connectedness turned out to not be such a strength (Republican leaders took to wearing nametags at their own caucus events so he would know their names), as he often couldn’t deliver votes from his own party, let alone across the aisle that is the hallmark of a civil democracy.

He also ran on the idea that “career” politicians (a phrase some public servants are rightly proud of) were the problem, along with their “irresponsible” spending, and the selectively used “special interests” moniker. His campaign stops were grand theater—gigantic scissors and the cutting of a massive state credit card to dramatize what he could do for us. State Senator Mark Leno explained what Gov. Arnold actually did to California to me once in this way: sure he cut the Vehicle License Fee (a progressive tax that brought in $6 billion a year and was spent mostly at the county and city levels) and gave you a petty refund (a state retiree showed me the two dollar and change VLF-refund check he got) that maybe made you feel good for a moment—all the while reaching around to your back pocket for your credit card, running up the tab, and finally leaving you paying the bill.

He disgraced the office of California governor not only with his arrogant smoking tent and sexist-pig behavior but also by blurring the lines between state business and Arnold, Inc. Schwarzenegger was always first and foremost about Arnold but that wasn’t his worst side. The darker story here is how he came to run in the first place.

The VLF tax-cut was not his first act in office. His first act was to drop the lawsuit that Gov. Davis and Lt. Gov. Bustamante had against Enron to capture some of the approximately $30–50 billion stolen from the people of California in the illegal manipulation of the energy market and put a stop to the effort to regulate energy markets so it couldn’t be done again. Maybe Gov. Davis, and most politicians for that matter, are “girley-men” in Arnold’s world, but at least he tried to stand up to wrongdoing as opposed to making deals with the Devil that Arnold allegedly did to climb upward (see the work of investigative journalist Greg Palast on the meeting between Enron’s Ken Lay and Schwarzenegger before his announcement to run in the recall-election, and the film, “The Smartest Men In The Room,” especially the outtake interviews of Gov. Davis’ staff).

Any article that glosses over Schwarzenegger’s corruption both as a political leader and human being does a grave disservice to the people of California. Peace.

Regarding Brown’s 2014-15 state budget proposal

May 24, 2014

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.

An open letter to California State University Chancellor Tim White

January 26, 2014

Long Beach, California
1/22/14

Dear Dr. White,

I hope you had a restful holiday break. I wanted to wish you the peace of the season and share a few thoughts for the coming year and beyond. As a long-time staff person, union activist, and advocate for the CSU, higher education, and the public sector it is as important for me to tell my story as it is for you to hear it—so at the very least, thank you for listening. But, as the actor Alan Alda once said, real listening carries with it the possibility that what you hear might change you.

I wanted to start by complimenting you for making the effort to signal that this is, indeed, a new day for the CSU. As much fun as I know you had fulfilling your promise last year to see every campus, visiting this demoralized system cannot possibly be a joy-filled experience all the time. I appreciated you coming to my campus and offering the opportunity to meet you in person. Many tough decisions have been, and will continue to be required of you. I don’t envy your position but it was wise to put yourself out there first so your employees got the sense that one can deal with this guy and maybe he deserves our support.

We have been through a rough time the last five years, as you may well know. I spent part of this time in a voluntary (elected) position as a statewide union leader in charge of bargaining and representation for CSUEU. In June of 2009, the day after I was elected, I had to fly to Long Beach to prepare for the challenge of whether thousands of staff would be laid off or, with some luck, bargain a furlough agreement that the classified staff could accept. In the end we did get an agreement, and then, instead of taking our advice, the CSU messed up its implementation, creating all sorts of unnecessary problems for leaders on both sides. In the next three years I, too, visited every campus, my road time averaging three-to-seven days a week, facing painful issues that included layoff mitigation on ten campuses. At the time we were already down too many positions and even Chancellor Reed admitted that losing additional staff was threatening the very functionality of the CSU. Nonetheless, two handfuls of CSU presidents decided that some staff were expendable. In addition, some campuses (with support from the chancellor’s labor relations office) unwisely tired to manipulate the layoff agreement—which is, by design, fundamentally sound in providing options to mitigate and ensure worker’s rights—to, sadly avoid fairness to their dedicated employees.

This is a new day but we are still in a big mess. We know you didn’t create it. Please don’t ever feel you need to make excuses for those who came before. But at least part of the reason we are in this pickle has been a lack of dynamic leadership. The few good leaders in the CSU were overshadowed by the cynical, defeated, visionless, and outright twisted ones we’ve been saddled with. What we really need is a crusader, a champion to lead us forward. Let me explain.

The defunding of public higher education is a project that started in the Reagan era with the proliferation of corporate-funded “think tanks,” (affectionately known as “stink tanks” in some circles) whose purpose was to undermine the influence of the perceived bias of the “liberal” universities, both public and private. Along with this misconception of the universal mission of higher education came the CSU’s second strike: that we are publicly funded. The third was our affordability, the unfair competition that free market fundamentalists find so abhorrent, stripping so-called deserved profit away from the entrepreneur job and wealth “creators” we hear so much about. Thomas Jefferson’s vision is lost on these Americans, who feel that the relative advantage of privilege that their wealth provides should not be undermined by offering the children of working people the equal opportunity to succeed. Never mind that the society as a whole benefits, their argument seems to be: why should they have to fund it and unfairly undermine the price that all comers should have to pay?

Next came the 2008 budget crisis. Well, actually the crisis started well before Gov. Schwarzenegger played his game of smashing the state piggy bank in order to promote his economic neo-con agenda. It started with Prop. 13. Ever so slowly the heat was turned up on the frogs to the surreal point where the CSU trustees were arguing about changing the term for the non-tuition we are not supposed to be charging students from “fees” to “tuition-fees” and more than half the state portion of the CSU’s revenue now comes from those non-tuition-fees we are charging for what rightly should be a free education. In addition, this violates the other mandate of the CSU, that is affordability, but to maintain that pretense the amount of available student aid is increased with each upward tick of the temperature dial. And we can see how that is working as students are graduating, those lucky enough to get there, with higher debt than ever before. This has untold ramifications for our society. As John Garamendi said to me once, how can young people consider public service as a career choice like he did with this debt hanging over them?

Besides the manipulated and purposeful underfunding of the entire public schooling sector, the real crime for the CSU was that California’s Master Plan for Higher Education was abandoned with no public debate and little fight. Unfortunately, the CSU leaders (the so-called trustees) were either salivating over the contracts they were going to see their corporate fellow travelers get or (the one’s who cared) wringing their hands saying: “What can we do? TINA.” All while distancing themselves from the groups that could have marshaled the political power to actually make a difference, the students and the employee unions. Oh, for a brief time there was the Alliance For the CSU, which actually worked (on many campuses and in Sacramento) to create the political pressure to turn back some threatened cuts, but it too soon fell apart, as if it were not needed anymore after securing a brief respite, just one victorious battle in the ongoing war. And all the while the chancellor’s governmental affairs office continued to push an indifferent agenda as if it were just another day in the life of dismantling a great institution. I don’t know if you could hear the violin music emanating from the 6th floor in Long Beach, but whatever the former leadership was doing, we were not clued in. Like I said, why would you not use the one power you have, the massive university community, including the parents, to turn back the anti-public higher education agenda? Instead they ran the other way.

The entire university community, and the state itself, is a victim of this ongoing crime. Not least the non-faculty staff. Going forward, first we need recognition that our problems are both the external, corporate-driven attacks that are part and parcel of the project to destroy the public sector (by “proving” the private sector can do it better, a wild assumption at best, and totally discredited over and over again), and the attack from within to demoralize the workforce (to better promote the private sector as the only alternative to a supposedly coddled, over-privileged state employees).

Thus we end up with “solutions” to budget shortfalls that make the overall problem worse for the people of the state, while dialing down the mission from excellent education to sort of OK. But we survived. The CSU would have been much worse off if not for the heroic efforts of the entire university community in struggling to maintain quality with much fewer resources and at great personal sacrifice. But if state employees, and specifically CSU staff, are coddled, then maybe we deserved to be cut. But what is the reality?

An internal problem that the budget crisis only exacerbated is the CSU’s broken staff classification and compensation system. The underlying philosophy is outdated and the system is dysfunctional in more ways than just being underfunded. This isn’t just my own opinion. There is plenty of empirical evidence. So much so that a joint labor-management committee wrote a report with recommendations for making significant changes (Long-Term Compensation Strategy LMC Report, June 2010). Some of these items are ever-so-slowly being implemented but the overall dysfunction has not been addressed. This needs to come from your office, from your leadership. Oh, you may have a battle with some of the trustees, who will object to this change in direction away from the Social Darwinian, corporate-inspired, philosophy to a system that rejects the race-to-the-bottom regime and honors public service and honestly values those providing the service. We are not making widgets. We are a service institution. Contrary to the view that too much of our budget goes to wages and benefits (as your predecessor was fond of saying without this clarification, effectively pushing the anti-tax panic button). It is both right and healthy for the majority of our resources to be put into the people providing this service for the greater good. The CSU is an investment in our children that we cannot afford to not make.

On top of the systemic issues there really has been serious underfunding and misdirected priorities. We, the staff, have been without cost-of-living raises since, in 2006, we were denied the raises in the third year of our contract at the time. This goes back to the beginning of the last round of the state budget crisis, when Gov. Schwarzenegger declared a fiscal emergency (after he made the crisis worse, of course). When we bargained those well-deserved raises at that time the CSU was still reeling from previous budget cuts. Our bargaining team successfully showed management that our represented employees—the life’s blood of the CSU—were already terribly behind market wages, averaging 20 percent for most classifications. Since that time, things have gotten much worse, especially for the long-term employees.

As I stated earlier, in FY 2009-2010 we were faced with the choice of massive layoffs or furloughs. I helped negotiate the agreement that cut staff compensation by 10 percent for one year to help preserve positions. The staff in our bargaining units voted by better than 80 percent to take the cut. However, we still saw layoffs in subsequent years; the chancellor’s office not being so keen on furloughs anymore. We did our best to mitigate those layoffs to lessen the damage both to the individuals and for those campuses. Most of those affected have since returned to work but, as predicted, the system is just now beginning to fill long-vacant positions and address the increased workload burden our staff endured.

Unlike most other state employees, we do not have regular salary steps. Back in 1996 the CSU unilaterally took steps away when they implemented their merit pay system, featuring manager-discretion, open salary ranges—which were never adequately funded, and are only partly justified for a handful of classifications in the first place (mostly in Bargaining Units 2 and 9). The ranges look great on paper, but the reality for most CSU employees is that they are hired at the bottom and that is where they stay for most, if not all of their careers.

Although we do have the contractual right to ask for a raise through the In-Range Progression (IRP) process, they are, again, entirely discretionary and the CSU campuses do not typically have a budget line for staff promotion, so mostly it’s a futile exercise only to hear: “We recognize that you have taken up more duties at a higher level, but there’s no money for raises at this time.” Managers are doubly affected due to the frustration of not being able to reward their hard-working staff on top of themselves not seeing raises, and, like their staff, taking on increased workloads as they struggled to hold onto staff and avoid layoffs, mostly by not filling positions vacated through attrition. Staff know that the rule is: the longer you work for the CSU the farther behind you fall. For example, I was helping a union member—a health center nurse of 20 years—with her IRP (raise) request and discovered that she was making $2,000 a month less than a recently hired nurse doing the same work. Of course, she had to show this newly hired employee the ropes.

So, with the CSU in periodic budget crisis, coming in waves, classes cut in the early 1990s have still not returned. In addition, SF State’s plans to expand education pedagogy into innovative inter-disciplinary directions with it’s NEXA program was entirely sacrificed to the “budget crisis” gods. Meanwhile some staff who spent their entire careers during this time have experienced stagnation, no movement through salary ranges; asked to take on more without compensation; literally overworked and underpaid; often working out of classification; and then hit with furloughs and effectively told over and again that we are the most expendable members of the university community.

Any effort on your part to restore what was lost, and beyond that, secure adequate funding for the CSU will be greatly appreciated. The state legislature must be shown that to lose 33 percent of our operating budget over the last five years (not to mention previous cuts) and then have 18 percent trickle back in puny increments (the governor’s “5-5-4-4 plan”) but still be expected to take in even more students and meet other enhanced performance criteria is not reasonable. As we are public servants and also citizens of the state we take to heart our mission and can’t help but be disturbed about the unmet needs of a state in economic recovery. California’s citizenry and government leaders need to be shown that not to invest adequately in our collective future is a less than prudent path, to say the least. In addition, there was a cruel joke played on us with the so-called “equal” cuts made to both the CSU and UC. The same dollar amounts have not had the same affect because our overall budgets and funding sources are not the same.

You join us in somewhat better times, but the very real threats to the CSU are still out there. It is heartening to see the system begin to go in what appears to be the reverse direction. I commend your effort to recognize our neglect the last seven years by carving a 1.34 percent raise out of the $125 million the Legislature provided the CSU in the last budget. This is a significant sign of hope. In addition, your support for our bargaining team’s proposal to fund a minimum $40-a-month increase for those below that threshold has not gone unnoticed. While it was a hopeful move and very much appreciated by those employees affected, it is sad that it was even necessary. Imagine living in the SF Bay Area on less than $3,000 a month gross pay, working full time.

However, to watch a democratic leader (one of our supposed friends that some elements like to say are in the union’s pockets) campaign against the BART employees by promoting a petition against public transit employees’ right to strike (in his bid to join the State Legislature) is extremely disheartening, especially since he is the governor’s man on the CSU Board of Trustees. We are left wondering, who are the trustees, let alone legislators, with the courage to stand up for public service employees?

The next round of full-contract bargaining is upon us. In the last round we proposed similar language to that of other state employees to protect bargaining units from overuse of outside contractors performing our work. Unfortunately, we did not have the leverage at the time to convince the CSU, and this problem has only gotten worse since. We may be pushing this in the state legislature. We are convinced it is the right thing to do for the sate as a whole. The reality is, contracting out is a very efficient way to waste already scarce state resources. California as an employer does not need to join the race to the bottom with the creation of junk jobs that don’t provide for healthy communities and a career we, as state employees, can be proud of.

You and I have our respective roles, but they aren’t so different, at least they shouldn’t be in some respects. We both need to champion the public sector, value the workforce, and figure out how to restore what has been stolen from the citizens of California and ensure that it doesn’t happen again by securing an ongoing commitment for the future.

Again, thank you for listening. Your heartfelt respect for what we do is important to us. Now let’s see some action, taken with the help of the entire university community. Speak up on what we know is good for us all, a strong public sector, and, we got your back.

I remain a proud public servant at your service.
Sincerely,

California State Employees Association Vice President Russell Kilday-Hicks
ITC at SF State, CSU Employees Union member and activist

Regarding the Brown-Millionaire Tax measures compromise

March 22, 2012

By Russell Kilday-Hicks, CSUEU VP for Representation

“My practicality consists in this, in the knowledge that if you beat your head against the wall it is your head which breaks and not the wall … that is my strength, my only strength.”                        — Antonio Gramsci

As one of four statewide, rank-and-file elected officers of my union, the CSU Employees Union, Local 2579 SEIU, I recently returned from a meeting of our statewide Board of Directors, a body made of statewide and campus chapter rank-and-file elected officers.

Along with two other officers who, like me had participated in recent Occupy Education activities, we made the argument for support of the Millionaires Tax measure (MT). We lost, overwhelmingly. Even though in their hearts they supported the MT, their heads told them that it couldn’t win, that it would be an uphill struggle to get it on the ballot, and that from their perspective there were some serious flaws in its design. While I can see both sides of the argument, I am going to support their position.

I proposed in the Occupy Education GA on March 17 that we declare the Brown tax compromise a victory and move on. Here’s why.

 

I participated in the “99-Mile March to Sacramento for Education and Social Justice” and greatly value being part of that experience and the community we built. I believe in the power of the Occupy Movement (Occupy) to bring about significant social change that’s long overdue. It has given me real hope I haven’t felt for 30 years of activism. I also strongly support taxing the rich to fund a vibrant public sector, and to expose the obscenely unequal distribution of wealth in our society, the unbalanced distribution of power, and the farce both of these make of democracy,.

 

The time is right for a tax measure like this. But the MT is not getting the support it needs from some key organized groups, making its qualification for the ballot, let alone passage in November, an extremely long shot. We need to understand why. It is too simple to just say, “the unions are in Brown’s pocket” or, they are “too tied to the Democratic Party.”

 

One persuasive argument against MT is that even if the MT gets on the ballot and wins a majority vote (two pretty high hurdles), because it doesn’t address the ongoing structural General Fund deficit (the state’s income is less than mandated expenses), in the end, there could be no net increase to CSU funding. Whatever the CSU gets on the front end (from MT) could be cut on the back end (from General Fund dollars) in order to address other pressing social needs. CSUs and UCs are at least earmarked to receive funding in MT. Not so for child care and health and human services.

 

Another problem is that the funds set up by the MT won’t begin paying out until Sept. 1, 2013. What happens until then? Brown has promised to cut the CSU another $200 million (on top of the $750 million cut to this fiscal year) if his measure doesn’t pass. At least the compromise measure brings in funds immediately so some planned cuts can be stopped. It’s true these funds are from a regressive sales tax. But without some immediate infusion of funds the CSU and the people I represent will loose even more jobs than we already have. Since CSU can’t gamble on something passing in November, they must cut at the start of the 2012 fiscal year (and they just announced at the Board of Trustee meeting that up to 25,000 students could be turned away and about 3,000 staff could be laid off). If this happens, one of the ongoing threats to the union, dismantling and privatization of the CSU system, will have an easier time moving forward.

 

Now is the time to push for increasing taxes on the rich. Our tax system has been inherently unbalanced for the last three decades, and that problem has become even more severe in recent months with our “jobless recovery.” Neither do we need to debate whether or not Brown is part of the problem. He’s a solid corporate centrist who is not about to challenge the two-party system of privilege and inequality that is too often mistakenly called democracy.

 

The question here is what will best build the movement. I’m making a call for a tax-the-rich victory that will deliver much-needed funding more immediately and encourage an increasingly broad group to keep fighting. If we are going to choose electoral work as a tactic, we must get into the nitty-gritty details of how thing work in Sacramento, how to qualify measures for the ballot and figure out who will vote for what—and if we are in this for the long haul.  

 

We heard from the president of CFT some of the practical reasons why they compromised—primarily not enough support to even get it on the ballot—let along pass it in November—both financially and from activist/volunteers. The harsh reality is: there have been a number of recent, progressive ballot measures that have gone down to defeat. You may say this doesn’t matter because Occupy has changed everything, and I would agree to a point. This compromise would not have happened without Occupy. It has changed the debate and opened up new space for change, but has Occupy delivered millions of new voters, for example? This compromise measure needs to qualify for the ballot in record time. Even the compromise measure is an opportunity for Occupy to show its strength by shifting the tone of California’s politics and show our readiness to stand up against the anti-tax rhetoric.

 

Even if MT is still a viable option, successful passage could still lead to cuts in areas not protected by Prop. 98, and comes with the risk of carrying on the message that government and taxes are the problem, rather than the real issue (the strength of the Occupy meme), that the wealthy are in control. While Prop 98 is an important defensive measure against Prop 13 and the attack on education, as long as we have one public sector with guaranteed funding (as inadequate as it is still) while other crucial services for the 99 percent continue to starve, we will have a divided movement. We need to build initiatives that unite all public sectors serving the 99 percent: health and human services, and education from diapers (child care) to PhDs and life-long learning. Until we find a better way, some revenue dedicated to the General Fund is what we need.

 

It is unfortunate that Brown has not officially withdrawn his measure. I spoke with CSU Trustee Steve Glazer, who is spearheading the ballot effort for the governor, about the perception that if the old measure is not withdrawn then the compromise measure looks like a ploy to merely eliminate viable competition. He said he understood and will deliver that message to the governor. Glazer also said they are going to be challenged with keeping their governor’s business partners behind the compromise agreement.

 

In addition to appropriate criticism from the Left, it’s important to understand what the Right is calling this compromise. They portray it as Brown giving in to the unions. If we are really trying to build a mass movement we need to be strategic and keep the “eyes on the prize.” We must transform unions as a crucial ingredient for progressive and radical change. We must be careful that our critiques of unions don’t support those forces attacking the unions.

 

The fact that unions don’t feel supported enough by Occupy to take the chance on the MT should not surprise us. We are at the beginning of this movement. The unions need the support not only to survive, but to democratize internally, and allow more radical leaders to come into power. Let’s analyze why our natural allies continue to align with the likes of Brown (let alone the crazies on the Right) and give them the support and security they need to join us. Let’s broaden our discussions to those affected by other public sector areas, unionized or not. The public education sector has the strength of organization, dedicated students, and unions to lead this charge. As one of those unionists, I’m dedicated to Occupy for the long haul. I’m asking for your help. Peace.