December 2008 Archives

A California Carol

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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!
 

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Sunday's CBS show 60 Minutes featured our own Governor Schwarzenegger!  One of the things said on the show was the following,
"The governor proposed to close that budget deficit half with tax increases and half with budget cuts. Republicans and Democrats opposed him."
This is why California does not have a budget.  I don't mean that we do not have a budget because "Republicans and Democrats" oppose the Governor, won't compromise, won't "meet half way," etc. or that "Democrats won't agree to cut spending" as most of the public is told.  I mean that we do not have a budget because the public is told that this is the reason. If the public understood the real reasons that we do not have a budget, representative government would work and the citizens would apply the necessary pressure to bring about the passage of a budget.

It is simply a fact that the reason we do not have a budget is that a small number of extremists are blocking the passage of a budget and are doing so because they can.  They have voted against every budget compromise offered. They have been able to get away with this because the public believes that both sides are refusing to compromise.  The Democrats have agreed to cuts and have moved more than half way.  The Republicans refuse to move at all.

Our news outlets are not meeting their responsibility to keep the public informed.  This failure is contributing to our state's inability to govern itself.

And by the way, we here at Speak Out California wish you a Happy Holiday Season!

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Following the 2000 census the California Assembly, Senate and Governorship were all controlled by Democrats.  In line with tradition they used their majority power to create new electoral districts designed to maximize the Democratic majority.  They did this by drawing district lines that bunched Democrats and Republicans together in some very oddly shaped districts. 
baymap_assembly.gif
(Click to enlarge)

Look at district 15, drawn here in brown.  It sends branches up toward Sacramento, an arm toward the East Bay, a stump to the south, etc.  This is what a safe district looks like.  Neighboring district 10 has an equally odd arrangement of offshoots to the east and south and a little hook over there on its left.

In 1990 this drawing of districts to create safe seats backfired.  With safe districts turnover of legislators became rare and lawmakers became less responsive to voters, which made voters angry enough to pass term limits to try to solve the problem. 

But that didn't stop the games.  The 2000 census created a new batch of safe districts, and I think this backfired again, only worse.  First, no one foresaw 2008's electoral sweep.  This redistricting created safe Republican districts as well as Democratic districts because they increased the number of Democratic seats by bunching Republicans together into a few districts.  The 2008 sweep could have taken out several more Republicans than it did because of the concentration of Republicans in these districts.  In SD-19 Hannah-Beth Jackson lost her Senate race by less than 900 votes in that "safe" Republican district.  A fair redistricting would have turned Santa Barbara's Senate district over to the Democrats because enough voters there were fed up with the increasingly extremist Republicans running for office.

But the very worst consequence of the 2001 redistricting was that it guaranteed just enough safe Republican seats to enable the remaining extremist minority to block budgets while avoiding the political consequences.  The way their districts are drawn they are going to get reelected no matter what, so they refuse to approve any budget that does not yield to all of the most absolutely extreme right-wing demands.

This November voters passed Proposition 11, which tries to set up a neutral process for drawing legislative districts.  I hope that this process works as intended, creating districts that fairly represent their constituents' interests.  I also hope that this opens up the possibility of truly contested elections in which responsive politicians are asked to stay in office -- and politicians who do not represent their constituents can be replaced.

I want to point out that if Proposition 11's fair redistricting is successful this removes the justification for term limits.  Voters should be allowed to keep representatives as well as remove them.

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California Republicans finally, finally submitted what they claim is a plan to attack the budget deficits, detailing specifics of the cuts they are demanding.  The plan they submitted only cuts the deficit in half, thereby admitting (but not admitting) the urgent need to raise taxes to cover the other half of the deficit.  

The Republican plan guts public schools, community colleges, Medi-Cal, transit, mental health and many other programs.  And yet it still leaves half of the deficit in place.  So it isn't really a "plan" at all.  It is just one more extremist demand that we gut public schools.

A phrase like "guts schools and programs" becomes abstract when it is heard often enough.  So what does this mean to the average Californian?  What kind of education will children receive as we push to 40 or more students per classroom?  Will they be safe if the district cannot afford crossing guards or buses?  Will any of us be safe after police and firefighters are cut back?  Do we go another decade without improving mass transit or even repairing roads and bridges?  Will epidemics spread as health care is cut back?  What about three-hour lines at the DMV?  And what happens to people's ability to train for jobs when community colleges are cut way back?   

The Republicans demand that we sacrifice the education of an entire generation of school-aged Californians, so that a few wealthy people and corporations can become even wealthier!  Their benefactors are covered -- their kids are in $20,000-a-year private academies.  But what will this do to the economic future of the rest of this generation, and to the future of California?  They don't care.

This process as it has unfolded over so many years has shown us that California is ungovernable until we remove the current 2/3-requirement system that allows a small group of extremists to hold the state hostage.

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Tuesday I wrote that Republicans were demanding mass layoffs of public employees -- during a recession.  And they are getting away with it because the state's corporate-owned media outlets are not explaining to the public what is going on. 

The history of how we got to this point of budget stalemate is that Republicans in the legislature have blocked every single budget and gone back on their own Governor and every negotiated compromise, demanding that all budget shortfalls be solved by laying off teachers, construction workers, DMV workers, firefighters, etc.  And through the whole process they have refused to offer any plan for the cuts they demand.  But this is explained to the voters as a problem caused by "both sides" or "the legislature" or "refusing to work together" or to "reach a compromise" or "pointing fingers."  Some even manage to blame the Democrats for not completely caving in to every single demand!  The result is that effective public pressure does not develop to get this solved.

Now, rather than compromise and work with the Democrats and the Governor, they have come up with a new list of demands, on top of their previous demands.  And this list is really something:
"Democrats have to capitulate to GOP demands for the 8-hour work day, meal breaks, looser environmental regulations, permanent budget cuts and a stiff spending cap, among other things.

Then, and only then, will Republicans come to the table to discuss -- but not necessarily agree to -- new taxes"



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How do California's Republicans think California should solve the state's budget crisis, which results from people being laid off and losing their houses?  They are demanding nothing less than mass layoffs of state employees. 

Every single budget compromise that has been negotiated has been rejected by the Republicans. They say there is one, and only one, budget solution they will vote for: mass layoffs of state employees and contractors.  They want the state's teachers fired, construction employees fired, firefighters fired, DMV workers fired, medical workers fired and mass firings from the rest of the state's departments.  And when they are done with that they demand cutbacks in medical care for the elderly, disabled, blind, and everyone else.

How are they getting away with this? 

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In Santa Clara County they want to extend Bay Area Rapid Transit down to San Jose.  To fund this they put Measure B, a 1/8 cent sales tax, on the ballot.  In California all tax measures must pass by a 2/'3 margin and on Election Day the voters approved Measure B by a 2/3 margin.

That would be the end of it, except the vote was very close to exactly 2/3.  For several days it looked as though the measure would fail because it reached a few votes short of exactly 66.66% but when the last ballot was counted the result was 66.78% in favor.  So in the face of a 2/3 vote by the people, a group sued to block certification pending a recount.  Yes, with 2/3 of the public voting for this, a group sued to stop it!

My observation is that this demonstrates something important about the "anti-tax" forces in our state.  Their intent is to hobble our democracy and thwart the will of the people.  It is time for us to take back democracy and return majority vote to tax measures!   

It is nearly impossible to get 2/3 for anything, ever, in an election.  Clearly this 2/3 requirement is about hobbling democracy, not protecting rights.  The public wanted to bring BART to San Jose.  A remarkable 2/3 voted for this, yet a group sues based on the count being close to exactly 2/3.  And in our state legislature the budget process has completely broken down as a 1/3 minority blocks every budget, every compromise and every last attempt to pass sensible measures to run our state!  We are now in a "Fiscal Emergency," cutting back our schools and laying people off during a recession.  This is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing and of what the public wants, but there is no choice because we are hobbled by rules that anti-government extremists managed to sneak past misinformed voters decades ago.

We must get rid of the 2/3 requirement.  It is time.  Democracy and good government are back in fashion so let's get on with it!

(By the way, California's Secretary of State ruled that the law says automatic recounts
occur when the vote count is very close to 50/50.  Since the vote count
was 2/3 the law does not apply even though the election was close. A
judge ruled Tuesday that the attempt to block Measure B came too late.


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California's unemployment rate has soared to 8.2% -- third highest in the United States!  We need to stimulate California's economy.  We need a massive jobs and infrastructure investment program, rebuilding our roads and bridges and schools and making our buildings energy-efficient, and hiring more teachers and police and firefighters.  We can do this, while balancing the budget at the same time.

How can we do this?  We can raise taxes on big corporations and the wealthy and use the money to stimulate the economy and balance the budget and get things moving again.

Our economic system is not perfect, so over time income tends to concentrate at the top, which makes it harder for most people to get by.  People spend less and things slow down.  We are seeing this today -- wealth has massively concentrated at the top, and the consumer is "tapped out."  No one is buying cars and Christmas sales will be much lower. 

Taxes on the wealthy and corporations fix this by recirculating money that has bunched up at the top.  Taxes provide the resources that We, the People can then use to stimulate the economy and get it moving again.

The corporations will try to say that this tax increase will slow the economy.  But this isn't what has happened when this has been done in the past.  Actually history shows that taxing the wealthiest and corporations helps our economy.  This is not surprising when you realize that more people with more jobs and money to spend is a good thing in a consumer-driven economy. 

There is a problem, though.  In California we have a rule that we cannot pass any tax with less than a two-thirds vote.  A little over half the people voted to impose this two-thirds requirement -- and now 100% of us are hobbled for doing what we need to do to fix the economy.  Instead of stimulating the economy we have to lay off teachers and firefighters and road workers, further worsening the recession, because cutting budgets is the only option available.  Even if 55% or 60% of us would rather hire people and stimulate the economy, we still can't.

So we need to change this rule.  We need to be able to pass taxes on the corporations and the rich, and get the economy moving again. 

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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