February 2009 Archives

Who Is Our Government For?

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dday, writing in Giving Away The Tax Argument at Digby's Hullabaloo blog, asks why so many California newspapers have "tax increase calculators" but no calculators that show people how much the budget cuts affect them.
In my life, I have never seen a "spending cut calculator," where someone could plug in, say, how many school-age children they have, or how many roads they take to work, or how many police officers and firefighters serve their community, or what social services they or their families rely on, and discover how much they stand to lose in THAT equation. Tax calculators show bias toward the gated community screamers on the right who see their money being "taken away" for nothing. A spending cut calculator would actually show the impact to a much larger cross-section of society, putting far more people at risk than a below 1% hit to their bottom line.

[. . . The media already highlights the tax side of the equation over spending, dramatically portraying tax increases while relegating spending cuts to paragraph 27. It feeds the tax revolt and distorts the debate. And it's completely irresponsible.

In Why Are Public Assets Being Cut Right When We Need Them Most? Jay Walljasper, of OnTheCommons.org wonders why public transit, libraries and other things the government does for us are all being cut at exactly the time people need them? As the economy turns downward more people need to take the train or bus, or use the library. Jay makes the connection,
Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, one of the leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, proposes closing the state's budget gap by reducing corporate taxes and slashing state aid to local governments. This will mean painful cuts in public assets, such as transit and libraries.

. . . This loss of our public assets is an alarming threat to our society. The things we all own in common and depend upon--libraries, transit, parks, water systems, schools, public safety, infrastructure, cultural programs, social services--are being gradually but steadily undermined.

For many years I have been blogging at Seeing the Forest, often coming back to a question, "Who is our economy for?" For some time now regular incomes have stagnated, while incomes at the very top just go up and up. The GDP keeps rising, productivity keeps going up, but regular people see less and less of the benefit of this increase. In fact, if you look at charts and data, the stagnation of incomes started almost exactly at the same time as President Reagan took office and started implementing the corporate agenda of anti-tax and anti-government policies. So is this a coincidence?

Throughout human history we have seen one scheme after another wherein a few people seize power and devise a system to hold it and use it to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. This is human nature and through history we have seen it happen over and over.

America formed in reaction to the British monarchy's exploitation of its people. We, the People formed our government to band together and protect each other from attempts by the powerful few to exploit us. Our Constitution was supposed to be include a system of checks and balances to account for the nature of power.

It is time for the people to take back that power and use it to again benefit each other. And it is time for California's newspapers to do something for We, the People and include a "budget cuts calculator" as well as tax increase calculator. It is just as important, maybe more so, that we all understand how we're injuring and jeopardizing our future with the budget cuts the Republicans required in this year's budget negotiations.


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The Budget Agreement

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California finally passed a budget.  It is a bad budget, cutting essential services, borrowing a tremendous amount, selling our lottery revenues and giving a huge tax break to big out-of-state companies.  Each of these came from demands by the very, very few Republicans who agreed to vote for the budget at all will, of course, just get us through another year while making it ever more difficult to pass future budgets.

California's 2/3 requirement means that a few corporate-funded extremists can hold the rest of us hostage.  So they had to make a terrible deal to get the three Republican votes required by the 2/3 rule, or else lay of tens of thousands and stop paying California's bills.  We the People of California were all held hostage to that threat. 

The resulting deal was that if We, the People want schools, police, firefighters, roads & bridges, courts, all the things our government does for us, we had to agree to tax breaks for the big multinational corporations that kick in so much money to help elect the anti-government extremists. So the big companies - the kind that come in and crush local California businesses - get a big tax break while the rest of us have our taxes raised.  Oh, and the oil companies can continue to take our oil out of the ground for free and then sell it back to us.

Here are some reactions around the California netroots:

David Dayen at Calitics,

 "The cuts are going to be really, really bad: 10% across the board for education, huge cuts for public transit operations, health care, etc.  The new revenues basically fill in the loss of revenue from massive unemployment.

[. . .] The "single sales factor apportionment," which is the massive business tax cut, doesn't kick in until FY2011, predictably and conveniently after Gov. Schwarzenegger is out of office and it will be someone else's problem to make up the revenue!  It's almost like somebody planned it that way!"

Richard Holober at Consumer Federation of California,

 "The deal reported today does not call on all California taxpayers to share in the sacrifice. Working Californians will face billions in higher sales tax and income tax rates. But businesses win about one billion dollars in new tax breaks.  $700 million in corporate tax cuts result from a recalculation of how California taxes the profits of big multinational corporations.   According to the Senate Analysis, the windfall to multinational corporations, and the revenue loss to California will eventually grow to $1.5 billion."

Robert Cruickshank at the Courage Campaign blog,

"The only way out, and the first reform that we must undertake - the tree blocking the tracks, the door that opens the path to all other reforms - is eliminating the 2/3 rule that gives conservatives veto power over the state and turns the majority Democrats into a minority party on fiscal matters. It's been talked about frequently on Calitics and in what remains of the media's coverage of state politics. So it seemed time for an in-depth discussion of the issue and the prospects for restoring majority rule to California.

David M. Greenwald at California Progress Report,

"Many Democrats and political observers fear that Maldonado strong-arming the legislature may set a bad precedent for future attempts at getting a budget on time."

So here we are.  Our structural problems have enabled extremists to increase ... our structural problems.  We are one more step down the road to intentional ungovernability.

Over the next several months, we who love this state must act to fix this.  We must get rid of this 2/3 budget-vote requirement that allows extremists to hold us hostage.  An initiative changing the 2/3 vote requirement is long-overdue but we'll need the support of every forward-thinking voter to make it happen.  Let's work together to ensure that it does.


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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.


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Here are ways to contact your California elected officials:

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
1st Floor, State Capitol, Sacramento 95814
Tel: (916) 445-2841
Email: Send email to Governor

Your Elected Representatives in California
-- California League of Women Voters.  (See also their Suggestions for how to be most effective when contacting your elected officials.)

California State Legislature Zip Code Search by zip code -- enter your zip code and you get contact info for your Assembly Member and Senator

Your Legislature by zip code -- a different page to enter your zip code and you get contact info for your Assembly Member and Senator

Find Your California State Legislative Representatives using your address -- enter your address and get contact info for your Assembly Member and Senator

Assembly Member List -- lists the office addresses and phone numbers of Assembly Members

Senator List -- lists the office addresses and phone numbers of State Senators

Project Vote Smart's biographies of California Elected Officials

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Recommended Reading

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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.

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Government

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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.

As the financial crisis hits, and the fabric of that pro-big business philosophy is shredding the fabric of our society, we can see clearly just how foolish and destructive the right-wing machine has been to our economic, social and political values. (Not to mention cutting off peanut processing plant regulation and inspection, leading to the current situation of 9 dead and hundreds seriously ill across the country.  This is just ONE more example of the consequences of right-wing policies.)

Alone those lines, here is an interesting video, making fun of some of the anti-government propaganda we have heard over the last few decades:


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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


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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.

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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