Monday, March 23, 2009

In which I actually agree with Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman about something.

By way of Dan Walters (who, no matter how much I can't stand the guy, does have his moments), we get this. Unsurprisingly, 2010 GOP Gubernatorial candidates Steve Poizner (Insurance Commissioner) and Meg Whitman (Fmr. eBay CEO) have come out against one of Arnold's Special Favors: Proposition 1A. Proposition 1A would couple a spending cap with a tax increase. Guess why they oppose it? (Hint: they're not exactly fans of government spending.)

That's right, they oppose Prop 1A because it would institute a tax increase. Whitman, for her part, takes it even further and comes out in opposition to Propositions 1B and 1C, as well. In her argument against 1A, Whitman trots out boilerplate rhetoric that doesn't amount to much more than "taxes are bad!"

As we all know, California is in crisis. Half a million people have lost their jobs over the last year. Others have taken pay cuts. Many have lost their homes.

Yet, in Sacramento, it is business as usual. Remarkably, as California slashes services and enacts $16 billion in new taxes, the state bureaucracy is protected and actually getting bigger. Since 1998, government spending in California has grown by 80 percent and the bureaucracy has increased by 28 percent.

Is California 80 percent better? Of course not, and taxpayers have had it.

I oppose Proposition 1A (and its working partner, Proposition 1B). Proposition 1A is being sold as spending reform, but it is not. Proposition 1A is actually a sustained tax increase masquerading as reform, and it is terrible for California. For starters, Proposition 1A extends $16 billion in tax increases for two years and makes us among the highest-taxed people in America. The last thing we need right now is two more years of higher taxes on sales, income and cars.

One has to give Whitman credit for trying to make a coherent argument as to just why we don't need any taxes, but like I said earlier, this is all standard-fare on the GOP side. She trots out the fallacy that residents of California suffer from the nation's highest taxes (dirty little secret: we're not). In addition, Whitman conveniently ignores the fact that Proposition 1A--in addition to extending the Budget's tax increases--would actually allow Governor Schwarzenegger (and any future governor) to make spending cuts at their own discretion. Per a report by the California Budget Project:

Proposition 1A would modify the maximum size of, and the annual contribution into, the state’s budget reserve; impose new conditions on the use of the reserve; allocate a portion of the reserve for certain purposes; and restrict the use of “unanticipated revenues” for specified purposes. If Proposition 1A is approved by the voters, the temporary tax increases included in the 2009 budget agreement would be extended and governors would gain the unilateral authority to make mid-year reductions in state spending.

Whitman also points out that "[e]ven if Proposition 1A passes, California will still be deeply in debt – according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, $8 billion in debt to be exact." This much is true. Mac Taylor also said that the shortfall would be worse if all of Arnold's Special Favors were rejected. Nowhere does Whitman bring this up. (NOTE: I am not advocating Taylor's argument; I am merely pointing out that this part of Taylor's argument was overlooked.)

What Whitman fails to take into account is that one of the first things Governor Schwarzenegger did after assuming office was to repeal the increase in the Vehicle License Fee, one of the primary mechanisms for County and Municipal governments to gain revenue.

Whitman, though, does come out in favor of Propositions 1D, 1E and 1F:

I support Propositions 1D and 1E, which reallocate money from special funds (for children's services and mental health programs) that have a surplus to protect similar general fund programs. And I support Proposition 1F, which prohibits state politicians from getting raises whenever there is a deficit.

Poizner's piece--accurately described by Dan Walters as a "screed"--starts out by retelling his fight against last year's Proposition 93, which was a flawed attempt at overhauling term limits (the only way to overhaul term limits, in my view, is to eradicate them entirely, or have them only at the executive level of state government). His piece, on the whole, rails against "the politicians" and "Sacramento lobbyists" who are trying to craft "a backroom deal" to fool the voters. It's a faux-populist diatribe which laments the conditions of middle-income homeowners who are suddenly unable to pay their mortgages. Now, one need not remind anyone that middle- and low-income people in this state are hurting. However, many of those same people will enroll in community college to gain new skills. Many of them will seek unemployment compensation. Many of them, if given the chance, would readily go to work on a public works project. How do we pay for all this stuff? Oh, yeah, that's right--TAXES.

Poizner, for his part, is at least more specific in his arguments:

. . . if the measure passes, it will also extend the huge tax increases recently approved by the legislature. Passage of Proposition 1A means that the near-doubling of the car tax, the 1 cent statewide sales tax increase, the income tax hike and the reduction in the dependent tax credit would continue for an additional two years. That adds up to an estimated $16 billion in higher taxes. It’s no surprise these taxes are not supported by the majority of Californians.

You know, come to think of it, maybe there is some good that could come from Proposition 1A. That's not to say I'm in favor of it.

Again, though unsurprisingly, Poizner trots out the "high tax" fallacy as a way of saying that all taxes are inherently evil. Poizner mentions that a majority of the state's voters are in favor of a spending cap, but does not mention the source of his numbers. Poizner's piece ends with an appeal to "not pay another dime in taxes" until state government is made more "fiscally accountable" (Poizner, though, does not mention just what constitutes fiscal accountability). "We need to do more with less," says Poizner.

We may need to do more with less, but cutting vital public services is not the way to do it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The media blackout ends--and other thoughts.

Finally yesterday's media blackout on the march on the state capitol is over with. Unfortunately, the two sources I was hoping would end that blackout--the LA Times and San Francisco Chronicle--are still missing in action. Sure, the Chronicle has an article on students protesting cuts in education, but it's about a protest that occurred across the border in Nevada to lobby Republican Governor Jim Gibbons; 35 students from a high school in Ely did this, and the absence from school apparently counted as a school activity. In any case, it's an AP wire article.

Allow me to back up a bit. The march at the state capitol was held to protest possibly looming cuts in education at the college level. It was held to demand a return to non-fee-based, free access to education at the college level. Granted, Governor Schwarzenegger spared community colleges in his latest budget. Our fear was that we may be next. So, the Student Senate for California Community Colleges called for a march to be held yesterday (beginning at Raley Field in West Sacramento). The march culminated with a rally at the west side of the state capitol.

Instead, the paper that broke the media blackout was the Sacramento Bee. I'm not a real fan of the Bee--especially since it's home to Broder lovechild Dan Walters--but the paper can be good on occasion.

The march went well enough, but I returned home to what seemed like a media blackout on the march. I did see one report last night--on KTVU, which did about a minute-long segment--but little else.

The downside of the Bee article in question is that it seems to merely touch base on the protest in the broader sense of Mac Taylor's revelation that the State is still $8 billion in the red.

The article, in addition, doesn't mention who all made speeches: among them, Democratic Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, SF Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (who for her part urged us all to "hold our nose" and vote for Arnold's Special Favors in May), Hawthorne Assemblyman Curren Price (who was there to promote AB 462, which would levy a one-percent tax increase on the rich to help pay for education), and various members of the Student Senate of California Community Colleges (among them Vice President Troy Carter) and speakers from various other community colleges, not to mention the president of the California Students' Association.

It doesn't mention the presence of an local of the AFL-CIO. It doesn't mention that SEIU set up a table to hand out free sack lunches to workers, students, and anyone else who wanted one. It doesn't mention the presence of International ANSWER, the Peace & Freedom Party, the Socialist Worker's Party, or the Party of Socialism and Liberation. Come to think of it, it doesn't mention much of anything at all other than the fact that students marched, chanted slogans, and waved around placards.

The Bee article, though, does contain a video report, which I would recommend watching to get a better idea of how the march and rally went down if you couldn't make it out.

More personally, though, there was a stark contrast to the participation by students from CCSF--which I heard had to take eighteen buses up to the march--and our contingent from Shasta College, which couldn't even get one bus completely full. Students from as far south as Los Angeles and quite possible San Diego traveled four or five hundred miles to show their support for higher education, and more students from Shasta College couldn't be convinced to take a lousy three-hour road trip.

Granted, I'm well aware of the limitations faced by students here; a lot of them, in addition to working full time, also attend school full time. A lot of them are older and have children. My biggest fear, though, is that more people didn't come because of apathy or ignorance than because of irreconcilable circumstances.

The march was a rousing success, though I was slightly disappointed that the rally at the state capitol ended before 1:30 when it was supposed to continue for another half-hour.

Monday, March 16, 2009

UPDATED: Just a quick note.

I'll have more on today's march on the State Capitol tomorrow, but I just wanted to remark on a few things.

  • Since returning from the march, I've seen not one word about it in any televised media in my area. Not even on KTVU, which is usually a very good station, had only a short blurb on it. That blurb did mention, though, that Governor Schwarzenegger is placing the blame for fee increases on decisions by the various Boards of Governors for the various community college districts.

  • I didn't see his commentary today until I got back, but Dan Walters, in all his infinite wisdom, took some time away from shilling for some kind of amoral bipartisanship to remind us that relatively speaking, community college fees in California are still a bargain, so we might as well just suck it up and gladly pay whatever increases are presented to us. Fucking disgraceful.

Like I said, I'll have more on the march tomorrow, but these were two things I just had to get off my chest.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Leg Analyst: 'Yup, we're still in the red.'

Mac Taylor, our state's Legislative Analyst, has gone on record as saying that the poison pill that our state had to swallow last month just to keep functioning apparently wasn't enough. This hardly comes as a surprise, though one of Taylor's suggestions rules out a sure-fire way to increase revenue that our state badly needs: namely, an increase in taxes. Taylor doesn't specify just what taxes we should or shouldn't raise; merely that we shouldn't raise any of them. With this, I suppose Taylor is acknowledging political reality. After all, in a state where it takes a super-majority of two thirds to pass a budget or increase taxes--and with Republicans in a minority of slightly more than two-thirds in both houses--an increase in taxes would be damn near impossible.

What genuinely worries me, though, is that the media in California are falling for this argument, hook, line, and sinker. An article in today's Sacramento Bee tells us what we need to know about the failure of the media to successfully address these issues:
"Unfortunately, the state's economic and revenue outlook continues to deteriorate," Taylor said in a 28-page report.

The development marks the second time in less than six months that bitter legislative clashes produced spending plans that immediately were threatened by the nation's deep recession.

The $8 billion hole would worsen by $6 billion if voters reject ballot measures May 19 to shift special funds and borrow against future California Lottery profits to generate money for state operations, Taylor said.

The gloomy forecast raises the specter of Democrats and Republicans renewing their vicious three-month fight over raising taxes or cutting services to balance spending.

Californians already face $12.5 billion in temporary tax hikes under the budget signed last month by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sales and income taxes will rise, as will the state's vehicle license fee.

The Bee article quotes Senate Republican leader Dennis Hollingsworth who went on record as saying that "job creation and spending cuts"--not tax increases, not the funding of education and other vital social services to provide job training, not public works projects to create jobs--are the ways to close the budget gap.

Never discussed are two problems that got us into this mess in the first place: the aforementioned two-thirds rule, and Governor Schwarzenegger's first act upon assuming office: namely, rescinding the increase in the Vehicle License Fee, robbing state and county governments of much-needed revenue. This was one issue that Arnold rode to victory in the election that recalled Gray Davis, playing to the fiscal blowback resulting from what was then a $38 billion deficit.

It's worth noting that the California League of Women Voters has come out against four of Arnold's Special Favors, and remain neutral on two others. One can read their arguments (pdf warning) here.

No Special Favors!

Welcome to No Special Favors! Over the next couple of months leading up to Arnold's special election, I will be countering the scare tactics that will undoubtedly be used to suggest that voters must give Arnold what he wants or else Very Bad Things will happen to all of us.

Strap yourselves in, folks. It's gonna be a helluva ride.