Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why We are Marching

Our March – Why we are marching

California is perched on the budgetary brink. We are at a crossroad, and the choices our elected leaders make will determine whether we restore California’s promise or watch the American Dream slip away.

Instead of making tough choices, our governor and a minority of legislators think the “solution” is deep and destructive cuts to essential services: our schools, parks, libraries, safety net services and other vital public institutions.

The consequences will haunt our state for a generation. Classrooms will be more crowded and less safe; neighborhoods less clean and more dangerous. College and University fees will skyrocket, turning our community colleges and public universities into distant dreams instead of bridges to the middle class. More families will go bankrupt because they cannot afford health care.

The California Federation of Teachers, American Federation of Teachers and a diverse coalition of labor, education, community, business and faith groups believe that we can’t afford to auction off our future. We believe our elected leaders need to return to the core values that made this state great. We must come together to:
· Reclaim the promise of quality public education and services
· Rebuild state government so it works for everyone
· Restore fair and equitable taxes to invest in California’s future

We live in the richest state in the richest country in the world. Budget cuts are not inevitable, but the result of political choices. We cannot allow a minority of legislators to enact budgets that destroy rather than build. Rather than showering more tax breaks to the wealthiest corporations and millionaires, elected leaders should invest in our future.

That’s why we march. Beginning March 5, we will leave Los Angeles to march from Bakersfield to Sacramento. Along the way we will:
Register voters
Hold teach-ins and town hall meetings
Visit legislators
Hold rallies to enlist your support.
Blog, tweet and record the action on the frontlines with live video feeds.
March on the state capitol on April 21 to make our voices heard.

Some Key Points:
These cuts are not one year, temporary cuts. Their impact will haunt California for a generation.
o School children do not get to retake the third grade even if their classroom was too crowded and unruly for them to learn.
o Families who file for bankruptcy because they can’t afford their child’s medical bills do not get their life savings back.
o The pain of seeing a disabled loved one forced into a state institution never goes away.
o Crime victims hurt by convicted felons released from prison too soon do not become unvictimized.
· Contrary to claims by the governor, California does not have a spending problem. California has the third fewest state employees in the nation in proportion to its population. It actually ranks near the bottom in education and social spending per capita.
· It should come as no surprise that only Mississippi eighth graders read at a lower level than California eighth graders.
· The cuts being enacted across the state don’t remove waste or inefficiency. They cut into basic core services we all depend on, rich and poor alike. In Sacramento, the municipal fire department is mothballing fire trucks. The governor is considering releasing 20,000 convicted felons into our communities.
· We depend on government to keep us safe. We should close tax loopholes for the wealthy, not fire stations.
· This fiscal crisis is the direct result for political decisions made in Sacramento the past 15 years. We could solve this crisis by simply repealing tax breaks for the wealthiest and tax loopholes written for special interests and large corporations.
o Just last year, the legislature passed more than $2 billion in corporate giveaways in the midst of one of the worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression.
o Returning the very top tax brackets to 1991 levels for those making more than $250,000 and $500,000 a year could raise $4-6 billion alone.
o Re-assessing the values of non-residential real estate would raise $3 billion. The inequalities of the current tax system allows Disneyland to pay a nickel per square foot in property tax while the typical family is paying $2 a square foot for their home. We should end this inequity.
o California is the only oil producing state that does not have a severance tax for oil drilled in the state. We could raise $1.5 billion by ending this giveaway to Big Oil. Claims that it will stifle production are ludicrous. Alaska has the highest oil severance tax in the nation and is the top oil producing state in the country.
· Despite the common myth that California is anti-business, it still attracts more venture capital than any state. California is a leader in technology, fashion, entertainment and agriculture. We have the eighth largest economy in the world. The American Dream was practically invented in California. We accomplished that by building a world class education system. But that system has fallen into disrepair, and the budget cuts the governor is pushing will only make it worse.
· Given that California is one of the richest states in the richest country in the world, it is unconscionable to auction off our childrens’ future so we can maintain tax breaks for millionaires and large corporations. We should not balance the budget on the backs of our school children, the poor, elderly, disabled and working families while not asking for an ounce of sacrifice from those who can most afford it.
· Many media outlets repeatedly report the claim that California has a highly progressive tax code. The idea that California soaks the rich has no truth in reality. In fact, studies have shown that California actually has a regressive tax code that taxes the poor at much higher rates. The typical taxpayer making less than $22,000 a year pays about 10.2 percent in combined state and local taxes; the wealthiest 1 percent, who make more than $600,000 a year, typically only pay 7.4 percent, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.The fiscal crisis in Sacramento is the result of a dysfunctional system that allows a mere one-third of legislators to claim victory and block budgets with overwhelming bipartisan support. In a true democracy, the idea that gets the most votes wins. Californians overwhelmingly elect progressives but in practice Sacramento governs like a red state. The current system is a subversion of democracy and the will of the people.


It is no longer enough to say that "Sacramento politics is dysfunctional," or that the political and legislative processes in the Capitol are stymied by "partisan gridlock." These first impressions have some basis in reality but don't adequately address California's real problems. These impressions only lead to a feeling of inevitability, cynicism, and despair.

What we need in public discussion is a clear picture of the problem and then a plan to fix it. And we all need a sign of hope that change will come. That's why, on March 5, we begin a "March for California's Future." The March will start with a group of public employees who will walk from Bakersfield to Sacramento. By April 21 the March will swell, as it reaches Sacramento, to many thousands. This 250 mile march, sponsored by the California Federation of Teachers and its diverse allies from labor, the faith community, and other civic supporters, is designed to draw attention to the underlying causes of the state's woes as well as gather signatures for a majority budget initiative.

The "March for California's Future" plans to kick start a "reality" discussion on how all Californians can join the fight for a livable California. The three themes of the march are "restore the promise of public education," "a government and economy that works for all," and "fair taxes to fund California's future."

One of the marchers is Irene Gonzalez. She grew up in foster homes throughout the Central Valley. Determined to make something of herself, she worked hard to put herself through school, eventually earning a masters degree. Today she is a probation officer, helping her clients stay out of trouble and on the right track to become productive members of society. In that process she keeps the rest of us safer too.Gonzalez's job would be difficult under any circumstances. But now it's almost impossible. State funding cuts over the last few years have eliminated counseling and educational services for her clients, and the economic recession has narrowed what limited employment options they might have had. "I'm marching," says Gonzalez, "because I want the people I work with to have an opportunity, like I did, to become somebody--so that they don't sink back to where they came from."

Another marcher is Jim Miller. He's a professor of English and Labor Studies at San Diego City College. Due to funding reductions to public education, SDCC offers hundreds of fewer classes than it did a year ago. Lost classes throughout California represent lost opportunities, and coupled with student fee increases, have meant the path to a better job or career through higher education is being blocked. Hundreds of thousands of potential community college students have already been forced from the system. Miller has another reason for marching: "My son is in kindergarten. I know it won't help his education as class sizes rise in the first grade from 23 to 30 kids."

Why is this happening? California was heading in the wrong direction even before the recession, due to two linked problems. First, tax rates for the richest Californians and big business have been reduced over the past fifteen years. In addition, between 1995 and the present, the top one percent of income earners--people who make on average 2.1 million dollars per year--have more than doubled their incomes in real terms. Their lowered state tax rates have cost the state billions of dollars in revenue each year. Most Californians are paying a fair share while the rich and powerful continue to receive more tax loopholes every year. We must reverse this trend and return to the time when wealthy individuals and corporations contributed at a reasonable rate.
Second, although a clear majority of the state Legislature understands the value of public services, their efforts to restore the revenue sources once available to fund education, public health and support services, and build the infrastructure California requires, have been blocked by a unique, undemocratic rule. California is the only state in the country to require a 2/3 supermajority vote to pass both a budget and any state tax increase. Just over one third of the Legislature has signed anti-government activist Grover Norquist's "No new taxes" pledge. Norquist famously remarked that his goal was to cut government to a size it could be "drowned in a bathtub." California is currently moving in that direction.

In the last two years, the California state budget has been reduced by 20%. Our schools have been cut by over $17 billion. Irene Gonzalez, Jim Miller, and the other public employees on the "March for California's Future" have seen first hand the results of this choice. Democracy is no longer in charge of Sacramento; instead, ideology is in control, benefiting the richest and most powerful while dismantling the California Dream for the rest of us.

We don't have to let California go down that drain. March with us to restore the promise of the golden state.

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