Choices on Taking and Giving Back

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
In Dubai, people get free housing, free medical care, AND $5,000 per month. The people of Dubai share in the country’s oil wealth.
In Alaska, people not only do not pay state taxes, the state government writes every state resident a check every year. The people of the state of Alaska share in the state’s oil wealth.

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A Line In The Sand — Stop Cutting School Budgets

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
Governor Schwarzenegger has declared a “fiscal emergency” and is asking the legislature to solve the problem entirely with budget cuts. He has asked for 10% “across-the-board” cuts which at first glance seems to sound fair, but really means avoiding decisions about what budget items are the most important. It means cutting schools 10%. And law enforcement. And medical care. (Of course, they can’t cut the interest owed on Governor Schwarzenegger’s past borrowing.)
And more than that — much, much more than that — it is a trick that leaves out the fact that the state is not collecting needed tax revenue because of loopholes that let big corporations and the wealthy off the hook while the rest of us make up the difference.
It’s time to draw a line in the sand and demand that our state government not cut the budget for our children’s education any more.
Isn’t there a lot of “fat” in the budget, just waiting to be cut? Most people think so. But think about this — every time the state has a shortfall they cut spending, saying they are cutting out the “fat.” As a result, in the decades since Proposition 13 passed they have trimmed and trimmed and trimmed, and we now are long past the point where there is anything left to cut. In fact, today California schools have the lowest number of administrators per student of any state. Our schools have squeezed and squeezed and dropped programs and forgone pay raises and they can’t operate any more efficiently.
I was listening to a radio show the other night, someone from the San Francisco schools said this budget cut could mean they have to have 61 students per classroom.
But the Republicans in the legislature won’t let us talk about taxes — not even the yacht tax loophole. You and I have to pay sales taxes but people who buy yachts and private jets do not. They keep California as the only state that won’t tax the oil companies for the oil they pump out from our state. They won’t find a way to make commercial property owners pay market-rate property taxes.
The Governor and a Republican minority in the Assembly and Senate are still willing to block all alternatives to cutting teachers and health care and roads and parks and those things that We, the People call our government.
So it is time to draw a line in the sand. No more cuts. It is time to ask the corporations and wealthy to start giving back some of the incredible wealth they have made off of the physical, legal and financial infrastructure that We, the People of California put in place that enabled their gains in the first place.
Here are steps you can take to help fight back:
First, join us. Click this link and join Speak Out California. This way we can keep you up to date on our activities, including our activities to help keep our schools funded.
Next, start Speaking Out yourself, writing letters to the editor and contacting your legislators, demanding that the state enact alternatives to budget cuts, like closing tax loopholes and making wealthy people pay the same sales taxes that the rest of us pay.
The California Teachers Association provides a web page that helps you find the correct contact information for your state legislators. Please write to your legislators.
The Education Coalition has a website with facts to help you make your points. Give them a visit, too.
And finally, this is Speak Out California’s fundraising month. Help us out so we can continue the work we are doing. Help us keep the progressive voice alive.

Tax And Budget Priorities: Schools No, Yachts Yes

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
Do you know about the California yacht tax loophole? Here is how it works: Regular people like you and me have to pay sales taxes on the things we buy, even on big items like cars. We even have to pay these taxes if we buy outside of the state. (Technically that is called a “use” tax.)
But California has a special tax loophole just for the things rich people buy. That’s right, if you buy a big yacht, airplane or “luxury recreation vehicle,” you don’t have to pay sales tax. The way this loophole works is, you buy it outside the state, hold it there for three months, and then you have a sales-tax-free yacht.
Summary: Regular people pay sales taxes, rich people don’t have to.

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Political Suicide

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
Conventional wisdom considers it political suicide for a candidate to talk about the need to raise taxes so the state can pay its bills — especially if it involves reforming Proposition 13.
Much of the public thinks that government “spends too much” and that much of the state’s budget goes to “waste, fraud and abuse.”

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Hillary’s Victory

A guest post by Bettina Duval of the California List
Senator Hillary Clinton’s victory in New Hampshire was the first time in our history that a woman won a presidential primary*. Her win was a momentous achievement that the early suffragettes could only dream of. It was a triumph for all women – a giant step forward in the drive for equality.
The nation’s political attention has wrongly focused on why Senator Clinton won New Hampshire. The most important fact, that she is the first woman ever to win a primary, has been lost. Does it matter that Hillary Clinton won the primary – YES. Senator Clinton’s victory cannot be brushed aside with political positioning or media downplay. Make no mistake, it was an historic moment.

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A Budget Shock Attack

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
California is said to be having a budget “crisis.” Last week the Governor signed an emergency proclamation forcing the legislature to meet and act on the budget within forty-five days.
“Crisis” and “emergency” are serious words, and the public is upset about hearing them. This is, of course, the intent of those using the words — to get the public upset and demanding action. When people are shocked and worried they will accept solutions that might not be what they would accept if they had time to think, consider all reasonable alternatives and weigh all the consequences. In an “emergency” the public just wants the problem solved. (This is a “Shock Doctrine” approach.)
So having created a crisis atmosphere the Governor is asking for “across the board” cuts in state government spending. This is a tactic that let’s him avoid specifying any particular cuts. The reason the Governor does not want to specify any particular spending cuts is because people will realize that such cuts are not a good idea.
Asking for cuts “across the board” sounds so fair. But not specifying also means not prioritizing. By setting no priorities for spending cuts the Governor is saying that one area of spending matters to him no more than another.
Let’s be clear about what the Governor is doing. He is cutting police and other law enforcement and public safety. He is cutting schools — when California already is 43rd in spending per pupil. He is letting prisoners out onto the streets. He is cutting disaster assistance. He is letting roads and bridges deteriorate. That is what government spending is — and we are who it is for.

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Do Taxes Drive The Economy?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
Do taxes drive California’s economy?
The governor says California is in a budget crisis. He says we need to cut the state’s spending “across-the-board,” and the Republicans insist that tax increases and other alternatives are off the table. The media largely seem to be going along with taking discussion of alternatives off the table, and consequently Democrats are too intimidated to bring them up.
But what they are missing is that taxes drive the economy.
Tax-cut proponents say that increasing taxes on the wealthy “takes money out of the economy.” I wonder where they think the money goes? Do they think it just goes up into the air and disappears?

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Fighting An “Emergency” With One Hand Tied Behind Our Backs

Originally for Speak Out California
Our ongoing Speak Out California series on the California budget is interrupted by an “emergency.” With California state budget deficit projections rising from $10 billion to $14 billion the Governor plans to declare a budget “emergency,” saying he might propose “slashing” the state’s budget by 10% “across the board.”
But doesn’t a budget involve spending and revenues? Why is the Governor tying one hand behind our backs? Why is the Governor only proposing that the people who are in a position to really need our government’s help be the ones who must sacrifice in this “emergency?”

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The Line at the DMV

Originally posted at Speak Out California.
Two previous posts explored the outline of the California state budget, and the process by which the budget is developed and passed into law. But these overviews don’t directly touch most Californians in their daily lives. To begin to connect the budget and the budget process with the concerns of regular Californians let’s look at one department that almost every adult in California encounters regularly: the dreaded Department of Motor Vehicles, commonly known as the DMV.
According to the DMV website, the department:

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How Does California Develop The State’s Budget?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
Last week I began to explore California’s budget, and wrote,

Our budget reflects our values. So where do we spend our money? How many Californians even know? I didn’t know so I decided to find out.

That post outlined this year’s budget, with an overview of the departments and amounts.
This week I take a look at how we in California put together our budget. By understanding the process more of us can begin to get involved and work to ensure that the budget really does reflect our values.
As you consider the budget process and its limitations and constraints, compare it to how your own home budget operates. What do you do if you need a new car, or need to fix up your house — or just repair the roof — or provide a good education for your kids, put healthy foods on the table, and things like that. The state isn’t really different, just bigger.

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California Fires – Where is the National Guard?

Gov. Bill Richardson asks, Daily Kos: Where is the National Guard?,

Today, we all extend our sympathies and prayers to those devastated by the wildfires in California. Millions of Americans are impacted by this natural disaster.
… It is a sad irony that yesterday, the very day I sent fire crews to California, 300 more New Mexico National Guard members were sent to Iraq. Just when we need them most at home, more of our brave men and women, true public servants, are sent away to a war we cannot win.
[…] Today, as the fires rage, California has National Guard men, women, and critical equipment thousands of miles away in Iraq.
They need to come home. We need them here.
This has gone on long enough. When a national disaster hits, our states depend on the National Guard. Right now, President Bush is robbing Peter to pay Paul to continue his disastrous adventure in Iraq, and when tragedy hits us here at home, Americans are stuck with the bill. This cannot continue.
Bush won’t end this war. Congress must. And they must end it now.
… Join my call at to push Congress to begin ending this war now. Not in January, not next spring, not next year – now.