I was at a meeting the a few weeks ago at the local high school. It had been called by the president of the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA), as a city-wide PTA meeting. One of the parents who attended has a son in elementary school, and this afternoon had been his very first little league game. His mom left before the game was over to attend this meeting. Parents should not need to make decisions between watching their children play ball and working to secure adequate funding for our schools, yet that is exactly what this mother had to do. Her choice was to work for better funding for education, reasoning that there will be other games to watch, and only one education to worry about.
Gov. Schwarzenegger talks about wanting to set California on a path that would “bank” our surplus income in good economic years, and then draw from this reserve to help us through the lean times, without having to cut as much. On the surface this sounds like an idea with some merit. I’m sure the mother mentioned above would appreciate this. She wouldn’t need to choose between conflicting desires.
However, if the past several years are any indication of good economic years, then he is clearly missing the point. Our past several state budgets have been balanced on borrowed money and bonds. Both of these require future budgets to pay additional money from the general fund to cover the cost of interest, leaving less of the general fund to cover the cost of providing needed services. If the past several years had been good economic years, we wouldn’t have needed to borrow and float bonds to balance those budgets.
It seems to me that if we needed to borrow and float bonds to balance the past several budgets, then they weren’t really balanced. It seems to me that even in those “good” economic years, the state’s income wasn’t sufficient to cover the cost of its expenses. For the governor to say that now is the time to cut shows how out of touch he is with the reality that we are not having a spending crisis, we are having a revenue crisis.
It is clear that what our state budget needs is an increase in its revenue, not a cut in its expenses. Millions of Californians, not to mention millions of visitors to our state, enjoy our state parks each year, and won’t be able to with the proposed cuts. Millions of Californians benefit from Medi-Cal, and will lose service when doctors refuse to see patients because of the cuts to their payments. Millions of children depend upon the teachers that will lose jobs with these cuts. Millions of Californians benefit from the myriad jobs and services that Schwarzenegger is proposing to cut. It is clear that what our state budget needs is an increase in its revenue, not a cut in its expenses.
Let’s reinstate the Vehicle License Fee. Schwarzenegger’s cut only saved the average Californian $100 per year, but it would bring in enough to money to stop the education cuts. Let’s raise the top tax bracket from 9.3 percent to 11 percent, an amount the wealthy can easily afford. Let’s close the loophole that allows the wealthy to evade paying taxes on yachts. Every state in the union, and country in the world, that has oil being pumped from its land taxes those that do the pumping, except California. Let’s tax this oil extraction as every other state does. Let’s limit mortgage interest deductions to $50,000. What middle class family pays over $4,000 each month in interest on their mortgage payments? These are only a few of the possible ways for our state to increase its revenue, and thus save our vital services, without putting this burden on the average working family.
Each and everyone of us needs to contact our elected state officials, letting them know in no uncertain terms that they have our full support for increasing state revenue. We also need to contact all our family and friends around the state, having them make the same contacts, multiplying our voices a hundred times.
Over 20 Republican legislators have signed a pledge stating they will not sign any budget that raises taxes. It is particularly important that we contact family and friends living in these districts to have them lobby their respective representatives.
Last, but not least, we need to let everyone know that this is about a range of issues. We are not trying to simply save our state parks. We are not simply trying to save Medi-Cal. We are not simply trying to save education. We are trying to save all these, and the hope for better lives for millions of us that will be negatively affected by all the governor’s proposed cuts.
Now is the time to make those calls, write those letters or e-mails. Now is the time to let your elected officials know that we must increase state revenue.
Sam Frankel is a second grade teacher at Berkeley Arts Magnet Elementary School.