Friday, October 26, 2012

California 30-38

No, "California 30-38" is not a sports score, and, no, it's not a highway designation. 30 and 38 are competing propositions in the November 6 election, and Californians are in such agreement about the problem they each seek to address, that we're going to send them each down to defeat. But let me explain what they are first, and then tell you why we're probably screwed.

Here's the basic problem: Our state is broke. Our June 2012 budget gap was about $16.6 billion. The budget deal worked out between Governor Brown and the legislature balanced the budget with about $8.1 billion in spending cuts, $2.5 billion in "transfers," and the last $6 billion in new taxes "pending voter approval."

Prop 30 was placed on the ballot by the Governor as part of that budget deal. The $6 billion hole is filled by increasing the tax on incomes over $250,000 (or $500,000 for couples filing jointly) for a period of seven years, and a 1/4 cent per $1 increase in sales tax for four years. The funds go into an "Education Protection Account" within the state General Fund. Because it's within the General Fund, it increases the Prop 98 guarantees to education (K-12, plus Community Colleges), but also frees up some existing funds for other purposes.

The Prop 30 taxes go into effect immediately to cover the $6 billion gap in the current year's budget. If it fails, the budget deal included "trigger cuts." We will have a balanced budget this year, no matter what. Those $6 billion in automatic cuts include $5.3 billion from public schools for the current school year. Ever wondered what would happen if thousands of teachers got laid off in the middle of the school year? Or if your local school district defaulted on its bond payments? You might just find out if Prop 30 fails to pass.

Prop 38 is an alternative tax plan, not negotiated by the legislature, but put on the ballot by Molly Munger, who has spent about $33 million of her own money to pass it.  (Coincidentally, Molly's brother, Charles Munger Jr., has spent about $22 million of his own to lead the fight against Prop 30). Prop 38 raises income taxes on just about everybody (incomes over $7,000) for twelve years, but leaves sales tax alone. The money goes into an "Education Trust Fund," but this one is outside of the General Fund, so it is in addition to the Prop 98 guaranteed funding from the (diminished) General Fund. Prop 38 does not include Community College funding, but does include early childhood education.

Prop 38 could be an interesting alternative to the Governor's plan, except for one fatal flaw: It takes effect next year, leaving the "trigger cuts" in place for this year. Prop 38 might help in the future, but the chaos the trigger cuts would cause in education this year would do incredible harm to 100% of public school students in the state this generation. But I will vote for it anyway.

Yes, I will vote for 38, AND I will vote for 30. The proponents of each have campaigned as though we have to make a choice, and can only vote for one or the other. That is not true. And this is why I say we are doomed.

California law provides for a way to reconcile two propositions passing which each address the same issue: The one with the most votes prevails. Yes, if you vote for 30 & 38, and they both pass, you don't get two tax increases, you only get the one with the most support.

Prop 30 was headed for victory, until the Mungers, Molly and Charles, put over $55 million of their fortunes into ads against 30 and for 38. Now support for 30 has dipped to 46% approval. Meanwhile, Prop 38 only has 39% of voter approval in current polling. Now, it's been a while since I was in school, but in the old days 46+39 equaled 85% in favor of one or the other. Even if we assume there's some overlap in support, there's clearly a majority in favor of some tax increase.

Despite the fact that the majority of Californians agree that we need to enact one or the other tax increase to save our schools, and our state's competitive edge, both propositions will fail because we're being presented with the election as a "choose one only" option. The majority are for saving the state, but those who would rather destroy California than pay one cent more in taxes win by dividing and conquering the majority. Which, the conspiracy-minded might wonder, may have been what the Mungers had in mind all along.

If you're a Californian voter, I hope that you'll join me in voting for both propositions, 30 & 38, and may the better solution prevail.

Here's my quickie ballot guide to the rest of the California initiatives:

30 - taxes/budget Yes
31 - budget reform No
32 - special exemptions No
33 - auto Insurance undecided
34 - end death penalty Yes
35 - human trafficking Yes
36 - 3 strikes reform Yes
37 - GMO labeling Yes
38 - tax rates Yes
39 - business tax Yes
40 - redistricting Yes

Sunday, October 21, 2012

George McGovern: Acts of Faith

"Politics is an act of faith; you have to show some kind of confidence in the intellectual and moral capacity of the public."
"No man should advocate a course in private that he's ashamed to admit in public."
"The highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one's country deep enough to call her to a higher plain."
"For many years, I wanted to run for the presidency in the worst possible way - and last year, I sure did."
"I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in."
George McGovern, July 19, 1922-October 21, 2012
Early this morning, former Senator George McGovern died in hospice in Sioux Falls, SD. He was 90 years old and surrounded by friends and family.

McGovern was a proud liberal till the very end. A man who had "learned to hate war by waging it" as a decorated World War II bomber pilot, he was the Democratic Party's nominee to challenge President Nixon's re-election in 1972.

While I had been somewhat aware of the players in the 1968 Presidential election, and as a kid in Massachusetts, certainly was caught up in the tragedy of of Bobby Kennedy's assassination, it was the election of 1972 - and its aftermath - that first truly sucked me into the life of a political junkie. At the age of eleven I walked our precinct with my mother getting word out about McGovern, and on election day we stood outside the polling place (in the snow) with our last-ditch effort electioneering.

Of course, the result was that Nixon was re-elected in a landslide, carrying 49 states, and ceding to McGovern only the District of Columbia and Massachusetts. I was both devastated and fascinated by the results and began collecting souvenirs of the trouncing: bumper stickers bearing the slogans "Massachusetts the One and Only" and "Nixon 49/America 1," a pin that simply read "OS4MY" (for, "Oh Shit, Four More Years!"), and other memorabilia that I only wish I could still find.

Of course, even before the election was over, there was some question of dirty tricks involving Nixon's team doing something over at the Democratic Headquarters located in the Watergate Hotel and office complex. I followed the Watergate hearings closely. As for many others of my generation, this was hugely formative in how I would see politics and government for the rest of my life.

By the middle of 1974 both Nixon, and his VP, Spiro Agnew, had resigned in disgrace, and I had moved to California. I would eventually earn a BA in Politics and a Master of Public Policy and Administration. My career would allow me to have meetings with legislators at all levels of government. I would volunteer on a few more Presidential campaigns. But the inspiration and dedication of that first candidate, George McGovern, and the lessons of 1972-1974 have never been far behind.

My thoughts go out to the McGovern family and all those who knew this great man and hero to the left. I only hope that before he passed, he sent in his absentee ballot.
The blogger in 1972; the t-shirt says, "Vote."
Read more at:
The McGovern Center
George McGovern @ Wikipedia

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Republican Tax Policy Explained and Debunked

Sometime last years I promised that I would write about blog about the Laffer Curve, and how it has determined Republican tax policy for the past 30 years, from Reagan to Romney. Well, it's a little late, and it's in a video rather than a written blog, but here it is.

Sit back and learn about Dr. Arthur Laffer and the little doodle he made on the back of a napkin that ended up changing U.S. economic policy for a generation, and why a vote for Mitt Romney is yet another vote for the Laffer Curve.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Power of We the People

Today is Blog Action Day 2012 - an annual online event that brings together bloggers around the world to write about a single topic of global importance all on the same day. This year's theme is "The Power of We."

In trying to decide what to write here that would fit in with my usual themes and obsessions, I considered writing about the importance of voting in the upcoming election. You know, all "We the People" and all that stuff. But that's too easy a mark.

Instead I thought I'd go for something broader, and talk about the different levels of We.

Yes, on this blog I tend to talk about politics and government as the mechanism of We the People, and our individual roles in selecting, electing, detecting, and rejecting our [hopefully] representative leaders. But, as many of you know, I have made my career in the nonprofit sector, which is another primary way that individuals organize to put the Power of We into action.

The question here then, is if each of these sectors represents how We cooperate with each other to benefit the community, what is the proper role for each?

For me, the simplest answer is that it is frequently a matter of the scale of the problem, and the minimal level of support that will be guaranteed.

First the scale question. No Federal operation or bureaucratic process will ever turn the vacant lot next to the neighborhood elementary school into a gardening nutrition program. For that, you need a partnership of local leaders, working together with local businesses and nonprofits to organize the volunteers and materials needed. Meanwhile, nothing short of Federal intervention was going to save the auto industry. Volunteers and bake sales would not have resulted in GM reclaiming its mantle as the largest automobile producer on the planet.

As to the minimal level of support, I believe that in a country where we like to brag about being the richest nation on Earth, it should be a matter of national honor that we don't let our fellow citizens starve - regardless of how productive or "worthy" they have been. The Food Stamp program exists to fill that need, but the amount of food you can purchase that way is minimal. Getting beyond guaranteed basic survival is where other partners have to step in. That becomes the role of regional food banks, and local nonprofit programs to work with clients one-on-one to help lift them out of poverty.

Regardless of whether we're loosely organized into grassroots groups to solve neighborhood troubles or looking to Washington to guide us on national issues, the unifying thread is that the individuals work best at problem solving is when we work together. That, at whatever level, is the Power of We the People.

Have a happy Blog Action Day, people. You've earned it. Oh, and don't forget to vote.

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