Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s attempt to deal with California’s budget problems has come to a stop. Two Republican votes are needed in each legislative house, and GOP leaders have announced that any Republican who votes for more taxes will be considered a traitor.
In an attempt to begin to solve financial problems that have been 30 years in the making, resulting in a $26.4 billion deficit for 2011-12, Brown has put together a budget approximately equal in cuts and in revenues: $12.5 billion in cuts and approximately $14.5 billion in revenues. The cuts to health care and human services are truly brutal – as usual, the poor and disabled fare the worst. There are also cuts to education.
Over half the additional revenue is to come from a five-year extension of the temporary tax increases made in 2009, mainly in income, sales and vehicle license fees, and therein lies the problem. The legislature has voted to support the bill, but threatened with being called a traitor, every Republican has refused to vote for the special election that is necessary to allow citizens to vote for the extension of these taxes for just five years.
Since the 2010 election the legislature can now pass budgets by majority vote, a two-thirds majority is needed to put the tax extension measures on the ballot. Democrats control both legislative houses but lack a two-thirds majority in either.
This means Republicans are not just refusing to vote for tax extensions, but are refusing the people the right to vote at all, especially since recent polls show growing support for the tax extensions in order to avoid a budget of all cuts, which would be, in the governor’s words, “a budget from hell.”
This is a new low, even for Republicans. But it fits with what’s happening elsewhere. As a letter to the Sacramento Bee said, “Wherever the Republicans have the power, they immediately try to cut taxes of the corporations and the rich, such as they have done in Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, South Carolina and Pennsylvania.”
The Republicans have begun a campaign of destruction of the union movement by blaming the economic crisis on “greedy state workers and their bloated pension plans.” And instead of using their newfound influence in state and national economic planning to perhaps provide jobs for the millions of unemployed, they restore the Bush tax cuts for the very richest, and then tell us they must cut Social Security to help close the national deficit.
Now, back to California. Assuming that we eventually pass some form of Gov. Brown’s hard-times budget, we’ll have five years in which to restore corporations’ share of taxes to their 1981 level of $8.3 billion.
Other possible measures include bringing in $2 billion through broadening the sales tax base to include services, and adding $4 billion or more by reinstating an 11 percent income tax on the top 1 percent of individuals, who take in more than 25 percent of the income in California. An oil severance tax would bring in $1.2 billion – California is the only oil-producing state without one.
And let’s not forget the possibility of a split roll for Prop. 13, so corporations would pay their fair share of property taxes. In 1977-78, California ranked fifth in the country in property taxes. In 2006-7, we ranked 36th.
Thirty years ago, we were the “Golden State.” Our educational system ranked among the best in the world. Today California ranks 47th in K-12 spending.