by Duane E. Campbell
California, like most states, needs additional revenue to fund schools and to invest in the future. A tax plan known as The Millionaires Tax has been proposed by the California Federation of Teachers and the Courage Campaign to increase revenues to pay for vital services. It was assigned the official title "Tax To Benefit Public Schools, Social Services, Public Safety, And Road Maintenance,". The Sacramento Progressive Alliance has been circulating this initiative.
On March 15, Governor Jerry Brown agreed to modify his proposed tax plan to make it more like the more progressive plan of CFT, the Courage Campaign and others.
California public schools are in crisis- and they are getting worse. This is a direct result of massive budget cuts imposed by the legislature and the governor in the last four years. Total per pupil expenditure is down by over $1,000 per student. The result- massive class size increases. Students are in often classes too large for learning. Supplementary services such as tutoring and art classes have been eliminated. Over 14,000 teachers have been dismissed, and thousands more face lay offs this fall.
California schools are now 47th. in the nation in per pupil expenditure and 49th in class size. Our low achievement scores on national tests reflect this severe underfunding.
Of course the economic crisis of 2007 to the present caused by bankers and pirates made matters worse. The state took in some $30 billion less in taxes and thus had less to send to the schools. School budgets have been cut by some $10 billion. K-12 education receives about 40% of the California budget. Thus any decline in the state budget leads directly to cuts in school services.
A report of the California Budget Project notes that “measured as a share of family income, California’s lowest-income families pay the most in taxes. The bottom fifth of the state’s families, with an average income of $12,600, spent 11.1 percent of their income on state and local taxes. In comparison, the wealthiest 1 percent, with an average income of $2.3 million, spent 7.8 percent of their income on state and local taxes.”
The question for the corporate agenda, such as the Chamber of Commerce is can the economy prosper with a poorly educated work force. California grew and prospered from 1970- 1994 based upon a well educated work force. Then, in the 1994-2008 period over $10 billion of tax cuts were passed – making the current crisis much worse. California suffers from a decade of disinvestment. Today, instead of following the education approach, conservative anti tax forces have imposed an Mississippi approach on California
The new compromise plan follows the Brown tax format but would increase taxes on earners starting at $250,000 for single filers, as well as increase the statewide sales tax by a one forth of one cent. It will retain the governor’s three higher tax brackets starting at $250,000 for single filers. But the last marginal tax hike – at $500,000 for singles and $1 million for couples – would increase by 3 percentage points rather than Brown’s original 2 percentage points. The new income tax hike on the rich would also last longer than Brown’s proposal, going for seven years instead of five. The sales tax hike would still expire at the end of 2016.
The two proposals had divided the labor community . CFT and the California Nurses Association backed the "millionaires tax," while the California Teachers Association and Service Employees International Union State Council backed Brown's proposal. The State Buildings Trades backed the Brown plan and pressured others to abandon their efforts. Now that the two plans have merged, major labor unions are united in support of the new tax plan.
Political analysts worried that if two or three tax measures make it to the ballot, all of them would fail. The new plan must now be qualified for the ballot. This will require over 800,000 signatures is about 30 days efforts – a difficult feat.
Civil rights attorney Molly Munger is backing yet a third $10 billion income tax measure. Already conservative politicians and pundits are calling this deal “soak the rich”.
The California economy needs roads, bridges, telephone lines, communications systems, energy and quality education. These services make prosperity possible. Conservative opposition to new taxes ignore the economy’s need for infrastructure. Prosperity depends upon having a viable educational system and a well functioning infrastructure. Rather than invest in the future, the Republicans have starved public education.
Polling consistently shows that the California voters are willing to pay for a quality public education system.