The economic crisis that has brought virtually every state government to its knees is the result of the greed and hubris of the very richest Americans. They were bailed out with trillions of federal tax dollars, while regular citizens were allowed to lose their homes and jobs, and the devastated state economies were abandoned to their own devices. The rich were rewarded for their crimes with enormous tax cuts and a commitment by the feds to not prosecute or regulate them anymore than they already are, while the rest of us have been threatened with local tax increases, service cuts, wage and benefits cuts and, in some cases, the threat of jail or being shot.
Taxes must be increased. There is no other way to close the huge deficits. But the tax increases must be on the backs of those who can afford it most, the rich and the corporations. The taxes being proposed by Gov. Brown in California are not even increases, but extensions of existing taxes. They are mostly regressive sales taxes and vehicle licensing fees that have the opposite effect: the greater one’s wealth, the smaller the percentage of their wealth that is taxed. In other words, these taxes hardly affect the rich at all, and have increasingly negative impacts as one’s wealth declines, with the lowest income people paying the greatest percentage.
Despite the fact that this tax scheme essentially reduces the standard of living for most Californians so that the rich can continue to live in luxury, it is being supported primarily by middle and working class Democrats who value social service and public education. The Republicans are threatening to not even allow it on the ballot in June, though some have agreed to acquiesce, but ONLY if the legislature agrees to slash pensions for public sector employees, thereby hitting many state residents with the double whammy of austerity now, plus austerity in retirement.
The parent-initiated group Educate Our State has launched the “Let Us Vote” campaign, a pathetic plea to Republicans to be nice and give us the chance to vote on the right to pay for their yachts and mansions with higher taxes and lower pensions.
While the tax extensions may seem like the only game in town, it is a game with rules so severely rigged against us it is not even worth playing. Even if the tax extensions go through, what does it get us—one more year with a barely-balanced budget and more deficits, cuts and taxes next year, plus continuing wage declines? This “solution” will result in us being asked to give more each year, as our incomes decline, until one day we will have nothing. This “solution” is so rotten, so onerous, so transparent, that even the ruling elite realize it’s a huge risk to foist it upon us. This is why they are combining it with attacks on collective bargaining and the right to strike and threats of calling in the National Guard. They are fully aware that at some point people will not accept any more and will fight back.
The point where we start fighting back needs to be sooner rather than later, while we still have a few rights and a few organized workplaces left. The more we give in now, the more we play this losing game, the more power we lose and the harder it will be to regain what we’ve lost. Rather than continuing to buy the lies that the budget crisis is the fault of greedy public employees, or that the economic crisis is a natural disaster that we all must chip in to repair, it’s time to blame the rich and make them pay. Rather than begging for the right to vote for our own decline, or voluntarily agreeing to pay our share, we should be fighting for a bigger share. Hell, we should be demanding the entire share. We do the labor. We create their profits. We don’t need them—they need us!