Even after California shaved $13 billion off its deficit by slashing Community College, CSU and UC budgets, as well as services for the poor, elderly and disabled, the state is still $12 billion in the hole and is now threatening to cut K-12 education by $4 billion and fire up to 20,000 more teachers. In response, the California Teachers Association’s (CTA) State Council has declared a “State of Emergency” for the week of May 9-13, approving a series of actions including a limited one-week sit-in at the state Capitol, in Sacramento, and local rallies in various cities. Their short-term goal is to pressure lawmakers to approve tax extensions to protect schools, colleges, and essential public services from further cuts, while their long-term goal is to implement a “fair” tax structure that ensures “stable” education funding.
While some delegates proposed increasing taxes on the rich and corporations during the planning stages, neither the rich nor corporations are mentioned in the union’s literature for the May actions. Furthermore, their nebulous long-term goal of tax “fairness” is not even being promoted as a goal of the May actions. Even if it was, a week of sit-ins and rallies would not be sufficient to force legislators to increase taxes on anyone, especially not the rich (and themselves). On the other hand, while the short-term objective stands a better chance of succeeding, it is a terrible goal, as the tax extensions are regressive and will force poor and working class people to bail out the state, while letting the rich off the hook. Ironically, around the same time that the CTA came out with their State of Emergency plan, the CFT released a poll showing that 52% of California voters blamed the rich and corporations for the budget crisis (while only 32% blamed public employee compensation), suggesting the time is right for going after the wealthy.
Making those who have so little pay even more in taxes is cruel and stupid, especially considering that poverty is the number one cause of poor academic achievement (see here, here and here), and especially considering that millionaires and billionaires can afford to pay a little more without suffering a decline in their living standards. Furthermore, even if the tax extensions pass it will merely be a bandage over a gushing wound. They will not recoup the $18 billion that has been slashed from K-12 education over the past three years, nor will they prevent continuing huge budget deficits in the future.
If the CTA really wants to protect teachers’ interests and help improve academic achievement, they need to demand increased progressive taxes, with the wealthy paying most or all of the increase. Furthermore, anything short of a state-wide work stoppage is unlikely to make lawmakers feel any need to change their stance. A rich guy who spends his life insulated from (and exacerbating) poverty will not be swayed by signs and chanting.
Despite these criticisms, these baby steps by the union could be seen as a hopeful sign. The fact that they have even started talking about the greed of the wealthy is a positive change for an organization that has spent most of its existence bending over backward to comply with the demands of the ruling elite. On a more practical level, the May actions are an opportunity for students, teachers and public sector workers to take the lead and, instead of accepting the CTA’s weak demand to impose regressive tax increases on themselves, reset the agenda and demand the rich bail themselves out. At the very least, it is an opportunity to change the terms of the debate and radicalize participants.
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