Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared that the test of our nation was “not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger might be married to a Kennedy but his governing philosophy is pure George W. Bush — give away the store to the corporations and to the richest people in the state, turn a nice profit for the millionaire backers who put you in office, and starve “the Beast” (the government) of the revenues needed to sustain itself. It’s really shameful what Schwarzenegger and his Republican minions are doing to the state of California. With the sequel to last February’s budget battle ready for release it’s only a matter of days before “those who have too little” get a beating once again from the richest ruling interests in the state.
Schwarzenegger’s Director of Finance, Michael Genest, said a few weeks ago: “If you look at what government does, the government doesn’t provide services to rich people. . . . You have to cut where the money is. . . . CalWORKS, Healthy Families — those are all very targeted at low-income groups. And when we have no money, when we have to stop spending . . . obviously those are the places.” Genest’s “let them eat cake” attitude begs the question: Shouldn’t the patriotic, California-loving rich people and corporations in the state be willing to pay a little more so the poor might get by in this time of severe economic recession?
“We have to trim the bureaucratic fat,” chimes in Senator Abel Maldonado (R-San Luis Obispo), in an op-ed for the San Jose Mercury News. Maldonado, who the California Republican Party cut off from party coffers after he voted to pass the budget last February, apparently believes that gutting social programs, crippling higher education, closing parks, throwing children and disabled people into the streets, and imposing unpaid furloughs and pay cuts on state workers following years of cuts totaling about $49 billion — all of it — is just so much “fat.” It’s a perfect encapsulation of the extremist California Republican mentality (and he’s considered to be one of the “moderates”).
Regarding the state’s education system, the Schwarzenegger administration has been an unmitigated disaster. All of the Republicans’ attacks on education, all of the demands for standardized tests while gutting the resources needed for teachers to do their jobs, all the draconian budget cuts, all the fee raises and tuition increases that hurt students and their families, the enlarging of class sizes, the over reliance on temps and part-timers, all of these assaults have undermined the quality of education in California. But do Schwarzenegger and his Republican allies care about this fact? The answer is a definitive “No.”
To try to stop the bleeding, California Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico (D-Newark) has proposed AB 656, which would impose a tax “for the privilege of severing oil or gas from the earth or water in the state.” The revenues collected would not disappear into the black hole of California’s “general fund” but go directly to supporting higher education. The estimated $1 billion raised might save California’s cash-strapped community colleges, and the California State University and the University of California systems.
The representatives of the California Faculty Association, students, and sympathetic labor unionists who filled a hearing room Tuesday in the state Capitol heard every absurd and self-serving “argument” imaginable against taxing Big Oil. At the hearing, one slick lobbyist for the Western States Petroleum Association, who looks like Senator John Ensign with his gelled gray hair and $6,000 suit, argued oil conglomerates in California, the same firms that brought us $5 a gallon gas not long ago, will “suffer” if forced to pay the measly 9.9% severance tax. They’ll have to lay off workers! They’ll have to pollute our ports! The lobbyist rang every liberal-sounding bell he could think of in the name of squashing a small tax that might rescue California’s ailing higher education system. I thought he might even bring up the tax’s effect on gay marriage and animal rights.
But the obvious question the guy from Big Oil should have been forced to answer is: What’s wrong with asking the biggest oil conglomerates in the world to pay a little extra in California to help maintain an educated workforce that they can exploit later on?
Right now, the California Legislature is sliding into its familiar gridlock over raising new revenues to address the budget deficit. Six Republicans (two Senators and four Assemblymembers) will again hold the state hostage until their maximal goals are reached. They will not “blink” — they never do. Arnold has promised, once again, to veto any budget that doesn’t conform totally to his and his Republican colleagues’ demands for all cuts and no new taxes. The Democrats have already capitulated on the vast majority of his cuts. But that’s still not enough for the Terminator. California’s current budget battle is like a bad sequel to a mediocre movie — a phenomenon Arnold understands all too well.
Joseph Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento. He’s the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right (2001) and RFK (2008).
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