What Will It Take for Californians to Flood the Streets?

What will it take for the people of California to rise up and flood into the streets to protest what the Republican legislators and Governor Schwarzenegger are doing to our state?

When the first envelopes are opened — envelopes that should contain checks with state tax refunds, but have IOUs stuffed into them instead — that may finally do it. Until people feel it in their own pocketbooks, I fear that they will remain convinced that the talk coming from Controller John Chiang and Treasurer Bill Lockyer is just a scare tactic designed to get Republicans to agree to raise taxes.

There are still many people who think that state employees are all lazy slobs just feeding at the public trough. They do not understand that the lady behind the counter at the DMV who helps them register a new car is probably making a fairly low hourly wage. After her salary takes a ten percent hit, and she is forced to stay home two days a month with no pay, she may be able to pay her rent, but she won’t be shopping for any new furniture soon, and she probably won’t be eating out much or going to the movies. Multiplied by the hundreds, she is going to put some shops and restaurants out of business.

A recent article in the Sacramento Bee about the two-day-a-month furlough that Schwarzenegger is forcing on rank-and-file government employees says that it will mean a $1 billion loss to the Sacramento area alone. Those state employees don’t just support their families, they also support hundreds of small businesses. Republicans have always loved the “trickle down” school of economics. This is true trickle down. Unemployment will trickle down and more and more people will join the ranks of the people who are tax users rather than tax payers.

Of course when they go to apply for food stamps or social services, they’ll be hard put to find a state worker to help them fill out the forms. We know that President-Elect Obama is talking about a huge infrastructure project that will create thousands and thousands of jobs. But how many of us realize that, during all that hopeful talk, California is shutting down work on all its own infrastructure projects?

There is only one construction game in town since the housing market went bust, and that’s construction of schools, libraries, fire stations, and college buildings under the various bond issues passed by the voters of California. All of us in that business (disclosure: our family owned sign company makes and installs signs for schools and other public facilities) thought that we could weather the recession because we already had signed contracts. Now, however, we find that, because of the horrible credit rating California has earned as a result of its dysfunctional budget process, no bonds have been sold since June. There’s no money left to pay for the construction, so it’s all being halted.


For our company, it may mean closing the doors after 56 years, and for 18 hard-working employees, it may mean no job, no money to pay the rent or the car payment, and no health care. For California, it will mean thousands of lost jobs, with the taxes that go with those jobs, as well as a huge waste on construction projects which had already begun, and may now have to be boarded up. And many of the businesses that those construction companies supported, and the shops and restaurants that those workers patronized, will probably go out of business as well.

Shutting down the eighth largest economy in the world has got to be at least as important as shutting down the automobile industry! But most California citizens appear to be oblivious to the danger, although they are obviously aware that we are in a recession. Crowds of citizens should be picketing the office of every Republican who has refused to consider raising taxes as part of the solution to California’s deficit. Crowds of citizens should be camping out in front of the Governor’s office demanding that he stop trashing the Democrats who have compromised on virtually every issue, and tell people what the real problem is.

And what is the real problem? Much of it can be laid at the feet of a man named Grover Norquist. He heads the Americans for Tax Reform, and believes that all taxation other than for the justice system is theft. His most famous quote is “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” All but one Republican legislator in California has signed his “no new taxes” pledge.

Since California has the very rare requirement that all budgets must be passed by a two thirds vote, just a handful of these “no tax” Republicans have been able to hold up the state budget year after year. They insist that the entire revenue problem can be solved by cuts. But when all the supposed “fat” is gone, the muscle starts to disappear. California government will indeed be drowned in Norquist’s bathtub, but the people of California, except for a few people who are so wealthy that they can outlast almost any crisis, will drown right along with it.

By the time that Obama’s infrastructure program is passed, I fear California will be going down for the third time. As Controller John Chiang has said on his state website, speaking of what will happen if the legislature does not act immediately, “ You would see a chain reaction far worse than new taxes or program cuts. It would endanger local governments, schools, small businesses, nursing homes and hospitals. We would pass
our financial problems on to millions of Californians by deepening and prolonging the current recession.

We cannot waste time arguing about how we got here today. We only have time to quickly come together and pursue solutions and make the tough decisions that will protect our future.”

Sharon Toji

Sharon Toji is a long-time community organizer and political activist who was a charter member and first clerk of the Irvine Unified School District Board of Directors. As an advocate for disability rights, she currently serves as voting delegate of the Hearing Loss Association of America to the American National Standards Association Committee on Building Accessibility (ANSI), and is on the California State Architect’s Access Committee, the State Fire Marshal’s Committee on Accessible Egress, and the Access Advisory Committee of the State Building Standards Commission. With her husband Tosh, she owns H Toji and Company, an architectural graphics company and Access Communications, a consulting company for communications issues in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).


  1. Sharon Toji says

    Yesterday I attended a luncheon where John Chiang spoke. He outlined the situation for us very clearly. He started warning the governor and the legislature back in 2007 when the state went from black to red. He was ignored. He spoke to the legislature and the governor again in December. He was ignored. He cannot fail to pay certain legal obligations, because if he does, he will put the state in default, and he says that will be worse than a bankruptcy. It will affect not just the state, but many other entities, because California’s credit will be ruined for many years, and the bad reputation will spill over to cities, school districts, water districts and counties.

    His department has worked to mitigate the effect for students who get grants and people on disability. The staff of the State Controller has bought 30 days for some of these people, for some of them a few months. However, he says that the longer the budget debacle lasts, the longer it is going to take for any relief to kick in.

    This is, in my opinion, a good man who truly cares about the poor and the middle class. He hates what he is forced to do by the Republicans in the legislature, and the governor. He thinks the governor is derelict in his duties.

    I invite everyone to check out the State Controller’s website and look at the bills that will and will not be paid, along with the various graphs and the text of his message to the legislature.

  2. Steve Lamb says

    While I believe in State Government, it is really difficult for me to endorse paying State employees more. I spent the last 20 years in an elected unpaid local representative office. We had problems with various County and City employees and departments flagrantly and outrageously flaunting and disobeying the law and there was no way we could get the State Attorney Generals office to bother. These criminals who were stealing much more than the guy who robs the local booze outlet had a free ride just because they were government employees.

    Thats got to be the FIRST thing to change if we hope to have the People trust their government, the CRIMINALS in government must be prosecuted, convicted and serve MORE time not less time, because their crimes involve betraying the trust of the American People. Until that happens, good luck on the people having much sympathy for any state employees.

    Good post Frank

  3. fFrank Amon says

    In My Opinion:

    1. Most people in CA support the 2/3rds rule.
    2. Most people support Pay-As-You-Go, even when it means cutting expenses in poor times.
    3. Most people want the State government to cut expenses, eliminate programs.

    Yes, these actions will increase and prolong recession. A lot of people, perhaps not “most,” recognize this but want the government to cut programs, reduce others, and be strict about Pay-As-You-Go.

  4. Rosalio Munoz says

    People need more education to be better organized on tax justice and there have to be basic progressive principles for taxation, it must be based on ability to pay, we have to tax the corporations and the rich, not use Wall Street Bonds and regressive taxes like the sales tax and we need a labor community coaltion for the politics. I worked hard to defeat Proposition 13 in 1978 supporting the principled Petris bill rather than the mish mosh Behr bill and kept on campaigning for split roll and other progressive alternatives. When bonds and sales taxes were raised much of too many peoples militancy waned, now the costs of servicing debts and the depression. It is a national problem, really a global one. It is not as simple as just blaming Republicans, though thats a useful way.

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