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.
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).