Time to Help Brown Stay True to His Call for Loyalty to the Community

As I listened to Jerry Brown’s inauguration speech on Jan. 3, something he said struck a chord. “A Philosophy of Loyalty,” he called it. “Loyalty to the community that is larger than our individual needs.”

This is a concept that unionists share. It’s one of the fundamentals of our movement. But it’s a value under attack. Tune in to talk radio and you’ll hear a bombastic host inciting his audience against government. In the corporate world, the enduring loyalty is not to community, but to executive compensation.

Ideologues like Grover Norquist have also joined in the debate on California’s future, not by calling for unity, but by threatening legislators who would even consider allowing voters a say on whether revenue is part of the fix for our budget crisis.

After seven years of Schwarzenegger, it brings relief and hope to have a new governor who shares our loyalty to community and our values for a middle class.

But even with the best of intentions, Brown’s already had to make some difficult choices that threaten to undermine his vision. The governor has proposed deep, devastating cuts to programs our communities depend upon. In his Jan. 10 budget proposal, Brown offered $1 billion in cuts to higher education. He slashed health and welfare programs that are a lifeline for the most vulnerable. The cuts to in-home care for the elderly and disabled are troubling.

Gov. Brown inherited a mess with few good options. But he has signaled a willingness to consider all of them, including a special election to extend revenue increases, and our long-demanded elimination of some corporate tax giveaways, such as enterprise zones.

We hope that the governor won’t stop there to bring more revenue into our cash-strapped state.

Multi-national corporations are effectively thumbing their noses at us, avoiding paying their fair share.

Start with the oil companies. We are the only oil-producing state without taxes on extraction. Even anti-tax darling Sarah Palin instituted a 25% oil extraction fee in Alaska. The $1 billion per year that we’d generate would restore services for the vulnerable, keep cops and firefighters on the street and help fund higher education.

And it’s time to ask the richest 1%, who just got another big break through the extension of the Bush tax cuts, to also pay their fair share.

Remember, Gov. Ronald Reagan himself raised taxes for the rich by adding the 8, 9, 10 and 11% brackets to state income tax, increased the corporate tax from 5% to 9%, and reduced some tax giveaways to the oil companies.

The world-renowned infrastructure of freeways, universities, public schools and aqueducts built by Gov. Brown the elder has fallen into disrepair after years of neglect. Hundreds of thousands of jobs will be created by building the California infrastructure of the future, which includes high-speed rail. Jerry Brown must apply both the same political will to move these projects forward and the creative skill to fund them. Putting those workers in jobs will create yet more revenues to help put the state back on track.

And finally, let the governor use his bully pulpit to thwart misguided attacks on public employees started by Schwarzenegger and his corporate friends. Public servants did not cause the fiscal crisis, and scapegoating them does nothing to help rebuild our economy. Stripping retirement security from teachers, firefighters and other public workers would simply further weaken our state.

The root of California’s budget disaster is the greed and arrogance of those on Wall Street who fueled the economic collapse. And ring-wing conservatives are exploiting the budget crisis to vilify public employees, prevailing wages and decent pensions. California’s new leaders must overcome the temptation to join in these scurrilous attacks, and rather bring all Californians together to stand against the forces that seek to tear down our middle class.

The California labor movement was instrumental in Brown’s election. But our next task is even more daunting than defeating an egomaniacal billionaire like Meg Whitman. Gov. Brown will live up to his call for us to put individual interests aside in the name of a stronger state for all. But he needs our help to do it.

We will support the governor’s efforts to bring us together, and to create the revenue to lead the state from the abyss.

As we begin the conversation about how to renew California’s promise, loyalty to community is a good start. But it’ll take more than loyalty to move our state forward. It will take action. And, as always, the California Labor movement will fight for the values we share.