It's a 350-mile march from Bakersfield to Sacramento if you stop in the small towns along the Highway 99 corridor. I'm a retired teacher and clinical social worker making that march with other teachers and public service workers to sound an alarm in the heartland of this state that the California dream of opportunity and the good life is fading. It's time to wake up and do something about it. We're in the second week of our 48-day trek, and my feet are showing the wear. But though I'm tired, my spirit is soaring with the warm reception we are receiving in the San Joaquin Valley.
Money for our schools and public services has been slashed, and more draconian cuts are threatened in the immediate future. Public worker layoffs are leading to overcrowded classes and lost course offerings, to cuts in essential services to the frail elderly and disabled and the shattering of safety net services. These cuts affect all of us, and the quality of life and standard of living we have worked so hard for decades to achieve is at risk. That's why I'm dedicating my March and April to march — for our future.
As we move up the state step by step, we are met by passersby who stop to cheer us on with warm words, water and snacks. Churches honor us in their services. Schools host us for the night. Students have come knocking on our RV door to invite us to a local play production. A town chief of police has paid a friendly visit to show his support.
When I read a banner that said, “March For Those Who Cannot,” I felt a tug at my heart. I knew I was doing the right thing. It was written on the banner by in-home care workers in Los Angeles at the rally the day we departed for Bakersfield to begin the march. It may come as a surprise to Californians to know that our state ranks 48th in the nation in the number of state employees per resident, and that our K-12 schools are nearly last in the nation in per pupil spending. So, we don't have a “spending problem,” as our governor asserts. We're actually behind almost all the other states in spending for our essential services.
What can we do? Alright, I'll say the forbidden word — taxes. We need to restore taxes on the highest incomes and on large corporations that for years have enjoyed tax cuts. We regular taxpayers have been hoodwinked into carrying more than our share.
- Individuals who make over 250,000 per year and couples who make over500,000 have enjoyed tax cuts for almost 20 years. We need to raise the levels by 1-2 percent to they're at the same levels as they were under President Reagan, which will bring in5 billion a year.
- Close corporate tax loopholes. The average taxpayer doesn't have them, why do we extend them to the stockholders of the wealthiest corporations?
- Enact a tax on oil severance in our state, which is the only state that does not have this tax. George Bush's Texas and Sarah Palin's Alaska both tax oil taken out of the ground; why shouldn't California?
Besides restoring lost taxes, it's crucial that the State Legislature be able to pass a budget and raise revenue with a majority vote (50 percent plus one). Presently, a required a one-third-plus-one radical minority can, and does, freeze decision-making. That minority effectively controls the Legislature. An initiative now is being circulated for the November ballot to restore a more democratic process.
I may be retired, but I can walk. And I'm going to walk a long way before it's over.
This article originally appeared on Huffington Post.