As soon as Jerry Brown’s State of the State was finished, like clockwork, the Republican responses deploring Brown’s call for voters to have a voice on whether we extend existing taxes or cripple public education and other vital services started pouring in. The temerity of this governor, suggesting voters should have a say in how we solve the state budget crisis! they said. Voters told us in past elections what they wanted so we don’t have to ask again, they reasoned. It’s all the unions’ fault! they cried.
OK, I certainly understand the Republicans relying on hysterical rhetoric in an effort to distract from their indefensible position that voters should have no say in decisions that will affect each and every one of us. The Governor argues for a balanced approach that includes deep cuts and an extension of existing taxes to structurally reform our budget. In effect, Brown says we need to make tough choices to get our fiscal house in order so that we can focus on the future. Schwarzenegger, despite all his macho blustering, wasn’t tough enough to do it. Brown is. And, unlike his predecessor, Brown is making his case to the public instead of brokering backroom deals.
Now, Brown’s plan isn’t perfect. Cutting higher education and services for the most vulnerable is not a recipe for economic recovery. He and the legislature must explore all options to mitigate deep cuts to health care, higher education and programs that are literally a lifeline for seniors and those with disabilities. But the underlying message that we can’t kick the can down the road any further is one that should bring together bipartisan support. However, that would take reasonable people making rational decisions outside of their own political interests. Apparently, for Republicans, that’s just too much to ask.
Joel Fox, who runs the Small Business Action Committee (a business lobbying group), tried to justify his fellow Republicans’ irrational behavior in a post this morning on his Fox & Hounds website. Fox has an interesting spin:
Let's consider for a moment that voters approve Brown's proposal for a five-year tax extension. What happens after five years when the taxes disappear? If the business climate has not improved, if long-term pension obligations have not been modified, if spending has not been limited, then California will be in a deep hole and we will have this argument over extending taxes all over again.
Well, Joel, that sure sounds nice. Too bad it’s about as accurate as a Glenn Beck history lesson. The fact is, California’s economic crisis wasn’t created by regulations or pension obligations. It didn’t occur because of spending. In fact, spending has been reduced by more than $20 billion over the last several years.
What Fox fails to note is that when our economy was booming we still had pension obligations. The so-called “business climate” was then what it is now. It’s a classic example of the old Republican bait-and-switch: Try to distract the public by misplacing blame.
The truth is, California’s budget crisis was created by bankers and CEOs on Wall Street — they crashed the economy, destroyed millions of jobs, created waves of foreclosures and left California families holding the bag… and we bailed them out. Wall Street should be paying states and taxpayers back for the hardship it caused, not the other way around, as Fox seems to prefer.
Former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich notes that the Republican attacks on public employees and pensions are merely an attempt to shield Wall Street and corporations from blame:
Public servants are convenient scapegoats. Republicans would rather deflect attention from corporate executive pay that continues to rise as corporate profits soar, even as corporations refuse to hire more workers. They don't want stories about Wall Street bonuses, now higher than before taxpayers bailed out the Street. And they'd like to avoid a spotlight on the billions raked in by hedge-fund and private-equity managers whose income is treated as capital gains and subject to only a 15 percent tax, due to a loophole in the tax laws designed specifically for them.
Admittedly, the Republican attacks make for nice sound bites. But Californians are beyond that. We’re sick and tired of seeing our communities crumble while Sacramento bickers. With every school that closes, firehouse that shuts down and job that’s eliminated, voters’ resolve for real, adult solutions grows deeper. Jerry Brown is the first leader we’ve had in a long while to offer a vision for long-term economic recovery that’s grounded in commonsense and transparency. When he became Governor, he checked politics at the door.
So while Fox and his Republican ilk will continue to try to distract us with political doublespeak, Californians won’t be fooled. We’ve got our eye on the ball. This is our chance to finally break the vicious cycle that has left our state in perpetual turmoil. And Californians demand they have a say in their own future. If Republicans want to stand in the way of that, they do so at grave political risk, because the public won’t tolerate Republican attempts to block our right to vote on issues that will deeply affect our families.
California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski summed it up:
We agree with the governor that the current budget crisis can’t be solved without a balanced approach, and the voters deserve to be heard. We fully support his call to bring to voters an extension of existing taxes to save our schools from even more devastating cuts. Without the extension, our kids will pay the price with school closures, more teacher layoffs and larger classroom sizes that will cripple public education…The California labor movement looks forward to partnering with the governor to revive our economy and move us forward as a state. While the road ahead is full of potholes, we’re confident that we have an experienced leader in the driver’s seat who can navigate California back to prosperity.