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Marty Hittelman: Republicans' 'no new taxes' pledge is irresponsible


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Marty Hittelman: Republicans' 'no new taxes' pledge is irresponsible

By Marty Hittelman - Special to The Bee
Published 12:00 am PDT Friday, June 13, 2008

It's too early to tell how the California Legislature will resolve the state budget impasse and the projected $17 billion deficit. But the choice is plain: cuts or taxes.

We already know what cuts would look like. The picture is spelled out in dry language in the governor's May revised budget proposal: $4.3 billion in education cuts, $2.9 billion in health and human services cuts. The human picture is something else. The governor is asking those who can afford it least to make the biggest sacrifices to close the budget deficit: old people who won't have access to food, disabled people who won't have access to health care, students who won't have access to a reasonably funded educational experience.

Some people don't like paying taxes. Taxes make our paychecks smaller. Taxes add to the price of some of the items we purchase. Taxes make some people mad because they feel they have little or no control over how the money raised by taxes is spent. Many are angry that a larger proportion of the federal budget is spent on the military than on anything else.

Others dislike allocating money for schools, because they have no children or send their kids to private schools. They may hate paying for public transit because they only drive cars.

But like them or not, taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society – to be educated, to be healthy, to be safe.

However, California is shackled in its ability to provide for the common good. It is one of three states in the country that require a two-thirds legislative vote to raise taxes. As a result, we face a tyranny of the minority. To add to this basic undemocratic situation, slightly more than a third of each legislative house is represented by Republicans, who have vowed not to vote for any tax increases no matter how great the need or the nature of the tax.

This is irresponsible. We elect people to serve in government, make decisions about what's best for society and about how to pay for programs created for the common good. It is an abdication of responsibility for our elected representatives to refuse to even consider new taxes. Faced with similar budget situations in the past, Republican governors Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson, despite their ideological distaste for tax increases, bit the bullet and did what was necessary.

The taxpaying public has been persuaded to underfund education and other public services for many years. Until very recently, the governor was saying that the state has a spending problem, as if the budget deficit is the result of a wealthy drunkard on a spree. Hardly. California ranks 48th in the country in the number of state government employees per resident. It is 46th in the nation among states in per-student spending.

It is possible to meet the needs of the people of California without harming the pocketbooks of the majority, through progressive tax policies that ask those who have the most ability to do so to pay slightly more.

Returning the top income tax bracket to where it once was – 11 percent from the current 9.3 percent – on people who make more than $300,000 a year would net the state $5 billion a year.

We can also close tax loopholes. California is the only state that does not tax oil when it is taken from the ground. The average state oil production tax is 6 percent. The price of oil is at more than $100 a barrel, which would bring California $1.5 billion each year. The oil companies are making record profits while we pay through the nose at the pump. They can easily pay more – yet Republicans in the Legislature blocked an effort to close this loophole, chanting in unison, "no new taxes."

Don't let a small group of ideologues stand in the way of teachers' ability to deliver quality public education to their students. If everyone reading this took a few minutes to contact their legislators, telling them it's time to ask those who can best afford it to pitch in for the common good, we'll continue to live together in a civilized society. And if the legislators can't hear you, because they are chanting "no new taxes" too loudly to pay attention, then it's time to elect people who will listen to you.