May 14, 2014
Let’s balance the responsibility to the future with responsibility to people now
Governor Jerry Brown,
You’ve been a responsible guardian of the state’s financial resources, and the healthy condition of the budget today reflects your strong focus on careful management of the taxpayers’ money.
However, in seeking a balance between fiscal responsibility and the needs of the people of California, you and the legislature have leaned too far in the direction of so-called “prudence.” Revenues are up in May more than $2 billion beyond your January budget projections. Thanks largely to the revenues brought in by Proposition 30, the state has helped school districts to avoid the layoffs and program reductions so typical of previous several years.
However, in much of the state and in many areas of the budget, too much of the damage from the Great Recession persists. In the community colleges, just one fifth of the budget reductions have been restored. A university education remains out of reach for too many working families after years of tuition hikes. And in our K-12 schools, California still ranks among the worst in the nation in per pupil spending, teacher-student ratio, and the numbers of counselors, librarians and nurses per student.
We agree that the state should keep a rainy day fund and pay down its debt. The Dot-Com Bust following the brief spike in revenues at the turn of the century cautions us not to expand state programs too quickly. But the past can teach us more than one lesson. The lesson of Prop 30 is that in the richest state in the richest country in the world, growing inequalities in wealth and income can be addressed with fair, progressive tax policies to begin to restore investments in public education and vital social services.
There is no reason to accelerate repayment of bond debt when payments are on schedule, especially at the same time that the massive disinvestment in CalWorks, Healthy Families, SSI and senior services continues to harm the populations these programs, slashed by billions of dollars, were meant to protect. There are good reasons not to pour new monies into a larger rainy day fund when it’s still raining on the quarter of Californians below the poverty line.
Governor, you like to refer to a balanced approach as your guide to policy. Here is an alternative idea for balance: Let’s bring California in line with every other oil producing state in the nation by passing SB 1017, an oil extraction tax, which asks hugely profitable oil corporations to contribute fairly to the state that helps make them rich. Let’s take the higher-than-projected state tax revenues and invest in healthier, better-supported students by putting nurses and mental health professionals into our schools and re-opening school libraries closed for years.
Socking away money in a rainy day fund looks to the future and is prudent in a generic way. It would be equally prudent to reexamine the state’s tax structure, taking into account the need for greater revenues over the longer term, and who can best afford to pay more for the benefit of all. But prudence also means balancing the responsibility to the future with responsibility to people now, including the people who will grow up to become that future.
President, California Federation of Teachers