Calif. Democrats have rare chance
November 24, 2012
For the first time since 1978, the California legislature has the opportunity to affect some changes that could benefit us all without being blocked by a stubborn minority. As there is no guarantee that this window will last any longer than the current two-year election cycle, I urgently encourage the Democratic supermajority to choose wisely but to act swiftly.
I can make no claim to ultimate wisdom, but here are some issues I would suggest for consideration.
First, we should eliminate the supermajority requirement. The current system is unfairly rigged in favor of a stubborn minority. Ideology that fails to persuade even half of us of its validity does not deserve to be allowed to determine or to block our course any longer. Ideas should earn the right to power by convincing a majority of us. Elections can and should decide major issues.
Second, we need to take better care of the sick and disabled. It is simply immoral to allow giant insurance companies to take billions in profits from the sick (physically or mentally) while psychologists, doctors, nurses and hospitals are financially starved and citizens are literally bankrupted by events they cannot control. We pay firefighters and police (among others) simply to be available when needed. Why can't we do the same for health? Imagine the care our local system could provide if all insurance money went directly to those who take care of us instead of into the pockets of private bureaucrats and billionaires.
This is the first chance we’ve had in three decades to at least attempt to fix these huge problems.
Third, we should educate all our children. California used to set the standard nationally for the quality of its elementary and secondary schools and colleges. Today we rank 47th out of 50 states in spending per pupil. And in a world where many professions require college education, we no longer pay for our best students' college education. Instead we are saddling them with lifetime-level debts simply to complete their education. At the same time, on the other end of the spectrum, we have eliminated training for trades just when huge percentages of students are failing to complete high school. Since 1997, we have penalized schools financially for student absences, and we now are punishing schools for failing to meet deliberately impossible standards imposed by federal law. We can and willingly have paid adequate taxes before to educate appropriately all our children; why not return to those practices instead of heading further toward a virtually medieval system where only the rich are adequately educated? Morally and practically we should return to our roots.
Fourth, we must fix our broken tax system. At present, we tax homes, which at a basic level means we don't really own our homes. The state takes them if we become destitute. Income taxes tend to fluctuate widely, structurally ensuring chaos in our system with the economy. Workers' income is unfairly taxed at a higher rate than those wealthy enough to buy and sell in the financial markets. Shouldn't we reward work more than gambling?
Consumption taxes are more stable but regressive, hitting the poor much harder than the rich, as the poor have to spend all their income on simple survival while much of the income of the well-off (including myself) is discretionary income. Couldn't we create some kind of simpler consumption tax for stability (allowing a measure of individual control) but with exemptions to provide a degree of fairness for the poor — perhaps limited yearly vouchers issued to all or quarterly refunds for low-income earners or no tax at all on basic necessities (creating a huge, complex issue over legal definitions). It is no easy matter to solve the vast practical difficulties involved in devising a fairer, more consistent system, but the one we have clearly is not working practically or morally and needs changing.
This is the first chance we've had in three decades to at least attempt to fix these huge problems. I urge the Democrats to consider carefully but to take this rare opportunity to truly govern for us all.
Stan Thomas-Rose lives in Grass Valley.