Yesterday, I got off the plane and checked my emails. I saw that the recent article that Stella Kim and I wrote, which appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, had garnered a number of comments protesting the premise that California cannot afford an all-cuts budget. Our proposals regarding revenue increases incited a great deal of animosity about the "twin evils" of taxes and government bureaucracy.
While I certainly understand the concern that our taxes are too high and agree that government, like other large organizations, must take steps to increase efficiency, what really bothered me was the underlying theme that those who are impoverished don't deserve help.
What if we publicly challenged the notion, rooted so deep in this fiercely individual culture, that we are not each others' keepers? What if we believed, and acted as if, we have a responsibility for one another and that together we must work to leave a healthy state for our children and our neighbors' children?
We are living in a period of "unbridled capitalism." Greed is exalted in this capitalism, with a staunch focus on individual accumulation of wealth. And there is never enough. I am amazed to see that many of us whose incomes place us in the top 10 percent don't feel that we have enough because we get caught in a vicious spiral of comparing ourselves with the richest one percent -- ultra-millionaires.
Our culture often depicts an abundant life as one where wealth is accumulated and held individually. Yet, I think that many of us have personal experiences in which we've tasted what an abundant life really is -- it's based upon friendship, generously sharing our gifts (whether that be of time, money or talent) and helping others who are in need.
My work is focused on improving the lives of low-income women and their families. I cannot do this work without looking at the budgets of our state and country. Both of these are moral embarrassments. In California, 54% of the cuts are to programs impacting the poor yet these programs represent a fraction of our overall state budget. Both the federal and the state budgets leave millions of people in the lurch while we are continually told that increasing corporate taxes and taxes on the most wealthy will jeopardize the price of gas... jobs... or the economic recovery.
In our op-ed, Stella and I mention the growing wealth gap. In the last 20 years, as the incomes of 80 percent of Californians declined, the incomes of the wealthiest 10 percent increased 43 percent. Meanwhile, the poverty rate grows in California. Conversations with wealthy friends and colleagues tell me that many wealthy Californians would rather pay more if it means that all Californians will do better.
What we didn't mention is that caught in this wealth gap is the eroding of the middle class. Those of us who have achieved middle-class status in this country have achieved it because of deliberate and proactive policies designed to create a group of people who are the economic drivers of our economy: healthy, educated, economically stable employees and consumers.
I agree that those of us who are advocates have to think beyond saving individual programs from cuts. Ultimately, we must devise a comprehensive approach to balancing the budget that considers the holistic needs of low-income women and families, stops the erosion of the middle class, and rebuilds the fiscal health of our state. This is why Stella and I described worthy proposals for revenues. And yes, we absolutely must increase government efficiencies -- from the local to the federal level. I certainly want our tax dollars to go as far as possible. To realize that goal, we can merge duplicative programs and services, and evaluate their effectiveness to achieve greater impact.
Yet, we must not forget that the public structures created and maintained by government are foundational to economic prosperity and security, and the strength of the middle class.
I call upon every sector of our society, whether low-income, middle-class or wealthy to speak out for a more just and equal society. I commend and call upon companies that see their responsibility as being about more than the financial bottom line to take a stand and speak out in favor of increasing modest corporate taxes so that California can have a more sustainable source of revenue.
If you share my view that we must no longer allow our state to perpetuate polices that contribute to the super rich getting richer, while the middle class and poor lose ground, then help us. Tell your friends, comment on blogs such as this one and join with organizations that are striving to build the political will that results in policies to more equally share California's wealth.
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