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Rick Jacobs

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Occupy Plus Ballot Measure = A Millionaire's Tax in California

Posted: 12/07/11 04:01 PM ET

California began going downhill when Howard Jarvis' Prop 13 passed in 1978. Thus began the end of funded public education, libraries, road repair, healthcare, senior services and the most respected higher education system in the world. It brought us Grover Norquist, the no-nothing Republican party of 2011, and a pledge to never raise taxes even if our country is burning. Meanwhile on the east coast, Wall Street banks get bailouts while giving their CEOs huge bonuses; Republicans in Congress want to raise taxes on middle class families by opposing the payroll tax cut extension; the rich get richer and buy off politicians in Washington while the middle class is in danger of disappearing. When Occupy Wall Street responds to it, there's a police crackdown. Is there any hope to get the rich, who have benefited most from government investment, to pay their fair share so we can invest in the middle class?

In California, the answer is yes. On Monday, Courage Campaign, the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), and California Calls, supported by two dozen grassroots community groups including the UC Student Association, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and ReFund CA filed a ballot measure to go on the November 2012 ballot. The Millionaires Tax to Restore Funding for Education and Essential Services Act of 2012 raises taxes on individuals making more than a million dollars a year. The measure would generate $6 billion a year and provide funding for K-12 and higher education, including community colleges, essential services for children and the elderly, public safety and road repair. The money only begins to fill in the hole that the recent cuts have made, but it is a first step in the long road to ending the tyranny of the minority, the folks who seek to concentrate more wealth at the top. And most importantly, it puts people -- teachers, firefighters, police officers, and more -- back to work for our communities.

This measure has national implications. It gives an electoral voice to the Occupy movement that simply wants the 99% to have a shot at rebuilding our America. It gives hope to students now burdened by more than a trillion dollars in debt. It offers a chance to refund the biggest state and economy in the nation, to set a model for the country, putting millions of people back to work. And it can save lives.

Governor Jerry Brown, who lived through Prop. 13 in his second term as governor in 1978, also introduced a plan. His plan calls for sales taxes which would hit the poor the hardest. An increase in sales tax would affect everyone, but especially those who are struggling in our economy. Those with the least will end up paying the most as a percentage of their income, which is why sales taxes are regressive. His plan increases taxes on those who make more than $250,000 a year. And it actually taxes people who make $500,000 a year at the same rate as it taxes people who make more than $2 million a year. It is projected to raise $7 billion a year, all of which goes into the general fund for the Legislature to spend as they wish. Although it looks on the surface as if it goes to education, it actually allows the Legislature to reallocate the funds, and does not add a dime directly to education.

To be clear, I'm delighted that the governor has proposed to raise taxes. It's a real change. If his measure is on the ballot, I'll vote for it. My big concern is that most other people will not.

That's why our coalition proposed a millionaire's tax. First, it's principled. It says, "If you make more than $1 million a year, you can afford to pay more to keep the system in good shape." Second, it can pass. Our research shows that well over 60% of likely voters would support this tax, whereas the public opposes the governor's decision to increase the sales tax and increase taxes on those making more than $250,000. Third, it fills a need. Our state is not broke; we've just allowed the right wing to make us think it is. How can our state be broke if we have a GDP in excess of $2 trillion? The wealthiest in our state have accumulated the vast share of income since 1978. Meanwhile, the rest of us have fallen behind. And last, unlike the governor's proposal, the revenue goes into a dedicated lockbox for education and critical public safety services that the Legislature cannot touch.

Progressives rail against President Obama because he often refuses to stand on principle. Lately, he's been doing better. So when a clear, strong, populist and popular ballot measure comes along that can put the voice of the 99% and the Occupy movement into law, the time has come to sign on. Imagine November 2012. Imagine California defining the national dialogue by showing that millionaires are morally obligated to pay their fair share. And imagine that we begin to put California back in shape. That's our plan. If you like it, join us to help pass it.

 

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