Killing the dream - Page 3

ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL: Tax cuts, privatization, sleaze, and the demise of California

13 only if you favor decreased government services (including cutbacks in everything from libraries to schools to street-cleaning crews and possibly police and fire departments) and are fond of half-baked measures that favor the rich."

Prop. 13 set off a national movement to cut taxes — and riding that wave, Reagan was elected president in 1980. He immediately set about attempting to slash taxes on big business and the wealthiest Americans, and eliminate environmental, workplace safety, and employment regulations.

You can see the results in California — and across the nation. The very strategies that emerged in this state and that the right has supported over the years have come very close to destroying the United States economy, leaving millions out of work — while the gap between the rich and the poor has risen to unsustainable levels.

Part of the reason this national attack on government and the public sector worked was the failure of Democrats to recognize that corruption matters. It was no small wonder that Californians were losing faith in government — in the 1970s and 1980s, the state Legislature, under the Democratic control of Speaker Willie Brown, was awash in sleaze, paralyzed by lobbyist influence and campaign money. Yet leading Democrats, fearful of Brown's power, did little to reign in the appalling corruption.

In fact, when Brown became mayor of San Francisco, the entire Democratic Party, from the president of the United States on down, seemed to treat him as royalty — despite the fact that he was selling the city to every developer and corporate lobbyist who waved money under his nose. When taxpayers knew that a large part of their money was going to fund juicy jobs for Brown's cronies and pet projects, it was hard to argue for higher taxes.

And it was the Democratic Party leadership in San Francisco who presided over two of the greatest examples of privatization of public resources in modern history: the Presidio and the Raker Act. Rep. Nancy Pelosi was the author of the bill that, for the first time, turned a national park over to the private sector — and hardly a Democratic leader in the city dared to lift a finger in opposition. And for decades — since the Guardian first broke the story in 1969 — the city's Democratic power brokers have bowed and genuflected to PG&E and allowed the private utility to control the local electric grid and block implantation of the federal law that mandates public power for San Francisco.

And now PG&E wants to pull off one of the greatest feats of privatization in American history. The company has launched a ballot initiative that would wipe out any further attempts at public power in California, essentially guaranteeing that private companies, not the public sector, control the vast, critical resource of electric power in this state.

It's the latest big battle between two divergent visions of America — and this time, the folks who have done so much damage to this state and this nation can't be allowed to win. In fact, maybe the campaign against PG&E can be the turning point, the time when California realizes that privatization, attacks on the public sector, tax cuts for the rich, and political sleaze are a formula for disaster.