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The voters are furious -- but are they madder at government or big business? That question could define the next political era
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ILLUSTRATION BY DANNY HELLMAN

Political consultants advising Whitman are clearly looking for ways to direct the voter unhappiness into a demand for lower taxes and smaller budgets. She's already vowed to fire 40,000 state workers, and her most recent campaign ad attacks Brown for expanding public programs and raising the state deficit.

So far Brown hasn't challenged that narrative — and some Democrats say he shouldn't. It would be safer, they say, for Brown to get out front and demand his own cuts in Sacramento. "Going after public-sector pensions is a winner," one Democratic campaign consultant, who asked not to be named, told us. "If Whitman beats Brown on those issues, she wins."

But that approach is never going to be effective for Democrats. If the argument is over who can better cut government spending, the GOP candidates will always win. The better approach is to see if progressives can't shift the debate — and the anger — toward the private sector.

As Hightower put it: "You can yell yourself red-faced at Congress critters you don't like and demand a government so small that it'd fit in the backroom of Billy Bob's Bait Shop and Sushi Stand, but you won't be touching the corporate and financial powers behind the throne."

That's where the discussion has to start. And there's no better place than California.

The Golden State is a great example of what happens when the tax- cutters win. In 1978, the liberals in Sacramento, operating with a huge state budget surplus, couldn't figure out how to derail the populist anger of property tax hikes. So Proposition 13, the beginning of the great tax revolt, passed overwhelmingly. Over the next decade, more antitax initiatives went before the voters, and all were approved.

Now the state is heading toward fiscal disaster. The schools are among the worst-funded in the nation. The world-famous University of California system is on the brink of collapse. Community colleges are turning away students. The credit rating on California bonds have fallen so far that it's hard for the state to borrow money. And there's still a huge budget gap.

The tax-cut mentality that led to the so-called Reagan revolution started in California; a political movement that shifts the blame for many of the state's problems away from government and onto big business ought to be able to start here as well. And it's potentially a movement that could bring together people who normally find themselves on opposite sides of the fence.

A case in point: the measure the oil companies have put on the November ballot to repeal the state's greenhouse gas limits. The corporations backing the initiative, led by Valero, argue that California's attempts to slow climate change will cost jobs. That's a line we've heard for decades. Every tax cut, every move toward deregulation, is defended as helping spur job growth.

But the past four presidents have done nothing but cut taxes and reduce regulations — and the result is facing Americans on the streets every day. There is also growing evidence that even Republican voters don't believe everything big businesses tell them anymore. And they're starting to grasp that sometimes deregulation leads to outcomes like larcenous CEOs and unstoppable oil leaks.

So the potential for a successful progressive populist movement is out there. But it's not going to happen by spontaneous combustion.

 

SF SHOWS THE WAY

On the national level, one of the factors creating this gloomy electorate is the failure of President Obama to keep the coalition that elected him active and engaged. The intense partisanship in Washinton has turned off many independent Obama voters, while his progressive supporters have been disappointed by issues ranging from his escalation in Afghanistan to tepid reforms on health care and Wall Street.

Comments

There is some good analysis in this cover story, but Redmond/Jones seem to be saying that the solution is to elect Jerry Brown and more Democrats. Yet, here we are under Obama/Pelosi/Reid and the federal government is still driving this country off of a cliff.

If I would have told you guys in 2008 that a President Obama would be barring the media from covering a major oil spill in the Gulf, you would have sent me to crazy-town. Yet, the US Coast Guard (which reports directly to Obama) is blocking, harassing and intimidating journalists who attempt to document this catastrophe.

Pelosi? She can't even show up for the annual Pride Parade! Not like she has a taxpayer-funded private jet to shuttle her back to Washington DC or anything, right?

And what about SF? Democrats have controlled this town completely for decades, yet here we are with crime-ridden streets, a broken down transit system, sky-high housing costs, gentrification, crumbling schools, filthy sidewalks...

I've seen this movie before. I know how it ends, and it is not pretty.

We need real electoral reform and a multi-party system to make our government accountable to the people.Only then will we be able to stop fighting over scraps. Only then will our voices be heard.

Posted by Erika McDonald on Jul. 02, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

The People Want Taxes? I don't care what think tank you are quoting. I don't think you are right. Those who want those taxes won't send extra when they file unless coerced.

Posted by hudson on Jul. 02, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

If you want to really know why California has fallen to such low levels is simply because it has stopped being a state that offers any real opportunities- that is unless you're rich. The cost of housing is the single biggest issue in this state and somehow people in the media just don't seem to get it. People ( at least in California) are pissed off most about this issue. Frankly I don't really cars anymore because since I don't really feel like shelling out $500k for a small house, we're moving to Austin next year.

The article mentions that people want more taxes. Yes- I've seen quite a bit of this already. Hand-wringing parents who paid a pretty penny to live in an area of the Bay Area that has ( gasp) real, functioning public schools- something that about 95% of the country enjoys by default but yet here in super-gentrified yuppieville schools are in the toilet. Thus I've seen all sorts of crazy half-cooked ideas to "save the children!" with more parcel taxes, bake sales, and whatnot.

Guess what? NONE of the problems in this state are going to get fixed until the real problems are fixed first. The single biggest is Proposition 13. Ever since this law was passed the state has been on a one-way path towards fiscal destruction. What it all boils down to is that the cost of running a state as with everything else goes up over time. This is simple economics 101. Yet with Prop 13 you have this ridiculous tax structure where businesses and individual property owners get to pay 1975 era taxes on houses and businesses worth 10 times more than what they paid. In my East Bay neighborhood the average age is pushing 60. Most Bay Area towns are probably about the same. So thus therein lies the problem- inadequate funds due to a dwindling tax base.

The bottom line is this: Pass all the taxes you want. None of these will do any good because the foundation is rotten to start with. As long as prop 13 is active, the state's financial situation will only grow worse.

Again I don't really care because I am outta' here.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 03, 2010 @ 8:43 pm

Guest, I think you're right that Prop. 13 is at the core of the problems that we discussed in this article. And Hudson, you may be right that nobody likes paying taxes, but the polling we cited in the article indicates that people are more concerned now with essential services being slashed so deeply than they are with paying a big more in taxes.
Steven T. Jones

Posted by steven on Jul. 06, 2010 @ 3:51 pm

Which is worse big business or big government? They are one and the same. Republican, Democrat it really does not matter they are both reaching into the pocket of common everyday America to make themselves wealthier. I am not sure enough people are ready to look past the diatribe and dogma they have been taught to see beyond the curtain. This country has lost millions of jobs. We have allowed unbridled greed and demand for immediate profit to jeopardize stable corporations. Long term investments and growth plans have been replaced by immediate profit. What was called corporate raiding and destruction became a way of business in the 1990s and early 2000s. Wall street is no longer investing in the future but rather solely interested in making profits today.

We were sold the lie of "get a good education, find a good career, work hard, and you will be wealthy." The truth is go into debt for an education, become a wage slave or modern day indentured servant, and all of our innovation and ability will be used to make someone else rich. We have been convinced as workers that our contribution means little and we should accept the tokens traded to us for the hours of our lives. All this so we can buy and have stuff we do not really ever own. The truth is the ONLY thing we ever really own is the skill of our hands, the ideas in our minds, and the artistry of our abilities. Yet we allow that to be taken under the bondage of debt to provide wealth to our Masters and overlords.

I do not believe people are really ready to examine how deeply they have been duped. When they are willing to see the lies then maybe you can get them to understand. Until then the corporations, the haves, will continue to take from everyone else, the soon to be halve nots, through the manipulation of our government. SInce 1974 the productivity of the average American worker has doubled. The average income has stayed pretty close to the same. The disparity between what top 10% earn and the rest of us make has grown exponentially wider. The rich get richer. The rest of us are slowly losing ground.

That will be a hard pill for anyone to swallow. Fixing it will be a hard sale.

Posted by Dani Cailin on Jul. 29, 2010 @ 1:36 am

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