Making the protests count

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He loves education -- but will he raise taxes to fund it?

It was wonderful to see so many people all over the state taking to the streets to protest cuts in education and public services. The rally at San Francisco’s Civic Center wasn’t just young radical agitators, either -- most of the people there were parents with kids, families, people who are just fed up with the threats to the future of this state and don’t want to take it any more.

And now that the press and public and maybe even the elected officials are focused on the issue, it’s time to move to the next step. Politicians can talk all they want about “standing with the families” and supporting education, but in the end, there’s only one way to adequately fund K-12 and higher education in California. And that’s to raise taxes.

You can talk about waste all you want, and there’s certainly waste at the University of California. But we’re looking at a need that runs into the billions, multiple billions, tens of billions -- and eliminating a few million bucks of waste here and there isn’t going to solve the problem.

You’re not going to solve it by reallocating the state’s budget money, either, since there’s no single large pot of cash that can be taken and given to the schools without devastating another necessary public service. The only real possibility is the prison system, a financial sink hole if ever there were one -- but again: You can’t just cut prison spending by eliminating services to prisoners. They get so little as it is -- and the federal courts won’t allow any reductions in health care and the state’s already under court order to reduce overcrowding.

You could probably solve half of the schools’ fiscal problems by releasing from prison every single inmate serving time for a drug offense; that’s the kind of dramatic steps we’re talking about. And if anyone wants to launch a political campaign to let 30,000 prisoners free tomorrow, I’m with you.

But it’s not going to happen, not in this climate. So the only real option is to get more revenue. That means raising taxes at the state level, repealing Prop. 13 to allow local property tax hikes, or raising taxes at the city level.

And here’s who the protesters need to be targeting:

1. The governor. Arnold Schwarzenegger not only refuses to allow new taxes as part of the budget, he vetoed Sen. Mark Leno’s bill that would have allowed local government to raise its own car taxes. He’s at (916)-445-2841.

2. The Republican leadership of the state Legislature. These folks go into the budget talks with the power of a minority that can block the two-thirds vote required for tax hikes, and they’ve both signed “no new taxes” pledges. These two people are among the single largest reason that the California school are facing such huge cuts. Assemblymember Martin Garrick,  916-319-2074. Senator Dennis Hollingsworth, (916) 651-4036.

3. Attorney General Jerry Brown. He’s running for governor as the Democratic candidate, and he has already announced that he won’t raise taxes and that Prop. 13 is untouchable. He won’t even support Assemblymember Tom Ammiano’s bill to legalize and tax marijuana. He needs to hear from his constituents that those positions won’t fly. (916) 322-3360

4. The mayor of San Francisco. Gavin Newsom is happy to announce that he supports education funding, but he’s never come forward with a single significant new tax increase for the city. Local taxes could be split between the general fund and the schools, and the progressives on the Board of Supervisors are looking for revenue options. Call the mayor and tell him: If Sacramento won’t raise taxes to educate our kids, we’d like to do it at home, in San Francisco. 415-554-6141.

5. Any state or local official who claims to support the schools but won’t publicly endorse and work for higher taxes. Folks, there’s no other way out of this.

And at the next rally, let’s chant: Repeal Prop. 13, Now! Tax the rich in San Francisco -- Now!