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Draconian Measures in California

Yes 30, No on 32

by RODOLFO F. ACUÑA

I had a heated discussion with a friend this weekend on California Propositions 30 and 32, the draconian measures that will impact Latino and working people nationally. It surprised me that he was going to vote just the opposite of how most progressives are voting. I thought that “Yes on 30” and “No on 32” were no brainers and that he would agree.

My friend has always prided himself in being ideologically consistent and voting for the interests of the community. This consistency among progressives is fairly broad and, although we may disagree on priorities, there are certain core values common to individuals who claim to be progressive.

This is especially true of those of us in the social sciences where your writings define your consistency. It is also true in the field of law where it is possible to plot the behavior of justices. For example, you can determine the political preferences of the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. It would have really been out of character, for example, for Justice Ruth Ginsburg to have voted for Citizens’ United (2010) or in the future vote to repeal Roe v. Wade (1973).

Whether you agree with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, she is politically consistent. She is a hardliner on Iran, her anti-abortion beliefs and her mantra to cut income tax are all predictable. Because of this consistency, coupled with her economic and political interests, we could predict her stances on Proposition 30, which proposes to raise sales and income taxes and Proposition 32 that purports to be a payroll protection measure but that is aimed at labor unions. It will have the same effect as Citizens’ United, allowing special interests to control state politics.

The purpose of ideology is not confined to interpreting the world, but more important it is to change it to your world view. However, money in the United States has allowed special interests to buy air time and to buy people to create fictions and illusions, to the point that we lose reality itself; my friend used to call this a “false consciousness,” which blurs reality to the point that it creates a fiction of reality. Thus, the outcome is we lose consistency.

California’s tax policies have been proposed and passed with the financing of corporations and special interests within and outside the state. The so-called tax reformers who are behind Proposition 30 have formed a community of interests that has been forged over time.

When I was a kid I always remember relatives saying that you always knew when you drove into California. We had what were arguably the best roads in the United States. Now they are among the worse in the nation.

In the 1950s, California’s public schools and colleges were the envy of the world. Since then there has been a steady decline from when Ronald Reagan (1967–75) was governor of California. Reagan along with the business community led an unsuccessful assault on the public colleges and universities under the guise of making students more socially responsible. At one point, he said that if they were paying for their education they would not be out protesting.

Reagan planted the seed for the destruction of California public education. Reagan conducted a relentless campaign to shift the cost of social production to the working and middle classes of the state. At the time, these classes were clearly defined as lower, lower-middle, middle and upper middle-classes. Today, it has become so confused that a family earning just above the poverty level and one earning over a million dollars a year are all lumped into the middle-class. This obfuscates class interests creating the illusion that we are all the same.

In 1960, California’s public school system was the envy of the nation; students scored above the national median in math and reading. It remained so under Gov. Pat Brown, declining with the advent of Reagan and the “job creators;” by 1970 California was 25th in the nation in per capita spending per pupil. The downward decline was a fact by 1978 with “mission accomplished” with the passage of Proposition 13.

The Proposition shifted the costs of education from the wealthy homeowner to the state. Landlords of commercial real estate paid the same rates as homeowners and in time paid fewer taxes than those buying homes after 1978. Commercial property owners and those owning homes in Beverly Hills paid fewer taxes than someone buying a home in South Central in 1990.

Proposition 13 also shifted the cost of public education from property taxes to the state’s General Fund that was already strapped for cash. This accelerated inequality among the schools that were polarized into richer and poorer.

“As a result, 2010-11 estimated General Fund spending was lower as a share of the state’s economy than in 35 of the prior 40 years.” Consequently, the General Fund in 2010-11 was spending a lower share of the state’s economy than in 35 of the prior 40 years. California ranked 46th among the 50 states in K-12 spending per student in 2010-11; it rivaled Mississippi and Arizona in the race to the bottom.

Without dwelling on it, the Reagan agenda was accomplished. California had to abandon its touted Master Plan for Higher Education (1960). In 1958 the state paid 100 percent of the cost student instruction; today students pay over 75 percent of the instructional costs. Tuition has risen from under $10 a semester and is approaching $10,000 annually.

Who benefits? The California corporate community does. Meanwhile, students incur debts of $25,000 to $100,000 without prospects of well-paying jobs because they are being outsourced by the “job creators.”

Proposition 30 cannot be separated from Proposition 32. They share the same “tangled web of supporters.” Many are the same people behind SB 1070 and HB 2281 in Arizona. Familiar names such as the Koch Brothers lead petroleum and real estate interests. They are central players in this war. In Los Angeles there is also the familiar face of former Mayor Richard Riordan who made hundreds of millions of dollars from what amounts to inside trading, buying and selling LA County and City properties. Riordan led the battle to privatize Olvera Street, and as mayor, he proposed privatizing the historic L.A. City Central Library.

Riordan spreads his money around and more than a dozen L.A. politicos, Latinos included, are beholding to Riordan.

Charles Munger and his wife Molly have spent over 20 million presenting an “alternative” to Proposition 30, posing as friends of educational reform. Both are major supporters of privatizing public education. In order to accomplish their mission, supporters of 30 and 32 have muddled reality. My friend joined Democrats for Education Reform – a group that is openly advocating “union busting as a key to bring about corporate education reform in California.”

In doing so, my friend and others have joined the same forces that are waging an open war on immigrants and Mexican American Studies in Arizona.

Why are unions important? Why should they be protected with a vote against the draconian 32?

To quote former L.A. City Councilman Art Snyder, “I hate hypocrisy! I hate it!”

It is one thing if you believe in something and another thing if you are doing it for self-interest. For the life of me I cannot see how killing the only counter force to the Koch Brothers and the privatizers of this world will protect the rights of Latinos and other working class people in California. These are the same interests that supported propositions such as California Proposition 187. These are the same forces that have opposed every progressive piece of legislation introduced in the state.

I have my share of gripes against the union leadership, some related to the political hacks that it endorses and some related to not representing the interests of their rank and file more militantly. However, I see no alternative but to support them. If passed this proposition would complete the Reagan Mission to shift the cost of social production from the corporations to the backs of workers. It will finish what Proposition 13 started in 1978 and decimate public education.

Labor unions for better or for worse are the only countervailing force to the Kochs, Riordans and their ilk. They are a source of capital for the protection of the foreign born and the poor. Without labor’s contributions the Kochs and the rest of the Robber Barons would have an open field.

If Propositions 30 and 32 were not important, the super-rich would not be spending millions of dollars in obfuscating reality. Like Deep Throat said, “follow the money.

RODOLFO ACUÑA, a professor emeritus at California State University Northridge, has published 20 books and over 200 public and scholarly articles. He is the founding chair of the first Chicano Studies Dept which today offers 166 sections per semester in Chicano Studies. His history book Occupied America has been banned in Arizona. In solidarity with Mexican Americans in Tucson, he has organized fundraisers and support groups to ground zero and written over two dozen articles exposing efforts there to nullify the U.S. Constitution.