Comment: Our fair share
For as long as I can remember, one of my sister-in-law’s favorite topics of conversation has been the evils of Proposition 13. When she’d get into one of her frequent monologues on the topic, I’d politely nod my head and flee at the earliest opportunity. We pay twice what you do in property taxes, I thought then, and only because we couldn’t buy a house as soon as you did. If it’s so important to you, I thought, why don’t you just send the schools a check?
But now that my first child is heading off to school, I see things a little differently.
This is a heck of a time to be getting into the public school system. Governor Schwarzenegger is talking about suspending the minimum funding guarantee and making massive cuts to schools. That translates into huge budget cuts for our schools.
But here in Alameda and across California, people are fighting back. Students are walking out of schools. Teachers and parents are rallying against the cuts. And the Democrats who control the Legislature are vowing to spare our schools the bloody budget ax. The fight to save schools has unleashed an amazing amount of energy and made activists out of people who never thought it possible.
This fight has also released pent-up frustration over the dysfunctional way our schools are funded. People are tired of being repeatedly asked to approve temporary solutions to the problem. Lawsuits have only added layers to the dysfunction. Unfortunately, the solution – tax reform – conjures images of career doom among the politicians who rule in the state’s capitol.
Proposition 13 has been called the “third rail” of California politics: You touch, you die. But this fight may show that the glowing third rail is beginning to lose some of its charge. Note a letter in yesterday’s Sun whose writer said she is willing to pay more taxes if they are fair, and fairly distributed. And she’s not the only one considering a longer-term solution to this problem. Local politicians are calling for tax reform, too.
It’s possible that our state politicians will take some of the steam out of this movement when the budget rubber really hits the road, later this spring. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says he doesn’t want to raise taxes, but he doesn’t want to make these cuts either, according to a Chronicle article about protests over the cuts. State Sen. Don Perata is proposing a vehicle license fee increase to help pay for schools. Chances are, they won’t be as bad as proposed. And then there’s the parcel tax.
Whatever the solution, this new generation of activists could be pacified. Or they could be so emboldened by these temporary victories that they seek out something a little more permanent. I agree with my sister-in-law now, Proposition 13 needs fixing. And I’m happy to tell you all about it.