As Sacramento prepares to inaugurate governor-elect Jerry Brown next month, the main focus has been on the state’s looming budget deficit and how the legislature and Brown plan to bridge that gap.
For years now, Californians have been told that we must choose between cutting public services and public service employees, or budget Armageddon.
However, this is a false choice that has been driven more by political rhetoric than actual reality, as The Wall Street Journal has observed.
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What we must bear in mind instead is that there is a direct relationship between California’s quality of life and the quality of its public services and the people who provide those services.
Imagine being unable to walk in a park on a sunny afternoon, or borrow books from the library or hang a picture drawn by your child at school on the refrigerator.
Imagine traversing potholed roadways or waiting hours to catch a train or bus home after work or telling your children that you can’t afford to send them to college.
For the majority of Californians who have to work for a living, this erosion in our quality of life is already happening.
Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, polls consistently show that a majority of voters support funding for parks, libraries, schools, reliable roads and transit systems, health care, childcare and environmental protection.
As stewards of these sources of our common wealth, public service employees are necessarily more highly educated, more highly skilled and more highly experienced.
That is why proposals aimed at slashing public services to balance the budget are self-defeating.
Economists agree that diminishing public service jobs and benefits will slow California’s economic recovery and increase unemployment.
These are unacceptable outcomes.
That is why we must find the courage to confront the root cause of our state’s structural budget deficit.
California needs to close the loopholes in its tax code and require stricter oversight of all the state’s tax subsidy programs, such as the failed enterprise zone program, to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.
According to an article by The San Francisco Chronicle’s Washington correspondent Carolyn Lochhead, this would result in annual budget surpluses for some time to come.
We should also repeal those tax breaks recently handed out to Comcast, Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche and Hollywood film studios for the ostensible purpose of creating jobs, since these companies have done nothing but lay off more people and ship additional jobs out of California.
If the free market is really the ideal mechanism for creating wealth, taxpayers should not have to subsidize the operations of private companies.
Similarly, the state should stop paying private contractors more than $34 billion a year to do jobs that civil servants can perform for roughly half the cost.
Finally, since most of our tax dollars over the past two years were spent to bail out the banks and financial institutions that caused the Great Recession, California should institute a surcharge on financial service transactions like stock trades to make sure that Wall Street, not Main Street, bears the cost of cleaning up this economic mess.
These approaches will help us maintain a high quality of life through quality public services provided by highly skilled, educated and experienced civil servants reminiscent of first world nations.