Joetopia

Why not pay more taxes for schools?

This week, Gov. Jerry Brown took the gutsy and long-overdue step of asking voters to raise taxes on themselves to fund schools and public safety.

It took less than a year for him to realize the futility of his attempts to negotiate a bipartisan compromise with Republican legislators, who have sold their souls to Grover Norquist and become a band of zombies.

To wit: “Assembly Republicans will again stand united as the last line of defense for taxpayers and will fight these reckless taxes every step of the way,” Assembly minority leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, said in response to Brown’s plan, while presumably stumbling, arms outstretched and glassy-eyed, around the halls of the state Capitol.

Actually, she probably had to work to be that lucid. In fact, she may as well just remove all the other words from her vocabulary and repeat ad nauseum, “Nooooo taaaaaaxes, nooooo taaaaaaxes.”

The governor proposes a temporary tax increase on the rich as well as a half-cent hike in the state sales tax, both of which sound perfectly fine to me. The sales tax in particular is a good place to start because it can generate a chunk of change in a rather innocuous manner.

The tax on the rich is an even better place because, seriously, the wealthy in this country are getting off easy in epic, historic fashion. Perhaps if they think the socioeconomic climate is so hostile to them, they might like to take a trip back to one of those decades in the last century when millionaires faced a marginal income tax rate of up to 94 percent.

And yet with any mention of raising taxes on the rich, all we get is a bunch of foot-stomping and finger-wagging about “class warfare.”Brown’s proposal isn’t class warfare. Class warfare is suggesting little poor kids should quit being slackers and get to work cleaning the toilets at their public schools, as Newt Gingrich would have it.

I’m sure it would do wonders for their studies — not to mention their self-esteem — to have them spend their afternoons mopping the bathroom floors of PS 192 while their classmates of more fortunate means just sashay by, noses in the air.

Class warfare is engineering a health-care system that intentionally leaves millions of Americans walking the razor’s edge, always one narrow step, one unfortunate diagnosis, away from the abyss. Access to affordable medical services and prescription drugs should not be a privilege afforded only to those with fat wallets or the good fortune of an employee-sponsored health plan.

Class warfare is sitting idly by while the price of a public college education skyrockets at unfathomable rates. In 2002-03, a year’s tuition and fees at Cal Poly rang up at $2,976, which adjusted for inflation equates to $3,662 in 2011. Today, a mere 10 years later, that same morsel of education costs $7,911, a 116-percent increase.

While you’re chewing on that, think about this: I had my dad dig back another 13 years to my first year at Poly, when we paid a mere $944 for the whole year’s tuition and fees, which in today’s dollars would equal $1,635. That’s a stunning 383 percent.

Let me ask, has your paycheck increased by these rates as well?

If a gallon of milk rose in price as much as 12 units of higher education have, it’d be upwards of $17 today and our kids would grow up sucking Pepsi out of sippy cups instead, raised into a bunch of sugared-up, toothless morons oh, wait.

See, it’s all starting to make sense.

Radical inflation to the cost of a bachelor’s degree is quickly pricing out entire segments of our society. People who previously might have managed the cost of four years at a state university may now have no other option but to start at a community college — or skip it all together.

We are headed toward a day where the only people who will be able to afford a public university education are the ones who also can afford country club memberships.

But apparently this is how Connie Conway of Tulare and her ilk would have us: uneducated and intellectually malnourished, left to languish in the dark, because the light — in all its metaphorical forms — has been categorically removed from our reach.

Should we continue on this path, history will record that Conway and her colleagues were at the front line of breaking California’s great promise of higher education to its young people — an opportunity that distinguished our state as great, not just good.

Last year, in the face of yet new rounds of funding cuts to San Luis Obispo County schools, I suggested an increase in property taxes, so as to return at least a margin of funding control to our local administrators. Of course, it didn’t happen, and so we are no better off now than we were then.

This new effort, however, could change that, and in a far more dramatic way, by generating a tide to lift all of California’s educational boats. The fight will not be an easy one, and many a weak-minded partisan is sure to oppose it.

But it’s the right thing, and I expect California’s voters to get this measure on the ballot, approve it and do what Republicans in the Legislature apparently will not. That is, look out for the future of our children to ensure they have the same opportunities for success as we had before them.

Joe Tarica is the presentation editor at The Tribune.

  Comments