By Lucas O’Connor / Two Cathedrals / December 5, 2011
With the state budget poised to dramatically under-deliver and trigger large budget cuts for schools across the state, local media has spent a couple months wading into the looming financial crisis at San Diego Unified for a while now. And while the immediacy of the local challenges makes it crucial to cover well, it isn’t like this is a crisis in a vacuum.
Any discussion of the budgetary straitjacket in Sacramento that’s made this budget crisis inevitable has been strikingly absent, aside from the perfunctory ‘state’s broken’ before getting into mitigating the effects. For years, California’s 2/3 majority requirement for any new taxes has been an effective moratorium on any new taxes. In the state where Governor Ronald Reagan once raised taxes to balance the budget, the Jarvis/Norquist no-tax dead-enders have been able to ensure that there will always be a Republican minority in Sacramento large enough to block any new revenue. In boom times, the state can get by in that system. But as we’ve seen in the last few years, when times are tough and the only option allowed is budget cuts into oblivion, things turn ugly in a hurry.
Republican Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher is leaving his seat to run for mayor of San Diego. In Sacramento, he was more open to non-partisan, pragmatic problem solving than many of his colleagues have been in years. He also just finished up an education town hall serieswith City Council President Tony Young. One might expect a few questions asking why Sacramento is taking millions out of our classrooms in the name of continuing the no-new-revenue gridlock, why Fletcher’s colleagues are forcing it to happen? Since the same cabal has plenty of pull in San Diego as well, might have been interesting to learn more about how he expects to break through gridlock here that nobody, including him, can seem to break through in Sacramento. One expecting such topics would have been sorely disappointed. Let’s hope he has a good answer though — we need one. If he doesn’t, let’s hope someone does.How about other local legislators who’ve been a part of systemic obstruction in Sacramento? Martin Garrick was Assembly Minority Leader for the bruising 2010 budget battle, and is presumably eying a senate run. What’s his plan to keep our classrooms functional? Brian Maienschein is running for Assembly and recently signed the no-tax pledge, but who’s talking about what exactly his plan is to stem the de-funding of our schools that necessarily results? Plenty of other local incumbents and aspirants have bought into this system, what’s their response to parents whose children just aren’t going to get the education they could? This should be be more than yet another austerity vs workers false premise — it should be a flash point for accountability of those who make careers from these never-ending cuts.
The Governor has been clear from the get-go that the whole plan is to force accountability; force irresponsible legislators and their constituents to face the reality they’ve created — no more gimmicks. It’s shock doctrine; the desperate financial straits (that we’ve really been building for a generation or more) and a resulting conversation about priorities is the point… not that you’d know it from the conversation in San Diego so far.
Maybe it’s a function of how beaten down we’ve collectively become, but we aren’t getting an accountability discussion that touches the root. Instead, we get conversations that ignore the clear-cutting of the forest to argue over the proper way to cut down a couple trees near us. Sure we want to keep the trees, and sure the people driving the bulldozers supposedly work for us, but oh well. Let’s cut our trees down now since we’ll have to cut them down eventually. Natch.
Now, maybe this is just considered a foregone conclusion. Sacramento is hopelessly gridlocked, has been since before most of us remember, and the seats are all too safe to contest the elections. So a pox on everyone’s houses and argue over the best ways to mitigate the disaster locally. That, of course, is exactly what the cuts-only zombie cultists are relying on though. The longer they can prevent government from working, the more compelling their argument becomes that the government can’t work. And once that dysfunction passes into conventional wisdom, the paupers begin clawing over the scraps, and the system is changed. Until we can go around again and drop another level into Hell.
Quietly rolling over and accepting the notion that revenue is evil is infectious. The no-tax-no-services dead-enders will always exist. But their legitimacy comes because we aren’t serious about having the conversation in the first place. One of the two major parties has incorporated repeatedly kneecapping education funding as the single most important plank of its platform, and instead of calling it out, we’re talking about how to best take the hit over and over again.
You want schools to work, start with those responsible for breaking them in the first place. Maybe parents will even decide that education isn’t worth it. But as long as we’re locked into the same old reactive debates over how to treat the victims, we’ll never solve the crime.