Open Letter to Governor Jerry Brown

I heard your voice on the radio saying that if more cuts are needed, they will come from education because “that’s where the money is!” The reference was to the oft-quoted answer to the question, “Why do you rob banks?”

That little joke, right there, points to the heart of our budget disasters and to the thinking that keeps the disasters in place.

Where is the money? In cuts to public education? In cuts to welfare and childcare? No, the money is in the hands of the super rich. Not in public schools where California’s spending is near the bottom of all the states.

Every single time that you speak about the budget you have a chance to improve the system, or not. You and your Democratic Party colleagues hold huge majorities in both houses of the legislature and 100% of the statewide offices from Governor to State Controller to Insurance Commissioner. Every time you speak and do not condemn the two-thirds majority required to raise taxes, you are selling out the 99% and pandering to the 1%.

I cannot wait until representatives in Sacramento – the current batch or new ones we will elect – catch up with the rest of us. Led by the young people of Occupy, the social movements have shifted from the plea of “Stop The Cuts” to demanding the solution, “Tax The Rich.”

Statistics are readily available to explain to people who love old Prop 13 and its two-thirds vote requirement that their love is misplaced and unrequited.

Explain that California has 94 billionaires with a total wealth of $311 billion. Only 10% of that wealth would close the budget gap. Although it would be a hardship for 6 people since they would no longer be billionaires, and would only have $900 million, they would probably get it back within a year. California would not have to cut welfare, childcare, and schools.

Explain how our tax structure is upside down. As updated every year by the California Budget Project, when you look at family income and all state and local taxes, not just income tax, the poorest 20% pay a higher tax rate than the richest 1%. Families who average $12,600 pay 11.1% and those who average $2.3 million pay 7.8%. That’s where the money is. Wealth like that used to be taxed at higher rates, and in those times people could still get richer.

Explain that a bipartisan budget agreement in favor of the 99% is a fantasy and will never be reached when slightly more than 1/3 of California legislators have signed a pledge that they will never vote to raise taxes. The 2/3 requirement gives that 1/3 minority veto power over taxing the rich. The only bipartisan budget agreement operating right now is the silence about the rotten parts of old Proposition 13.

You were Governor in 1978 when Proposition 13, with all of its damaging unintended consequences (unintended by the voters), was voted into law. It is only fitting that you should undo its damage now.

Sincerely,

Laura Wells

About Laura Wells: Solutions
I ran for Controller in California in 2014 on a State Bank and Tax The Rich platform. I am part of the “No Corporate Money” Campaign, in which candidates pledge to take no corporate money and voters declare our intention to vote for no-corporate-money candidates. As a Green Party candidate for Governor of California in 2010, I was arrested outside a gubernatorial debate for “trespassing at a private party.” But we won't stop, and so let's create a "public party" where we debate solutions to California's finances, like implementing a State Bank and taxing the rich -- to reduce the disparity and open up opportunities. Twitter: @LauraWellsCA

14 Responses to Open Letter to Governor Jerry Brown

  1. Ross D Frankel says:

    Eloquently expressed! Go Laura!

    We need a surtax on the wealthiest 0.1% of Californians. We need to drop the 2/3rds threshold of the Legislature regarding raising taxes–I’d settle for 60% or 55% threshold, though 51% was traditional. We need to restore education quality by reducing all class sizes, K-12 to about 20 students. We need to cut UC & SCU tuition/fees to 10% of the amount currently charged. The current tuition/fees are like the Share-Cropper/Jim Crow Laws of the Post Civil War era: shall we shoulder those who can least afford it with crushing debt that outstrips their ability to generate funds from the work offered? This is morally wrong.

    We need to drop the State Senate, eliminate it as a wasteful duplication. Instead, fold those members into the Assembly, thus cutting the size of each Assembly district by 1/3rd. The Assembly needs to be elected once every four-to-six years by Proportional Representation. 40% of voters are neither Republican nor Democrat–who represents them? We need publicly financed elections of State officeholders–limited to a few key media formats, and make it mandatory (use unexplained absentee-fines $ &/or voter-rebate $ to encourage compliance) that all citizens capable of voting must take off the General Election Day to sign-in at the polls to prove they showed up to vote.

  2. Frank Lambert says:

    Dear Laura,

    You said it well without “beating around the bush!” If the voters of California don’t support Governor Brown’s tax plan, he said he’d have to cut “education spending” even further. What a legacy to be remembered by!

    The two-thirds majority guarantees gridlock in Sacramento, for sure, and that questionable ruling must be overturned just like the ‘Citizens United’ decision by the SCOTUS, two years ago.

    Unfortunately, too many American people have been taught to idolize millionaires and billionaires, while their fellow citizens go without.

    At this point in time, all we can do is spread the word like you are doing, and hope our fellow citizens start to see the game plan of the super-rich, and of course, support and vote for our qualified Green Party candidates for public office.

    Frank Lambert

  3. Pingback: Laura Wells: Open Letter to Governor Jerry Brown « Alameda County Green Party Blog

  4. lisayapp says:

    Good points and lots of passion. Thanks for sending this out. I appreciate the insight.

  5. Dan Monte says:

    While I agree that we need to tax the rich individuals more than we do now my thoughts on taxation have moved towards a revenue tax to prevent corporations from exporting their profits. Right now corporation have great latitude in determining what part of their income is taxable in California and what part elsewhere. This leads to off-shoring production and importing at high costs that leads to lower California taxable income.

    Different from a sales tax a revenue tax would capture the more than half of California’s economy that is service based. A 1% revenue tax on our entire $1.9 trillion gross domestic product would raise $19 billion.

    We in the 99% receive all of our income from California economic activity. We could run the entire state budget on a 6% revenue tax, a tax on all business income. And we could encourage production in California by letting companies deduct their entire payroll taxes. That would raise our state budget back to $114 billion where we would have near fully funded education and social services.

    And finally where consumers pay all of sales taxes and sales tax remedies are very regressive, responsible for lower income folk paying more of their income in state and local taxes than richer folk, a revenue tax is not immediately transferable to consumers. It applies to the cost of production not to the market driven price at time of sale.

  6. Excellent! I agree, and I am sick and tired of the same old lies being regurgitated. Its pathetic that the lowest 20% pays higher taxes than the 1% of Californians. Now, stop the b.s. and get on with the truth. You can’t claim Democrat and not to do the right thing. Enough is enough! The cat is out of the bag, now catch it! I’m sharing this as much as I can! SIck, sick of it!

  7. Edward says:

    The rich are already paying most of the taxes received by the state. So, sure, let’s tax the rich even more so that even more of them leave California all together. That way the less wealthy will be required to pay more for their own government.

    FACT: Long term, Prop. 13 did NOT reduce property tax revenues. Take a look at San Diego property tax revenues. True, the first two years after Prop. 13 passed there was noticeable reduction in property tax revenues. But after those first two years tax revenues rebounded and since that time have grown faster than inflation so that nowadays property taxes are much higher than they were BEFORE prop. 13, even factoring for inflation. THat’s San Diego County, the only county that I have data, but I presume it’s the same throughout the state. Also, property taxes are now much more stable and so much more predicable than before Prop. 13. The bottom line: Ms. Wells simply does not know what she’s talking about.

    FACT: Tax revenue projections are nearly always overstated. Rich people are probably the most mobile people…when taxes go up, they leave the state and take their money (and jobs) with them. California is already either the first or second or third most heavily taxed state. For someone rich who wants to protect their wealth they could go to just about any other state to do that. I personally know of four business owners who started their businesses here in California but then left for other states where there wasn’t any income tax (Nevada for 3 and Florida for the other) and they left because of this state’s taxes. All of Ms. Wells projections presume that the taxpayers she’s targeting are going to stay and not move either themselves or their businesses out of state…again, she simply doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

    FACT: Initiatives like Prop. 13 are passed BY THE VOTERS and not the governor. Everyone who has taken high school civics knows that. Ms. Wells doesn’t have a clue. It wouldn;t have mattered who was in the Governor’s mansion (or sleeping on a futon in a Sacramento apartment)….prop. 13 was passed by the voters and there was NOTHING either the governor could have done about it. In fact, Jerry Brown in his first term of office first OPPOSED Prop. 13…only after it was clearly going do pass did he endorse it.

    I could go on, but you get the idea: Ms. Wells is soooo out of touch of reality and so ignorant of the law and the facts it isn’t funny.

  8. pam spevy says:

    Laura, thanks for the Good and Ugly of Prop 13; it energizes me to do more.

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  11. Vibora Volando says:

    When will you sympathizers get it through your heads. We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem. Democratic legislators have taken us down the road to perdition because they don’t know how to balance a checkbook, or insist on a $100bln railroad to nowhere, when there isn’t a dollar on hand we haven’t borrowed. It is sickening. We have been promised too much “heroin” in the form of government welfare and finally someone is at least bringing it to the press. California’s education system is fiscally unsustainable due to waste, giveaways, bloated salaries and pensions. Yet the lazy solution is to raise more money to throw at the problem rather than find real long term solutions. And this thing about the rich paying their fair share. LOL. Take away the rich and Cali goes down the tubes. Then those nice new “temporary” taxes will be re-calibrated to slip down to ever lower income brackets until things blow up. It is laughable that people are all energized about taking more money from the wealthy when they contribute virtually nothing in comparison. Extortion cloaked in the faux fur of democracy.

    • First, I agree that a high-speed rail system is not what we need right now. That’s like frosting on the cake, when we don’t even have the cake, and not even the main dish. We need good transportation systems like regional public transit that is frequent and affordable; that’s what encourages people to use it. We also need roads with potholes filled and parking available; that helps neighborhood businesses.

      I also agree that we should not be borrowing, and throwing money away in interest. The state pays out about 5% interest while it has billions of dollars sitting in Wall Street banks earning less than 1% interest. That does not make sense. North Dakota is the only state without a budget deficit since the global meltdown, and it is also the only state with a State Bank. See http://publicbankinginstitute.org/ I think you’ll like the idea.

      As to the disparity of wealth, it’s a question of scale. What was called rich used to be seven times richer than the rest of us; now it’s 300 times or 1000 times. California’s 94 billionaires could solve the budget gap without affecting their or their children’s quality of life. To build up wealth of one billion dollars, you would have to earn $1,000,000 a year for 1,000 years. Or if you only worked 50 years full-time, you would have to earn $10,000 an hour and tighten your belt – only spend $800,000 a year during those fifty years. That’s a billion dollars. Who needs it? Who is worth $10,000 an hour at age 21 if someone else is worth $8?

      All this, all the money they’ve accumulated, would not be a problem if it didn’t bring with it the closing down of schools, libraries, parks and so many things that have now given our next generation fewer educational and economic opportunities than the prior generation. And their elders are suffering too.

      For decades we have been reducing taxes on the rich, and if it actually did create jobs and help the whole state, we would not have the unemployment rates we have.

      This is real: we are now in the situation where the lower income families pay a higher rate in state and local taxes than the richest 1%. It has to do with taxes other than income tax; taxes like sales tax, property tax, and fees fall harder on lower incomes. My guess is that you and your family and friends, like the vast majority of Californians, are on the wrong side of that balance of tax fairness; my guess is that you pay at a higher rate than the richest of the rich.

      The super-rich used to be taxed more and could still get wealthy. They actually get a lot of financial benefit from the government. Corporations for example, in addition to having departments to ensure they pay as little tax as possible (their spending side), have departments dedicated to getting government contracts and subsidies, not to mention the Wall Street bailouts (their revenue side).

      We won’t stop fighting to balance the budget and reduce the disparity of wealth, and increase the chances for the rest of us to have good jobs and good lives.

      And if the super-rich move away from this wonderful state, then I’m sorry for them because California is truly special.

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