By Chris Daly, guest commentary
Editor’s Note: Former District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly is the political director for SEIU Local 1021.
July 17, 2012
The Most Important Election
Every other year someone steps forward to talk about how the upcoming elections are the most important of our time. This year in California, they may actually be correct.
On November 6th, Californians will be asked to do so much more than hand President Obama 55 electoral votes. With two statewide initiatives, we will decide whether to reverse decades of tax policy that has enriched the wealthiest while starving basic public services like education, healthcare, and safety; or we could pass a deceptive measure that will eliminate unions’ ability to fight for our priorities: jobs with good wages and benefits and a society where working families can live with dignity and respect.
99% versus 1%
Five years ago during the first year of the subprime mortgage crisis, Americans lost 25% of our net wealth. Unemployment doubled. Since that time, 750,000 Californians lost their homes. Now, one in three California mortgage holders is underwater, meaning they owe more on their mortgage than the value of their home, and more than 10% of Californians are still unemployed.
While the financial crunch on everyday people is now painfully clear, economic inequality and the disparity in wealth has been growing for decades. Since the late 70’s income inequality in the US has increased by 33%, with the richest 1% of Americans now controlling 40% of the nation’s wealth and capturing nearly 25% of the total income (up from 33% and 12% 25 years ago.)
Meanwhile, we’ve witnessed an incredible strain on our public services. School closures have created overcrowded classrooms. Local and state governments have enacted draconian cuts to health and human services to balance their budgets and some have had to resort to declaring bankruptcy. This decline in the public sector has been caused in part by a plummeting tax burden for the wealthy (including major cuts in capital gains tax as well as income tax.)
Who Pays the Bill?
These tax breaks have been no accident. With almost unlimited resources (and giant loopholes in campaign finance regulation) the elite have been able to underwrite a dominant political program. In 2010, just under 27,000 contributors, the “political 1% of the 1%,” spent $774 million on federal and state candidates. 17 individuals contributed more than $500,000 each. Built on the power of the dollar over the power of the vote, the elite have been able to swiftboat elections to install politicians to carry their water. Meanwhile, their think tanks move messaging like “tax breaks for the top stimulate the economy,” even when the facts don’t bear this out.
Fortunately, the people are no longer buying this trickle-down economics. Last year, SEIU Local 1021 was a part of a coalition of people concerned about their communities in the development of the millionaire’s tax. This proposal was merged with the Governor’s revenue proposal and would generate $6-9 billion year for the schools and services, with 90% of the monies coming from the rich. Our Local collected nearly 13,000 signatures to place this Tax the Rich measure on November’s ballot. If passed, this would turn around decades of tax policy that have let the wealthy off the hook for our State’s vital public services.
For years, an aggressive element of the 1% has been pounding away to take away the power of their main counterbalance, organized labor. In California, an elite group of conservatives from Orange County have pushed initiatives to prohibit unions from using member dues for political purposes. Even though they failed in 1998 and 2005, they are back this November with an extremely deceptive measure.
Even though the Special Exemptions Act claims to be about “stopping special interests” the measure actually gives special exemptions to corporate special interests and Super PACs. It would do nothing to fix what’s broken in Sacramento. Instead, it would give even more power to the wealthy and well-connected to influence elections and control government. With organized labor’s resources no longer in play to counter the 1% in politics, the voices of everyday people will be silenced. We simply cannot allow this measure to pass.
Tax the Rich for Schools and Services – Don’t Let Them Silence You!
We know that this November, educating and turning out SEIU Local 1021 members to vote is not going to be enough. We will be training hundreds of our members to become political leaders for the 99%. These leaders then will be responsible for turning volunteers out to phonebanks and precinct walks, so we can reach tens of thousands of infrequent voters in Northern California to help swing this election, to pass Prop 30 and defeat Prop 32. And this is just the beginning. We aim to build a team that can drive the efforts of SEIU Local 1021 and the broader progressive movement to make a real difference to working families across Northern CA.