Monday, November 05, 2012

Let's Get Political: Election Day 2012

I have never been crazy about the idea of getting too political on this site and I do so with great caution and respect, but I have a voice (as do we all) and an audience and I just can't with good conscience go into tomorrow's election without speaking up.

It seems that every election is "the most important election in our lifetime", but you better believe that in 2012, this is no joke. I have never been quiet about my support and participation with organizations like MoveOn.Org, Courage Campaign, Planned Parenthood, and the Human Rights Campaign. It is also no secret that I lean far on the lefty progressive side of the spectrum and support Democratic candidates, even if they weren't necessarily the best of the best, they seemed better than the alternatives (Al and John, I'm looking at you). This presidential election, to me, is the strongest tug-of-war between the haves and the have-nots, the wealthiest of Americans not even trying to hide their cronyism, and the Republican goal of completely decimating women's rights. I believe that with the tremendous wealth of our nation, the lack of health care and a good education for everyone is shameful; Mitt Romney believes these are better handled in the private sector. With the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010, there has NEVER been so much money in an election, and just completely misleading and horrific political advertising (sadly from both parties).

If you haven't been keeping up, 90 Days, 90 Reasons has some great essays in support of Obama or check out this quickie site, What The Fuck Has Obama Done So Far?

I feel like I am a pretty informed voter, I've been watching endless state and city hearings about all of the propositions, but I still consult voter guides and my great friend and personal political advisor Lucas O'Connor and my brainy superhero boyfriend and other friends and relatives to make all of it make sense. I always believed that voting is a very private matter, but we're in a whole new oversharing social media world and for the first time, I'm going to post my ballot positions. I'm in 92104, so I know your local races may differ, but here goes.

from top to bottom:
President: Barack Obama,
US Senator: Dianne Feinstein
US Rep District 53: Susan Davis
State Senator 39th District: Marty Block
State Assembly 78th: Toni Atkins
Superior Court No. 25: Robert Amador
SDCCD Board District B: Bernie Rhinerson
SDUSD Board District A: John Lee Evans
SDUSD Board District D: Richard Barrera
SDUSD Board District E: Marne Foster

San Diego Mayor: Bob Filner
Prop 30 (1/4 Cent Sales Tax for Education)-YES!!!
Prop 31 (State Budget)-No
Prop 32 (Political Contributions)-No
Prop 33 (Auto Insurance)- No
Prop 34 (Death Penalty Repeal)-Yes
Prop 35 (Human Trafficking Penalties)-Yes!
Prop 36 (Three Strikes)- Yes!
Prop 37 (GMO Food Labeling)-Yes!!
Prop 38 (Income Tax increase for education)-No!!
Prop 39 (Multistate Corporate Taxation/Clean Energy)-Yes
Prop 40 (Senate redistricting)-Yes
Prop Z (School Bonds)-Yes!!

Vote as you will, but I truly believe that it is your responsibility to vote. Feel free to comment, though all comments are moderated and I will not post any hate, vitriol, or crazy rants. Save that for your own blog/Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr.

Here's a little song a friend recorded for the election:

My friend Grampa Drew wrote a great (and really long) post on Facebook about Prop 30. Read it after the jump.

Over the past several days I've had discussions with friends regarding Prop. 30, and a common theme keeps coming up, "We already pay too much in sales taxes and they keep creeping up and these 'temporary' increases never seem to go away". No less than three people have given me this same line of reasoning in the last week, and not all of them were traditional conservatives. And I think this represents the feeling of many people. Yet, the statistical reality of California taxes is exactly the opposite of that "feeling".

So let's look at the truth of situation, and address some specific claims that are patently untrue.

1. "Sales Taxes keep creeping up" - Actually, we pay the same combined local and state sales tax rate of 7.25% that we paid 21 years ago, going all the way back to 1991.

2. "Once taxes increase, they never go back down". - Actually, in 2001, sales taxes went down .25%. In 2009, they went up 1%, but then in July of 2011 (just last year), that 1% increase went away, reverting us back to the same combined state and local sales tax rate of 7.75% that we've paid since 1991. So taxes do go down after going up and 'temporary' can mean just that.

3. "California has the highest state sales tax in the union". - Untrue by every realistic definition. If you combine both the state and the total average local sales taxes, there are 5 states higher than us. If you count the "state sales tax" and exclude the 1% local tax, there are 11 states with higher taxes and 3 with the same. Here in San Diego, there are 23 states with higher effective combined sales tax rates than what we pay. The only possible way to conclude our taxes are highest is to combine the state rate with the "state set" local rate, but exclude the average additional city taxes added from city to city. That's some pretty fuzzy math to come up with a misleading conclusion, since it doesn't actually look at the real numbers of what we pay in total compared to the same total of other states. Comparing those totals, we are not even near the highest.

Okay, so your head is spinning with statistics and you still "feel" like you are paying too much. That's fine, you are entitled to feel that way. But you aren't entitled to make up "facts" to justify that position. Still, if you think the proposed quarter of a percent increase is too much, let's look at why our sales tax rate has to be where it is and why education has to use sales taxes for revenue.

In 1978, California voters implemented Prop 13, which froze state property tax rates to 1% of the assessed value of our homes. Not only that, they re-assessed every home in the state back to its 1975 value, creating A MASSIVE REDUCTION IN TAX revenue for the state (again, contrary to the belief that taxes never go down). If you were a student in 1978, you'll remember the immediate effect this had on education. School supplies began to come out of teacher's salaries or had to be provided by parents, because the state could no longer afford them (a situation that continues today). Old text-books were reused instead of having the latest editions. Curriculum cuts were made. But that wasn't the worst of it for education, which is primarily funded through property tax. Prop 13 made sure that regardless of inflation, the assessed home values would never increase regardless of the rising value of the home, unless the house was sold, or underwent major construction. This meant that as inflation happened over time, our tax base was unable to keep up. Inflation means rising salaries, rising price of construction, rising price of books and supplies and on and on. Yet the tax base can never rise with that inflation unless the property is sold. So for every year you live in your home, the state and our schools are robbed that inflationary increase and you are paying a smaller percentage of your income toward funding education - ostensibly, an incremental and perpetual yearly tax reduction.

Let's look at that in real-world, practical terms. I paid $128,000 for my house in 1997. Today it is worth around $600,000 and at the peak of the market was about $900,000. But through all that, straight through today, I pay 1% of $128,000. Since I plan on dying in this house, if I have my way and my genetic history holds up, that rate won't be reassessed until somewhere around 2065. So in the 2060s, our schools will still be funded as a percentage of the assessed value of my home in 1997. That's just one house, you say. Okay, let's take a walk down my street. Until recently, the two houses next door to me hadn't changed hands since the 1950s. So they were being taxed at the 1975 value of their home for over three decades. Of the four houses directly across the street from me, one is still assessed at the 1975 value, two are assessed at the 1997 value (like mine), and one was just reassessed after paying the same 1975 tax rate for over 30 years. Let's walk around the block. Here's Moses. His house sits behind my rental. He's lived there since the 50s and made no changes to his house. He's assessed at the 1975 value. Next door is David Law. His tax-rate hasn't changed in the last 14 years. The house directly behind mine...same owner for over 10 years. So that covers my home and the 9 houses closest to mine. Only three have been recently assessed, but only after 30 years at the same rate assessed in 1975. Exactly how are our schools going to survive that?

Well, the fact is, they aren't.

Before Proposition 13, we had the best state schools in the nation. Given California's stature, it isn't an exaggeration to say we were a model for the world. After 24 years of inflation with many homes in California today still being taxed at 1975 values (or in the case of my house, the 1997 value), our school system now sits near the bottom with the likes of Alabama and Mississippi. We went from 1st in the nation before Prop 13, to 49th in the nation afterward.

Why? Because we refuse to pay for the services that our government is providing us. I'm sorry, but that is simply unpatriotic, and as a result, we are getting what we pay for. Struggling schools. I don't have children, but I will gladly pay my taxes to educate yours. For those of you with kids, the idea that you balk at paying for your own kid's education is offensive to me. If Prop 30 doesn't pass, there is a very real possibility that my wife's entire department will be eliminated, and she will be out of a job. This, after the teachers at her school voted for a 5% pay reduction just to keep folks from being fired (oh, those evil Unions! Crippling the state by sponsoring and voting for pay cuts!). But that pay cut still isn't enough to save jobs. After the administration bullied its staff into taking the pay cut, they are still threatening lay-offs. If Prop 30 doesn't pass, those lay-offs are a foregone conclusion. So my wife, who has 15 years with her school and 19 as an educator, is in serious trouble. The situation is so bad, her department has already lost an employee who moved to China, where he could find better job stability. I have another friend, a first grade teacher who moved to Thailand because she was just tired of being demonized and getting lay-off notices every single year. She correctly assumed one of those notices would stick, and took preventative action. If she hadn't, she'd be unemployed right now. I have another friend who teaches 5th grade but has to go teach in the Ukraine during the summer, because he barely makes enough money to pay for his 800 square foot house in Normal Heights (to be fair, he may be looking for a Russian Bride as well). Another close friend who teaches 5th grade, whose wife works too, can't even afford to sell his 2-bedroom home to buy a 3-bedroom house in the same neighborhood so both his daughters can have their own room. And that's AFTER the collapse of the housing market. Frankly, it's a disgrace to California (the 8th largest economy in the world) that our teachers struggle to raise their families on their salaries to educate YOUR children and that countries like Thailand, The Ukraine and China can lure our teachers away because they feel they'll get more respect there.

So I'm sorry, but I take this shit personally. Again, you are entitled to your opinion that taxes are too high, but you can't just make up things to support that belief. Facts matter. Saying "Southern California" has the "nation's highest sales tax" is factually untrue. 23 states pay more. Saying taxes "keep creeping up, little by little" is factually untrue. We pay the same sales tax as we did 21 years ago. Saying taxes never go down is factually untrue, as our sales tax just dropped 1% last year. Your property taxes as a percentage of your income (and as a percentage of the value of your home) actually DECREASES every time you get a raise and every year we see inflation. Over the decades, this is extremely significant. When discussing educational funding, the "tax-loophole" crippling our schools is with every home-owner in the state.

Yet, despite all of these tax reductions that have destroyed our state, we are still unwilling to elect someone who will be honest and tell us what HAS to happen in order to preserve our school system. The only way Jerry Brown got elected was to promise to put the issue to a vote. Hence prop 30. If it doesn't pass, I don't want to hear another word from a single soul about our "failing education system" or "failed teachers". Because the truth is, we've all failed ourselves and failed future generations due to our own selfish lack of foresight. As far as whether this tax will actually go away in four years, it is my belief that we SHOULD continue it. Or raise taxes elsewhere. How else can we make up for the perpetuity of shortfalls caused by Prop 13 (which, can't realistically be overturned because the same proposition set a "super majority" rule that requires a 2/3rds vote to overturn it). Since we are struggling to get a .25% increase on a straight majority, there is no way we are overturning Prop 13 in any foreseeable future.

If Prop 30 doesn't pass, San Diego Unified already has a contingency plan. Cut the school year by two more weeks (it has already cut about a week off due to spending cuts). That's 3 more weeks of child-care expenses parents will have to pay for, so if you have kids, you are going to be paying more either way. Why not fund our schools at the source?

So please, push past your emotional reaction against higher taxes and look at the real facts in front of you. It's time to pay your fair share for the government services being provided to you. In fact, that time is long overdue.

Given all this, if you aren't already in favor of Prop 30, I hope you will look at the facts and reconsider your position. I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that our children's educational future and my wife's job (along with a few dozen other teacher friends) are in jeopardy if Prop 30 does not pass.

Pay up, people. We are talking about one quarter of a percent. That's one penny, for every four dollars you spend. Isn't education worth that?

- Grampa Drew Douglas

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