Friday, September 4, 2009

How far will we go to avoid taxes?

I have lived in California off and on (mostly on) since 1976. I came here attracted by what attracts everyone: the unbelievable variety of natural beauty, free thinking, lots of sunshine, fresh fruit and vegetables, and the ocean. Over the years, like all Californians, I brushed off the jokes: “all the fruits and nuts drift to California,” and the expressions, “that’s SO California” (which refers to anything new age) or “You’re not in California right now” when I would say something left of center and act like most people would agree. California has produced more than its share of characters with major impact: from Richard Nixon to Timothy Leary, Ronald Reagan to Ram Dass. Much of this is a function of size—we are the third largest landmass and, at 38 million people, we are the most populous state; bigger than many countries including Canada.

For a state with a very liberal reputation, we have voted for some of the most conservative and oppressive legislation in the country: against gay marriage, for “three strikes” which puts people in prison for life after three felonies, often against immigrants, affirmative action, and almost always, against taxes.

Our anti-tax stand now threatens everything that we hold dear as we have no money to pay for anything. All domestic violence funding—cut entirely. Cal-Works, a very successful welfare to work program—cut entirely. Guaranteed health care for uninsured children—cut. And the list goes on.

But possibly the most absurd set of cuts is of the state parks, 80% of which are to be closed. 100 public parks are to be closed to the public. And if an enterprising member of the public is found in a closed park, he or she will receive a hefty fine. Our physical commons is enclosed and we are to be fined if we enter our commons. Of course, few people will be fined since those who have the authority to fine us have lost their jobs. It is hard to believe that the cost of closing the parks (which are not fenced, and except for a few, don’t even have main gates that can be locked) and patrolling the closed parks would not be equal or greater to keeping them open and calling for the public to help take care of them. And that the damage that will result from closing the parks, and thus opening to fairly unmonitored criminal activity, increasing fire danger from unmaintained trails, and the like, will take far more money to clean up and repair. The savings will be negligible and the damage possibly permanent.

Tax cuts rarely actually save money for the public. They enclose our commons and they only allow very wealthy people and corporations to become wealthier. The sooner we understand the absurdity of saving money by cutting taxes, the sooner we can actually become the state (and eventually the nation) that people imagine: welcoming to all, with high quality schools and health care, well paying jobs, and vast protected natural beauty beckoning visitors to come and appreciate.

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