Kevin Johnson, Mayor of Sacramento and Governor Schwarzenegger commit to cutting education: Proposition 98 in danger in California

In a recent article in the LA Times entitled Prop. 98’s been good for California, author Richie Ross, notes:

“Although critics say the 1988 measure has drained money from the general fund for education, it has ensured that schools get the money they need”  (http://articles.latimes.com/2009/feb/19/opinion/oe-ross19).

 In the article dated February 19, 2009, author, Richie Ross, who is also a Democratic consultant who has worked on political campaigns, public affairs strategy and social advocacy and ran the Yes on Prop. 98 campaign in 1988, is quoted in an E-mail to the Times:

“It’s become stylish to place the blame for California’s frequent budget crises on Proposition 98, a ballot initiative passed in 1988 that committed the state to spending 40% of the general fund on schools. Some legislators now say the education funding rule has “handcuffed” them. But the Legislature has handcuffed itself by enacting hundreds of tax cuts that, taken together, have reduced revenues to a point that the state can no longer function. Since 1993, permanent tax cuts have cost the general fund more than $100 billion. Those costs have grown from $700 million in 1993 to $12 billion last year and $11.7 billion more this year — combined, that’s half of our current projected deficit. In September, the Legislature settled the longest budget stalemate in California history through a compromise that solved nothing. With Republicans unwilling to raise taxes, legislators finally settled on temporarily suspending a corporate tax break that would generate $600 million. But the deal also included new corporate tax breaks worth $1 billion that will go into effect next year. And here’s the kicker: Corporations can apply for a tax refund to get back the money they had to pay when their break was suspended. To assign the blame for the deficit to Proposition 98’s constant 40% of the general fund ignores the fact that each of these permanent tax breaks and revenue losses has hurt schools far more than Proposition 98 has hurt the general fund. Every loss of revenue in the general fund is a loss to education (ibid).”

Yes indeed and you can tell that to the San Francisco teachers, 400 of them, who are getting pink slips due to the $113,000.000 deficit for education in the budget. The problem of course is the same as we see in the federal debate over ‘deficits’; the corporations and the rich just don’t want to pay their fair share of taxes which puts funding for anything public in the hole. They want to use public roads, public utilities, buy public officials, and otherwise outsource their ‘costs of doing business’ to the public by socializing the costs of doing business on the backs of working people through either higher fees or taxes, and privatizing profits for their CEO’s and shareholders. And they say Obama is a socialist?  This is socialism for the rich.

As Ross notes:

“Remember the movement to end the “tractor tax”? Farmers descended on the state Capitol in 2001 demanding that the state end the sales tax on “tractors.” But what was cleverly passed unanimously as a tractor tax break also included a break for pickup trucks, chain saws and racehorse breeding stock. This year, that break cost the general fund $126 million. Since its enactment, the general fund is out $765 million — 40% of which should have gone to schools. ”

Tax cuts and state revenue reductions through tax breaks for corporations and the rich are the largest cause of the structural deficit in California. It is not that public services drain funds, it is that public services are not funded due to the fact the wealthy refuse to pay for the common good.

Ross goes on to reveal:

“When I reviewed each bill that reduced state revenues through tax breaks, loopholes, credits and reductions, I found something interesting but troubling: From 1993 through 2008, the Legislature reduced general fund revenues by more than $100 billion. Lawmakers enacted tax breaks for oil companies, the horse-racing industry, the Gallo family, fax machines and new pornographic bookstores. Both Democrats and Republicans wrote them. And they were signed into law by Democratic and Republican governors alike (ibid).   Sure, bi-courtesanship (ibid).”

In California it takes a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to raise taxes but a mere simple majority to approve tax breaks. Nice set up if you own the government as the corporations and their pals do. Ross also found in his financial forensics that:

“in the years following Proposition 98, I found a total of 2,961 legislative “yes” votes cast on bills that lowered general fund revenues compared with only 150 “no” votes. That’s a 95% majority vote for lowering the general fund and taking money from schools.”

 And so it is. The Legislature is a wholly owned subsidiary of the corporations, the wealthy and the elite. They accomplish their role as method actors for the public when they really shill for the corporations through deregulations, tax breaks and the actual handover of the government and its budgets to corporations. This is called neo-liberalism: when the government regulates, deregulates or is used by corporate interests not to actually aid and abet working people by building public facilities or funding public services, but by using the government to ‘game’ the system, collect more profits and escape moral duties to the common good. This is how capitalism works: privatize the profits, socialize the costs or just do away with public programs, such as schools, libraries, road construction, health care, parks, recreation and, well, I could go on and on but you get the point.

Charlatans and corporatists on the loose

Now in California an initiative has been submitted for ballot titling and summary by the Attorney General’s Office and will or has hit the streets and is designed to make matters worse for the public good and especially public education and community colleges. You can see it at: http://ag.ca.gov/cms_attachments/initiatives/pdfs/i889_initiative_09-0091.pdf 

It is entitled: The Government Spending Limit Act of 2010, and what it proposes to do could be the death knell for public community colleges. public education  and a boon for the privatization of education.

Scott Lay, President and Chief Executive Officer for the Community College League of California, indicated that the initiative, which must be signed into law by voters (which is why it is cynically titled as it is):

“would throw community colleges to the wolves. The initiative makes several changes to the state budget, most notably takes community colleges out of Proposition 98, and leaves our colleges fighting for funding the state general fund. While the measure could result in increases or decreases in state funding for K-12, the Legislative Analyst’s official analysis projects “Possible state funding decreases for community college districts, given this measure’s elimination of their constitutional funding guarantee.” The measure contains no provision to ensure that the general fund money our colleges currently receive would be available, and could result in it all being shifted to K-12 schools. It is not clear who is sponsoring this measure. The official proponent is Sacramento political attorney Thomas Hiltachk http://www.bmhlaw.com/index_files/Page2958.htm, who we’ve tried to contact without success Scott Lay February 1, 2010).”

 Lay’s not alone. I tried to contact Hiltachk too, by phone; but of course he never returned my phone call. I wanted to know more about the legislation and Hiltachk’s role in drafting it and submitting it to the Attorney General of California for the titling and summary for the November ballot. So I went on the web and looked up the good barrister and sure enough, he is a shyster for the neo-liberal party makers.

So just who is Mr. Hiltachk?: According to the website for his law firm:

” Mr. Hiltachk is managing partner at Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, LLP. He has practiced political and election law exclusively since 1988. Prior to that, he was an attorney with a general civil litigation firm in Sacramento. He has served as legal counsel and treasurer to statewide and local ballot measure committees, political action committees, trade associations and candidates. He has represented state ballot measure committees on a variety of issues, including tax policy, the environment, education, civil and criminal justice reform and gaming. He has served as legal counsel to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mr. Hiltachk specializes in drafting complex tax and constitutional measures and counsels on qualification efforts for ballot measure campaigns as well as all aspects of election campaigning related to such measures. He litigates ballot and ballot pamphlet language issues and advises nonprofit corporations and associations on formation and tax exemption issues ” (http://www.bmhlaw.com/index_files/Page2958.htm)).

Lovely. What is even more frightening is that Hiltachk served as an official U.S. election observer for the 1996 Russian Presidential election. Really? Why? How? Currently we know he is working for the US oligarchs.

Strong Mayoral control initiative

Hitlachk isn’t just an ordinary republican or corporate hack attorney. He is the author of another initiative he wanted to place on the ballot in June 2010 that would have handed over mayoral control, if approved by voters, to Kevin Johnson, the Mayor of Sacramento.  Johnson, another faux politician, and his corporate benefactors want mayoral control so that they can operate without messy checks and balances, with unfettered control, minimal public oversight and without transparency; the ‘unitary executive’ in mayoral hands.

Readers might know that this phenomenon is going on all over the country as business leaders and corporations, along with their paid for political representatives look to reshape the balance of political power in their favor. They want to do more without having to be held accountable to branches of government or the people who they say they represent.

In New York, Washington D.C., Chicago and at least five other states mayoral control is now established. One of the things it does is allow for budget decisions to be made by the Mayor outside the purview of the public. But more than that, it allows for the radical reconfiguration of public schools by creating  a legal and political structure to privatize education. And not just through charter schools, but also through the budgetary allocations made to community colleges, or in the case of the Government Spending Limit Act of 2010, to cut funding.

Fortunately for the public, as the Sacramento Bee noted in January 2010: 

“A Sacramento judge Thursday finalized his ruling that Mayor Kevin Johnson’s strong-mayor initiative is an unconstitutional effort to revise the city charter and should be blocked from the June ballot. If Superior Court Judge Loren McMaster’s decision survives an appeal, it would provide the deathblow to a measure Johnson has made the centerpiece of his young political career and a campaign he launched nine days after taking office in 2008. It has been a costly effort to revamp the city’s decades-old form of government, and one that upset some City Council colleagues and labor leaders” (Sacramento judge upholds ruling against strong-mayor initiative” RULING BLOCKS IT FROM BALLOT; APPEAL IS LIKELY Lillis, R. Sacramento Bee http://www.sacbee.com/734/story/2480720.html)

Yes, this is the initiative drafted by our friend Hitlachk. He’s everywhere when it comes to lawyering for the mangagerial elite and corporate interests. And he plans to appeal the judge’s ruling. 

Kevin Johnson wasn’t too happy about the court ruling either. In the Sacramento Press, Johnson, a former basketball star commented:

“I think it was a temporary setback. This is something we’re going to fight. We’re going to fight nail and tooth. Voters deserve and have a right to vote on this initiative” (Johnson reacts to initial ruling in strong mayor case, Haley, K. Sacramento Press, http://www.sacramentopress.com/headline/20643/Johnson_reacts_to_initial_ruling_in_strong_mayor_case).

The ‘people’? Voters? Sure, that’s right, the ‘voters’ the ones who vote with their money. Remember, now with the Supreme Court ruling corporations are people, just like you and me and they can be counted on to belly up to the bar and buy a round.

Take Bill Gates for instance. He gave $4.1 million in an effort to help win mayoral control in New York. Why?  Accordding to Gates:

“You want to allow for experimentation. The cities where our foundation has put the most money is where there is a single person responsible. In New York, Chicago and Washington, DC, the mayor has the responsibility for the school system,” Gates said during a CNN appearance (Gates pushes mayoral control, SchoolMatters, August 17, 2009, http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2009/08/gates-pushes-mayoral-control-donated-41.html).

Dictatorship.  Johnson knows this as well. He is a charter school fan, a privatizer who wants to run education as a business, just like his sweetheart Michelle Rhee advocates in Washington, D.C.  Together, ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ are seeking to fire seasoned teachers, implement merit pay, replace them with a Walmart model of education whereby decisions are made by hand picked charter school CEO’s under the rubric of reforming education and teachers become ‘associates’. Now, without mayoral control he has to deal with messy democracy, the very thing corporations hate and political figures like Johnson disdain.  But will he really?

Hitlachk says he will appeal

Taking over the school, system is the issue here and Hitlachk can be counted on to run up the public legal bills to get Kevin Johnson and his paymasters the control he needs and wants. You might want to sniff around to see if the Walton Family Fund, Gates, Fisher Family (the Gap), Reed Hastings (NetFlix) and Eli Broad all chip in, if they haven’t already done so, to try to win this one.  It’s how the corporatists work.  They find a front man like Johnson, one not too smart but malleable, and then get to work with their stolen loot to put him or her in a position of power where the “experimentation” on our children and their education can be carried out without nasty mobs carrying torches. It’s happening all over the country.  Irts the latest  ‘trend’.

 Community Colleges at risk

While the Obama administration has laudably authorized $10.6 billion to community college funding over 10 years to launch a new American Graduation Initiative that will strengthen and support America’s community colleges, focus on college completion, and graduate 5 million more students by 2020, corporatists are either looking to get their hands on these funds by directing them to privatized colleges like the Phoenix ‘University’, instead of assuring the public sector is protected and budgeted for, or if not, they will look to the Government Spending Limit Act of 2010 to gut state funding for community colleges and public education alike.  They do not want public competition for they know they cannot compete.  Same with health care.  Removing the public option for education is their goal.  Privatization is their bread and butter.

These forces destroy government by starving it and then point to it and say, “See government doesn’t work.” But it does work, and you can ask the many successful graduates of community colleges if it does or doesn’t. If this new initiative by Hitlachk ever makes it to the ballot and god-forbid passes, it could be the punch in the stomach that would bend community colleges over and set them on their knees. This would be great news for the for-profit proprietary colleges that look to steal market share if they cannot buy it.  For more on how the for-profit colleges work, see my article: The impropriety of it all, at dissidentvoice.org. Make people believe government doesn’t work, for if they see it does they would dump the corporate ‘providers’ overnight.

These same corporate pirates howl about austerity, belt tightening and budget cuts when what they really want is the budget perogative and purse strings for themselves.

We must stop them and March 4th will be our chance to show the philanthro-capitalists, the basketball star and the action packed actor along with all the CEO’s and corporations that break our legs and pick our pockets, as Jeffereson once said, that we understand what they are doing to working famiiles and will not take it anymore.

We want a public opportunity, not just an option, for education that is funded and fully protects teachers, students and their parents; not a corporatist education that benefits those in power and their wealthy benefactors, the tax cheating corporations and the philanthropists that feed off workers and then call their work charity.