Approaching an editorial co-authored by Assemblyman Jim Nielsen and Senator Doug LaMalfa and looking for logic is an enterprise fraught with peril and one best undertaken with extreme caution. It’s difficult to know just where to start, but given that both of these dead-weights on the North State are asking their constituents for a promotion this November (to state Senator and Congressional representative, respectively), revisiting their 26 August opinion piece seems worthwhile.
Nielsen and LaMalfa don’t spend much time explaining AB 1500 (the measure against which they’re inveighing with more enthusiasm than critical thought). After all, it deals with a tax, and so in their fevered minds, weighted down by the ball and chain to which Grover Norquist and the Ghost of Howard Jarvis have the keys, is a Bad Thing. If only we all had the luxury of approaching the world in the simplistic, Manichean terms used by our cerebral representatives.
As a Searchlight editorial pointed out, AB 1500 stood to close a loophole which favoured those which are birds of passage in our state instead of those based there. The idea was to use ensuing funds to fund higher education—the sphere which drives innovation, mobility, and equality in California. What do Nielsen and LaMalfa have to say to that? From the horses’ mouths:
“AB 1500 hits California employers with a whopping $1 billion tax increase to pay for a new government program”. The charitably-minded might find their way around to thinking of a tax structure as a “government program” (maybe LaMalfa and Nielsen think there’s a Department of Corporate Tax Structure), but I’m more inclined to believe that these two geniuses just recycled an old editorial and forgot to change the wording. After all, if it involves money flowing from corporations to people, it’s a bad thing in the GOP playbook and doesn’t require the exercise of the grey cells.
Then there’s the “whopping $1 billion tax increase”, which involves asking large corporations (large enough to be based in multiple states) to pay according to sales. Reasonable enough, I would have thought. But LaMalfa and Nielsen’s attack is driven by pure reflex. Because they don’t, of course, tell us that in the other scenario, Californians—employers and employees alike—get slammed with outrageous levels off tuition at universities, with a deteriorating education sector which will fail to create the number of highly skilled workers that our economy requires.
Nielsen and LaMalfa accuse “Sacramento Democrats” (they think we won’t realise that by their logic, they’re “Sacramento Republicans”) of “adding to the unpredictability for those trying to do business in California. Investors need stability and predictability if they are to have confidence in the marketplace”. That’s rich. I’ll tell you what else investors need...at least if they’re smart. They need high-performing public schools in which to enrol their children, schools with good counselling, library and teaching staff, in which their children won’t be one of forty kids in a classroom. They want excellent research universities to train those same children, preferably universities which are affordable and which offer a wide range of courses taught by professors who are at the cutting edge of their fields. They want to live in safe communities, and we should all know that communities are more likely to remain cohesive when they are not characterised by gross inequality, by the kinds of class stratified institutions that disinvestment will create in our schools, and by a failure to invest in the public sphere.
Nielsen and LaMalfa, with their party, have created a state which is the antithesis of what any sane business community needs. They have used their undemocratic veto, conferred by minority rule, to disinvest from the state’s education sector, something which has sent K-12 education into a tailspin, has put early childhood education on the rocks, and is transforming higher education—not for the better.
Their political brinkmanship, driven by the kind of fevered fundamentalism that doesn’t allow them to so much as consider the good in a measure like AB 1500, has turned California into a state defined by serial uncertainty. Their irresponsible methods have completely killed the state’s capacity to invest in its public institutions, entirely stripped the legislature of the discretionary power so obviously necessary for the maintenance of stable governing frameworks, and the tax structures which accompany them. Their sociopathic opposition to taxes and investment has created a budget circus which has the business community cringing so much that many of its members (including traditionally irresponsible healthcare and oil industries) have been giving money to Brown to support his November tax initiative (Prop 30).
I suspect that any flight from California is being provoked more by the chaos deliberately engineered by the Republican Party than by the state’s tax rates which, if they were managed properly, would bring attendant savings for most Californians in the form of better-quality education, affordable universities, and better-regulated healthcare costs. I think that the managers of most businesses understand that a short-term, broadly-distributed sacrifice in terms of personal profit will, in the long term, result in greater social and economic gains for Californians. And elementary economics says that a secure public, bolstered by equal access goods and services and an active public sphere, is precisely what businesses need.
What do LaMalfa and Nielsen, these fiscal savants, propose in place of fair taxation and investment in the institutions which empower California and create precisely the climate which attracts innovative people from around the nation and the world? They want to snuffle around looking for “slush funds”, pretending that the reprehensible stash at Parks and Recreation (which makes not so much as a dent in the backlog of deferred maintenance costs generated by GOP fundamentalism) can close our deficit, pay for our schools, fund our universities, and upgrade our creaky infrastructure. They’re dreamers. And if we let them turn those dreams into reality, Californians will be living a nightmare.