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June 11, 2014
Viewpoints: It's time for state to reinvest, not save for a rainy day

signed_budget.JPG(June 11 - By Vanessa Aramayo and Josh Pechthalt, Special to The Bee)

California needs a program of reinvestment, not of austerity. We have rising state revenue and growing income inequality. As the state budget is finalized over the next several days, the Legislature and governor need to remember that they represent all of California, not just the wealthiest 1percent. It is time for them to advance bold budget solutions that refund and restore what every Californian needs to thrive.

Our two organizations, the California Federation of Teachers and California Partnership, along with many others, worked hard to pass Proposition 30 in 2012, a short-term tax revenue solution to begin to restore the massive cuts to school programs and vital services since the Great Recession.

But it's not enough. Tuition costs have driven already struggling students into a debt crisis. Devastating reductions to child care, health care and services for our seniors have damaged the living fabric of the state. It is deplorable that California ranks 49th in per-pupil spending and last in the number of counselors, nurses and librarians per student in our schools.

As the Legislature heads toward the Sunday deadline to pass the upcoming fiscal year's budget, revenue is up an additional $2 billion beyond the governor's January budget projections. Now is the time to get our public education institutions back on their feet. Now is the time to reinvest and restore the billions cut from health and human services and give our families a chance to succeed.

Unfortunately, Gov. Jerry Brown continues his "live within your means" scolding of California's working poor, seniors and children. His proposed budget accelerates repayment of bond debt when payments are on schedule, and pours new money into a larger rainy-day fund when it's still raining on the quarter of California below the poverty line.

The governor should instead be focused on ways to raise permanent revenue that could restore billions of dollars to K-12 education and community colleges; Medi-Cal; Healthy Families; child care; and aid to seniors, the blind and disabled - all of which have been slashed since 2008.

The experience of 23-year-old community college student Sonny Martinez is what thousands of hardworking students across the state are going through. A single father who is working and going to school, Martinez had hoped to spend two years at community college, transfer to a four-year college and eventually earn a Ph.D. Due to budget cuts, there haven't been enough core classes available, and it now looks like it will take him 31/2 years to finish community college.

While Californians struggle to access higher education, Brown opposed 2014 legislation to impose a tax on oil extraction, a measure that would raise another $2 billion annually - and which every other oil-producing state uses to raise revenue for schools, services and infrastructure. Opinion polls show continued strong voter support for taxing large corporations and closing loopholes, but the governor chose Big Oil over people's needs.

We need leaders who will act on behalf of the 9 million Californians living in poverty, not just the 775,000 who are millionaires. We need leaders to champion long-term stable revenue sources with fair tax policies. We need leaders to end the ability of corporations to avoid their fair share of taxes through property tax loopholes and other shell games; and we need to reduce the undemocratic two-thirds threshold for voters to pass taxes that reflect their cities' local needs.

Our state leaders should care more about addressing the state's central economic problem - rising inequality - than about postponing action to wait for theoretical hard times to come. California is hurting now. It's time to invest in a strong California that will work for everyone, not just the few.

Vanessa Aramayo is executive director of California Partnership, a statewide nonprofit working to reduce poverty through budget education and advocacy. Josh Pechthalt is president of the California Federation of Teachers, which represents more than 120,000 educational employees.