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Christy Smith: Let voters speak on revenue extensions

Democratic Voices

Posted: February 22, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 22, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

I have been a longtime opponent of the initiative process in California for myriad reasons, but at this critical time in our state’s present and for our future, I find myself ardently in support of placing the revenue extension measure on the June ballot.

For decades, we have been a state of voters who budget and legislate from the ballot box, consistently disregarding the fact that the process costs our state hundreds of millions of dollars, not only in election costs, but in the inevitable court costs that follow every contentious initiative that has faced the polls.

We elect legislators to govern us, but leave only a marginal fraction of an unencumbered state budget with which to do so.

We also fail to acknowledge that the process of ballot initiatives has been hijacked by special interests that employ deceptive advertising and legalese to entice us to vote for measures that, when read in full, often run counter to our interests.

Nevertheless, Article 2, Section 1 of the state constitution provides: “All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their protection, security and benefit, and they have the right to alter or reform it when the public good may require.”

That said, if it can be argued that there are circumstances under which a vote of California’s citizens is imperative, this tax extension measure is the right initiative at the right time. Given what is at stake with the fiscal challenges facing our state, it is crucial for the people’s voice to be heard.

It behooves us as a state to assert that we are all in this mess together. Sink or swim, we all put it on the line at the same time.

Further, should this measure pass we must send a loud and clear message to the leaders of our state. If we fill up your toolbox one more time, you need to fix this car and pull us out of this ditch.

So to my friends on the left, if you are afforded the luxury of this tax extension, spend it wisely. Be realistic about pet programs and excessive unfunded mandates that are no longer viable in our current circumstance.

To my friends on the right, by only saying “no” to any possible revenue increases, you are abdicating your responsibility to govern.

Come to the table, fight for what you believe in, but be realistic about the fact that governing this state and moving beyond this recession will require putting a floor under basic government services.

Filling a potential $25.4 to $27.6 billion gap in 18 months with a cuts-only approach will send public services into a virtual tailspin.

The proposed cuts to services and education are already sufficiently steep enough to put many more out of work in the state, particularly in education.

In the worst case scenario, cuts to local K-12 schools could be as high as $700 per student per year or more. Likewise, community colleges face reductions, and the California State University and University of California systems face $500 million in cuts each.

Typically, education matters most to those with school-age children, or those who work in the field. At this critical time, we should all be proponents of public education.

A strong public school system provides a foundation for a resurgent economy. If California is to return to its glory days as a leader in innovation and a world-class economy, we must put our public resources into teaching a world-class work force. Extending the tax increase allows us to protect education and work toward that future.

In speaking recently with a conservative colleague, we agreed that this issue is fundamentally about trust. We don’t really trust our elected officials to get this job done.

The least we ought to be afforded then is to trust ourselves and one another to do what is best to get our state back on track.

Here’s to hoping that this initiative is presented to us in June, in clear, concise language with the promised protection of public education and public safety, and a clearly defined and fixed five-year term. Then, it’s up to us.

Christy Smith is a local Democrat and a governing board member of the Newhall School District. The views expressed in this column are solely those of Smith, and do not represent the positions of the Newhall School District or The Signal.

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