Monday, January 24, 2005

California on my mind...

A microcosm of the nation, its been said. Where goes California, the nation’s close behind. California’s failing education system, her collapsing infrastructure, her poor governance – seems the nation’s giving my fair state a run for its money, but since everyone’s talking about that already, I’ll talk about California.

In 1978, Californians passed Proposition 13, a property tax limitation initiative sponsored by a thinly veiled group of apartment building and commercial landlords. It completely overturned public school financing in California, and today California’s public schools are almost the very worst in the country. When I was a school kid in the 1950s, my San Jose schools were definitely not the worst. We had music, art, drama, mechanical arts, and a host of other programs that are a rarity today. Today, private music and art schools exist to provide what public schools cut years ago. Why? Quite simply, my parent’s generation was willing to invest, through taxes, in their children.

In 1989, the Loma Prieta Earthquake knocked out a section of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge that links Oakland and San Francisco. Everybody agreed, the bridge needed more than just repairs to upgrade its safety. In 1994, the Northridge Earthquake collapsed overpasses on two major Los Angeles freeways. Within a year or so, they were repaired. But, now, fifteen years later, the Bay Bridge hangs on with temporary repairs while work is stopped on a new bridge (with unbelievable cost overruns) as our Hollywood governor, echoing the ideological fiscal responsibility of his fellow southern Californians (half of all Californians live south of the Tehachapi Mountains), says the state shouldn’t bear the bridge’s cost. Funny that... and the freeways keep humming in La La Land. What’s the problem? We don’t want to pay the taxes to maintain our infrastructure, to invest in the future of our society.

And, in Salinas the public libraries are shutting down. In San Francisco the senior citizen shuttle service is shut down. Parks, public recreational facilities, and other “non-essential” services are shutting down. It’s a matter of poor governance, yes, but Proposition 13 also turned local government financing topsy-turvy. And, since citizens want to have their cake and eat it, too, the mantra is no more taxes! Ideologues of the right simply repeat, like a recording stuck in the same groove, “we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.”

Frankly, I’m sick of the selfishness of the majority of my fellow Californians.


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