CA must Invest in the Middle Class Now

April 2012 - You’ve heard the saying, attributed to Albert Einstein, that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. 

California, during recent Republican administrations, stopped investing in needed public works projects, favoring instead a strategy of generous tax cuts for the rich and loopholes for corporations as a job-creating strategy.

Well, not only has that strategy of cuts and non-investment not created good middle-class jobs, it has driven millions more people out of our workforce and resulted in extreme wealth for a precious few.  To continue down that road, surely, would be insanity.

California’s working people know better.  We’ve come roaring back from hard times before, whether the Great Depression of the 1930s or the post-Cold War downsizing of the defense industry.  We did it by rejecting the voices of doom and decline and choosing instead to invest boldly in the next wave of innovation and jobs.

Certainly, a healthy private sector is key to creating the jobs of the future.  But the private sector cannot thrive without the public investments in people and infrastructure and knowledge that fuel innovation, increase productivity and wages, and amplify the energy of entrepreneurs.

Just ask your parents or grandparents.  After World War II, California offered the world a model of how to build a thriving middle-class economy.

Government engineers designed and union workers built dams and canals to supply water and power to expanding farms and new factories.  They designed and laid down freeways to connect burgeoning cities and move the products of farms and factories to customers.  A hugely expanded system of University of California campuses, state universities and community colleges trained professionals and skilled workers for growing businesses.

A strong labor movement sat across the table from management to ensure that workers, not just CEOs, got a good slice of the growing pie, bringing millions into the middle class and providing strong demand for all that California businesses sold.  A fair tax system guaranteed that corporations and the rich contributed their share, generating more investment in education and infrastructure, which spurred growth.  Success broadly shared begat more success.

In this election year, when jobs are the biggest issue, we have a choice:  do we continue to cut our investments in the future, or move forward with bold new job-creating, life-enhancing public works investments?  To show the way, California labor is offering a plan - "Invest in California" - for job creation and economic recovery, a program that applies the proven lessons of our past to chart a course to a better future for all.

Today, roads, bridges, courthouses, schools, sewers and water systems are all in desperate need of repair.  And work on a high-speed rail project to vastly upgrade California’s transportation system is now tantalizingly close.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of skilled construction workers are unemployed and ready to work, and billions of voter-approved bonds and pension fund dollars are available to fund projects.  By accelerating investment in our infrastructure, we can have jobs now that will make California a better place for business for decades to come.  And we can pay for these needed investments by restoring fairness to our economy and revenue collection.

California is richer than ever, but in the first year of the current recovery, 93 percent of income gains have gone to the top 1 percent of earners, who today pay taxes at a lower rate than when Ronald Reagan was governor.  Our wasteful system hands out tax breaks like enterprise zone credits, which provide no benefit to the economy.  It even gives corporations a tax break for moving jobs out of the state. That must stop.

Meanwhile, polling shows overwhelming support for the Governor’s proposed income and sales tax changes to restore fairness to all, and make the rich pay their fair share once again.

It is time California worked again for people who work for a living, not just those who can buy tax loopholes in Sacramento.  It is time to return to the policies of shared success that made our state a place where Californians are working their way into the middle class, not falling out of it.

California must invest in the middle class, now.

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