Will Occupy message reach Sacramento?

Pub date November 17, 2011
WriterTim Redmond
SectionPolitics Blog

One of the early tests of the political impact of the Occupy movement will come in the next two months, as California prepares to make drastic further cuts in education and social services for the poor and the Democratic governor begins — cautiously and hesitantly — to talk about new revenues.

The numbers from the Legislative Analysts Office are fairly bleak — the state budget relied on $4 billion in revenue that hasn’t been collected. That’s because Gov. Brown and the Democrats in the Legislature assumed that the economy would pick up more than it has. We don’t know what the final shortfall will be — but because the budget deal included automatic trigger cuts, it’s clear that K-12 education, CSU and UC are going to get hit again, as will, for example, medical assistance for the disabled.

So just as students and faculty all over the state are protesting existing cuts and tuition hikes, more are on the way. I expect this will go over extremely well on the campuses.

The cops may be poised to shut down OccupySF, but this is a movement that isn’t about to go away. And if the governor and the Democrats in the Legislature (who are going to be running from new districts next fall) start to feel the heat and realize that the Occupy movement is already influencing the political debate and will, directly or indirectly, be playing a major role in state and national politics, they’re going to have to respond.

How? Well, the Legislature can always decide to scrap the cuts and raise taxes now. Unlikely, since that would require a two-thrids vote and the Republicans still care more about their no-taxes pledge than they do about the tens of thousands of people (including in their own districts) who are taking to the streets to protest economic inequality.

More likely the talk will be about November, 2012, and what sort of revenue measures Jerry Brown wants to put on the ballot. And that’s where the politics of Occupy can have a significant impact.

There are so many ways to go with tax measures; the easiest, in some ways, is to talk about the state sales tax, which bothers the GOP hardliners (like any tax) but bothers the big-business world a lot less. Most of any sales tax hike would be paid by consumers and the poor would pay more than the rich; typically, big business groups are willing to accept a sales tax hike before they’ll go for anything more progressive.

Obviously, the best option is to do exactly what Occupy is talking about, and raise the income tax on the top brackets (and cut corporate loopholes, and pass an oil severance tax). And that’s what will drive the California Chamber of Commerce types absolutely mad.

But I think a there’s a way to make this a winner at the polls, and a winner for the legislators who push it — and maybe even a winner for a Dem or a moderate Republican in some of the potential swing districts. Just call it a One Percent Tax — that is, a tax on the One Percent. Could be a combination of income taxes and corporate taxes, as long as it’s a package carefully written to target largely the wealthiest in the state.

Hard for anyone these days to oppose something that is totally defined and promoted that way. Gives the Occupy movement something to vote for. Could save jobs, keep classrooms open, keep sick people alive … I see no downside at all.