Don’t fear the t-word

Pub date June 20, 2006
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL The attack ads started almost the moment Phil Angelides won the Democratic nomination for governor, and they’ll continue until November, funded by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s seemingly bottomless war chest and carrying a misleading message that has become the vicious refrain of right-wingers everywhere:
The Democrat wants to raise your taxes.
Let’s get this straight, just for the permanent record: Angelides is not proposing to raise taxes on anyone who makes less than $500,000 a year. That’s means the vast majority of all Californians will not face a tax hike under the economic proposals the Democratic candidate for governor has set forth. Angelides wants to do something that Democrats (and Republicans) considered perfectly reasonable public policy for more than half a century, until the wing nuts got ahold of American economic policy: He wants to make the very wealthy pay a reasonable share of the costs of society.
The philosophy here is simple: Millionaires have reaped the benefits of this society — far more so in most cases than those who are struggling at the margins. They can afford to pay a higher marginal tax rate. They’ve won huge tax cuts on the federal level and pay far less in taxes than their peers in almost every other industrialized society. Asking the top tier of the taxpayers to cough up a little more money (nowhere near as much as they did in the 1960s and 1970s, but a little bit more) to get the state’s revenue in line with its spending is hardly a radical idea.
Californians want extensive public services. Schwarzenegger’s approach to providing them is to borrow more money. That’s never a terribly good idea, and given the state of the state’s pocketbook, it’s a particularly bad idea right now.
So Angelides is actually talking fiscal sanity — but a lot of people aren’t going to get the message. The “no new taxes” mantra is so powerful that it could well be the biggest factor in the fall election — and could mean defeat for Angelides unless he moves now, aggressively, to counter it.
His campaign, which in the primary was bold on policy but thin on promoting it, ought to turn the governor’s attacks upside down. Imagine a series of ads that went like this:
Phil Angelides wants to raise taxes — on Arnold Schwarzenegger. Or: Phil Angelides wants to raise taxes — his own. Or: Phil Angelides wants to raise taxes — but not yours.
Democrats who are willing to talk seriously about economic inequality in our society get accused of waging “class warfare.” Angelides, who made a personal fortune as a real estate developer, is in an excellent position to make a national statement about how wrongheaded and dangerous that sort of attack can be. And he’s in an excellent position to start a national conversation that’s long overdue — and start it in a state that brought America the awful “tax revolt” of the 1970s.
Memo to Mr. Angelides: Don’t fear the t-word. Use it right, and it will put you in the governor’s office. SFBG