Like a killer twisting the knife in the heart of his victim, the Republican goal of drastically cutting budgets and opposing taxes is finally achieving the party’s long-sought goal of downsizing government and eliminating social programs.
This abstract ideology is having a practical impact across California and the nation. In the face of a budget crisis, Governor Schwarzenegger ordered massive layoffs and unpaid furloughs of state workers. Over 238,000 employees are being forced to take off two unpaid days a month, beginning in February. Over 10,000 were fired this year and thousands more could lose their jobs.
The city of Watsonville closed its offices until January 5 in an effort to save $561,000. Many city services, such as the public library, will simply lock their doors, while so-called essential services-police, water and garbage-will continue to operate.
California suspended $4 billion in highway, school and other infrastructure construction projects. Nationwide over 5,000 transportation projects are being put on hold. These cuts only worsen national and state unemployment. California’s joblessness jumped to 8.2 percent, the third highest in the U.S., and reached 9.5 percent in L.A., threatening a long and deep recession.
The California Republican minority adamantly opposes raising taxes to provide state services and urges deep cuts in education and social programs, such as mental health and children’s funds. They advocated cutting legislative pay 5 percent but welfare payments 10 percent. GOP minority leader Mike Villines of Clovis, denounced efforts to begin what he calls “an illegal tax increase package that is a blatant attempt to silence California voters.”
Such thinking is typical. A recent letter to the New York Times calls government schools, roads, hospitals, research, loans and housing “excesses.” The writer denounces, “a gigantic, bloated government,” and calls for a return to “America’s founding principles: individual rights, property rights and the pursuit of happiness, with government only in the form of military, police and courts.”
The GOP’s 2008 Platform declares, “government should tax only to raise money for its essential functions” and not “as a tool for social engineering.” Their goals include making permanent Bush’s tax cuts for the rich, passed in 2001 and 2003, and ending federal income taxes. Social services and charities are left to “the vital role of religious organizations,” which are also chartered to promote “patriotism.”
Facing the worst financial crisis-which many economists blame on the Bush Administration-since the Great Depression, Congress and the incoming president are calling for a massive financial stimulus. Even Bush demanded the hasty signing of a $700 billion bailout for over-leveraged banks. The basic problem of balancing budgets stretches across 44 states and the federal government and, while presidents and their parties are not always in agreement, GOP party stalwarts appear to be on a path to destroy all government.
Eliminating social services for the most needy and monies for California schools, which already rank near the bottom nationally for funding per pupil, is not only shortsighted, it’s cruel and inhumane. Elected in reaction to high budgets of the Davis Administration, Schwarzenegger failed to control the GOP legislature and primarily cut funding to balance the budget.
This scenario is playing out across the country, although Republicans, stymied in cutting necessary social services, are inventing a new way to finance government–selling off or leasing state assets. Across the country, states are selling or leasing the public domain so politically friendly private businesses can profit. Minnesota is contemplating selling the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the state lottery, to bring in $3 billion. Massachusetts may put the Massachusetts Turnpike up for sale, and New York is considering putting the Tappan Zee Bridge, the lottery, toll roads, and public golf courses, parks and beaches up for sale.
Where will this trend end? Indiana leased its toll road to an Australian-Spanish partnership for 75 years. Chicago wants to lease the Midway Airport and the Chicago Skyway toll road, parking ramps and parking meters to private business. Pennsylvania leased its turnpike and Texas is proposing a private toll road system. Water, sewers, libraries, schools, unused properties and other public assets are also being considered for privatization. By selling off or leasing assets, states will allow private companies to cut employees, raise prices and increase profits, providing the states with one-time revenue while raising the costs for citizens.
Similar to the bank bailout plan, privatizing public property socializes risk and privatizes profit. Decisions about expansion, hours of operation, staffing and maintenance will be left to for-profit businesses–the very opposite of publicly owned, controlled and operated facilities. Business argues that they can operate more efficiently but anyone who subscribes to cable TV knows the power of a business monopoly.
The only way to stop the destruction of government appears to be to defeat Republicans who march in lockstep as solidly as the Nazi or Communist parties in America’s former enemy states. The old mantra of “no taxes, small government” is frayed, out-of-date and cavalier when applied to public services. This is a time to rededicate America’s future to cooperation, problem solving and controlling private greed for the benefit of the public.