State Budget Woes

It is hard to be optimistic about passing the state budget a record one hundred days late, but as they say, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or, for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, when life gives you road apples, feed them to poor people.

That’s exactly what happened when the Governor was through with line-item vetoes that cut almost $1 billion from the $87.5 billion budget on Friday, October 8. Two-fifths of the cuts directly affect programs that provide childcare services to poor families and mental health services for developmentally disabled students.

This might seem excessive, vulgar even, considering that it doesn’t put much of a dent in the estimated $20 billion gap between state income and expenditures but there is always a bright side, even to budget cuts that assault poor children and the developmentally disabled.

According to early reports, both the University of California and California State University systems will each receive $250 million more for the next fiscal year. This would be great news for the “$237.1 million gap” in the UC budget that ASUCI’s Executive Vice President, Andres Gonzalez, reported last week in a letter to the New University, were it not for the mysterious alchemy of crafting a budget.

Gonzalez echoed reports from many in attendance at the recent UC Student Association meeting, stating that the Regents intend to pass yet another massive fee increase (up to 20 percent!) at their November meeting.

What does this mean for us as students? The state is demolishing the social safety net, ostensibly in order to help institutions like public education, which is becoming so cost-prohibitive that it’s hard to imagine a future for the UC that doesn’t reflect a Mad Max film. A future when there are history courses focusing on the long-ago time when (a handful) of Black and Hispanic students were able to go to college.

What, then, do we do when the limits on the state budget become so extreme that we are faced with months-late budgets that are all but printed on the skins of endangered animals?

Raise taxes. Raise taxes, and enforce the tax code most strictly for wealthy Californians. Shift the tax burden from the working class to the rich, as it has been for the entire history of the income tax in America. As long as there is record-level poverty in America, let us heartily redistribute wealth.

If conservatives call this a smokescreen for socialism, then let us openly call it socialism. If conservatives charge that it is a Robin Hood fantasy, then let us charge them with imposing a robbing-the-poor reality onto the state. If conservatives make their classic argument that raising taxes will destroy technological innovation, then let us reply, “I haven’t even figured out how to work the first iPhone, what’s so great about a newer one?” And, if there are liberals and progressives who demand we slow the course, then let us call them what they are – conservatives.

Remember, after all, that we are university students. We can be safe, conservative and unimaginative when we’re thirty. For now, we should embrace every moral and ethical impulse we still have to demand that every person have a right to food, shelter, clothing, an education, leisure time and health care. What’s the worst that could happen? We enjoy a period of sustained growth that benefits all people before the country swings to the right again?

If we want to constitute anything resembling an ethical citizenry, let us protect the poor and working classes not from mythical welfare queens and criminals, from Muslim terrorists and marriage-minded gays and lesbians or from foreign-born presidents and white slavery, but from the wealthy. And if you don’t know where to start, just look at the names on our campus buildings and our schools.

One thing is certain: the austerity measures we’re seeing imposed on all sectors of society (with the notable exceptions of the police, military and prisons) are already far too much to handle. Most UCI students cannot appreciate the crisis because the majority of them come from the top five percent of income-earning families, according to the UC StatFinder website.

It is becoming more and more vital for us, as students, to engage critically with state functions. We must have the will to take the time to understand the real existing problems with the state budget, but we must also have the courage to reject the state’s excuses and rationalizations, and to demand a more ethical world.

James Bliss is a fifth-year political science, women’s studies, and African-American studies triple major. He can be reached at jbliss@uci.edu.