Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fair Is As Fair Does

Here's an excellent view from a Socialist perspective on what's happening in Oregon RIGHT NOW. It was written by Adam Sanchez for the website...

March 11, 2009

POLITICIANS ACROSS the country have begun using the argument for "shared sacrifice" to justify massive cuts in social spending. We all have been living beyond our means, the argument goes, and the only way out of the economic crisis is for everyone to tighten their belts.

Using this argument in Oregon, after the state legislature announced it would cut an additional $106 million from Oregon's education budget, on top of $61 million already cut in December, Gov. Ted Kulongoski emphasized that "everyone is going to have to share in" taking cuts.

As the Oregonian reported, these cuts "would have the effect of reducing per-student spending in Oregon, now about $10,000, by about $300. No other state has cut schools even half that much." Oregon schools are considering closing a week or two early or moving to a four-day week to meet the budget reductions.

As Patrick Emerson a professor at Oregon State University wrote, "a loss of eight school days--as was being contemplated in Portland--could be expected to lead to an almost 5 percent increase in failure rates. That means an additional one out of every 20 children would fail."

Students, parents and teachers aren't the only people being asked to sacrifice to balance Oregon's budget. Kulongoski is asking state workers to take 26 unpaid days off from work in the next two years. Other proposed cutbacks include slashing $1 million in payments to foster parents, removing nearly 50,000 low-income adults from state health care coverage, taking away $4.8 million from child care programs, and cutting $9.9 million from the budget set aside to hire lawyers for low-income defendants.

In Portland, the TriMet transit agency has announced it plans to cut a dozen of its 93 bus routes and will reduce service on others during off-peak hours. These reductions will disproportionately affect low-income workers who have no other way to get around the city. The biggest route that is on the chopping block services over 1,800 people in the largely low-income and high minority population in the northeastern quadrant.

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YET DESPITE all the talk of "shared sacrifice," there are some people in Oregon who seem to still be doing quite well. According to the Wall Street Journal:

Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft and owner of the Portland Trailblazers basketball team, might save hundreds of millions in taxes over the next few years, thanks to a provision in the economic stimulus legislation signed by President Obama Tuesday. The provision is aimed at helping companies who are trying to restructure their debt, by delaying taxes that would otherwise be due when debt-holders agree to forgive a portion of the debt.

Or take Merritt Paulson, son of Henry Paulson, the now infamous ex-Goldman Sachs CEO who is reportedly worth $700 million. Merritt is 80 percent owner of the Portland Timbers and the Portland Beavers, and seems poised to receive $85 million in public funds from the Portland city council to renovate PGE Park as a major league soccer stadium for the Timbers and build a new minor league baseball stadium for the Beavers.

This "public-private partnership," like the bailout father Paulson helped craft in November, simply means the public will pay as the private sector (in this case the Paulsons') profits.

In fact, ultra-rich CEOs and business owners haven't had to sacrifice much at all in Oregon, according to recent studies published by the Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP). A study released on February 23, found that over 5,000 profitable corporations operating in Oregon, with over $1 million in taxable income paid no income taxes in 2006 beyond the $10 minimum! Most Oregonians would be outraged to learn that they've been paying more in income taxes than gigantic corporations.

A second study released by the OCPP on March 3 found that Oregon has the second-lowest state and local business taxes among all states in the country. According to OCPP executive director Charles Sheketoff, Oregon "could raise business taxes by $1.6 billion annually and still be in line with state and local business taxes nationwide."

What is simply mind-boggling about the budget crisis in Oregon is that we could fill the $855 million hole in the budget and have millions more to spare by simply raising state business taxes to the same level as other states. Yet beneath the veneer of "shared sacrifice," politicians across the country have made it clear that they plan to make workers and students pay for this crisis.

As Joel Geier points out in the International Socialist Review, "In 1973, GDP per person, in constant non-inflationary dollars, was $20,000 a year. By 2006, it was $38,000 a year--a more than 90 percent rise. Wages, however, in that same 33-year period, declined."

In other words, workers didn't see any benefit from the last boom, and now they are asking us to pay for the bust. The bankers, the CEOs and the politicians are the ones who have been living beyond their means. They should be the ones sacrificing to pay for the crisis they created, but that won't happen unless pressured from below. It's time workers and students organize that struggle, and fight for change we can believe in.

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