News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.

Brought to you by the Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay chapter.

East Bay DSA

September 28, 2020

Prop 15: A reform with revolutionary implications

By Fred Glass

Proposition 15 offers California socialists an opportunity to raise class consciousness through an electoral campaign.  The ballot measure would close a property tax loophole through which large corporations and wealthy individuals have stolen billions of dollars a year from the state’s working class for four decades.  It is on the state ballot in the middle of a pandemic-induced economic depression, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1930s, and an uprising against systemic racism that has brought more people into the streets in protest in a shorter period of time than has ever occurred in this country. 

When all of these factors are folded within the ever-widening gyre of climate change destruction, pushed in our faces by the masks we are now wearing not only to protect our lungs against COVID-19 but also from the smoke particles falling from the skies due to fires raging throughout the state, it would be a crime if we can’t find ways to help people understand that the root of these afflictions is one and the same thing:  a society that places profit above the needs of people. 

If passed, Proposition 15 would raise $10 – 12 billion in revenues in a non-pandemic year.  By way of context, the entire state budget before COVID was $200 billion; this one tax could generate a 5 or 6% increase to the budget.  The beauty of it is that 92% of those revenues would come from just 10% of the commercial properties being taxed—a sign of the state’s enormous economic inequality, and an indicator of why our public schools and services remain so underfunded.  While far from adequate to fully address that inequality and its daily harm, Prop 15 is an important step in the right direction, for two reasons.

The first reason:  substantial help for the state’s working class. We know from the recent past what happens to schools and services in a severe economic downturn.  During the worst days of the Great Recession in 2008-2010, K-12 public schools lost ten percent of its teachers:  30,000 within three years out of an original workforce of 300,000.  This translated to class sizes skyrocketing, teachers’ reduced ability to give individual attention to students in most need, and a further diminution of already skeletal classroom supports like school librarians, nurses, and counselors.  This was just one small corner of the impact of that recession in the public sector. Similar losses of jobs and programs serving the public occurred in public health, transit, safety, and various regulatory agencies.

This Pandemic Depression is likely to be worse and longer-lasting, but we can take some heart from what happened in 2012:  Proposition 30, imposing income tax increases on the richest Californians, netting the state $7 – 9 billion per year, and restoring much—but not all—of the jobs and services lost in the previous years.  Despite an onslaught of spending and scary campaign ads from the most reactionary sectors of the bourgeoisie, the public—shocked at the devastation caused by the Great Recession, on top of years of neoliberal decay, which together eroded the effectiveness of the longstanding American exceptionalist ideology that proposed that everyone who works hard can make it—wasn’t buying that argument anymore, nor the blanket anti-tax perspective pushed by the right.

As a result Prop 30 relieved some of the human suffering and rebuilt some of the state functions devastated by the Great Recession, and that’s what Prop 15 will do. “The most good for the most people” is an important principle for socialists; a concrete reform with direct benefits for the working class is something we can and should readily support.

The other reason to support and actively participate in the Prop 15 campaign is that like Prop 30, Prop 15 is a progressive tax, drawing its revenue from those best able to pay on behalf of the common good. In talking about where the revenues come from we highlight the economic inequalities that Prop 15 begins to address.  This means it is a vehicle for drawing public attention to the ravages of the neoliberal austerity under which we have been suffering for more than forty years, since passage of Prop 13 in 1978, which created the same assessment structure for commercial properties as it did for residential property.

The “tax the rich” slogan—and its more precise corollary, “close corporate tax loopholes”—helps get the conversation started on the right foot, opening the possibility for discussions about economic inequality and social class with voters, with the ultimate destination a conversation about why we need a socialist society to replace the increasingly dysfunctional capitalist mess we’ve been saddled with.

Since the beginning of summer East Bay DSA has joined with comrades in several other chapters around the state in online educationals, Zoom rallies, virtual phone banks, and on Labor Day, car caravans and human billboarding.  The EBDSA and statewide working groups are expanding these activities.  Throughout October we will be phone banking voters, organizing virtual house meetings, and planning another outdoor COVID-safe event in the first full week of October, along with GOTV activities. 

Prop 15 is supported by the entire California labor movement and a huge coalition of community organizations, but the other side has unlimited pockets and an unscrupulous messaging playbook.  The EBDSA Working Group on Prop 15 is your vehicle to help pass the measure, and to expand the class consciousness of the electorate.  Don’t miss out on the opportunity