Friday, October 21, 2005

CA: Prop. 13, learned helplessness, and the power grab by corporate interests

When was it decided not to dredge up from the past into our conscious awareness the legacy and consequences of Prop. 13? I'm not sure who can be blamed for this, whether it be the media or ourselves, but I regret we collectively are clueless about the legacy of Prop. 13.

Prop. 13 laid the groundwork for this special election in California on November 8th. Passed in 1978, Prop. 13 was something most people in CA knows simply as the one which froze property taxes.

Another thing it did, something we should have seared into our brains, is this: because of Prop. 13 (and resulting developments), we lost local control over our property tax money. And this loss of control has had huge political implications.

From a Rand report:...local voters lost some of their incentive to spend so much on schools, thus precipitating a substantial decline in statewide school spending relative to that in other states. The decline in spending likely led to larger class sizes and, perhaps, to lower achievement levels for students in California compared with those across the nation...

Our tax money goes to Sacramento, to be stirred into one huge pot and then to be divvied out to those who have the most power; prior to this, much of that money went to a local pot, where local control and access ruled.

But so what, you might ask?

Prop. 13 legislated learned helplessness, used colloquially. We, the moms and dads, the regular people in California, now had to literally learn a whole new skill set if we wanted to effectively compete with corporate lobbyists and other professionals who literally live in Sacramento to lobby for our state money. Learned helplessness, btw, is the response, in experimental settings, of creatures such as rats, who find they no longer have any control over outcome and so they give up.

Now did we rise up to this challenge and learn a whole new skillset so we could go and lobby for our interests in Sacramento? Uh. No. It's asking a lot, and we just haven't risen to this challenge.

One consequence has been erosion of funding to the schools.

Prop. 13 made it infinitely more difficult for parents to have any say in money for school funds. And to reiterate, we know the cold reality is the average parent does not have the political savvy, time, money or skillset to wander over to Sacramento and advocate for school funds for our kids. Prop. 13 thus ended up fostering a sense of complacency, and we've ended up supremely disconnected from the politicking going on in Sacramento.

According to Governor Schwarzenegger, Sacramento is this mythical place where special interests have taken over California. He's simply calculating people don't understand what's going on in Sacramento. By calling unions a special interest group and denigrating their important role in the whole fight against corporate interests, he's hoping he can skunk us.

The unions representing public workers, under clear attack in this election in Prop. 75, the anti-union bill, have stepped up to the plate to protect the public interest. The rest of us, the parents, have really taken a back seat in Sacramento; we aren't organized, with the ability to fund people to help us advocate, unlike corporate interests.

Prop. 75 backers hope to castrate public worker unions with this bill, thus setting the stage for unfettered big business access in Sacramento for our money. When the Governor states the special interests are the problem, he's really saying the unions are in the way of his agenda.

Along with Prop. 76 which gives amazingly wicked budget-cutting powers to the Governor, a Prop. 75 win will allow corporate interests to win.

It's all about power and money in this special election, with Prop. 13 setting the stage decades ago.

This election will be won by the side with the most votes. Getting out the vote will make the difference. Email your friends and family. Get involved in your local Democratic party and with the Alliance to get out the vote.