An Opportunity Lost
Deal Stops Millionaires Tax Campaign
The Millionaires Tax campaign is probably over. The opportunity for a game changer in the politics and economics of this state and possibly the nation has been lost.
After weeks of intense talks, Gov. Brown and the main backers of the Millionaires Tax reached a compromise deal. Brown agreed to cut the proposed sales tax in half (from .5% to .25%) and to increase the share paid by the wealthy. The income tax increase will be in effect for two additional years for a total of 7 years and the Millionaire Tax campaign will end.
Brown will have to put his proposal through the process again with a campaign to get more than a million signatures by the end of April. (The Brown measure is technically a constitutional amendment because of its sections involving prisons and therefore requires over 800,000 valid signatures.) The petition campaign will be the largest mobilization ever of paid signature gatherers and is not guaranteed to be successful. Barring some legal loop-hole, according to the California Secretary of State's website, all signed petitions must be turned into county election officials by April 20 to qualify for the November ballot. Brown is also continuing to circulate his proposal in case the new proposal does not qualify. Thus it is possible that this "compromise" might end up with the Millionaires Tax pulled and Brown's original one on the ballot.
Unfortunately there is little possibility of maintaining the campaign for the Millionaires Tax. The California Federation of Teachers, the main financial and organizational backers of the Tax, as well as key partners, the Courage Campaign, California Calls, and ACCE, have decided to accept the compromise as the best result they could get under the circumstances. (See CFT statement) Time is too short to rebuild and refund a coalition that can pick up this campaign.
The Brown compromise starts the tax increase on those with an income of $250,000 per year with an increase of 3% on incomes greater than $1 million per year. In its new form it raises more than the Millionaires Tax. Most of the money will go into the general fund and be part of the Proposition 98 required funding of education. (See the Brown initiative here) Clearly, the success of the Millionaires Tax Campaign up to now forced Brown to make a significant shift toward taxing the wealthy.
The CFT is to be credited with initiating the campaign and carrying the financial burdens of the campaign while others stood aside or went into reverse. Not only did the much larger California Teachers Association and SEIU State Council refuse to back the Millionaires tax, in the last several weeks they spearheaded a campaign of attacks against the CFT. (see the CTA attack and the AFT answer) Unions including large SEIU Locals and the California Nurses Association who claim to be progressive allies of the community, were refusing to provide financial support, leaving the CFT to foot the bill. Coalition partners like ACCE and other community groups were also facing pressure from SEIU and other groups close to Brown.
Yet there were also signs that momentum for the Millionaires Tax was building and more people were joining the campaign. Every poll demonstrated that the Millionaires Tax was very popular, and that it was polling more strongly than Brown's proposal which was slipping. It was Brown's proposal that was in real trouble.
So, what would have made a difference? Had the connection between the Millionaires Tax and Occupy been stronger, had a few unions stood up to their Internationals, had some community organizations come in more strongly early on, there might have been enough momentum to carry the campaign over the hump. Had more individuals who passively supported the Millionaires Tax gotten actively involved, it would have forced many key organizations to reconsider.
One important lesson from this campaign is that the window of political opportunity is short and if people sit back and watch then the opportunity disappears.
Another is, as we saw with Occupy, that it is independent activity and not some "inside game" that gives people real power.
The RPA and others saw an opportunity in the Millionaires Tax. We are proud that we were early endorsers and worked hard to make it a success.
But the broader movement for change lost important opportunities. The movement missed the opportunity to put California on the road to identifying and doing something about the problem of the wealthy grabbing increasing shares of the pie through their political power. We all lost the opportunity to build a state-wide political force that could have addressed the many other political challenges in California.
Brown kept the regressive sales tax--although it now raises little money--and the sunset clause in because he believes that is what corporate California wanted. The Business Roundtable, Chamber of Commerce, and Chevron all opposed the Millionaires Tax and dangled the carrot of possible support to Brown's proposal. They probably see themselves as winners in this "compromise." They won the "principles"of temporary measures and shared sacrifice and they stopped a movement that was building. We all lost the opportunity to show ourselves and others that the 99% could decisively beat the 1% by mobilizing the power of the people.
This article represents the views of the author and not necessarily those of the RPA. Alternative views are welcome.
The RPA which strongly supported the Millionaires Tax has not yet adopted any position about the new Brown compromise.
For more on labor's role in this lost opportunity see a recent Labor Notes article