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California's Great Recession and the Costs of War

Critical to California's long-term economic health is ending the War in Afghanistan and bringing the troops and the billions in military funding home.

California is on life support. Families are reeling from the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. The state’s social safety net - and the life sustaining services it provides - is needed now more than ever. But due to massive and ongoing budget deficits, rather than strengthening programs that are in such high demand – from health care to education to assistance to the poor – we are dismantling them. 

To adequately and humanely address the economic pain felt by too many Californians and prevent the recession from deepening, new revenues are desperately needed. One proposal that hasn’t received deserved attention, but critical to our long-term economic health, is ending the War in Afghanistan and bringing the troops, and the billions in military funding, home ( Click here to read my complete “White Paper” and watch the accompanying short film by Brave New Films at the bottom of this article).

An Economy on Life Support 

The depth of the crisis faced by California screams out from the cold hard data. Over one in five Californians are unemployed, underemployed, or have simply given up searching for work. Nearly another one in five lives in poverty. Low-income workers fortunate to have a job have seen their wages decline since 2006 – with middle income worker salaries remaining stagnant. 8.2 million Californians - up from 6.4 million in 2007 - lack health coverage.

Doors will slam shut this year on as many as 35,000 applicants to the California State University system. Both university systems approved 20% tuition and fee hikes since the start of 2009 – and UC Regents has just approved an additional 30% hike this year - ending too many students dreams of a higher education, and burdening too many more with high interest debt.

The news for educators is no better. More than 23,000 teachers recently received “pink slips”, unlikely to return to the classroom next fall.

Over three-quarters of a million California families were ousted from their homes in 2008 and 2009. The Center for Responsible Lending projects another 2 million foreclosures through 2012 - with nearby homes losing an average of over $50,000 in value. 2.4 million California borrowers - 35 percent of all properties with a mortgage - are currently under water (e.g. owe more on their home than it’s currently worth). By 2011, that number will increase to nearly 70 percent of homeowners.

Slashing Services When They’re Needed Most

As Californians depend on core public programs in increasing numbers and need – from the state’s welfare-to-work program (CalWORKS) to In-Home State Services to the Healthy Families Program - the state’s ongoing budget shortfalls have lead to draconian cuts in the very services that have functioned as a lifeline for millions and prevented a more pronounced economic collapse.

And the worst is still to come. Because California is the only state in the country that requires a two-thirds vote in the legislature to pass a budget and raise revenues, the current $19.9 billion deficit will be almost entirely closed by even deeper program cuts. Targeted proposals to raise new revenues will receive typical short thrift (i.e. extraction tax on Big Oil, repealing recent corporate tax breaks, reforming Prop 13, etc.) from the legislature due to the state’s anti-democratic budget rules.

While no final agreement has been reached, the human devastation wrought by the Governor’s proposed budget would be grim and sobering. Schools would be shuttered, disabled Californians denied care, senior and local government services decimated, and children stripped of their health coverage. If budgets are truly a reflection of our shared values, then there’s got to be another way.

The Costs of War