Thursday, September 25, 2003

Camejo Sees It, Why Shouldn't We?

In last night's "debate", the latest chapter in the circus called the California Recall Campaign, one piece of substance was drowned out and eventually denied by the media noise and spectacle. Peter Camejo made the charge that California's poorest taxpayers pay a higher % of their income in state and local taxes than do the wealthy. Referring to figures produced by the California Budget Project and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Camejo proposed that the high income end of California's taxpayers could afford a tax hike to make the tax code fairer all around.

As far as I can see from my vantage point, this idea was either ignored or denied. In a factchecking exercise by the LA Times, the newspaper asserted that Camejo's point was "difficult to evaluate" and presented the fact that the top 1% of California taxpayers pay 40% of the income taxes.

Camejo, of course, was talking about ALL taxes we have to pay, from property, sales, excise etc. as well as income taxes. And his point was quite right. The numbers do not lie, at least when you look at the whole picture.

Doing a little bit of rough paper and pencil calculating, if we take the ITEP study above, and assume a tax structure where every California taxpayer pays a flat % of income in state and local taxes equal to the burden borne by the poorest quintile of Californians, $25 billion more revenue is raised, reducing California's budget woes to a minimum manageable level. Of course, enacting such a program in Proposition happy California will be very tough.

But think on this a minute: California's budget deficit, cutbacks, education crisis, mismanaged transportation system etc and so forth is largely attributable to the lamentable unwillingness for the state's affluent citizens to bear the same proportionate burden that the state's poorest citizens are bearing right this moment.

Therefore, whether California wises up and heeds the call of Peter Camejo (full disclosure: Peter is a friend and colleague of mine) or whether the state chooses another one of the farcical candidates being served up, Californians will get the exact government they deserve.

And if they don't heed Camejo's message, that will be a pathetic tragedy indeed.