Demonstrating the Power of Everyday Exceptional People

In the last two weeks, 37 organizations regrouped in Southern California and the Bay Area pivoting plans to support and qualify a ground-breaking compromise initiative to raise billions in new revenue for California, stop draconian cuts to education and services, and begin to restore fairness to our tax system.

This compromise represents a new turning point in our journey to reorient California’s tax and budget policies towards equity and fairness.

How We Got Here

In December, with strong support from a diverse coalition of allies, the California Calls Action Fund joined with the California Federation of Teachers and the Courage Campaign to file a “Millionaires Tax” Initiative. The measure was proposed to hike the tax rate on the super-rich, raising a projected $6 to $8 billion earmarked for K-12, higher education, health and human services, and public safety.

After three months of intense organizing, the Millionaires Tax Coalition gathered 592,000 signatures and continued to build broad public support, demonstrated in five public opinion polls. On March 14, California Calls and our partners decided to join forces with Governor Brown and key labor unions to set aside our separate proposals in favor of a stronger and unified initiative.

In a matter of days, we helped to create the most progressive income tax measure in the entire nation—and demonstrated the power of our grassroots labor and community coalition to forge an agreement with the traditional Sacramento centers of power.

How the New Measure Compares

In summary, here’s what the new compromise measure does:

1. Of the projected $9 billion raised in the first year, $8 billion will come from a progressive income tax increase for individual Californians making more than $250,000 a year or households making more than $500,000 per year. No one making less than $250,000 a year will see an income tax increase.
2. Over the next seven years, the wealthiest 2% of Californians will pay more every year in higher income taxes. We garnered two more years than the Governor’s original proposal.
3. The new measure reduces the Governor’s proposed sales tax increase from ½ cent to ¼ cent, and stays in place for just four years.
4. 85% of the revenue will be from the higher bracket income taxes, and only 15% will be from the ¼ cent sales tax.
5. A replenishment of the General Fund will help restore numerous programs including K-12, community colleges, police and fire, and programs for seniors, the disabled and poor.
6. Makes permanent the public safety “realignment” of 2011, guaranteeing funding for local governments who take on responsibility for non-violent offenders transferred out of costly state prisons.

California Calls supports this new measure because:

• The vast majority of the new revenue comes from the wealthy (almost 90% vs. 60% in the governor’s original).
• Though we don’t like the sales tax, the new measure cuts the proposed sales tax increase in half.
• The revenue is intended to address multiple needs: education, social services, realignment and the budget deficit.
• It allows for a more united effort to pass a badly needed revenue measure this year. Winning will require a united movement.

Compared to the Governor’s original proposal the new measure represents an increase in the tax rate on the very highest incomes of between 1% and 3%, more money — around $2 billion in the first year — to restore cuts, and a 50% decrease in the sales tax.

The future of higher education was one of the most pivotal points in our intense negotiations. Compared to the Millionaires Tax, the new measure does not earmark funds for the CSU and UC systems.

The Governor, Senate Pro-Tem Steinberg, Speaker Perez and other elected leaders publicly committed work so that a portion of the new revenues will be used to support the CSU and UC systems.

Now, it is up to us to hold the elected leaders of Sacramento to their word.

“We must hold them accountable,” said Dolores Huerta during the Southern California meeting. “We need to organize our elected officials to meet with hundreds in our own communities. We will tell them to honor their commitment to keep California’s colleges open and affordable to all.”

Building an agenda to reform California

California Calls is proud to announce a developing policy agenda that can raise the necessary funding to close the structural $20 billion revenue shortfall. This developing agenda was crafted through extensive research and a series of collaboration meetings over the past year with over 50 progressive organizations around the state. California Calls looked at three things 1) how much revenue is needed, 2) what types of policies would be most valuable in getting us closer to systemic reform, and 3) which policies could make up a short, medium, and long-term policy reform agenda.

California Calls is building deeper alignment among the movement for progressive tax reform in the state through a series of meetings bringing together community-based organizations, unions, foundations and service groups. The second of these sessions took place on July 19. After presentations by policy experts, with the use of cutting-edge audience response technology, participants narrowed the 23 policy initiatives under consideration down to seven consensus items that will be used to develop California Calls policy agenda. These include:

• Requiring California’s corporations to reveal their tax expenditures (as a step towards     closing corporate tax loopholes);
• Raising taxes on the top income earners in the state;
• Imposing a “restitution” fee to mitigate the effects of pollution on California’s neighborhoods;
• Reforming commercial property tax laws;
• A proposal allowing for a “double majority” vote of the electorate and the legislature to increase state taxes;
• Reducing the 2/3rds vote threshold for state tax increases;
• Imposing an oil severance tax.

In August the California Calls Coordinating Committee voted to adopt these recommendations as a formal part of its short, medium, and long-term policy agenda.

The policy with the strongest support and which offers the best opportunity for a 2012 victory was raising taxes on the top income earners in the state. California Calls convened a strategy committee of 25 organizations to explore possibilities for 2012 collaboration and joined a research project with several unions and organizations to assess the viability of a Top Tier Tax fight next year.

The next Strategic Collaboration meeting will be on November 15 focused on strategic communications: how we change the story about government and taxes. A key feature of this meeting will be a discussion on how to manage the tension between long-term narrative/message development to change public consciousness and issue framing/messaging required to win now.

The California Calls policy agenda was developed through a committee of progressive tax and fiscal policy experts: Jean Ross from the California Budget Project, Lenny Goldberg from the California Tax Reform Association, Ben Tulchin from Tulchin Research, Bob Brownstein from Working Partnership USA and Sarah Zimmerman from SEIU 1000; Jennifer Ito, USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity; Fred Keeley, Treasurer of Santa Cruz; Steve Levy, Stanford’s Center for Continuing Study of California; Ken Jacobs UC Berkeley Labor Center

Grooming a new generation of leaders: Camp Calls

California Calls’ strategy to inspire a new generation of voters is based on the simple idea that people respond best to people they know – their family, their friends and their neighbors. Deepening the skills and confidence of an army of thousands of grassroots leaders is critical to our ability to mobilize 500,000 occasional voters to the polls.

Towards that end, California Calls convened its first “Camp Calls”, an inspiring, groundbreaking training for the core leadership of the alliance. Three hundred leaders from 17 organizations in vastly different regions of the state gathered in Los Angeles for a weekend of political education, story-telling and skills building.

The excitement of the three day weekend began on Friday night when participants met around a “makeshift campfire” (a giant orange paper flame), forming “troops” – cohorts of 12 people who shared the weekend experience together. Each troop came up with chants and creative names like Fighting in Solidarity and Truth (FIST), Leading People for Change, and the West Coast Swagger Factory. Click here to see pictures.

The curriculum covered story-telling, the origins and consequences of California’s devastating 1978 Proposition 13 (that created a giant corporate property tax loophole), competing values about the role of government, tax and fiscal policy solutions, and how to recruit volunteers.

“I got a little more courage to stand up and say what I think and feel,” one participant explained when asked what she got out of Camp Calls. Another said, “We may be different races, genders, ages and from different parts of the state, but we have the same problems and are in this fight together. Our stories really do connect.”

The curriculum was developed by staff from California Calls and WorkingPartnerships, USA, based on a scan of best practices. Thanks goes to Making Cents, California Federation of Teachers, National Organizing Institute, and SCOPE for use of training modules.