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.

Every Day We’re Dialin’

Over 1,100 grassroots leaders are phoning and door-knocking in neighborhoods in ten counties of the state as California Calls winds down its sixth Civic Engagement Program this week. These leaders are working hard to identify voters ready to change California – to bring balance back to our budget by increasing taxes on the wealthiest Californians. Their organizing is building a base of 500,000 new and occasional voters in support of lasting tax reform that can make schools better, reopen shutdown libraries and firehouses, and bring opportunity back to our state. In addition, they are recruiting hundreds of new neighborhood leaders to participate in “grand finale” events, including Oakland Rising’s rally and concert for good jobs, Inner City Struggle’s “Tardeada in the Eastside,” ACCE’s community educational on how to hold banks accountable, and a “Toxic Tour” with Communities for a New California in the Coachella Valley. Quietly, under the media’s radar, these everyday people are talking to their neighbors and engaging them in community led events to set the stage for real, lasting reform.

The Alliance’s goal this month is to contact 104,567 voters and identify 68,741 who support increasing taxes on the wealthiest to bring more justice to California’s fiscal system. To date, 39,843 people have pledged to get involved in a 2012 battle to raise taxes on the wealthiest in the state.

See what we do – watch this music video, “Everyday I’m Dialin,” developed by youth leaders at Knotts Family Agency in San Bernardino.