By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
There’s no question that restoring accountability to public education — in particular, requiring that teachers meet a certain standard of performance — is, in this age of diminished trust in government, a prerequisite for asking the public to pay more tax dollars to improve the schools. But a governor’s political capital is never higher than at the beginning of his term, and a bolder, or more tone-deaf, governor (Al Checchi would have been both) would likely have already embarked on both halves of this equation — insisting on the accountability and asking the voters to fork over more in taxes. Should Davis persist in running the state within the limits that Howard Jarvis devised two decades ago, he certainly won’t be betraying any campaign commitments: He never so much as intimated that the price of better education would be higher taxes. All he’ll betray, if he hews to this course, is California’s potential — and the lives of millions of its children.
If Davis’ failure to speak of higher taxes comes as no surprise, his failure to speak of income inequality is, by contrast, a bit of a shocker. For Davis takes office after a decade in which the California middle class has dramatically shrunk, in which the number of working poor has grown hugely, in which California has declined to 48th among the states in its level of economic equality. And he takes office in part on the strength of his support within organized labor, for which higher wages are a key issue, and the Latino community, which is the anchor tenant of the state’s low-wage sector.
To his credit, Davis has pledged to restore the state’s requirement for overtime pay for workers compelled to work more than an eight-hour day (a Wilson-appointed commission repealed this long-standing proviso). But the words "minimum-wage increase" have yet to cross his lips. Nonetheless, it’s widely believed that either the Legislature or the state Industrial Welfare Commission will enact a hike, and that Davis will support it.
As with education programs, there’s considerable evidence that the public will support measures that mandate more adequate incomes for California’s workers. In 1996, state voters overwhelmingly backed an initiative raising the minimum wage. In 1997, an L.A. Times poll showed 70 percent local support for requiring city contractors to pay a "living wage" ($7.50 an hour with health insurance, or $8.50 without) to their employees. And this month’s new Public Policy Institute poll shows that 56 percent of Californians believe that the state is made up of "haves" and "have-nots" — as contrasted to just 39 percent of Americans who answered this way in a recent nationwide Gallup Poll.
In short, there’s political space for Davis to undertake some innovative policies that promote greater economic fairness — not just higher minimum wages, but extensions of living-wage protections to a broader range of workers. Just as there’s political space for him to ask more of California taxpayers in return for better schools. The idea that this most painfully incremental of pols would charge ahead on either front still seems unlikely. But if Howard Jarvis is to remain the effective governor of this state for all time, why even bother to hold elections?
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