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Another View: Stop sequestering our kids

By: Patrick Stelmach
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Patrick Stelmach is the state organizer for California Fair Share, a statewide, grassroots field and advocacy group working to provide every Californian with a fair shot, make sure everyone pays their fair share and that everybody plays by the same set of rules. Find out more at www.californiafairshare.org.

Congress’s failure to avoid the sequester is a bitter disappointment. It is unconscionable that Congress has put the burden of balancing the budget on the backs of middle-class families and small businesses, rather than asking corporations to pay their fair share. Representative Tom McClintock has failed to heed the cries of his constituents. He insists the sequester is the only way to balance the budget and advocates for even more corporate tax breaks, but the people are of a different mind: Corporations should pay their fair share in taxes and schools should be properly funded.

The massive, across-the-board budget cuts, known as the sequester, have begun to take effect and will gut the programs we all care about. California’s students, from kindergartners to Ph.D. candidates, will be the hardest hit. According to the National Education Association, California will lose $285 million in federal funding for primary, secondary and higher education programs, including Head Start, special education, financial aid and work study opportunities. With our schools already overcrowded and underfunded, we cannot afford to keep slashing education funding with reckless abandon.

Sierra College students and local activists recently protested outside McClintock’s office, and joined with thousands of others from across California to march on the state capitol to stop cuts to education. We met with McClintock’s staff to call to their attention how detrimental the cuts would be to our education system. For instance, thousands of students will lose grants and will be forced to take on more loan debt, just as job prospects for college graduates look bleakest. McClintock’s staff coldly responded: “Tough!” In fact, they suggested eliminating the U.S. and California Departments of Education all together. Their advice to students was to tighten their belts and get a summer job. That’s much easier said than done for the students straddled with $30,000 in debt and already working 30 hours a week at minimum wage to make ends meet.

McClintock was presented with a simple solution: Close corporate tax loopholes to raise revenue so we don’t have to make these painful cuts. Tax dodging bleeds the U.S. government $90 billion a year and bleeds California $4 billion a year. This could cover a third of the $11 billion the state spends on higher education.

Starving students are asked to tighten their belts, while the most profitable corporations dodge taxes. Among Fortune 500 companies, it has become common practice to avoid paying taxes by hiding profits in foreign bank accounts. Some companies get away without paying any federal income taxes by moving money around its 58 different offshore tax haven subsidiaries, according to a report by the US Public Interest Research Group. When corporations abuse our tax code, it adds to the deficit and forces us to cut school budgets and financial aid to the bone.

McClintock had a choice, and he chose to stand with wealthy corporations rather than the hardworking Americans in his own community. He stated he would only support closing tax loopholes if the money was given right back to those corporations through lowering tax rates. With one callous decision to maintain the sequester, he and his colleagues in Congress are jeopardizing the education of 700,000 students while companies cash in their tax rebates on billions of untaxed dollars in profits.

Contrary to McClintock’s views, the public overwhelmingly believes that corporations have an obligation to help balance the budget. A February 2013 poll by the national coalition Americans for Tax Fairness found that 64 percent of voters believe that corporations should pay more in taxes. The same study found that 80 percent of voters believe that closing corporate tax loopholes that benefit big corporations is an important budget goal.

It is not too late for McClintock to do the right thing. Every day until Congress cancels the sequester and reverse these cuts, California Fair Share will make sure that citizens have the chance to voice their disappointment directly to their members of Congress. We will make sure Congress hears from the teachers whose jobs are threatened, the law enforcement officers and food safety inspectors who keep us safe and the small businesses that will struggle to get the loans they need to expand.

It is past time for Congress to cancel the sequester by closing corporate tax loopholes and outdated subsidies, and put America back to work. With only $83 billion needed to avoid the sequester and the federal government losing $90 billion every year to corporate offshore tax havens alone – the choice is clear. McClintock should stand up for our kids’ future, not corporate profits.