Re "Taxes Can Preserve Our Quality of Life," Commentary Jan. 14: Stephen Levy's statement, "Meeting the governor's objectives requires reform in property tax collection, including raising the assessed valuation of property but not raising property tax rates," is just ivory-tower-speak for nullifying Proposition 13. Raise valuations but don't raise rates? The result is the same; the property owner pays more. Maybe Levy is too young to remember the pre-Proposition 13 days; I'm not. I was young then, and my income was increasing every year. But the property owners on fixed incomes, mainly retirees, were seeing their taxes double or triple until some were literally losing their property by being forced to sell. The politicians, urged on by the powerful education lobby, kept going back time and again to the property owners for revenue until the owners, in desperation, embraced Proposition 13 to protect themselves.
Now I am in the fixed (declining) income mode, and any tampering with Proposition 13 is worrisome. The fiscal disaster in California is the result of bungling and shortsightedness on the part of our current crop of so-called leaders. There is a need to restructure California's taxation system, but jumping on the backs of Proposition 13 beneficiaries should not be a part of the restructuring.
Why does everyone continue to talk about an 18-month state budget deficit ($35 billion) instead of a 12-month deficit ($24 billion)? Your Jan. 11 article hints at why. The state budget in 1997 was about $60 billion and in 2002 was about $100 billion. In five years this is an absolute increase of $40 billion. I didn't know that money was going out of style. Clearly, no one in Sacramento wants anyone to know what they have been spending recently. How to cover it up? Magnify the problem even further to make a tax increase inevitable, rather than investigate where the huge spending increase has gone.
Gov. Gray Davis says that California's deflated economy and yawning budget deficit will mean hard choices, including slashed spending on everything from colleges to cancer research. But times apparently aren't so bad for the state's prisons. The governor, who has accepted more than $3 million in campaign contributions from the prison guards union, wants to fund the Department of Corrections near the current level while cutting funds for nearly everything else.
Davis needs to shift his incarceration-only perspective to one that includes an approach to preventing violence before it happens. The average cost for each youth assisted in an after-school program is $3,000 for one year. It costs taxpayers more than $30,000 to keep an adult incarcerated in the California prison system for one year. There's nothing fuzzy about the math; preventing violence before it happens is a better investment of public funds.
We notice that new chief executives, brought into companies with money problems, seem to do the same thing: lay off employees. We don't see them raise the price of their products to increase profit.
I suggest that our elected officials set a precedent by reducing their personal staffs and expect the same from each department. This not only would save money now but would save on retirement entitlements.