Election Day is finally here, and control of the House and the Senate hangs in the balance. The differences between parties could not be more stark. Republicans have promised to repeal health care reform and slash government spending for social programs, all while preserving tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Some of the more radical ideas bandied about this election season—by conservative candidates with a decent shot at winning—include privatizing social security and eliminating the Department of Education.
Anti-tax ballot measures
Josh Holland of AlterNet runs down the most economically important ballot initiatives facing the electorate today. Some of these measures could cripple states for decades to come.
For example, Coloradans are voting on a spate of radical anti-tax amendments including Amendment 60, which would eliminate all property tax increases passed since 1992 and halve property taxes over the next decade. If Initiative 1053 passes in Washington State, any future hikes in taxes or fees would have to be approved by a 2/3rds majority of legislators or by voters. In tough times, the promise of preempting tax increases may seem attractive, but those entranced by the 2/3rds rule should look to California as a cautionary tale. The state is structurally in the red because legislators can pass spending bills by simple majority but they need a 2/3rds majority to raise taxes.
If you could create a political party that convinced a large number of people that by electing you they could eat all the ice-cream they want, and then sit on their butts watching TV all day and never put on an ounce, you’d have a pretty good chance at gaining power. That’s what the conservative movement has done in terms of taxes and spending.
In other words, it’s easy to say no to tax increases when you don’t stop to think what those taxes pay for. Everyone’s in favor of “limited government” in the abstract, but everyone likes roads, schools, firehouses, clean water, and other publicly-funded amenities.
Union-busting at the ballot box
Speaking of dubious ballot initiatives, at Working In These Times, Michelle Chen reports on several anti-union ballot measures that are designed to kill the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) before it’s even passed. EFCA is (currently moribund) proposed federal legislation that would make it easier for employees to form unions.
Voters in Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah are grappling with ballot initiatives that would make it impossible to implement EFCA at the state level, should it ever come back to life at the federal level. For example, Utah’s proposed Amendment A would rewrite the state’s constitution to guarantee a secret ballot for unionization votes. These ballot initiatives are touted as a defense of workers’ privacy, but the real goal is to institutionalize as many barriers to unionization as possible.
All working people should be concerned about restrictions on their right to organize because unionization is a proven path to higher wages and greater job security. Even people who don’t belong to a union should care because high union density in an industry tends to increase wages for the industry as a whole, non-union workers included.
Wage equality and the social contract
Election day is a good time to reflect on the big questions: What do we owe each other as a society? What would a just economy look like? Mikhail Zinshteyn of Campus Progress argues that one of the basic tenets of the social contract in a capitalist system is that rewards should be proportional to production. If you produce more, you should get paid more.
Yet the widening gap between productivity and real wages in America shows that that our economy is not delivering on this basic tenet of fairness. Workers are more productive than ever, and in a just world, you’d expect they’d share in that extra wealth. Yet real wages have remained largely stagnant. The extra wealth is going overwhelmingly to those who own the companies. The people who actually create the wealth are being left out in the cold.
Stakes are high for working families
Sarah van Gelder explains in Yes! Magazine why it is so important for working families to turn out this season and vote their financial interests:
The Great Recession is creating hardship for families in every part of the country. More than 6 million Americans fell below the poverty line in the last two years, and nearly a quarter of all children under the age of six are living in poverty. Unemployed workers are typically going jobless for six months, nearly twice as long as they have during any time since World War II. Median household wealth fell by 20 percent since 2007, retirement savings have evaporated, and now some are talking about dismantling Social Security. This is not the year to stay home. Our families can’t afford it.
In tough times, domestic violence on the rise
In ColorLines, Julianne Hing reports that rates of domestic violence tend to increase as the economy deteriorates. The category of economic abuse becomes more salient as money becomes more scarce. The abuser can either extort money from the victim, and/or use their own money as a weapon to dominate the victim. Sadly, as the need for programs to protect the victims of domestic violence is rising, state budgets are shrinking.
When voters look at their tax cut ballot initiatives today, they should consider the services their taxes underwrite, including programs for the most vulnerable, like battered women’s shelters. It’s easy to say no to taxes. It’s hard to tell a battered woman that she has nowhere to go because the shelter was shut down.