Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Shame Of Underfunding Education To Make Fat Cats Even Fatter

A new cartoon by Suzanna Lasker, Maine artist and activist, depicts a woman watching a wealthy weapons manufacturer running away with a big sack full of public tax dollars. The man looks smug while the woman and the child clinging to her look sad and anxious.

As well they should be. 

The legislature in our state is poised to consider a bill to make sure that General Dynamics' Bath Iron Work shipyard can continue feasting at the public trough. (Not the workers, though. They just accepted a contract freezing their wages for the next four years.) Plenty of Democrats intend to vote for a bill to excuse GD/BIW from $55 million of their state taxes over the next 20 years.

Meanwhile the legislature has never honored its own commitment plus a subsequent referendum instructing them to fund public education at the 55% level, with the remainder made up by local property taxes in the towns where the schools are. Currently the state's level of support is 47%.

They have also infamously not honored a citizen referendum passed last year to put funds directly into K-12 education raised by a 3% surtax on Mainers in the top 2% income bracket.

In my tiny, very poor school district our annual budget is roughly $11 million. The superintendent let the board know recently that, due to a shortfall in the contribution from the state for school year '18-19, we need to cut the budget by around $750,000 in order to keep local taxes from going through the roof.

My district has precious little for a tax base besides residential. A few of our towns have a couple of businesses that employ people full time like a wooden flooring mill and a concrete supplier; the town my little preK-5 school is in has a store, a laundromat, two diners, a nail salon and...that's about it.

Outsourcing manufacturing to nations where wages are low and worker protection laws are even lower has shuttered all the mills that used to make cloth, paper and shoes. And with them went the taxes they once paid.

The town in my district with the most wealth is located around beautiful Embden Pond, and the properties there -- mostly waterfront -- are taxed at a rate that has driven several efforts to secede from the district, as yet unsuccessful.

Banner: ARRT!

Last week two teachers came to the principal in tears. A Kindergarten student had announced that she would be unable to come to school the following day because her dad had to work to get money to buy the family some food. Her classroom teacher had told me back in the fall that she thought the child's family suffered from food insecurity. We can address this problem for preK-12 because our district is poor enough to qualify for federal aid that feeds everyone who wants it breakfast and lunch every day.

We also have a food pantry coordinated by our overworked school social workers (we have two serving four buildings), and a grant supplies all elementary classrooms with a fresh fruit or vegetable at snack time 3 days a week. It used to be 5 days a week but food prices rose and the grant funding did not.

But what about snow days, when children cannot come and eat at school?

And how cold are they in households with a choice between heating and eating? One little boy who moved frequently told his 1st grade teacher that they were about to move again because his family had been sleeping in an unheated camper in November, and it was getting too cold to stay.

Another 1st grader has been living all winter in a trailer with a roof that leaks. Her mom has told the teacher the children will be leaving our school soon as they have a chance to move in with an uncle who has a place to live in another town.

Poverty and a low level of education are closely correlated, by the way.

These are examples of the 20,000 children growing up in deep poverty as a subset of the 43,000 in families with incomes below the federal poverty line (which is very low to begin with). These statistics stemming from U.S. Census data are frequently ignored or disputed by Maine's corporate "news" sources.

Right wing hate mongers will blame the adults for their poverty. Many, many adults in my area suffer what have been called the diseases of despair: depression, anxiety, addiction and suicide. I know five and six year olds that have already lost one or both parents to a drug overdose. Many are being raised by their grandparents.

General Dynamics, on the other hand, pays its CEO $21 million a year. It has spent $9 billion buying back its own stocks to build value in the shares its top executives receive fat bonuses for increasing. And things are about to get even better: CEO Novakovich recently told shareholders in a conference call that she regarded the federal tax bonanza for wealthy corporations as "a happy event."

It is shameful to underfund public education for children in poverty while handing out tax bonuses to wealthy corporations.

It is not what the people want, but their representatives are already bought and sold by lobbyists for those same corporations.

The corporate media are in on the deal, too. They have made sure to run lots of coverage of proposed tax giveaway in a favorable light. It's about jobs, you see, because GD/BIW threatens to close the shipyard and throw 5,000 or so people out of work if they don't get what they are demanding.

A friend who's on an extended hunger strike against this bill has described Maine as a corporate colony. This excellent piece by investigative reporter Alex Nunes elaborates on how that works: "Bruce Gagnon Is Right; Maine Has Been Outsourced To Bath Iron Works."

My husband Mark will be back in the halls of the legislature with Bruce and other dedicated souls next week, hoping to shame self-described progressive Democrats and maybe some Independents into voting no on LD 1781 corporate welfare for GD/BIW. Republicans are probably a lost cause because they have watched too much Fox News claiming that trickle down economics works, but my friends will lobby them anyway. 

Here's the message I sent my rep and state senator yesterday. I didn't bother telling them about child poverty in Maine as they are both GOP right wingers who blame the victims of capitalism's exploitation.

Graphic: Andrew Watkins

Dear Rep. Farrin and Sen. Whittemore, 
I hope you can find the time to read the article below about General Dynamics, parent company of Bath Iron Works. 
It seems to me that a corporation that has over $3 billion in profits per year and can afford over $9 billion in stock buybacks is in great financial shape.
I urge you to vote against this unnecessary corporate hand out. General Dynamics/BIW does not need $55 million from the taxpayers of Maine. Use the money to fix our roads and bridges instead! 
Please write back and tell me how you intend to vote on LD 1781. 
Thanks,Lisa Savage 
Defense firms spend big on lucrative stock buybacks (Providence Journal, 11/3/17)

The Maine People's Alliance, a lobbying group for Democrats in Maine, has declined to come out against the bill even though they supposedly stand for funding social needs. Their former executive Ryan Tipping now co-chairs the taxation committee, and he voted ought to pass last week after describing how squeamish he was at doing so. They all get their campaign funds from the same corporations, laundered through PACs that make the origin of the cash difficult to trace.

The shame of underfunding education while using public funds to make fat cats even fatter should deter legislators from voting for LD 1781.

Unfortunately, most of them have put themselves into a self-serving bubble that is beyond shame. But as Stormy Daniels famously said, "Karma will always bite you in the ass."


Regis Tremblay said...

Probably the best yet. Kudos to you.
Regis Tremblay

Bob Klotz said...

Thanks Lisa!