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Noel Sheppard - Columnist

Noel Sheppard is an economic and geopolitical analyst and writer residing in Northern California.  He welcomes your comments at   [Sheppard index]


The Girlie Men Tour
Dems trashing the budget plan in front of school kids...
[Noel Sheppard]

In the midst of his first budget battle as California's new governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger last July referred to Sacramento Democrats as "girlie men" for being too beholden to special interest groups.  Just days into this year's feud, it appears that the Governator's opponents are still wearing skirts, and they're taking their act on the road.

In a prophetic example of politicians embracing this new budget negotiation as a golden opportunity to advance a compelling discourse about pivotal issues in our state, three Democratic party leaders began an almost rock star-like multi-city tour to convince Californians that their governor is a dirty rotten scoundrel.  These dignitaries included Treasurer Phil Angelides, Attorney General Bill Lockyer -- both with eyes on the governor's mansion in 2006 -- and Superintendent of Schools Jack O'Connell.

Their first gig was at Nimitz Elementary School in Sunnyvale.  In an extraordinary exchange, these gentlemen actually told youngsters that the Kindergarten Cop is a liar:

"To not tell the truth sends a bad message to the students of the state," [said Mr. O'Connell.]  Accusing the governor of lying struck a chord with the third-graders sitting on the floor in front of the podium.

"Why is the governor not keeping his promises?" asked one boy.

"You'll have to ask him," answered Angelides.

Nice touch, boys.  I guess you figured that it would be easier to pass off your faulty statistics to third-graders after defaming their hero.  For instance, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, Mr. O'Connell then announced:

"The governor has said this is a maintenance budget, but when we're eighth from the bottom (in a recent study of per pupil spending by state), that's not good enough for me."

Hmmm.  I wonder where the superintendent got this number from, for according to a 2002 U.S. Census study concerning public education finances, California ranked 23 in per pupil spending.  Now, I'm no school superintendent, but when I was in third grade, 50 minus 23 didn't equal eight.  Furthermore, as far as the spending per pupil that comes directly from the state, California ranked fourteenth in this survey.

Something else Mr. O'Connell conveniently neglected to tell these students is that although California ranks 23 in what we pay our teachers per pupil, we rank ninth in what we pay school administrators.  As such, if the superintendent was so concerned with better educating these students that he was addressing, maybe he could more adroitly manage the budget for non-instructional staffing of schools and boards of education under his auspice, and shift some of these funds to the folks that actually teach. 

Moreover, Mr. O'Connell chose not to inform these kids about a recent National Education Association report indicating that California's K-12 teachers are the highest paid in the nation, averaging $56,283 per year in 2003 -- fully $10,000 greater than the national average, and $15,000 higher than the median.  In addition, Mr. O'Connell didn't tell these children that California ranks seventh nationally in the pay increases given to these teachers in the past ten years (40.6%). 

However, maybe the most important thing that the superintendent omitted from this elementary civics lesson is that although our teachers are the highest paid in the nation, the average California wage earner only ranks eleventh.  That means that in all ten states where the average citizen makes more money than in California, they pay their teachers less than we do.

To be more precise, our average wage earner in 2001 made $32,655.  By contrast, our average teacher that year made $54,348.  This means that the average teacher in 2001 made $21,693 more than the average wage earner in our state -- 66.4% more.  This is the largest such margin of any state in the union, meaning that our teachers as a function of the state's average wage make more money than anywhere else in the entire nation. 

Unfortunately, since this information would have defeated the tour's purpose, Mr. Angelides chose to instead make a passion play to these children for higher taxes:

"We've always been a society that has sacrificed so our children can do better,'' Angelides said. ""The governor has the courage to ask kids to do with less ... but he doesn't have the courage to ask one millionaire to pay a single dime more.''

So, Phil, why didn't you tell these kids that the governor actually increased spending on K-12 education by $1.4 billion?  Or, that in order to balance the budget, if he gave more than he did to education, he would have to take money away from poor kids?  How do you think the children would have reacted to this information:

But [the governor] noted that if he had kept his promise to fully fund education this year, he would have been forced to kick some children off the state-run Healthy Families program, which provides health insurance to poor families. He noted that it was one of the difficult decisions he had not necessarily anticipated when he ran for office.

"You make a promise to education, and that would take kids off health care," [the governor] said. "They are tough decisions. They are truly painful."

If only our Democratic party leaders were feeling this pain instead of barreling down I-5 on their whirlwind "Lie to Youngsters to Raise Their Parents' Taxes" Tour.

Noel Sheppard is an economic and geopolitical analyst and writer residing in Northern California.  He welcomes your comments at  

copyright 2005 Noel Sheppard




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