15 August 2009

Giving the profession a bad name

This is a bit belated, but well worth commenting on. First, the facts: a group of UCI faculty from the School of Humanities have signed an opinion piece calling for the exploration of
viable alternatives, which range from levies on the state’s petroleum production and closing corporate tax loopholes to, yes, raising state income taxes, which are among the lowest in the country.
The full text of the letter is available courtesy of the OC Register. As you will notice if you follow the link, the proposal has raised a veritable barrage of criticism, much of it admittedly wide of the mark.

But the point is different. Beside being obviously oblivious of California's political climate, the esteemed colleagues are clearly misinformed. California's personal income tax rate is among the highest, not lowest in the country, as one can easily check. And the reason is well known: thanks to Proposition 13, California has to rely on income and capital gains taxes, as well as the highly regressive sales tax (also quite high). And while it has been often pointed out how intrinsically unfair Prop. 13 turned out to be (with young couples paying property taxes several times higher than those of their older and more affluent neighbors), it has also resulted in cash flow for the State that is extremely subject to the vagaries of the economic cycle, whence the current disaster.

All of this is well known and not at all difficult to find out. Why the Irvine colleagues never bothered to check their facts, it is indeed hard to understand. The whole thing just confirms prejudices and stereotypes about academics — how aloof, privileged and uncaring they are. In sum, the whole letter was just stupid not well thought-out.

The esteemed colleagues could have instead insisted on the oil severance tax (which they do mention), or repealing Prop. 13 while keeping protections for families and individuals (e.g., repeal the part about commercial properties, or second homes, and especially repeal the part about the 2/3 majority requirement). But advocating an increase in income taxes solely for the purpose of supporting the University, with no mention of the plight of the poor, the sick and the disabled was unconscionable.

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