With another Tax Day now behind us, it’s a good time to think about what we get back for the money we put into our government. As a recent college graduate from a low-income neighborhood in California, I am thinking about how my taxes should support the things my community needs – like good schools, trauma care, roads and health clinics.
But the truth is, our tax system favors wealthy interests at the expense of communities like mine. Experts say the 2017 federal tax cuts overwhelmingly benefited high-income people and large businesses, while slashing the resources available for education and other urgent needs.
I made it through college, but a lot of the kids I grew up with didn’t. Sadly, many of them never even had the option to go to college.
What’s true in Washington, DC, is also true in the states. In fact, I recently learned that oil companies like Chevron and Shell, and major corporations like Walmart, have been robbing California communities by exploiting the state’s property tax system.
Since the passage of California’s infamous tax-cutting measure, Proposition 13, in 1978, corporations have unfairly benefited from a corporate tax loophole that has cost the state hundreds of billions of dollars. I have seen the disastrous effects of this loophole in my community of East Los Angeles, where too many students are stuck in overcrowded classrooms and not given the support they need to succeed.
And I felt those effects in my own lack of preparedness while earning my biology degree at UCLA. Compared to other, more privileged students from better schools, I felt I was always playing catchup, always working harder. I often felt like I had impostor’s syndrome, like I didn’t belong.
I made it through college, but a lot of the kids I grew up with didn’t. Sadly, many of them never even had the option to go to college. Since Proposition 13 passed, California has sunk to the bottom 10 states in per-pupil spending in our public schools.
Recently, teachers in Los Angeles, Oakland and other communities around the country have gone on strike to demand more for their students and the public schools. Teachers shouldn’t have to strike, and students shouldn’t have to miss class, to get smaller class sizes or nurses and librarians. We need to invest in our public schools, and that means making smarter decisions about taxes and government spending.
The good news is that Californians will soon have an opportunity to hold corporations accountable and reclaim billions of dollars annually for our local schools and communities. A 2020 ballot measure called the California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act would close the corporate tax loophole that lets wealthy commercial property owners avoid paying their share in property taxes. Also known as the Schools and Communities First, the measure would generate $11 billion annually to fund education and local communities.
Whether in California, in Washington or anywhere else in America, we can’t afford to keep giving billions in tax breaks to millionaires, billionaires and big corporations while our communities, schools and students suffer. It’s time to start investing more in people and places that have been left behind as the rich get richer and the spoils of our economy go to the 1 percent.
I have three siblings who still go to Los Angeles public schools. I think about them and their future. Will we keep giving away billions of dollars to people and companies that don’t need it while we leave another generation behind? Or will we fix the inequities in our tax system and invest in our students so they can become the leaders our country needs?
I am hoping Californians answer these questions loud and clear at the polls in 2020 by supporting Schools and Communities First. I am also hoping that what’s happening in California will ignite a nationwide movement for change. Let’s resolve to work together to make our tax system fairer, and to hold corporations accountable to our communities. It’s time to show once and for all that we value our youth—and our future.
Editor’s Note: Josselyn Perez graduated from UCLA in 2018 with a BS in Biology.