Black Caucus hearing exposes anti-people budget

LOS ANGELES – California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger released a revision to his budget proposal on May 13, which seeks to close an $8.6 billion budget gap by slashing social services. Members of the Legislative Black Caucus, chaired by Sen. Kevin Murray, analyzed the May revisions at a public meeting here, May 20. Community leaders testified about the budget’s impact on their services.

Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, said the good news is that more money is available than was expected in January – in part because businesses are paying their taxes.

The bad news, she said, is that there is not enough money to restore previous cuts.

Ross noted that the budget shortfall is close to the sum lost when the Vehicle License Fees (VLF) were repealed, approximately $4.5 billion. Schwarzenegger’s answer is to call for the “Live Within Our Means Act” giving him unilateral authority to cut spending.

Sen. Murray noted that Schwarzenegger wants to reduce class sizes and build new roads to schools with crumbling buildings, schools that lack textbooks and qualified teachers.

Besides the education cuts, the governor’s budget also slashes funding to In-Home Social Services (IHSS), a government-funded, county service that assists elderly, disabled and other homebound people.

Tyrone Freeman, president of SEIU Local 434B, which represents Los Angeles County IHSS workers, said the deal made when the home care workers achieved collective bargaining was that the state would put up 65 cents and the county would put up 35 cents on the dollar for the hours worked. The federal government would match that dollar and the workers would receive a living wage and health insurance if they worked 80 hours in a month. Freeman said if Schwarzenegger succeeds in cutting IHSS workers’ wages back to the $6.75 per hour state minimum wage, counties won’t be able to pick up the added cost, and the federal matching funds will be lost. The result will be that patients relying on IHSS will be forced into nursing home care that is not only more expensive, but often deadly.

With their wages cut, workers will be forced onto the Cal-Works program, said Serita Martinez of the United Domestic Workers, representing IHSS in other Southern California counties.

Assemblywoman Karen Bass noted the Catch-22 logic of such cuts to IHSS. Some of those workers would not qualify for Cal-Works, she said, because their benefit period will have expired while they were working as in-home health care workers.

“It’s about what we value as a society,” Bass said. “Schwarzenegger believes that we should balance the budget on the backs of the poor at the expense of our children”

She added, “We need to show the close relationship between the budgets of Bush and Schwarzenegger. People think he is a moderate Republican. He’s not.”