California legislators prepare for war

LOS ANGELES — “I spent a week listening to the governor’s proposals,” said Judy Chu. “This governor has declared war.”

Chu, chair of the California Assembly Appropriations Committee, was reacting to the state budget proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Jan. 2 Third Annual Empowerment Summit on the State Budget, hosted by Assembly member Mark Ridley-Thomas and the Assembly District Empowerment Congress (ADEC).

The theme of this year’s summit was “Dollars and Sense: Making Government Work for Our Communities.” A capacity crowd of 400 residents filled the auditorium of the new Orthopaedic Medical Magnet High School to listen to assembly members and others voice their concerns and to get the community involved in what promises to be the most heated budget battle in California history.

Dr. Denise Fairchild of ADEC, summit convener, gave four goals for the meeting: “to educate ourselves, encourage full participation of the community to improve quality of life, develop strategies that shape the budget process, and to bring needed state funding to our community.”

Ridley-Thomas said he hoped to “provide constituents with an opportunity to organize, advance, and defend your interests along the way.”

In his remarks, the governor said his desire was to “starve the monster of public services” by blowing up the boxes of bureaucracy. Ridley-Thomas responded that the boxes Schwarzenegger wants to destroy are the lunchboxes of the school children and the pillboxes of the elderly.

Assembly Majority Leader Dario Frommer said Schwarzenegger gives himself names like “The Terminator” and “The Governator.”

But, Frommer said, he “has earned another name,” Frommer said, “The Exaggerator.” Frommer then detailed Schwarzenegger’s betrayal of public education. The governor promised he would cut spending, and then he borrowed $26 billion. Last year he cut $2 billion from the state’s education budget. He promised to put that money back into this year’s budget; then announced he had changed his mind.

Now he proposes to cut transportation funding, reduce the renter’s credit for seniors, cut the pay of home health care workers and cut benefits for the CalWORKS program that helps single parents.

“We built the roads, the aqueducts, the best universities in the country. We invested in our kids,” Frommer said. “We need a government that is lean, not one that is mean.”

The new Assembly Majority Whip, Karen Bass, is the first African American woman to serve in the state legislature in more than 10 years.

“What the governor is not getting is that we know how to fight a war,” she said. Bass is the founder of the Community Coalition, which she headed for 13 years before being elected to the assembly.

“The budget reflects the way you view the role of government. The role of our government is to provide a safety net, education, public services, and not a slush fund for businesses, which is how the governor views it.”

A presentation by Craig Cornett of the Assembly speaker’s office revealed that by increasing taxes on annual incomes over $120,000 the state could increase revenue by $2.5 billion. By increasing taxes on corporations by 1 percent the state could generate another $1 billion. By reimposing the 2-percent rate on Vehicle License Fees that existed before November 2004, the state could increase revenue by an additional $5 billion.

State Treasurer Phil Angelides cited statistics that show an alarming retreat from California’s “fairness” doctrine, where one generation would sacrifice so the next generation could do better. In 1980 the ratio of CEO earnings to worker wages in the United States was 42- to-one. In 1990 it climbed to 85-to 1. In 2000 it was a staggering 531 to 1.

At the same time, in California one in five kids live in poverty and one in seven Californians don’t have any health insurance.

Fairchild said, “Our job is to make clear what our values are.” Schwarzenegger likes to go to malls to sell his ideas, she said. “Have you ever seen him at the [working class] Fox Hills Mall? Have you seen him at the Crenshaw Plaza? He doesn’t come to us so we have to go to him. We have to go to the Capitol Mall!”