Californians in the crosshairs of Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest budget proposals aren't waiting around to see what, if anything, he can bring home from Washington. They've already launched a statewide movement to save and improve California's safety net.
The state faces a nearly $20 billion budget shortfall in the next 18 months. Schwarzenegger was in Washington this week seeking nearly $7 billion he claims the federal government owes California because, he says, reimbursement rates for Medicare, Medicaid and other programs are too low.
But many observers feel the governor's requests have little chance of success. Speaking on KQED radio Jan. 20, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., called "just false" the idea the state is being unfairly treated in reimbursements.
Schwarzenegger says if the funds don't come through, he wants to end the state's welfare program, the Healthy Families program for children, and In Home Supportive Services helping poor seniors and the disabled live at home. Even with the federal funds, he proposes new deep cuts to social programs.
Key Democratic legislators, now girding for a fightback, are being joined by organizations and unions representing communities that depend on the services and workers who provide them.
The statewide California Partnership has already held a wave of protests coinciding with Schwarzenegger's Jan. 8 budget message.
Partnership spokesperson Kim Kruckel says the coalition is coordinating participation in legislative hearings by those threatened by the cuts. In "district day actions" early next month, community members will visit legislators' offices, especially those of budget committee members, she said. The partnership is also working on "fun" things people can do to generate media attention, like "budget bake sales."
The partnership will hold state Days of Action April 26-27, and other groups plan action days in May.
Some threatened cuts were prevented last year, particularly for children's and immigrants' needs, Kruckel said. "This year the goal is to expand that list of safety net items that don't reach the chopping block. We are drawing on our organizing experience of the last few years to make that happen."
The group's "California Families Recovery Plan" calls for job training and support, wraparound services "to help moms and dads get to work," a stronger safety net, and promoting the state's ability to access federal matching funds and stimulus funds for programs aiding families, seniors and the disabled.
Working closely with the partnership is the Having Our Say Coalition of over 50 grassroots community organizations, advocacy and immigrant rights groups working to address health needs of communities of color. Their conferences, "Show Me the Money: Changing the Inequalities in California's Tax Policy," are preparing community members to speak about revenues and taxes.
"Since California is the only state with a two-thirds requirement for both budget and revenue, it's come down to a small minority controlling the budget," said Having Our Say spokesperson Cary Sanders. "All the Republicans but one have signed an anti-tax pledge, so nothing is really happening in the way of compromise."
With the governor proposing $2.9 billion in cuts to health and human services this year, Sanders said, "it's gotten to the point where there's no skin left, we're actually cutting to the bone of our safety net. And yet it's very difficult to have real discussions about revenue, because this small minority controls where the conversation can go."
Ballot initiatives are in the works to change the supermajority requirements, but none has yet achieved ballot status, Sanders said. The California Democracy Act, backed by many elected officials, community organizations and Democratic Party clubs, would amend the state constitution to require a simple legislative majority to pass revenue and budget measures. "We feel that's really the way to go," Sanders said, noting that other measures deal with only part of the problem.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees helped organize for the California Partnership's anti-cuts demonstrations in southern California and the Central Valley. On newsblaze.com this week, AFSCME Assistant Director Willie Pelote urged legislative Democrats to pass a budget that creates revenues by ending tax loopholes for multinational corporations. He also said the state's use of private contractors for public service jobs is costing $35 billion annually, and urged that current and future state tax credits be examined for what they do for job creation.
At a Jan. 12 press conference, California Federation of Teachers president Marty Hittelman pointed out that despite the governor's promises not to cut education, he proposes cutting school funding by another $1.5 billion.
Hittelman announced that CFT is launching the "Fight for California's Future" campaign, to protest the human services cuts, and is joining with the California Teachers Association and other education organizations in a March 4 statewide day of action.
Photo: PW/Marilyn Bechtel