Protest call: No cuts, tax the rich!

HARTFORD, Conn. – Traffic here ground to a halt on the morning of Jan. 8, as several thousand marched on the state capitol in the cold and snow to protest the inhumane layoffs and cuts in services proposed by Republican Gov. John Rowland to close the state’s $2 billion budget deficit.

Arrogantly disregarding the diverse outcry from nursing home workers, social service providers, students, teachers and maintenance workers, the governor used his State of the State address to blame unions for not accepting takebacks in wages and benefits, leaving the corporations and wealthy off the hook.

At a time when homeless shelters and soup kitchens are filled beyond capacity, with an 80 percent increase in the last year, and when layoffs in the private sector have been steadily increasing, the governor’s proposals for laying off at least 3,000 state workers and the elimination of the services they provide is especially callous. The governor would also slash funding to towns and cities, causing more layoffs and steep property tax increases.

An alternative budget focusing on the untapped wealth in the state has been drawn up by a powerful coalition of the state workers’ unions, over 100 social service organizations and mayors of the state’s major cities. It would end the deficit by increasing taxes on incomes above $200,000 a year and by closing corporate tax loopholes.

“A Fair Share Budget will solve all the problems and will serve all of Connecticut’s citizens,” declared Lynn Ide, representing One Connecticut. To cheers she concluded, “It’s not a spending problem, it’s a revenue problem.” Many of those opposing the cuts also support calling on the president and Congress to cut military spending and increase revenue sharing to states and cities.

Those at the rally have been protesting for the last month. Social workers and economic rights activists rallied at the sites of four offices of the Department of Social Services slated to be shut down.

Health care workers, members of Service Employees International Union Local 1199, turned out in large numbers at the Capitol wearing signs saying “Patient Care is OUR Bottom Line.” Cutbacks to health care for children and seniors have caused great concern throughout the state.

Referring to the huge tax cuts for corporations in the last decade, Dan Mills of the Bureau for Education Services for the Blind charged that the governor “wants pennies from the corporations and billions from working people.”

Students who attend LEAP, an after-school mentoring program, staged a read-in at New Haven City Hall to protest the layoff of counselors and high school mentors. Counselor Gwen Forrest moved the Jan. 8 crowd when she said, “Something is terribly wrong when rich taxpayers won’t pay taxes on their luxury boats and 7-year-olds are told ‘you don’t have the right to learn how to read.’“

State college students joined their professors at the rally. A senior from Central Connecticut State University emphasized that rising tuition will eliminate the chance for a higher education. “We are being asked to pay more in tuition than corporations do in taxes. Tell Rowland ‘No,’” he told the rally

Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez, speaking on behalf of mayors of large cities, charged Rowland with utilizing the budget crisis to create divisions instead of bringing people together. Hartford, the second poorest city in the nation, stands to lose $18 million, which would cause layoffs of teachers, police and fire fighters. “This is our state capitol, and it should be our budget!” he declared.

“This is about building a great movement,” said John Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, to loud applause and chants of “Impeach Rowland,” “We have to stand strong for raising the living standards of all people. The 225,000 union members in Connecticut are with you. We will win because we are right.”

The author can be reached at joelle.fishman@pobox.com