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California budget proposal 'a gun to the head' of workers and the poor

It is time to fight back

As he unveiled his budget plan for California, Gov. Jerry Brown—the state’s top Democrat—said “some people might say I am putting a gun to their head.” He is right.

Just one week after taking the reigns as governor, Brown, launched a frontal assault on the state’s workers and poor. His budget for fiscal year 2011-2012 proposes $12.5 billion in cuts to surmount the $25.4 overall deficit, including the following deep cuts to fundamental health and social service programs. Brown’s plan would cut:

Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown's plan squarely hits workers.
  • $1.7 billion from Medi-Cal. This program provides health care for the poorest, including people of color and children. 
  • $1.5 billion from the state’s welfare program, CalWORKS. This would throw roughly 115,000 poor families off the welfare rolls, cut benefits to foster children and end state subsidies for in-home domestic services for many blind, elderly and disabled people.
  • $750 million from services for the developmentally disabled, affecting nearly 250,000 people.
  • $580 million in cuts to state operations and employee compensation. That means an additional 8 to 10 percent pay cut for state employees, who have already endured furloughs and wage cuts. It is another dagger aimed at the heart of public employee unions.
  • $1 billion from California’s university systems. This is roughly 20 percent of the budget of both the University of California and California State University systems. It comes right after tuition has skyrocketed for students.
  • $400 million in cuts to community colleges. In addition, Brown would raise tuition fees from $26 to $36 per unit.
  • More cuts to child care, jobs programs and an elimination of adult day health centers that serve 27,000 low-income people.

What the budget does not cut is—cops and prisons. The budget proposes an increase in prison spending from $8.9 billion to $9.1 billion, including fully funding the salaries of state cops and paying for more overtime. It is no coincidence that the prison guards’ “union” was a top contributor to Brown’s campaign.

Those who will be affected by the budget know this is true: “This budget is a death warrant for California AIDS patients,” said the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in a statement.

Yet others, including Democratic politicians and some union representatives, have already accepted the cuts as a foregone conclusion. “I hate the cuts, but I am not going to reject the cuts,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Darrel Steinberg (D-Sacramento).

The past several California budgets have relied on massive cuts to social services for working-class people. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger presided over them and rammed cuts through California’s legislature with bipartisan support, and only token resistance from the Democrats.

Now, the Democrats are presiding over “austerity measures” that could hurt California workers even more acutely. They intend to cut state general fund spending to its lowest level in nearly a decade, much lower than under the Schwarzenegger regime. There are several shallow “revenue” building measures trumpeted by Brown, but nothing major that goes after corporations that profit from our labor.

The message from the governor is clear: It is perfectly okay for poor people to starve, go without health care and lose wages, union representation and access to education. As long as there are more prisons to house the poor, in the government’s view, everything is okay.

That is the government’s view because that is the view of the ruling capitalist class, a class that cares nothing for workers and everything about making themselves richer and richer at our expense.

People’s needs, not profits

What could be done to fix California’s budget?

To fix the budget this year, the government should tax the rich. Cutting all corporate tax loopholes and raising taxes on Big Oil, banks and other massive corporations by 20 percent would do the trick. Those actions alone would raise tens of billions in revenue for the state.

The $9 billion prison budget should be slashed with the savings used to retain the social programs now on the chopping block. California does not need more repressive prisons. The money should go to fund jobs programs and make education and health care free for all, including undocumented workers and their families.

A moratorium should be declared on state interest payments to banks and other bondholders. People’s needs should take priority over bankers’ profits.

A long lasting fix would be to stop U.S. wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. The Pentagon spends $700 million each day waging war on workers’ abroad. Without the wars, the California state budget deficit would be overcome in just over a month. The deficits haunting nearly every U.S. state right now would go away in a matter of months.

All of this is possible. No cuts to social services are needed. California is the richest state in the world’s richest country. The wealth is there, it’s just not being used to meet the needs of the working class. Instead, corporate profits and wars are prioritized.

We can change the equation, but it is going to take a fight. And it is high time to fight. Brown’s budget proposal is a wake up call to organized labor, community organizations and all people who work for a living and struggle each day. The way to stop the cuts and reorient society to benefit the people, not the banks, is to build a movement that is strong, tireless, independent of the Democrats and Republicans—who will sell us out every time—and clear about our goals.

Working people cannot afford to wait around for next year’s cuts that will inevitably come.

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