Budget slasher sequel in California

February 24, 2009

Randy Childs reports on the budget disaster produced by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his unlikely Democratic allies.

FOR THE second year in a row, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a budget that will be a crippling blow to working people across the nation's largest state--at the same time as it diligently protects the interests of corporations and millionaires.

And like the aging former Hollywood star's wretched action movies--Conan the Destroyer comes to mind--this budget "sequel" is even worse than the original.

Last year, Arnold the Destroyer signed a budget with $7.1 billion in cuts to education, heath care, welfare and other key social programs. This year, it will be $15.1 billion in spending reductions overall--including cuts of $8.6 billion for K-12 public schools, $2 billion for community colleges and 10 percent across the board in the University of California and California State University systems, as well as elimination of cost-of-living increases in welfare programs for poor, elderly and disabled Californians.

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger is still demanding $1.4 billion in pay cuts from unionized state workers--and threatening massive layoffs if workers don't concede.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Alongside these harsh cuts are equally horrific regressive tax increases, worth a total of $12.8 billion, which will hit the poorest Californians the hardest. State sales taxes will go up by a full percentage point, state income taxes will increase for everyone, vehicle license fees will nearly double, and the dependent care tax credit for parents and families caring for disabled loved ones will be cut by two-thirds.

The fiscal crisis in California is so severe that even these cruel measures won't close the state's $42 billion deficit by themselves. Schwarzenegger is also counting on borrowing $5 billion from a projected increase in California lottery revenues as a result of expanding and "modernizing" the lottery--yet another measure to pick the pockets of working people to pay for the crisis.

And all this is based on California somehow receiving $2 billion more than its expected share of the recently passed $787 billion federal stimulus package. If the mysterious stimulus bonus doesn't materialize, state lawmakers have agreed to implement even deeper cuts to welfare programs and higher education spending; reductions in aid to the blind and disabled; and wage caps for home health care aides.

ANOTHER COMMON feature of crappy action movie sequels is the introduction of annoying comic-relief sidekicks, like Joe Pesci in Lethal Weapon 2. Playing the same role in the disaster flick that is California's budget crisis are the Democratic leaders of the state legislature.

One might think that when a Republican governor proposes such a blatant attack against working people, you might hear at least token opposition from local Democrats. But Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg managed to marshal unanimous Democratic support for Schwarzenegger's budget.

Yet since California law requires a two-thirds super-majority to pass a budget, Schwarzenegger still needed a handful of votes from his Republican brethren. The horse-trading over these votes was the main focus of media coverage of budget negotiations this month. The drama gave 15 minutes of fame to Republican state Sen. Abel Maldonado from an obscure district in California's Central Coast region, who delivered the final vote needed to pass the budget.

Just like the blockbuster federal stimulus bill, in which the negotiations over votes from recalcitrant Republicans left tens of billions of dollars in desperately needed education and welfare spending on the cutting-room floor, California's budget compromise includes outrageous concessions to the Republicans' corporate buddies and their failed neoliberal ideology.

While imposing higher taxes on California's working-class majority and vicious cuts to the state's already desperately underfunded schools, the governor and his legislative sidekicks still managed to find a billion dollars for tax cuts for California businesses. Meanwhile a whole generation of neoliberal tax breaks for corporations--whose repeal could immediately free up tens of billions of dollars for California's schools, hospitals and relief programs--were left untouched.

This is just the beginning of years of attacks that working Californians can look forward to during this new Great Depression unless our unions, community organizations, and student groups can mount a fightback to stop the bosses and their servants in Sacramento from making the poorest people pay for the economic crisis.

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