Ready to protest Brown’s cuts

January 24, 2012

Alex Schmaus reports from California on the governor's announcement of his plan for more austerity--and the preparations to challenge the budget-cutters.

CALIFORNIA GOV. Jerry Brown is proposing more heavy cuts to public health and welfare in his 2012-13 state budget plan released January 5.

But activists are ready to resist--plans are in the works for days of action and an occupation in March, and the California Federation of Teachers is promoting a ballot box initiative to raise taxes on the rich.

The impact will be felt across the state if Brown gets his way with the budget. Families with children face a $450 million cut in child care subsidies, and seniors would suffer a $678 million loss to the Medi-Cal health program. The In-Home Supportive Services program serving people with disabilities would be cut by $168 million, and CalWORKS, the program that assists poor families, would lose $1 billion.

"We are making some very painful reductions," Brown told reporters at the Capitol. "This is not nice stuff, but that's what it takes to balance the budget."

The 73-year-old Democrat is seeking to close the other half of the state's $9 billion to 13 billion deficit by sponsoring an initiative that asks California voters to support a package of temporary tax increases. The tax package includes a 0.5 percent increase in the sales tax and an increase of up to 2 percent for taxes paid on income above $250,000.

Protesting cuts to school budgets in California
Protesting cuts to school budgets in California

If voters reject this tax proposal in November, Brown is threatening more budget cuts. He is threatening more than $5 billion in "trigger" cuts to education, with $4.8 billion coming from K-12 schools and $400 million from universities.

MEANWHILE, THE California Federation of Teachers (CFT) is proposing a ballot measure that would be a progressive alternative to Brown's budget disaster.

The CFT's "millionaires tax" would be a permanent tax increase of 3 percent on households with incomes between $1 million and $2 million and 5 percent for income over $2 million. This would raise about $6 billion that the CFT says should be used to begin rehiring laid-off teachers, rolling back college tuition increases and restoring funding to essential social services.

Several important groups have already signed on to the campaign: the Association of Californians for Community Empowerment, the University of California Student Association, the Northern California International Longshore and Wharehouse Union, United Educators of San Francisco and United Teachers Los Angeles.

Alisa Messer, a City College of San Francisco English instructor and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 2121 president, is confident about the campaign's prospects. "This is common sense to most Californians," Messer said. "If we are going to raise taxes, they should not be on the 99 percent, they should be on those that can afford to pay."

A recent poll published by Calbuzz supports Messer's sentiments. Some 70 percent of California voters said they would be likely to support the CFT initiative if it makes it on the ballot in November. Brown's tax package, on the other hand, has only 62 percent support.

At City College, the Occupy movement is supporting the millionaires tax proposal. Activists collaborated with members of AFT Local 2121 and Occupy San Francisco State University (SFSU) for a demonstration during the January 20 Occupy Wall Street West Day of Action. The three groups mobilized about 50 people to occupy the lobby of the San Francisco State Building for about an hour to demand higher taxes on the rich and an end to budget cuts public education and critical social services.

"It was a great opportunity to team up with SFSU," explained Occupy City College student Gaston Lau. "Our collaboration gives me hope. Everyone is preparing for another day of action on March 1. Then March 5 we occupy the capitol building in Sacramento. The 1 percent should be scared."

Lau is organizing for the March actions with a northern California regional network called Occupy Education. It is organizing a march from the Bay Area to Sacramento during the five days between the March 1 day of action and the March 5 occupation of the Capitol building. On January 21, the CFT endorsed Occupy Education actions plans for March 1-5.

A previous version of this article appeared in the CCSF Guardsman.

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