Last Friday, Governor Schwarzenegger revealedhis plan to deal with this year’s $19.9 billion budget deficit. Schwarzenegger promises to change the state’s priorities, to spend less on prisons and more on education. But, in fact, his plan is nothing more than a series of new attacks on social services, education, and state workers. This is the same story, the same set of priorities, and the same plan as last year – to make us pay for the budget shortfall, while the interests of corporations and the rich are protected.
The budget proposed by the governor totals $83 billion, including seven billion dollars in federal money, which the governor is requesting from Washington, but there is no guarantee. The budget introduces $8.9 billion in additional cuts over the next year and a half, on top of the $16 billion in cuts from last year. These cuts are directed straight at those who are most vulnerable and in need.
The budget will remove 200,000 children from the Healthy Families program, which provides health care and other assistance for children. Prisoner health care programs will be slashed, leaving sick prisoners to rot in their cells. MediCal will be cut by $1.1 billion, cutting off health care from the poor and elderly, pushing the burden of in-home care onto friends and family.
The budget includes attacks on state workers. The state workers’ wages and pensions will be cut by five percent. This is on top of the 15 percent pay cut imposed last year through forced days off without pay.
The budget also includes gifts to the wealthiest corporations. The governor proposes to fund the state parks by giving oil companies the right to drill for oil off the coast of Santa Barbara.
The budget cuts will be even worse if the seven billion dollars in federal money is not given to California. According to Schwarzenegger’s plan, without the additional funds, entire programs will be destroyed. CalWORKs, the state’s welfare-to-work program, would be dismantled, at a time when there is twelve percent official unemployment. The Healthy Families program would be hit even harder, removing health care for 900,000 children. MediCal and programs for the elderly and disabled would be completely dismantled.
In spite of all these proposed attacks, the Governor has presented his budget as a change of priorities. His plan supposedly shifts money away from prisons and into the school system. This is a joke. The plan proposes to put ten percent of the state’s budget in higher education. But this is ten percent of a dramatically shrinking education budget which has already seen $22 billion dollars in budget cuts in the last three years. And the plan does nothing for public schools and community colleges, the schools most people attend, especially poor and working people. The result of this budget will have no additional cuts to universities and state colleges, but $2.4 billion in additional cuts to K-12 and the community colleges. Education is still under attack, especially education for poor and working people.
The prison budget, currently eleven percent of the state budget, will be reduced to seven percent. But this doesn’t mean less young people will be thrown in prison. The prison budget will be reduced by selling prison contracts to private companies. Prisoners will go to for-profit prisons where they will be kept in the most brutal conditions with even lower standards than in state and federal prisons. It means more young people’s lives will be thrown away. It means corporations will make more money with every person they can lock up. And it means prisons will become even more just a dumping ground for the unemployed.
There’s nothing new about the Governor’s plan: it is a budget which attacks education, health care, and every other service that poor and working people rely on, while protecting and giving gifts to the wealthy elite and the corporations.
These cuts are not necessary. California is the wealthiest state in the country. More than enough money exists to fully fund our schools, our health care, our transportation needs, our state parks, and much more. These are our priorities and it is up to us to defend them.