Budget impasse spills onto Oakland streets

Californians’ tempers are flaring as the budget deadlock threatens their livelihoods.

About 40 working parents, child-care providers and kids rallied this morning outside the Elihu Harris State Office Building on Oakland’s Clay Street, demanding that the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger get a budget in place immediately. Starting Aug. 1, they noted, thousands of child-care providers won’t receive state payments for child-care services provided to working poor families, leaving these providers and families struggling to stay afloat.

The protest was organized by Parent Voices, LIFETIME, the California Partnership, and the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network. Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland, joined the protest, hoisting a picket sign that said, “Child Care Keeps California Working!”

“Our children deserve our best efforts,” he told the crowd, noting that if we’re to remain one of only three states requiring a two-thirds Legislative majority to pass budgets, “we need to anticipate that the budget will be delayed until that changes.”

Anticipating, he said, means making sure there’s bridge money in place so working families don’t suffer every year. “We forget about the most important part of economic growth — the ability of a family to work depends on child care.”

Agreed Jennifer Greppi of Parent Voices: “Child care is the engine that keeps this economy running.”

An aide read a statement from state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, who said protests such as this “show the Republicans and all Californians how this budget-stalling is hurting real people.” He said Democrats will stick to their philosophy that “those who have benefitted the most from California should pay the most to keep California on track.”

“And that is why we don’t want John McCain!” a man shouted from among the onlookers.

Greppi urged people to call Assemblyman Guy Houston, R-Livermore, and state Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, and demand that they “be leaders, stand up and reach across the aisle… and do what’s right for children living in your district.”

After that, I drove up to the state Department of Motor Vehicles facility on Claremont Avenue in Oakland’s Temescal District, where 10 employees — mostly clad in purple Service Employees International Union t-shirts — were outside with picket signs; about 40 had turned out for a 7:30 a.m. rally, they said. They’re among the state employees who stand to lose pay under Schwarzenegger’s proposed executive order lowering state workers’ salaries to the federal minimum wage of $6.55 per hour.

“With this minimum wage, I’ll go into bankruptcy and lose everything I have… I’m on the edge now already,” said Michelle Freeman, 42, of Antioch, a married mother of two whose husband is a law enforcement officer. She has worked at the DMV for four years, but said “with these gas prices, it wouldn’t be worth me coming to work on minimum wage.”

Sonia Johnson, 40, of Oakland, has been with the DMV for 10 years, and said the pay cut “would really, detrimentally hurt my household because I’m the only working income right now — my husband is recuperating from heart failure, and we have two children.”

Kathy Shipp, 47, of Oakland, said she’s “very upset — we just bought a home last year and we’re just barely scraping by,” she said, adding her husband “just had to switch jobs because of the economy, so he’s still on probationary status” without full pay or benefits yet. A stay-at-home mom of three boys for 15 years before coming to the DMV three years ago, she had to rejoin the workforce to help support her family, and now that support is about to be weakened.

Laura Vincent, 55, of El Cerrito, has worked for the DMV for four years; the former West Contra Costa Unified School District worker said she’s paying off her son’s college loan debts. “I really love my job, I like to help people” as a DMV call center employee, she said, but it’s a “staggering” work load in which one operator can assist up to 200 callers in a single, long day. “I just don’t know any other telephone operator in the private sector who works for minimum wage and has that pressure to perform — our productivity is watched carefully — so I would hope the governor will reconsider.”

I hear as many as 100 SEIU-represented Caltrans workers will be rallying outside the agency’s building at 111 Grand Ave. in Oakland at 11 a.m. tomorrow, Thursday, July 31.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Amber

    I think it is completely rediclous to lower the pay of hard working people who just happen to work for the State!!!!! These people who are being made to suffer have no control over how long it takes legislatures to pass a budget. Try slashing the legislatures salary to $6.55/hr and see how fast a budget is passed then!

  • We just linked to this article in a post about the state budget crisis at the CA NOW blog: http://www.canow.org/canoworg/2008/07/state-budget–1.html

  • Venecia Connally

    It is a travesty State workers pay is being reduced to $6.55 an hour due the Governor of California and his administration has mismanaged state funds into millions deficit. Now the bully on the school yard wants to punish the innocent for their short comings.

  • caroline

    i cannot believe that workers can be expected to support themselves and their families for minimum wage – they weren’t hired for minimum wage and can’t be expected to stay in their jobs – they’ll have to look elsewhere for gainful employment.