Skinner: People are vulnerable, not ‘expendable’

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appears in the new action movie “The Expendables,” but he shouldn’t consider California’s most vulnerable residents among his co-stars, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner said this morning.

Skinner, D-Berkeley, called a news conference to roll out a new 60-second Web video featuring interviews with local residents who stand to lose their jobs, their independence, their homes and more to budget cuts.

This is part of a talking-points campaign orchestrated through Assembly Speaker John Perez’ Office of Member Services, so you can expect to see similar videos, statements and news conferences from Democratic lawmakers around the state.

The Govs Expendables Poster“It seems like in the governor’s budget plan, some Californians have been deemed to be ‘expendables,’” Skinner said at her event in the Franklin Preschool on Eighth Street in Berkeley, arguing that the Legislature and governor are responsible for ensuring these vulnerable people are protected. “We’re going to do our best to communicate this.”

Michelle Rousey, 39, of Oakland, is wheelchair-bound and requires oxygen; she has been an In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) consumer since the early ‘90s. IHSS cuts are “a deadly proposal to eliminate vital services that we use,” she said at today’s news conference.

Daniel McGrath, 34, of Berkeley, has been an IHSS care provider for six and a half years, with three elderly or disabled clients in the Berkeley area. “Life or death should never be on the table,” he said today.

Michelle Alvarez, 34, of Berkeley, said if her two children can’t go to state-funded preschool and afterschool programs, her husband will have to quit the part-time job he got two months ago in order to stay home and care for them; that would leave the family of four living on her salary as an administrative assistant at UC-Berkeley. “Why is he (Schwarzenegger) treating our kids worse than prisoners?”

Michael Pope, 53, executive director of Berkeley-based Alzheimer’s Services of the East Bay, said “seniors who gave to this state” all their lives stand to lose crucial day care and family support services. “They need our support, this is not a time in their life when we should be throwing them under the bus.”

Franklin Preschool teacher Sandra Farmer, 67, of Pittsburg, said that in her 37 years in early child development, “I’ve never seen anything like I’m seeing right now” – a situation where loss of preschool will put low-income parents out of work, back on unemployment or welfare.

And Janien Harrison, 40, of San Leandro, an IHSS consumer who has used an electric wheelchair to get around since suffering a traumatic brain injury in a 1999 car accident, said “the cuts would make it so I would not have the opportunity to stay in my home” – she’d have to go to a hospital or institution instead, a far costlier proposition than IHSS. “These cuts disenfranchise my life.”

It’s not a “pity party,” Skinner said, but rather a demonstration that people’s ability to live productively and independently is at risk “if we’re not smart with the budget.” She said Democrats put forth a proposal that included billions in cuts – though not cuts that would have put people like this at risk – while also recognizing that “to do justice and to avoid putting people in harms’ way and to avoid job loss, there is a need for revenue.”

“The Republicans are not talking and the governor basically doesn’t seem to care,” she said.

Skinner before the news conference had said “it’s difficult to make a forecast” about how this year’s budget drama will play out. With state Senate Republican Leader Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, set to turn over his leadership role to state Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, on Sept. 1, the “reset” button is about to be hit.

“There just doesn’t seem to be willingness on the Republican side to really negotiate,” said Skinner, who serves on the budget conference committee. “You just wonder, is there a political motive going on? Did someone decide it’s to their advantage to delay the budget?”

Replied Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear: “We understand Assemblywoman Skinner supports a massive tax increase to protect public employee pensions and the status quo for unions. We simply disagree.”

I’ve received no response from Hollingsworth’s office.


State workers take to SF streets, Capitol steps

After covering a federal court hearing this morning in San Francisco, I was walking through Civic Center and saw several dozen state workers — most of them wearing the distinctive purple t-shirts of the Service Employees International Union — picketing outside the state building.

“We’re taking care of California, don’t hurt our families,” “Don’t balance the budget on our backs,” their signs read. “5 percent don’t pay the rent” and “The party of ‘no’ has got to go,” they chanted.

They were delivering to Gov. Arnold Schwarzengger’s San Francisco office copies of petitions signed by 35,000 state workers, urging the governor to drop his plans to cut another 5 percent from all state workers’ salaries; they’ve already lost more than a month’s worth of wages through the governor’s mandatory furloughs.

Instead, they want the governor to make a 10 percent cut in California’s $34 billion in private vendor contracts. Just since January 2008, the state has entered into more than 15,000 new private vendor contracts worth almost $6 billion; SEIU Local 1000 boasts it has sued to stop about 120 such contracts in the past two years, winning four out of five cases by proving the contracts were more expensive and less efficient than using state employees to do the same work.

“It’s time for the governor and his corporate supporters to begin giving back to help balance the budget by cutting private contracts and closing corporate tax loopholes,” SEIU Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker said in an e-mailed statement.

SEIU workers were outside Schwarzenegger’s State Capitol office in Sacramento today, too. Senate Republican Leader Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, seemed to misunderstand the union’s intent, issuing a statement saying the union wants all of the state’s private vendor contracts eliminated.

“SEIU and AFSCME’s proposals are out of touch with reality, and they do more harm than good. Big labor’s agenda is clear, protect the bloated bureaucracy that got us into this mess,” Hollingsworth said, noting private vendor contracts represent thousands of private-sector jobs and billions of dollars in future tax revenue that would be lost.

In the last decade, he said, public-sector employment has outpaced private sector employment by 9 percent.

“Something is wrong with our system when the market no longer drives job creation. California’s bureaucracy should never out pace private sector jobs. SEIU is protecting a broken system and putting more hard-working Californians on the street. Budget priorities should be performance based, not based on which bully can shove the hardest,” Hollingsworth said, claiming that increasing the gas tax, instituting an alcohol tax and accelerating tax collection on small businesses would protect labor’s membership while shifting the cost to the general public. “Increasing taxes and proposing new ones is insane. It’s exactly what the voters said no to. We must cut programs that don’t work, end automatic spending formulas, and pursue long-term reforms that will keep us out of this mess for good.”

And California Republican Party chairman Ron Nehring had this to say about it:

“Today we see the union campaign of threats and intimidation move from the hearing room to the capitol steps. The venue is different, but the tactics remain the same: bully government officials into making decisions that make sense for their narrow interest instead of the public good.

“Today, SEIU will continue to reject a 5 percent cut in pay for state government bureaucrats while continuing to demand billions in new taxes to be paid by California families who are already struggling to make ends meet. The Governor and lawmakers should continue to stand strong in the face of this continued bullying and intimidation by union officials.”

UPDATE @ 3:13 P.M.: Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear notes the governor issued an executive order earlier this month to eliminate funding “for contracts entered into by state agencies and departments after March 1, 2009 for all goods and services excluding those necessary for public safety and to prohibit entering into any new contracts.” The order also directed all state departments to develop and submit to the Finance Department plans to reduce their future spending on contracts and purchases by at least 15 percent no later than 30 days after the adoption of the revised 2009-10 budget.


‘Enough is enough’ … or not

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, addressed reporters late last night at the State Capitol:

A short while later, the Senate Republican Caucus ousted Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, as its leader because he’d agreed to some tax increases as part of the budget solution. The new leader is Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, who has vowed not to support any tax increases at all.

In other words: Back to square one.