On May 14, California Governor Jerry Brown released his revised budget. The reaction was vociferous throughout the state. Having already witnessed horrific cuts, the Women’s Foundation of California organized a campaign called Stand With Women. They joined other groups on the steps of the Capitol Building protesting the governor’s proposals and recommendations.
In January, the Women’s Foundation released a report called “Falling Behind” which documents the losses women and children have experienced during the last three years due to the recession and budget cuts as well as the resulting impacts. With research conducted by the California Budget Project, the report provides the data legislators and the governor need to develop a budget that is fair and equitable for all citizens but especially the poor and the vulnerable.
California, like many states, is faced with a budgetary tsunami, and its leadership has chosen the wrong path to resolution. The slash and burn approach is not the answer and the golden state is moving towards a society where the gap between rich and poor will be ever more extreme.
Having been a county supervisor for eight years, I am well versed in the budgetary process conducted annually by government. Public budgets are about setting priorities and in the end reflect the values of the elected decision-makers. County governments are responsible for delivering social services and providing safety nets for their residents. Often the debate is over prioritizing funding for public safety versus public health and well-being.
In Sacramento, that annual budget struggle continues with the poor and the vulnerable losing out. Women and children, the elderly, and people with disabilities don’t have the political clout to make politicians value them or to have their voices heard. In the governor’s budget message he demonstrated his priorities by focusing on education and public safety:
“The May Revision builds upon the key principles underlying the enacted 2011/12 Budget and the Governor’s Budget protecting education and public safety programs, making government more efficient and less costly, moving government closer to the people, and paying down debt.”
All this sounds good, but who is paying for it? Governor Brown has made his choice. State welfare and health care programs for the poor will be cut by $1.3 billion. This includes Medi-Cal, CalWORKS, child care, IHSS (In Home Health Services) and other welfare and human service programs. If the tax measure on the November ballot does not pass, K-12 and community colleges will lose $5.5 million and the Cal State and UC systems will loose half a billion dollars.
This is a no-win game. The governor and the legislature do not have a long-range vision. Here’s the conundrum:
Cut childcare, and women cannot go to school or work;
Cut education or vocational training, women cannot prepare for work or raise their incomes;
Cut health care, and women and their families will either avoid treatment or go to emergency clinics instead;
Cut government jobs (mostly held by women), and women may have to go on unemployment;
Cut In Home Health Services support, and the sick or disabled will lose health care and caregivers will lose their jobs.
Any one of these losses will negatively impact single parent families, children, people with disabilities, and the elderly.
The Women’s Foundation of California has done its homework. The research is available to our state leaders. The California budget is scheduled for adoption by June 15. The Stand With Women Campaign wants elected officials to hold the line on budget cuts; use the impact data in “Falling Behind” to shape future policies; and to approve “a balanced budget that includes wise revenue solutions.”
Now is the time for acts of courage in Sacramento. It is a crucial moment in California history. Are we a caring and compassionate state, or more concerned with balancing the budget at the expense of the least fortunate? Women and their families should be treated with equal value. The state must fund programs essential to the survival and well- being of our women and children.
Which way, California?
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Susan Rose served two terms as a member of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. She was a founding member of the Santa Barbara Women's Political Committee.