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California Democrats: "Spreading the Pain" from Sacramento

Karen Bass, Darryl Steinberg

Karen Bass, Darren Steinberg

When his term mercifully expires next year, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will be leaving the Golden State in the worst condition than at any time its history. If Schwarzenegger and his right-wing Republican co-conspirators get their way (as they always seem to do), they'll gut every social program and educational institution in the state in the name of their rigid "free market" ideology.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) met with the "Terminator"earlier in the week. They're trying to put out the impression that they're going to really be tough "negotiators" this time around, pointing out that the current budget is not "new" but a "revision" of the one they botched negotiating last February. Had Steinberg and Bass stood firm then and rejected the foolish (and failed) ballot initiatives, as well as the "open primary" giveaway just to woo a couple of Troglodyte Republicans to get the "supermajority" needed to pass that terrible budget, they'd be in a much better negotiating position today. As things stand now we are about to observe the spectacle of the Democratic Party "leaders," who hold large majorities in both chambers of the legislature, capitulate (once again) to a recalcitrant and retrograde Republican minority.

What "sweeteners" will the Democrats fork over to the Republicans in the current budget "compromise?" Giving away electoral votes to conservatives districts? Gerrymandering to create more Republican power? Forcing future budgets to win a "super-duper majority?" Like the "open primary" provision during the last go around -- you can count on Steinberg and Bass to give away the store. Last time, they sacrificed to the Republicans structural political changes that are certain to damage the Democrats' standing in future elections that had nothing to do with the budget.

Now the Democratic "leaders" say they want to "spread the pain." But if "spreading" the pain around is their goal why is all of it being inflicted on Democratic constituencies? What "pain" are the Republicans going to "suffer?"

Wednesday, at their joint press conference Steinberg and Bass pretended to be ready to stand firm against our movie star governor this time around. But nobody buys it. The Republicans know that it's only a matter of squeezing the Democrats a little and they'll fold like a cheap suit.

All of these Draconian budget cuts have the effect of putting downward pressure on wages for all workers in the most populated state in the Union.

Throwing state workers off their jobs and cutting their pay, as well as shredding California's social safety net, is coming at a time when the Obama Administration is trying to "stimulate" the moribund national economy by increased public sector spending. Here is an area where California's Republicans get the opportunity to help their "conservative" brethren in Washington thwart President Barack Obama's efforts to get the economy moving again and thereby attack him politically.

Whenever the topic of new taxes to pay the state's bills arises all we hear from the Republicans is warnings about the loss of private sector jobs. Yet they're perfectly happy to see the unemployment rate climb (it's already about 11% in the state) if those getting the axe work for the government. Steinberg pointed out, citing a nonpartisan UCLA study, that if Arnold gets his way it will raise the state's unemployment rate by nearly half a percentage point.

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The Republicans in this state are ideologically driven. Republican counties, such as El Dorado, are even rejecting federal stimulus dollars for purely ideological reasons. The Republicans' blind adherence to their free market orthodoxies lead them to believe that impoverishing state workers and pushing down wages will not affect their precious Chamber of Commerce private sector businesses. They're wrong. Handing out pink slips or 10% pay cuts to state workers means that fewer Californians are going to be dining out, or buying crap they don't really need, or paying for services they no longer can afford.

California's cities and counties are already laying off thousands of employees and slashing their own budgets so the state-level cuts are going to be all the more devastating at the local level.

Health care costs are rising and those lucky enough to have insurance are seeing their premiums rise. And gas prices are inching up past the $3 level again. Municipal utilities, such as SMUD in Sacramento, are increasing residential electricity bills by as much as 13 to 15% in some cases. And the current state budget cuts follow a five-year period where roughly $49 billion has already been eliminated, with more cuts to follow next year and the year after that and the year after that . . .

Once programs are decimated the money will never be returned to those "priorities" again. And once employees bow down and accept pay cuts they will never see their pay return to what it once was -- especially when adjusted for inflation.

Aside from our Austrian movie-star governor and a merry band of right-wing nihilists enthralled with a shitty novel by Ayn Rand, who in California truly believes that the state is heading in a good direction? Where is the constituency for all of this "pain?"

Joe Palermo

Steinberg and Bass said at their press conference: "We expect that our Republican colleagues will be responsible" in helping them pass a "compromise" budget. If the budget battle from last February is any indication, Steinberg and Bass are California Dreamers.

Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento. He's the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right (2001) and RFK (2008).

Originally published by The Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author.