Friday, May 16, 2008

Budget protesters surround Capitol

SACRAMENTO — Students protested Thursday on one side of the Capitol against $3 billion in public school funding cuts, while demonstrators on the other side attacked broader, deeper slashes in health and human services programs.

The rallies came the day after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed ways to deal with a state budget deficit that has grown to $17.2 billion, due to a "spending problem."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell told students, mostly from Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara counties, that California doesn't have a "spending problem" but actually "a problem with our values, a problem with our priorities."

"The cuts the governor proposed originally (in January) would have been devastating," O'Connell said. "The budget we received yesterday is a modest step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go in budget negotiations."

The state schools chief said California has essentially failed to fund a cost-of-living adjustment, which amounts to a "serious budget cut."

The governor proposed cutting $4.8 billion from K-12 and community college spending in his initial proposed budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year, starting July 1. In his revised plan, the governor restored $1.8 billion, according to the California Budget Project, an independent fiscal think tank.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear, who watched the event for a time, said that though California is in a "$17 billion Advertisementhole, education is the only part of state government that's actually seeing an increase."

"Schools get over half of the state's revenues," McLear said. "Well, the state's revenues were not as much as we thought they would be this year, so they get half of what they actually are, not what they hoped they would be."

Sen. Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat slated to take over as Senate leader in November, said that California faces a crossroads.

Some majority Democrats are calling for an overhaul of the state's revenue-raising system rather than backing the governor's unique proposal to essentially borrow from future proceeds of an expanded lottery.

Part of the controversy, which sparked the second rally Thursday, stems from the governor's proposal to trim another $627 million from health and human service programs, which he'd already slashed by $2.9 billion in his January spending plan.

At the schools rally, Steinberg said California can follow "a couple roads" in its handling of the budget.

One, regarding schools, would lead toward continued "mediocrity" in education and another toward "making education No. 1."

Protesters applauded Steinberg's vow to debate the governor's budget but had also expected to hear from Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles. Bass announced she would address the rally but organizers said they were told a time conflict had come up.

Among the crowd of those protesting on a hot Sacramento day was Rosendo Hernandez, 18, who attends Skyline High School in East Oakland. He said the proposed budget "would make schools worse than they are now."

Elizabeth Solorio, a student from Silver Creek High School in San Jose, said the governor should "invest in us" by "investing in schools." Many of the demonstrators arrived by bus.

Among Richmond High School students preparing to make the trip was sophomore Abel Pinada, who said that "they'd rather invest in prisons than education."

Talia Padilla said that, as a senior, "these cuts don't affect me, but what's going to happen to our little sisters and brothers?"

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