Being clear about the consequences of a bad budget…

California’s budget debate heated up yesterday. But beyond the news of pending IOUs and furloughs, a boisterous rally made the point about what this budget crisis is actually about.

Over 250 people rallied at the Capitol against the proposed cuts to health and human services, and for the revenues to sustain these key programs. Organized by a coalition of health and human service advocates, including the HHS Network and Health Access California, the speakers talked about Governor Schwarzenegger’s cuts that would eliminate the CalWORKS welfare-to-work program, eviscerate home care services, and place cruel limits and major financial barriers preventing patients from getting the health care they need in Medi-Cal.

The protestors wanted to make quite clear the choices that legislators and the Governor have in this budget debate. “Cuts Kill, Taxes Heal” read one of the signs. Another chant was “Tax the oil, tax the booze, save the services we all use.” Whether from the disability community or social service agencies or just working families, these advocates knew that in these tight budget times, the stubborn reliance on “no new taxes” pledges force severe cuts and real pain.

The rally led into a march, around the block, led by a large statue of Governor Schwarzenegger wielding a budget axe (pictured here under the marquee of the Crest Theater).

When the procession got to the intersection of 11th and L Street, many protestors–including some blind and others in wheelchairs–just stopped, blocking traffic while chanting “We want Arnold!” and other slogans: “What do we want? A Fair Budget! When do we want it? Now!”

This led to a seperate action of civil disobedience, with 22 people, mostly from the disability community, blocking the intersection right in front of the state Capitol. (The Sacramento Bee has a slide show of photos.) Over 50 police eventually showed up. Health Access provided up-to-the-minute updates on our Twitter feed, at www.twitter.com/healthaccess

There were many headlines today that focused on the arrests, from BusinessWeek to KCRA, Capitol Weekly to News10 to the Sacramento Bee, and the Sacramento Press to Channel 13. Indeed, our own Jessica Rothhaar, who directs our budget organizing for Health Access, was arrested–unplanned and not in traffic at the time–and eventually taken to jail. (There’s more to say about that later.) We were glad that she was safely released at around midnight that night, and that the message about the severity of these cuts got out.

Too often, the budget is reported on as merely a process story–a series of negotiations, political postures, and statements by politicians–rather than about the real consequences of the services that would be cut and the people that would be affected. Yesterday was an attempt to refocus the budget debate on the the human impact, and on the need for people to be involved in these crucial budget decisions.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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