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Opinion: State workers should not be pawns in budget fight

State employees know first-hand that the budget crisis is real and we are anxious do our part to get things right. The fact is that everyone needs to bring their A-game to the table and be ready to do their part if California is going to weather this crisis. We cannot balance this budget with imbalanced sacrifices.

The governor should not, as he has done in the past, use state workers as pawns in this budget crisis and threaten to – or worse – take state workers down to minimum wage.  Everyone involved should take the budget crisis seriously and not play games with the lives of state workers. We have shown that we are willing to be part of a constructive solution, like we did in 2009 when we agreed to a contract that would have saved the state $350 million.

California shouldn’t be interested in any proposal that eliminates jobs. Much less any proposal that eliminates jobs while maintaining corporate tax breaks and destroying the social safety net.

The governor’s revised budget proposal exacerbates the state’s economic problems by eliminating 330,000 jobs. We need a budget that creates jobs.

Senate and Assembly Democrats each unveiled proposals that are a good beginning to a conversation about what services Californians need right now.

The Senate proposal would suspend more than $2.1 billion in corporate tax breaks scheduled to begin Jan. 1, raise the vehicle license fee by 0.35 percent for $1.2 billion and bring in another $210 million by adjusting the state alcohol tax relative to inflation from 1991 levels.

The Assembly proposal, while similar in some ways, would borrow $9 billion based on projected revenue streams from an oil extraction fee and recycling fund.

Gov. Schwarzenegger’s latest budget proposal offers no creative solutions and fails to ask for shared sacrifice. In the past three years, we’ve already cut more than $25 billion from state programs while expanding the number of corporate tax breaks.

Several studies, including one by the California Budget Project, have shown that even as the budget for services is decimated, record numbers of California residents are relying on public services such as food stamps, Healthy Families, Medi-Cal, and CalWORKs because of lost jobs or reduced work hours.

Instead of eliminating our social safety net, the governor should demand that in these hard times, corporations do their part to preserve essential services.  In 1980, California corporations contributed 15 percent of the state budget; now, that is down to 11 percent. Last year, the state adopted $2 billion in corporate tax breaks that add to the deficit without evidence of creating new jobs.

Instead of idly standing by as multinational oil companies record huge profits, California needs to do what every other oil producing state does – collect a severance tax on oil production. If we imposed this fee, economists say California would bring in $1 billion a year in new revenue.

And, instead of slashing essential state services, the governor should devote more resources to collecting the billions in taxes that go uncollected each year.

The governor also needs to take direct aim at the state’s $10 billion expenditure for private vendor contracts by eliminating hundreds of contracts for work that can be done by state workers at a fraction of the cost.

Let’s also be clear – personnel costs are not driving the budget crisis.

State employees have already sacrificed 15 percent of our income because of furloughs. Even before furloughs, state workers’ pay averages 6.8 percent less than their private-sector counterparts with similar education and experience levels, according to a recent study by the Center for Excellence in State and Local Government.  Other private studies show the state’s workforce has grown at a slower rate than California’s population and that state government compared to population is smaller than all but four other states.

We’re sending this message to Gov. Schwarzenegger: end the tax breaks, restore balance to the state and be creative. We’ll work with you to help California through this crisis.


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