Most of the politicians, community leaders and members of the public who spoke at a town hall Saturday had only criticism for Gov. Gray Davis' plan for easing what he estimates is a $35-billion gap in the state budget. The proposal, which includes more than $20 billion in spending cuts over the next 18 months, would raise taxes and sharply reduce government services for many Californians.
"Our reductions should be strategic, and we must minimize and mitigate their impacts to the extent that it is possible," said state Assemblyman Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles), who organized the event for members of his district and neighboring communities. "I favor and support a budget that is balanced, not on the backs of those who can least afford cuts in essential services that are basically their lifeline."
During the three-hour meeting at the California Science Center in Exposition Park, that sentiment was repeated again and again.
The $3.6 billion in "cuts that are being proposed in Medi-Cal will cripple those of us who are trying to hang on by the skin of our teeth," said Sylvia Drew Ivie, executive director of the To Help Everyone Clinic, a nonprofit health-care facility in Los Angeles. "The network of care, the specialty care, the primary care that's provided at clinics like ours make it possible for people to survive. But if you cut it out, people won't survive. It's not a question of comfort and discomfort; it's a question of living and dying."
Los Angeles Unified School District board member Genethia Hudley-Hayes worried that the governor's proposed cuts would mean layoffs for teachers and aides, increased class sizes and the end of intervention programs. She suggested that money be taken away from state prisons -- one area for which Davis did not suggest budget cuts -- and handed over to education.
"I understand we are all going to be in pain and misery," she said. "I get that.... I understand the political reality. But there has to be a way for us to say, if we don't want our clients in prison, then we need to educate them. And the prison budget should be cut."
Many speakers remarked that the county's safety net was already in peril before budget cuts. Some, like Hudley-Hayes, had specific recommendations for ways the proposed budget should be altered.
But most stepped to the microphone simply to express their own frustration and a hope that the elected officials in front of them might listen. Among other members of the Assembly who sat on the dais at one time or another were Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park), Dario Frommer (D-Glendale), Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) and Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach).
Mirna Cuadros, a single mother of two who works and attends community college, both full time, said the governor's proposed fee hikes for community college -- from $11 to $24 a unit -- will "take away food from my children's table."
Obdulia Cabrera, a Los Angeles home-care worker, told the politicians through a translator that she suffers from crippling osteoarthritis. "With all the cuts right now, what's going to happen to me when I can no longer work?" she said. "Who's going to take care of me?"