Protesters rally for fair budget

GLENDALE — Scores of education and labor officials fanned out across California on Friday for a “Day of Action” rally at which organizers pleaded with legislators to pass a balanced budget without fiscal cuts to schools, hospitals and state-funded programs.

In Burbank, nearly 100 students, union members and education officials marched in front of the Republican headquarters on Magnolia Boulevard where sign-wielding protesters railed against Sacramento lawmakers, some of whom pledged not to raise taxes, a key issue holding up much of the current negotiations.

In August, all but one of California’s 47 Republican lawmakers signed the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” vowing to “vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.”

Opponents fear the pledge, organized by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, in Washington, D.C., essentially kills any potential compromise that could help Republican and Democratic lawmakers correct the $15.2-billion deficit and pass a balanced budget.

“It is irresponsible to hold Californians hostage because of a pledge to not raise taxes,” said Nancy Berlin, director of the California Partnership, a statewide coalition of community-based organizations helping to eradicate poverty in the state.

Standing behind Berlin was a slew of picketers with signs that included: “I am the face of cuts to seniors,” and “Kids need care not cuts.”

The state has now reached its 68th day without a balanced budget, the longest California has ever gone without a means to pay for basic social, civil and educational programs.

Most Democrats and all of Burbank’s rally-goers laid the blame squarely on the feet of Republicans, whose no-tax promise they feel is complicating efforts to find an acceptable compromise.

“We say to the Republicans, stop holding people hostage to your political maneuvering,” said Maria Elena Durazo, the executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

But organizers at the rally repeatedly stressed the need to “put politics aside” while they pleaded with Republicans inside the Magnolia Boulevard building to answer for their political leaders in Sacramento.

Republican officials did not appear at the rally as marchers stuffed signs they had been waving through the door into the headquarters’ lobby.

Jerry Jackson, a 45-year-old employee of health-care provider In-Home Service, said potential state budget cuts could sink his business. He held a sign that said, “I am the face of cuts to hospitals.”

“It seems to me like they are taking their time [to pass a budget],” he said. “Budget cuts will affect us and will affect me with wages and benefits.”

Hours later, a small contingent of Glendale education officials spoke near City Hall about the need for reform in Sacramento to avoid future financial calamities and repeal the two-thirds majority required to pass a budget, which some said is a hindrance to voting on a balanced budget.

The rally was sponsored by the California and Glendale Teachers Assn. with city officials and Glendale Unified School District board members in attendance.

“This is not a happy occasion,” school board President Joylene Wagner said. “We don’t just need a budget, we need the best budget, one that works for everybody. Our teachers and school district can’t do more and more with less and less.”

According to the California Teachers Assn., state public schools have not received more than $600 million in funds socked away in the recesses of the unbalanced budget. The financial hit to Glendale has not been as hard on its 27,000 students as other school districts in the state, but officials warned that present-day stability does not guarantee future strength.

“We can’t go on like this forever,” school board member Mary Boger said.

Officials at both rallies urged the Legislature to adopt the original budget proposal that restores $2.4 billion of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s $4.3 billion in proposed education cuts. They also pleaded with lawmakers to reject the state Senate’s budget proposal introduced by Republicans last week.

Assembly and Senate budget meetings are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, and a vote on the budget could be held next week.

The California Teachers Assn. is hoping its 340,000 members will call lawmakers to express discontent and have set a “Cuts Hurt” hotline to connect constituents to their legislative representative.

That number is (888) 268-4334.


 JEREMY OBERSTEIN covers business, politics and the foothills. He may be reached at (818) 637-3215 or by e-mail at jeremy.oberstein@latimes.com.

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