State Budget Campaign
As counties prepare to lay off workers and cut back services because of the budget shortfall, Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte vowed to end the political career of any members of his party who vote to increase taxes. He is firm in demanding the blood of social service workers and clients before the Republicans sign off on the budget. SEIU advocates for a “balanced approach” to the state budget, $1.00 in revenue increases for each $1.00 in cuts. The Republican leadership has offered no viable plan and are threatening members who try to work with the Democrats to come up with one.
In response to the crisis, the union has launched a campaign to get out the message. The campaign involves training chapter presidents, staff, and union activists on the budget campaign program so they can train members at worksite meetings. The union wants to reach as many members as possible. Local 535 has conducted dozens of district-based lobby visits since the campaign began on April 7.
Californians for Budget Accountability, a broad coalition of the League of Women Voters, Health Access, firefighters, teachers, health care workers, and SEIU, is sponsoring a constitutional ballot measure called the Budget Accountability Act to appear on the March 2004 ballot. This initiative would restructure the budget process to make it easier to break the annual partisan gridlock over funding for programs by reducing the required percentage of legislative votes to adopt a budget from the current two-thirds to 55%. The measure also contains provisions to hold legislators and the governor accountable for their budget actions. A summary of the provisions follows.
Make legislators and the governor accountable: If the state budget is not passed by the June 15 constitutional deadline, the governor and members of the legislature would forfeit their salary, per diem expense allowance, and other expenses until the budget is adopted and signed into law. The legislature would be required to remain in session and prohibited from acting on other legislation until the budget is adopted. An exception is made for legislation in response to an emergency declared by the governor.
Help voters hold elected officials accountable: Require the Official Voter Information Guide prepared by the Secretary of State and sent to voters for each election to contain a two-page summary explaining how the state spends the funds it receives. The summary would include a website where voters could go to see how their legislators voted on the budget and related legislation.
End partisan gridlock: Require a 55% vote of the legislature to adopt the state budget and related tax legislation. (Currently a two-thirds vote is required). Give the Ethics Committees of the Assembly and Senate the authority to censure legislators who punish or threaten to punish any legislator for casting a particular vote on the budget or related legislation.
Encourage fiscal responsibility: Set aside a portion of any excess revenue into a rainy day fund that could be used only when revenues fall below current service levels in hard economic times or in an emergency declared by the governor. Current service levels are defined as the constitutional, statutory, and contractual obligations of the state.
The campaign’s consultant estimates a minimum of $13 million will be needed to win. We need to find the money to pay for the campaign or we will face continued budget deficits, with erosion of services and loss of jobs, for the next 10 years. All chapters need to plan their signature-gathering campaigns and COPE fundraising. This initiative holds great hope to stop the budget gridlock and create a better society for all Californians.
In order to get the Budget Accountability Act on the ballot for March 2004, we need to collect approximately 800,000 signatures statewide between now and August 17. Local 535’s goal is 10,000 signatures from our members and community allies. Each of us must do our part. Time is short and the challenge is clear. Contact your field representative and get involved today.