Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Are There No Prisons? Are There No Workhouses?

The California state budget is due, by law, on June 30. However, because of California's absurd requirement of a supermajority 2/3 vote to pass a budget, the minority Republicans in the legislature have successfully blocked the budget for nearly six (count them) months. And in all this time, they've never said what they want to do about the budget; all they've done is object to whatever the Democrats or the governor suggested, especially if it included taxes.

I'm the wrong person to be writing this; the magnitude of this mess deserves the talents of the late, great Molly Ivins. But I'm the one who's here.

Today the Republicans finally revealed a positive plan (in the narrow sense that they would support it; it has no positive features in the usual sense of the word) to balance the state budget.

They want to do it on the backs of California's school children. California K-12 budget this year is $58 billion; they want to reduce that to $48 billion. I can't tell you the exact percentage because the $10 billion cut is over the next 18 months. But it's over 15%, on top of cuts already made so far.

I saw no mention in the Republican plan of reducing any spending on prisons. I guess they'd rather send the kids to jail than educate them. I haven't checked the numbers, but we're close to spending more money on prisons than on schools now, and this could easily put us over the edge.

Mind you, the Republicans don't restrict their attention to the schools; they also want to cut funding for the poor and the mentally ill homeless. Their edifying proposals also include:

...Reduced monthly supplemental security income payments to very poor people. I have a friend receiving SSI - her monthly check would go from $870 to $830. You try living on either of those amounts.

...Reduced funding for mental health services to homeless adults. (Prop. 63, 2004)

...Reduced health care and education programs for very young children (by diverting tobacco taxes back into the general fund). (Prop. 10, 1998)

The numbers and dates in parentheses are the voter-approved propositions which established the funding, and the years they passed. The voters would have to approve the changes, which means a special election, which the state would have trouble paying for without a budget.

They propose one cut I fully approve of: a 5% across the board cut in the Legislature's operating budget, including their salaries. Of course, I don't think they should be paid for what they're doing at all.

Finally, they want to improve the business climate by "relaxing environmental and labor regulations. Those would include extending deadlines to retrofit diesel engines in trucks and changing the rules on overtime pay and meal breaks."

I was wrong. This doesn't need Molly Ivins; this needs Charles Dickens. This is Victorian; and the Republicans are Victorian in their smug self-righteousness. They'd rather see people die of asthma or lung cancer from diesel fumes than force companies to do technically possible retrofits (
there are two sides to the diesel retrofit, and I admit it; but I'm making a point here). They'd rather make people work 14 hour days without overtime pay than force employers to keep track of how many hours their employees work. And they don't care about the poor, the mentally ill, or the homeless.

I wonder how long it'll be before some Republican suggests that we re-institute that great English institution, the workhouse. We certainly have a lot of poor homeless people to put in them.


  1. This is going to sound a little weird, but it's something I keep thinking.

    If you look at population trends in our "great" state, you find that California has today over three times (300%) as many people than it did in 1950. About 33 million versus about 10 million.

    The percentage of aged, disabled and otherwise needy or dependent individuals may not be constant--as it is affected by many other factors not purely statistical--but the actual numbers could be said to be roughly equal. Let's say it comprises something like 10 % of the total population. That would mean that in 1950, that group totalled 1 million. At that same rate, today we have 3 million.

    The numbers and kinds of support systems and programs for such groups has increased significantly over the last 50 years. These individuals are eligible for (if not actually "entitled"to ) many kinds of benefits that did not even exist in 1950. In addition, large numbers of immigrants--many, many of them undocumented, and hence "uncounted" in official numbers--participate in the largesse of charity and public governmental support.

    It's probably not a stretch to say that upwards of 5 million individuals in the State of California are dependent, to a significant degree, upon public sources of support. That number promises to rise as the baby-boom generation ages, and private pensions decline.

    Our country has seen middle class jobs exported at unprecedented rates over the last three decades. Pensions, private health coverage, mean income levels, are all evaporating. Republican policies have increasingly siphoned off public and private capital into the hands of the rich.

    Whether or not you believe it fair, or undemocratic, or mean-spirited, the bottom line is that Americans are going to have to do with less. Not just bad roads and bridges, not just poorer public schools and prohibitively expensive college degrees, not just run down hospitals and bizarre "Shawshank"-like prisons, but lots more homeless and abandoned and forgotten folks.

    People sit and watch their television sets and fret. We all feel powerless and impotent and victimized.

    But it happens every day, every week. The Secretary of the Treasury is sitting, right now, on 400 billions of our dollars, and there is no oversight. This is YOUR money, folks, and it's being given away to the rich and favored.

  2. Anonymous11:52 PM

    There are prisons. There won't be any workhouses as they would cost the gov't money. More people on street corners with signs saying, "Homeless, Please Help - God Bless", that we can expect. And, some people claim this is a "Christian" country...