Due to dramatic losses suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic, California is facing a $54 million budget shortfall, and steep cuts are likely coming to state and local budgets.
A coalition led by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is pushing for politicians to prioritize equity, instead of slashing away at social safety nets. Union leaders outlined their vision in a letter to state legislators, and 55 organizations signed on.
“This movement says, ‘All of us together, we refuse to cut our way out of this crisis on the backs of communities of color,’” Rico Mendez, chief elected officer for SEIU Local 521, said Wednesday on a Zoom call with other union leaders and with politicians. “Our elected leaders must pass a recovery budget for all … That means not going back to status quo, because that won’t be good enough. We need to make equity our new normal.”
In the midst of a Covid-19 pandemic that is disproportionately harming Hispanic and black Americans, union leaders like Mendez say the state’s proposed social safety net cuts—such as $450 million in cuts to In-Home Supportive Services, and billions of dollars worth of cuts to education—would worsen California’s income and racial disparities.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget outlines what are known as “trigger cuts”—cuts that will take effect unless California gets additional financial support from the federal government. Mendez said that California should not leave its fate in the hands of Senate Republicans and President Donald Trump, especially after U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) suggested that states having a hard time paying their bills might pursue bankruptcy as an option.
“The truth is trigger cuts are still cuts. They would hurt black Californians more than any other group if they’re enacted,” Mendez says. “The truth is enacting a budget with trigger cuts means leaving the future of racial justice in our state up to someone like Mitch McConnell and his Senate—that have made it clear that they have no intention of supporting California at the levels necessary. The truth is that we can do better. Our state is the fifth-largest economy on the planet. We can raise the funds that we need to go forward.”
Politicians like Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) and Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez have signed on to the effort and spoke to union representatives Wednesday to offer encouragement and support for a shared vision. “We need to invest in housing, in our health systems, in childcare,” Kalra said.
But in order to preserve programs and still balance its budget, the state will need to either find savings somewhere else or create new sources of cash flow.
A budget is a moral document, said Eddie Carmona, director of legislative organizing for PICO California, the largest multi-racial faith-based community-organizing network in the state of California. In order to secure more revenue, he called on leaders to raise taxes, create new taxes, reform commercial property taxes and look at the state’s ability to borrow from special funds and bonds.
In short, Carmona called for a “California New Deal.”
“We need to not only address the inequities that were uncovered by Covid-19,” he said, “but need to double-down and invest in the future of California, a future of California that’s going to be built by and for working families and for communities of color.”