Calif. seniors protest budget cuts

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – At least 1,000 people gathered on the west steps of the Capitol building May 12 to protest right-wing Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to spare the rich and smite the poor to solve California’s budget problems.

Among the first speakers was Democratic state Sen. John Burton. “Don’t balance the budget on the backs of the blind, the disabled and the elderly,” he said. Talking about Social Security and medical care in other countries, Burton said, “No one in France, Germany or the Scandinavian countries would dare talk about cutting pensions or care.”

Assemblywoman Patty Berg, chair of the State Assembly’s Committee on Aging and Long Term Care, warned that the “baby boomer” generation will soon bring something never seen before – “large numbers of seniors chronically ill and in need of services. Yet our governor intends to deal with the crises of today by cutting services now and borrowing on the future.”

State Sen. Jerome Horton got a good laugh from the crowd when he defined a miracle drug as “one that hasn’t increased in price in the last month.”

State Treasurer Phil Angelides called for a tax on upper-income Californians. “Only the poor, the disabled, the seniors and students are asked to sacrifice – no corporate loopholes are plugged, not one penny from the rich,” he said.

State Sen. Sheila Kuehl, author of SB 921, said her bill would offer high quality, universal coverage through a single insurer, the state of California. Savings estimated at over $18 billion would be achieved through lower administrative costs, lower drug costs from bulk purchases, and primary and preventive care for all. All licensed providers could participate, assuring choice of physician. All needed care – dental, vision, mental health, long-term care, health education and more – would be covered.

Interest in SB 921 is growing, as California’s health care mess deepens. Last fall the Legislature passed, and then-Gov. Gray Davis signed, SB 2, which mandates employers of 50 workers or more to provide health coverage. Now big corporations backed by Schwarzenegger are driving to overturn SB 2. The Chamber of Commerce, the California Retailers and Restaurant Associations, and large corporations including Wal-Mart, Macy’s and McDonald’s, have qualified an initiative for the November ballot to overturn this law. They spent some $3 million on signature gathering, and are expected to pay many millions more on a media campaign.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.