SEATTLE - "This is a brutal time and it is a time to fight back!" With those words, Robby Stern, president of the Puget Sound Alliance of Retired Americans, urged participants in a Nov. 18 legislative conference at the Greenwood Senior Center to protest cuts in Social Security as well as deep cuts in education, health care and other vital programs by the state legislature.
Stern hailed the organization's monthly newsletter, The Senior Advocate, and its editor, Will Parry, for helping the entire Washington State labor movement and senior movement mobilize for the fightback.
Jeff Johnson, a leader of the Washington State Labor Council, echoed the call. "We have a big fight going on at the federal level," he said. "All of us are going to call in on November 30."
Johnson was referring to a National Call-in Day to U.S. senators planned for Tuesday, Nov. 30, protesting proposed cuts in Social Security. The Alliance of Retired Americans, the AFL-CIO, and other defenders of Social Security are sponsors of the call-in.
"Our goal is to shut down the switchboards on Capitol Hill with the message: 'Do not cut Social Security! Do not raise the retirement age!'" Johnson said. "Social Security did not create this deficit. It was caused by tax cuts for the rich and two unpopular wars ... and dammit, they better not fool around with Social Security!" The crowd burst into applause.
Johnson, who takes office as president of the state labor council in the new year, was referring to the federal deficit reduction commission, whose co-chairs propose to raise the retirement age to 69, cut benefits by 35 percent and slash cost-of-living increases even though Social Security adds not a penny to federal deficit. The Senate leadership has promised an up or down vote on the commission's proposals during the post-election lameduck session. A recent poll shows that 80 percent of the people are opposed to cuts in Social Security.
Washington State Sen. Ed Murray, who will serve as the state Senate's Ways and Means Committee chair when the legislature convenes in January, pointed out that the Evergreen State faces a $5.7 billion deficit. Voters in the Nov. 2 midterm election rejected every measure that would have increased tax revenues, including I-1098, the "Bill Gates Tax the Rich" ballot initiative. With sales tax revenues sharply lower due to the economic recession, Murray said, "Every single program you care about is going to have to be cut under this scenario. There are hundreds of millions of dollars in these loopholes and exemptions. We closed some of them in the last session. We can close more of them."
The Puget Sound Alliance for Retired Americans is proposing to close corporate tax loopholes to avert savage cuts in human needs spending.
But because of a right-wing ballot initiative passed Nov. 2, it will take a two-thirds majority vote of the legislature to terminate the loopholes and exemptions. The other alternative is to put it on the ballot for a vote in November 2011.
Murray assailed the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling. "You all saw the commercials targeting Sen. Patty Murray funded by anonymous donors," he said. "They were orchestrated by the likes of Karl Rove. It is Watergate flooding into our political system. Congress must address this. Thirty years of right-wing government-bashing has really paid off for them." Yet Democratic Sen. Patty Murray (no relation to State Sen. Ed Murray) won reelection by 100,000 votes.
Treasure Mackley, legislative representative of the Service Employees International Union, urged support of HB 3162 to create a state bank in Washington State modeled on the State Bank of North Dakota. The bill was introduced in the last session of the legislature by State Rep. Bob Hasegawa and five other legislators. "Wall Street banks have cut back on lending and small businesses are forced to use credit cards so they are scaling back," Mackley said. A state bank in the Evergreen State could provide hundreds of millions of dollars to fill this void, she added.
Michelle Friedman, a fair housing advocate, told the meeting that 30,000 people in Washington lost their homes in foreclosure and another 41,000 are facing foreclosure in the coming year. "These homeowners are victims of predatory lending," she said. "Mandatory mediation is a step in the right direction. More than 60 percent of those facing foreclosure are able to stay in their homes when they succeed in negotiating with their bank."
The Puget Sound ARA adopted a legislative agenda that includes passage of a mandatory mediation bill to reduce the foreclosure plague, support for creation of a state bank, and a "focus on budget and revenue issues to minimize the human toll" by closing the 567 corporate tax exemptions and loopholes that cost the state hundreds of millions in lost revenues each year.