Protesters don't want jobs slashed to fix state red ink

A coalition of mostly government employees marched through Modesto and rallied at Graceada Park on Wednesday to protest proposed state budget cuts.

Home health care workers made up the bulk of the 85 or so who walked through downtown, carrying signs opposing funding cuts that could cost them their jobs.

"Just in Stanislaus County alone, we have 3,000 home care workers," said George Sharp of Modesto, who participated in the protest in his electric wheelchair.

Sharp said Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposed budget could eliminate in-home support services for those with disabilities.

"The economic impact that cut would have on this county would be $55 million a year," estimated Sharp, an advocate for the Disability Resource Agency for Independent Living. He said 400,000 hours of in-home health care currently is provided to 6,000 Stanislaus residents.

The governor's proposal includes many spending cuts as a way to bridge California's $19.9 billion budget gap. Sharp disagrees with how Schwarzenegger wants to balance the budget.

"It's not about what should be cut. Instead, it's about revenue enhancement," said Sharp, who advocates "closing corporate tax loopholes" to generate more funding.

Many of the public employee union leaders and Democratic Party organizers at the rally agree with that.

"It is economically preferable to raise taxes on those with high incomes than to cut state expenditures during a recession," said RaeLene Brown, who leads the

Stanislaus & Tuolumne Counties Central Labor Council. "Steep state budget cuts will only worsen the economic downturn."

Wednesday's event was part of the "March for California's Future," a 48-day trek from Bakersfield to Sacramento. The protestErs will weave their way through Escalon and Manteca today and Friday.

Along the way, the group is collecting signatures to qualify an initiative for the ballot to enable the Legislature to adopt a state budget with a simple majority of votes.

Currently, a two-thirds vote is required, which means at least some Republican support must be garnered before a budget is approved. A simple majority vote would enable the budget to be passed with support from only Democrats.

"If we amend the language to a simple majority, it creates a solution to a process that has not been working," said Heather Fahey, president of the California School Employees Association, Chapter 668, in Stanislaus County.

The initiative's petitions circulated at the rally.

San Joaquin Valley Republican lawmakers oppose that initiative.

"I consistently vote against budget cuts to education because it is rightly one of the state's highest priorities. But without the two-thirds vote requirement to pass a budget, state spending would be massively higher and California would be billions of dollars deeper in the hole," state Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater, told The Bee in response to questions about the initiative.

Modesto's state Sen. Dave Cogdill also opposes the law change.

"The two-thirds requirement to pass a budget provides a strong protection to taxpayers," Cogdill said. "This protest underscores precisely why the state needs to reform its budget process. Budget stability through a strong spending limit, pension reform and two-year spending plan will break the state free from the current boom-bust cycle and enable state government to provide a reliable funding stream to our public education system."

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at or 578-2196.