SACRAMENTO — Activists calling for greater investment in public services ranging from schools to in-home health care ended a 48-day, 365-mile march with a rally Wednesday in front of the state Capitol.
The small group of marchers who have trekked the length of California's Central Valley were joined at the rally by thousands of union workers, students and religious leaders. Their call for greater government investment comes as the Republican Party, GOP candidates and members of the tea party movement propose tax cuts and a stripping down of government services.
The teachers and labor groups supporting the march say severe budget cuts are jeopardizing the institutions that have made California great, such as schools, universities and parks.
Rally organizers are calling on Gov. Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers to stabilize the state's finances by lowering the two-thirds threshold for passing budgets, and imposing higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Schwarzenegger and Republican lawmakers led the charge in recent budget negotiations to cut corporate taxes by $2 billion a year.
March organizer Barbara Maynard of Los Angeles told a crowd of nearly 200 gathered at a Sacramento church before the rally that she will march alongside her 5-year-old daughter so she can have a good education. Maynard said she also will march with her 87-year-old mother so she can avoid being placed in a nursing home.
"I have a dream, like many of you, that we can take back this state," said Maynard, a union organizer. "And it's not about Republican or Democrat, or now all these new independents or these tea baggers. It's about our schools, it's about our home care, it's about our mental health services, our social services, having our potholes filled on the street."
Rabbis joined imams, priests and ministers during the interfaith service at St. John Missionary Baptist Church as they called on the state's leaders to protect programs for the poor, elderly and disabled.
Steve Mehlman, a spokesman for the United Domestic Workers of America Homecare Providers Union, said the coalition's goal is to restore a government and economy that works for all Californians.
The union represents 65,000 of the state's home care workers under the In-Home Supportive Services Program. The governor has proposed eliminating the program if the state does not get enough federal aid.
"California used to have public services and public education that were the pride of the nation. And now they're falling into disarray," Mehlman said. "We need to restore them."
He said the state needs to raise revenue to build a stable tax system so there won't more famously messy budget fights. The state has made deep, across-the-board cuts the few years it has dealt with ongoing budget deficits, and it faces a projected $20 billion shortfall through June 2011.
Unions participating in the event strategically held the march in the Central Valley, where voters tend to support conservative politicians.
Jim Miller, a 45-year-old San Diego City College English instructor whose union negotiated release time so he could march from Bakersfield to Sacramento, said much of the tea party anger is misplaced. He hoped the rally will offer answers.
"People are angry at the wrong thing. For example, the schools are our government," Miller said. "And what we need to do is make our public services and education work better for us, not demonize it."