California Protesters Refuse to Become 'Wisconsin of the West'

Budget protests continued in California this week as hundreds of San Jose city workers gathered at City Hall plaza Tuesday night to dispute the city budget that aims to cut staff, salaries, and benefits.

Waving signs and chanting, "They say cut back, we say fight back!" the protesters rallied, then marched from the plaza to the council chamber, where Mayor Chuck Reed and the council had scheduled an evening meeting to discuss the 2011-12 budget.

The 300 or so protesters -- mostly city employees and union members, some faith leaders and community members -- are fighting proposed budget cuts that will slash neighborhood services, reduce library and community center hours, cut funding for youth programs including gang prevention, and lay off police and firefighters.

The city faces a general fund shortfall of $115 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1. When that gap is closed, the general fund budget will total $819 million.

Under the proposed cuts, nearly 200 police and 64 firefighter positions would be eliminated, library services and hours would be reduced to three days per week, ten hub community centers would have their hours reduced, and park ranger jobs would be slashed by more than half.

"San Jose will not become the Wisconsin of the West -- we will not let that happen," Lee Saunders, [secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO], told the crowd gathered outside City Hall early Tuesday evening.

Pensions have long been a loathed target of austerity hawks who view the system as wasteful even though a conducted city audit indicates that 40 percent of city retirees, as well as survivors and other beneficiaries, have annual pensions earnings of less than $24,000 a year.

In Sacramento, hundreds of police officers and staff members also protested Tuesday night before a city council budget hearing to oppose $12 million in cuts. On the chopping block are 167 police department positions, including 80 police officers.

Those opposing the police cuts pleaded for observers to consider the consequences of firing law enforcement employees. For example, longer waits when you call 911.

"Every second counts, especially when you have a loved one who's suffering a heart attack, a mother finding her child floating in a pool. Minutes count," supervisory dispatcher with Sacramento Police Department Paul Troxel said.

Troxel said his job is on the line. "With the budget cuts, my rank (as) supervising dispatcher would be eliminated," Troxel said.

Here in New York City, we saw the consequences of these kinds of budget cuts during a particularly bad blizzard in early January. Mayor Bloomberg's decision to fire 400 sanitation workers meant that there were less workers to clear the streets, which resulted in Emergency Medical Service workers having a hard time reaching distressed citizens.

The city had a backlog of around 1,300 critical calls - not calls for minor occurrences, but critical, life and death stuff. Over a thousand of those went unanswered.

With resources in short supply, the EMS was forced to limit CPR time to 20 minutes. Desperate and unable to wait for the limited EMS response team to come and save them, residents of Forest Hills dragged people from a fiery building and transported them to a nearby hospital on sleds.

That's the reality of a world quick to cut services at the bottom instead of moderately raise taxes at the top, which is why California residents are trying to stop that dystopian vision before officials unleash it.

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