Crunch time for CA budget

The legislature is expected to vote next week on California’s state budget, with big cuts looming for human needs programs, and new revenue depending on an initiative vote in November. Earlier this month the Northern California Communist Party issued the following statement on the budget crisis:

California’s Budget Crisis: What can we do?

For several years California has faced a growing budget gap, and ever-deepening cuts to human services programs millions of us badly need as we struggle with joblessness, low-paying jobs, soaring health care costs and a bank-caused foreclosure crisis that has cost many of us our homes.

Now the legislature and governor are struggling with a nearly $16 billion gap as they try to complete a 2012-13 budget by the end of June.

Why the gap?

Some of the problem has been caused by the economic crisis that has gripped our country, and the world, in recent years. Some also comes from Congressional Republicans’ repeated blockage of federal money to help the 50 states.

But much of the gap is because our state legislature can’t gain new revenue to fund the programs all Californians need: public education, health care, environment, transportation, infrastructure and more.

It now takes a two-thirds majority in the Assembly and state Senate to pass new revenues. Democrats lead the legislature but don’t have that majority.

So a Republican minority, most of whom have signed a Grover Norquist “no new taxes” pledge, can block any effort to find more funds for these programs. They can even block attempts to close big tax loopholes that let corporations get away with scamming the public out of billions of dollars.

How can we close the gap?

This November voters can act to end the Republican stalemate in California’s legislature. Just two fewer

Republicans in the Assembly and in the state Senate and they can’t block the new funds we need.

Voters can help make sure that Republicans don’t win the presidency, and that they can’t dominate the House of Representatives and stall the U.S. Senate.

Because the state legislature can’t vote more money for programs we all need, Governor Jerry Brown and the labor-community Restore California coalition are putting a measure on the ballot to temporarily raise taxes on incomes of over $250,000 and raise sales taxes 0.25 percent.

Here are some things we can all do:

• Make sure you, your family, friends and neighbors are registered to vote. Discuss the issues and candidates with them.

• Get involved to make sure the Republican far right is defeated nationally, in California and in your community. Unions and many community organizations are active in election work. Even if you’re not a member, you can help out.

• Vote to approve the Brown-Restore California initiative to tax the rich, though raising the sales tax is not a positive move.

• Support measures to end the two-thirds majority required to pass new revenue.

• Call on Congress to fully fund federal assistance to the states, and aid to programs serving human needs.

• Tell your elected officials what you think our state and nation should do, so the basic needs of all are met. Hold their feet to the fire on what’s important.

Far-reaching plan for Army base redevelopment

Oakland City Council OK’s plans for Army base

by: Marilyn Bechtel

Posted to June 21 2012

OAKLAND, Calif. – The City Council chamber was jammed to the rafters June 19 as council members voted to approve far-reaching redevelopment plans for the long-shuttered Oakland Army Base. The vote was 7-1 with one abstention.

The agreement with developers includes precedent-setting community benefits provisions to hire local workers, assure disadvantaged workers, including the formerly incarcerated, a chance for jobs, and involve the community in ensuring compliance. A jobs center is to provide all-around help to job seekers.

The former base, next to the Port of Oakland – the country’s fifth busiest container port – is to become a warehouse and goods movement facility. It is expected to bring thousands of new jobs to a city with 13.7 percent unemployment, with joblessness far greater in working-class communities of color.

Redevelopment plans, in the works for several years, have been the subject of lengthy negotiations involving labor, faith and community organizations, developers and City Council members

Community representatives involved in the talks said last-minute improvements in the agreement were reached in the week following a June 12 City Council committee meeting. At that meeting, many speakers expressed concern about loopholes regarding use of temporary workers and local hire requirements, and urged strengthening a “ban the box” provision so people don’t have to state a criminal conviction on their initial job application.

In a telephone interview, Nikki Fortunato Bas, executive director of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), called the final agreement “definitely a momentous step toward putting folks to work and winning good standards for quality jobs in Oakland.” She said the pact’s provisions to extend living wage, local hire and limits on temp workers beyond the construction phase into the warehouse industry may be a national first.

EBASE is the convener of the 30-organization Revive Oakland! labor, faith and community coalition that has spoken for the community in the negotiations.

Though not all the labor and community groups’ demands were fully met, Bas said, their intense pressure during the past week “really moved the ball forward,” and work will continue to ensure the greatest possible access to all the new jobs.

Some 143 people signed up to speak at the June 19 meeting. Many speakers stressed the urgency of “ban the box,” while others expressed concern that dangerous gaps still remained in local hire and temp worker regulations.

“This is really a proud day in Oakland,” Alameda Labor Council head Josie Camacho said as she called for a round of applause for the organizations that worked together to help achieve the new agreement. “This has not been easy, bringing together a coalition with the elected officials, city staff, developers, community stakeholders and the labor partners,” she said.

One of the most significant of the last-minute agreements is the oversight commission that is to be set up with community and labor representatives, to work with the city in ensuring compliance.

The redevelopment plan requires that all workers at the former base must be paid a living wage. At least half must be from Oakland, with emphasis on economically hard-hit neighborhoods.

During construction all new trade union apprenticeships are to go to Oakland residents, and a project labor agreement will ensure safe conditions and quality jobs.

Warehouse and operations jobs will have sharp limits on use of temp workers, a 50 percent local hire requirement for employers with 40 or more workers, and sharp limits on pre-screening for prior criminal records.

The Council’s June 19 action was the first of two votes; a final vote must still be taken on the project.

Photo: (PW/Marilyn Bechtel)