Representatives Hall was filled to capacity again yesterday, with more than 600 people expressing their anxieties and anger about the House-passed state budget, which proposes severe cuts in the programs that knit our communities together. From 2 PM to past 10, with a 1-hour break for dinner, members of the Senate Finance Committee listened to dozens of stories describing the impact of state-funded programs in areas such as mental health, adoption services, the arts, environmental protection, homeless services, and more.
One speaker referred to the budget proponents as “greedy, radical, fiscal bullies.” Another called for “a system of taxation that is fair and equitable for all.” Such comments received hearty applause from the audience, while Senators sat silently at the front of the hall.
I didn’t get the exact words, but I perked up when one speaker asked something like, “Can you think of a time in history when a government was praised for taking away services from the poor and downtrodden while rewarding the rich and their corporations?”
The consequences of cuts – suicide, higher rates of hospitalization and imprisonment, higher levels of unemployment – were made clear to the Senators, at least if they were listening.
If their minds and hearts were open as well as their ears, the seven Senators (Morse, Bragdon, O’Dell, Forrester, Barnes, Gallus, and D’Allesandro) might have heard something new, something that moved them. If they did, perhaps they will ask where we can find resources for the programs our communities rely on instead of just shifting the cuts to kill and maim one group of residents instead of another.
Earlier in the day, another Senate Committee took testimony on a bill to alter the pension system for public employees. The bill included provisions that wouldn’t exactly end collective bargaining, but would come disturbingly close. At the moment the right-wing Senate appears to be less hostile to workers than the ultra-right wing House. The fate of public sector collective bargaining lies in the duel of politics and egos typical of late-session legislative maneuvers.
With both chambers solidly in favor of “Right to Work (for LESS),” prospects are not bright.