Labor Day blues

Why would any lawmaker knowingly throw more people out of work?

Labor Day is a celebration honoring American workers, but far too many people won’t have much to celebrate this year. That’s especially true in California, where the official unemployment rate is stuck at 12.3 percent, a figure that doesn’t include all those who’ve given up looking for work. Nearly a million Californians have been out of work for more than a year.

Why anyone would knowingly throw even more people out of work at a time like this is hard to fathom, especially when alternatives exist. But that’s precisely what the Republicans in the Legislature are prepared to do. As this week’s phony budget votes showed, Republican lawmakers like our own Assemblyman Dan Logue have decided to balance the state budget, with its $19 billion deficit, by cutting programs that serve California’s most vulnerable citizens.

Usually, when we talk about such cuts, we focus on the recipients of these services: the disabled, the elderly, the poor, children. But it’s important to remember that the programs employ hundreds of thousands of people—in home care, child care and health care, especially—who will be thrown out of work if the Republicans prevail.

The notion that the best response to a weak economy and high unemployment is to cut state spending and force more people out of work is, well, nuts. It’s far preferable, leading economists argue, to raise taxes on those with high incomes, who despite the recession continue to live large.

Besides, as Democrats have pointed out, there are additional potential sources of new revenue that also could be tapped—an oil severance tax, for example, or extension of the sales tax to services—without damaging the economy. Balancing the budget exclusively on the backs of the most vulnerable Californians and those who care for them would be shameful.