Wednesday, May 18, 2011

California teachers launch demonstrations at state Capitol, push lawmakers to pass taxes

By Associated Press, Published: May 9
 
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Hundreds of teachers from around California descended on the state Capitol Monday to make the case for extending tax hikes as a way to stave off deep budget cuts to public education.
Amid tightened security, the teachers marched to the Capitol in hopes of meeting with lawmakers and even staging sit-ins in the building.

The day was a kick-off to a week of action the California Teachers Association has dubbed a “State of Emergency.” It includes demonstrations and teach-ins throughout the state as schools face the prospect of mass layoffs and program cuts.

Chanting “Tax, tax, tax the rich, we can solve the deficit,” hundreds of teachers clad in pale blue shirts carried banners and signs into the Capitol building, where California Highway Patrol officers blocked the main rotunda areas to prevent demonstrators from staging sit-ins there for most of the day. By late afternoon more than 150 protesters rallied in the rotunda and about 65 of them succeeded in staying for two hours after the building closed, prompting arrests.

Several teachers were among those arrested. They said they wanted to stand with students.
“I watched us last year and now we’re worse off,” Union City math teacher Charmaine Kawaguchi told the crowd before being arrested. “So now I’m willing to do anything to make it better.”

Doug Nielson, a government and economics teacher at Coalinga High School, said he was frustrated after visiting the offices of Republican lawmakers whom he said seemed more concerned with adhering to their ideology than addressing what he called a crisis in public education.

“If we stick to our ideologies, our children are going to suffer,” Nielson said. “You can’t have first-class teaching on a Third World budget.”

Republican legislative leaders were pointing to an unexpected $2.5 billion in extra tax revenue that came to the state last month as a way to fully fund education without having to extend the recent tax increases.

“It’s an opportunity for us to live within our means and do the right thing, and still protect schools and law enforcement and the things that I believe are important to taxpayers and what taxpayers believe they’re paying taxes for in the first place,” said Assemblywoman Connie Conway, R-Tulare.

About 300 volunteers wearing shirts saying, “I will be a lay-off!” were expected to rally outside Conway’s district office in Visalia later Monday.

At issue are temporary increases in the sales, personal income and vehicle taxes the Legislature enacted two years ago. The increases are scheduled to end by June 30, but Brown wants a special election to renew them for another five years to help close the remainder of what had been a $26.6 billion budget deficit.

The deficit now stands at $15.4 billion after Brown and Democratic lawmakers cut spending and transferred some money between government accounts. So far, Brown has been unable to win the two GOP votes he needs in each house of the state Legislature to put the tax question before voters.

The California Teachers Association and other interest groups are calling on lawmakers to vote on the taxes outright before they expire, rather than waiting for a special election the teachers say would take too long and imperil about 20,000 public school jobs. That’s about the number of layoff notices that were issued to teachers and other staff for the next school year.

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