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African American Assembly Speaker kept Republicans from destroying our community programs
The first African American woman to become state Assembly Speaker Karen Bass went to Sacramento to increase financial support and expand programs at aid Blacks, but at the last hour of the California budget stalemate found her self fighting just to keep them from being eliminated.
"We got this monster done," Bass told the Sentinel during an exclusive interview last week after state legislators finally agreed to a budget that will lift the state out of a $42 billion hole.
The plan cut California's current fiscal year spending by nearly $13 billion from $103 billion to $90.7 billion. For the 2009-2010 bookkeeping year, which begins July 1, it sets a spending plan of $96.3 billion.
The plan would raise the state sales tax by 1 cent on the dollar and increase the fee for licensing vehicles. The state personal income tax rate would go up by 0.25 percent.
In an intense 106-day ordeal that kept the state's citizens in limbo and government workers worried about their jobs, a bi-partisan agreement was met, but not without excruciating cuts in education and healthcare.
Bass admitted that she was happy to be there in Sacramento doing the work, but agreeing to items that she was forced to compromise with is not why she decided to run for office to begin with.
"You did have to recognize that this is a national crisis and we fit into the middle of that, but to cut the very programs that I went up there to defend and expand is tough," she said.
It was particularly difficult because it is the communities that Bass represents which suffer the most.
"They wanted to destroy and use this as an opportunity to not just cut, but to dismantle," she said of the Republicans in the Assembly.
Bass described the special election on May 19 that would be put before voters as "extortion."
Here are the questions will appear before voters May 19.
Spending cap: Asks voters to impose a limit on the amount the state can spend each year based on revenue growth over the previous 10-year period. Money above that amount would be saved in a rainy day fund. That fund would be capped at 12.5 percent of revenue and any amount above that could be used to pay debt or for one-time purposes. If voters approve the cap, then temporary taxes that are part of the budget would be extended for an additional two years.
Education: Asks voters to modify Proposition 98, the voter-approved minimum school funding guarantee, to protect education funding when state revenue rebounds after lean budget years.__
Mental health: Asks voters to shift $227 million in voter-approved funding from Proposition 63, the state mental health fund, for two years to pay for a low-income child development program known as the Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment Program.
Child development: Asks voters to redirect $608 million in First 5 money for early child development to other children's programs for five years. Voters approved Proposition 10 in 1998, adding a 50-cent tax to each pack of cigarettes.
Lottery: Asks voters for permission to hand out larger lottery jackpots as a way to sell more tickets. Also grants the state permission to stop using lottery proceeds for education programs. Instead, school funding would be paid through the general fund.
Legislative pay: Asks voters to amend the Constitution to freeze the pay of lawmakers and state elected officers, meaning they would not be eligible for raises, during years the state is running a deficit. This question will appear before voters in June 2010.
Ask voters to amend the state Constitution to allow open primaries for legislative, congressional and statewide elections, including the governor's race. The top two vote getters would advance to the general election.
In what Bass explained were like "ransom notes," Republican Senators Abe Maldonado (R-Santa Barbara) and Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks) negotiated concessions for their vote to pass a budget, and the Democrats ultimately had to yield to one of the two evils, and it was Maldonado's agenda that included the special election.
"It had nothing to do with the budget, it was just the demand of Sen. Maldonado and Sen. Cox," she explained.
Bass, the only Black and only female with a voice at the negotiating table, led the charge for African Americans, but all she could do was to protect the little that Blacks have.
A program that Bass has championed, foster care services, was not cut and she prevented welfare from being eliminated for people after a certain number of years.
"I was not able to get millions for our community, but what these people were trying to do was eliminate programs. So, what I was trying to do was to protect the programs, but I was not able to add money to those programs, so protecting them was my goal."
Bass is optimistic that treasured community resource Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital in Watts can be reopened, although it was not a topic of the budget proposal.
"I think that it is really important to recognize that we had budget of over $100 billion, so you're talking about a 40 percent hold. In our state, it takes a two-thirds vote to raise taxes and to pass a budget and although we had more Democrats in the state Assembly now than we had since the Watergate time period, we do not have enough to just go ahead and do the things that we would like to do and it is why the Republicans are able to hold the budget process hostage."
She also pointed the finger of blame on right wing radio talk show host John and Ken of KABC -640 AM for lynching Republican legislators for voting to raise taxes.
However gave much credit to Assemblymen Mike Davis, Isadore Hall and Curren Price who were very instrumental in representing the causes of the Black community.