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Joel Bridgeman Headshot

Punishing the Poor

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Governor Schwarzenegger must be trying to live up to his image as the "Terminator".

His proposed solution to handle California's fiscal mess is to cut vital services for those who need them most. The Governor has proposed to terminate welfare, children's healthcare, and new Cal Grants for California State University and University of California students.

Initially, trimming the rolls of "welfare Moms'" -- even in tough economic times -- may seem necessary in implementing more stringent budget policies. However, further analysis reveals tangential consequences of this approach. Helping our poorest citizens with the basics for survival gives them the psychological base described in Maslow's hierarchy of needs -- the needs essential to existence like food, shelter and clothing. Without this base, people return to the condition of wild animals, and will react as such. One result will be an increase in crime; as parents lose legitimate means of providing food and clothing they will do whatever is necessary, within the law or outside it, to ensure their children have these basic necessities.

Eliminating children's healthcare is unconscionable. Our children are the reason we need to balance the budget - to avoid burdening them with a lifetime of debt from past mistakes. Stripping the poorest of these children of the coverage that they need to survive is not only cowardly, but is a violation of our American principles of shared prosperity and protection of our most vulnerable citizens. There are children who depend on this coverage to get medicine, like albuterol, that prevents asthma attacks from becoming fatal. Taking this coverage away will not reduce the burden on the state budget from these children, it will merely inflate the cost to care for them and increase the likelihood of these spasms becoming fatal.

California's system of higher education spawned decades of economic growth, resulting from our bold investment in our youth and their educational aspirations. But years of tight budgets have nearly derailed a system that was once the envy of the world. Both the University of California and California State University are operating on life support, and further cuts to these systems will pull the plug on their ability to serve as the driving force that leads us back to prosperity. Eliminating new Cal Grants will inhibit the poorest students' ability to pursue higher education -- the same education that would enable them to become successful contributors to the state budget through tax revenue. Instead, it will trap these students in poverty, making them more likely to resort to crime and other socially destructive behavior.

Living within our means is a necessity. We cannot continue to run multi-billion dollar deficits. But taking away from the neediest is hardly a solution to the problem. Like it or not, we need to increase revenue. Yes, that means taxes. I personally wouldn't mind paying five percent more of my modest income to avoid the catastrophe these proposed cuts would ensure. But the average taxpayer is not the problem. Those with enough wealth not to worry about their children having to visit an emergency room or not being able to attend college without state assistance are the ones who are being protected from paying their fair share to stabilize and sustain our state. Corporations based in California to use the great minds our public and private institutions produce are being protected from paying their fair share to stabilize and sustain our state. Our legislature needs to be realistic in their implementation of a budget and ensure it does not pass one that punishes the poor and helpless for being poor and helpless.