By Laurie Macrae, MLS
May 25th, Capitol Action Day in Sacramento, saw a thousand members of the disability community, in-home health care workers and family members massed before the capitol trying to get the attention of state legislators who have put their survival on the chopping block.
It rained steadily as people, many in wheel chairs, many being assisted by care workers and many family groups moved about the pavilion and the various organization tables, gathering information and communicating with their regional counterparts. All day individuals and groups trooped in to the capitol building to meet with legislators.
The ambiance could not have been more different inside. The “insiders” seemed to my eyes (full disclosure: I am a person living with an adult son with a major mental illness) like computer generated animatronic images, their skin and suits had a supernatural sheen and regularity compared to the soggy, sometimes lurchy and decidedly irregular masses outside.
Speaking as a member of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, I sought the attention of my representatives from San Diego, but also tried to speak with those Assembly members who seemed bent on “balancing the budget” by imposing cuts to programs and services vital to the most vulnerable members of society. It is no exaggeration to say that these services make the difference between life and death for many people with major disabilities. Maintaining the minimum level of basic care for people with major mental illness as a challenge the state has never adequately met, but seemed willing to address with the passage of Prop 63 in 2008. Earlier this year, the legislature reversed itself, reclaiming the Prop 63 funding (saying it would repay it “later”) and passing on the responsibility for services to the counties- with no oversight -until NAMI member insisted on a seat at the table for local supervision.
Politicians, both conservative and liberal, have chosen to frame this debate as one of “spending or taxing”. A better analysis is to ask the question “who pays and how much?” As the California Budget Project has shown in their report Back to the Future: the Social and Economic Context of the Governor’s Proposed 2011 Budget , the lowest income Californians pay the largest share of their income in state and local taxes. While the incomes of California’s wealthiest 1% and corporations have increased an astonishing 81% in adjusted gross income over the last two decades, their share of taxes has actually declined. The devil is in the deductions: “Research and Development” account for tax loopholes for oil companies and other large corporations.
As I and my counterparts listened to speakers at noon, (still in the rain), speak of the importance the governor’s temporary tax extensions that still don’t close the budget gap, I heard a loud voice from somewhere in the crowd cry out “ Tax the rich until they’re dead!” He repeated it a few times and some members of the crowd took up the refrain “Tax the rich. Tax the rich!” There were no media present recording the event for the evening news. Too wet for them, I guess.
If the governor and the legislature’s plans to cut services proceed, we will see the beginning of a sociocide, the decimation of a social class by knowing and willful neglect. It has already begun. Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States chastised the Department of Veterans Affairs for failing to provide timely support and mental health care services for returning veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq suffering from PTSD and a host of other mental and physical afflictions. These veterans are committing suicide in record numbers. Is that what it takes to get the attention of government?
Laurie Macrae, MLS
Member NAMI, ALA, MEA