Speaking of Women's Rights: Elections and Consequences

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Elections and Consequences

By David Ward

It’s a political truism that elections have consequences. I’ve been thinking about that old piece of wisdom while watching budget debates unfold across the country over the last week.

Let’s start in Washington state. Despite Washington’s generally progressive bent, the state somehow has the most regressive tax system in the country. In 2010, voters had the chance to change that by adopting a state income tax on high earners to fund health and education services. But the measure failed by a wide margin. For good measure, the voters also repealed a two-cent sales tax on soda, candy, and bottled water. And on top of that, voters passed a measure to require a two-thirds legislative supermajority on any legislation to increase taxes.

We’re seeing the consequences of those decisions right now in Olympia. Due to the continuing effects of the recession, Washington is facing a projected budget shortfall of nearly $5 billion for the 2011-13 biennium, which starts on July 1st. Even more immediately, the Legislature has to find hundreds of millions of dollars to close the budget gap for the remainder of the 2009-2011 biennium. Keep in mind, the Legislature already had to make a series of major cuts to balance the budget in the past two years. The bottom line: We are looking at devastating cuts to a state budget that has already been cut to the bone.

What’s at risk? The Basic Health Plan, which provides coverage for working families. Maternity support services to help ensure positive outcomes for at-risk mothers. The Disability Lifeline program, which provides income and medical assistance for individuals who cannot work due to a disability. Services for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. Class size reductions for public schools. And the list goes on and on. But on the bright side, at least we won’t have to pay two cents more for a soda or a candy bar.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the House of Representatives spent the past week debating a budget measure that all but declares war on women. The newly-elected leadership in the House of Representatives has vowed to cut $100 billion from the federal budget, and programs serving women and their families are prime targets.

The latest outrage: The House just voted by a 240-185 margin for a budget amendment to cut all federal funding to Planned Parenthood. This amendment is part of a supplemental budget bill that would eliminate every cent of federal funding for family planning services under the Title X program.

Title X provides comprehensive family planning and other preventive health care services to 5 million low-income women each year. Never mind that studies have consistently shown that every dollar spent on the Title X program results in $4 in savings, and no federal funds appropriated for the program are used to provide abortion services. The House leadership is simply making a bald-faced attempt to punish Planned Parenthood for providing women with access to the full range of reproductive health services.

And moving to the heartland, Wisconsin’s newly-elected Governor Scott Walker has proposed ending collective bargaining rights for nearly all state and local government employees as part of his budget proposal. Although the Governor claims the proposal would save money, it would have no direct impact on the state’s finances. As the New York Times noted, this is simply an attempt by the Governor to use the state’s budget crisis as a pretext to push through an ideological, anti-worker policy.

So it wasn’t a great week for women and their families. But what has inspired me is how the people in Wisconsin have responded to Governor Walker’s attack on working families. They aren’t just grumbling at the television, or posting distressed messages on Facebook. By the thousands, they are taking to the streets, swarming the state Capitol, and making the entire country sit up and take notice.

We can learn a lesson from Wisconsin. The 2010 elections are over, but we don’t have to live with the consequences. We can get out of our chairs and make our voices heard. If you are in Washington, you can do just that by joining us on March 17 at the State Capitol for a rally to protect our economic future.