Does California’s Budget Crisis Discriminate Against Women?

A group of California legislators and community leaders recently met on the steps of the state capitol to protest Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget cuts. The group charged that these budget cuts disproportionately affect women, but the claim ignores some key realities.

“We are here to say we’d like to go back to the good old days when ’women and children first’ meant first in the life boats, instead of first thrown overboard,” said Senator Loni Hancock, an Oakland Democrat.

With a budget deficit upwards of $19 billion, and a real unemployment rate of more than 20 percent, as calculated by Calwatchdog’s John Seiler, California’s budget crisis affects everyone living in the Golden State—women, children, and even men. With the daunting task of balancing California’s budget, the legislature hasn’t enough “life boats” to go around. Instead of taking the economic blows on equal grounds, the protesters mount a one-sided battle of the sexes to earmark special interests.

In that cause the protesters can deploy taxpayer funded government bodies such as the California Commission on the Status of Women. This dates from 1965 when the legislature declared, “despite the fact that women apparently have greater equality in California than in many states, they still are not able to contribute to society according to their full potential.” That was dubious in 1965, and even if true it did not follow that a new government entity was the best response.

The Commission bills itself as “a nonpartisan state agency, working in a culturally inclusive manner to promote equality and justice for all women and girls.” But sometimes it acts more like a partisan lobby. For example, the Commission’s top priority for 2009-2010 is to “Establish a universal health care system to provide access to affordable comprehensive health care for all California residents.” That sounds a lot like SB 840, the California Universal Health Care Act. The author of that legislation was state senator Sheila Kuehl, who—surprise—once served on the California Commission on the Status of Women.

Advising on budget issues, the Commission posted a 2008 release from the California Budget Project titled, “The Governor’s Proposed Budget Would Disproportionately Affect California’s Women.” In 2009 the Commission published “Budget Update – Women and Children are the Casualties” and this year we have “The Governor’s Proposed Budget Targets Women and Families.” The less noticeable trend is each year they have to expand the scope of those disproportionately affected by the budget as women become less and less the “victim.” To adopt the language of Sen. Hancock, first they threw in children and this year conceded to add families, which must include men at least some of the time.

The protesters, and their publicly-funded allies on the Commission, seem to have trouble recognizing some key California realities. California’s two U.S. Senators are women, with yet another woman vying to replace one of them. The state has not had a male U.S. Senator since 1992, nearly 20 years. Women are outpacing men as undergraduate degree recipients by nearly three to two in California. And according to a report on the Commission’s own website, California ranks in the top third of all states where women own a large proportion of businesses. This is not the profile of helpless victims, unable to advance without a government body to speak on their behalf.

Women in California have long been able to “contribute to society according to their full potential.” Yet even with a budget deficit of more than $19 billion, legislators have kept taxpayer dollars flowing to the California Commission on the Status of Women. With severe cuts on every hand, that looks like preferential treatment.

California should scrap outdated and one-sided organizations that stymie efforts to balance the budget. When California pulls itself out of the current economic calamity, men and women alike will be in a better position to prosper as equals.

Kelly Gorton is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley.

This column ran in the San Francisco Examiner on September 20, 2010.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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