Union members rally at Capitol to protest budget cuts

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More than a thousand teachers, state workers and others fanned out across the south lawn of the Capitol on Friday to pressure Republican lawmakers to extend expiring taxes to avoid further budget cuts.

The event capped a week of demonstrations by the California Teachers Assn., whose members lobbied lawmakers, staged rallies and, on two occasions, got arrested for refusing to leave the Capitol after the building closed. On Friday, David Sanchez, the union’s president, said that his arrest -– and those of 25 others –- brought attention to the cause of public education.

"It’s so sad that teachers have to go this far to get the attention of some lawmakers," Sanchez told the crowd.

Deeper cuts, labor leaders said, would mean teacher layoffs, larger class sizes and shorter school years. Similar rallies were staged in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego.

For their part, Republicans pointed to the budget plan they offered this week, arguing that higher-than-expected tax collections this year will produce billions of dollars, money that the GOP says should be devoted to education funding. The plan doesn’t include extended taxes, instead featuring deep spending cuts for state workers, the mentally ill and the disabled.

Labor leaders and education officials argued that those cuts were still too deep.

Over the course of an hour, Friday’s crowd shook their fists and homemade signs at the Capitol and took turns chanting  "Cuts hurt kids" and "Do your job."

Yvonne Walker, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1000, cast the budget fight as part of nationwide war on public sector workers. "This is an attack on the middle class," she said. "It's spreading, but we're going to stop it right here, right now."

With the Legislature and governor's office controlled by Democrats, labor leaders kept their focus squarely on Republicans. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did not get a pass.

"We have spent the last eight years battling he who shall not be named," Walker said to applause. "And we're here to say no more."

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