Town Halls Heat Up As Legislators Get Earful On Cuts

Faced with the lasting effects of the Great Recession on state revenues, governors and legislators across the country have spent much of the 2011 legislative session proposing unpopular and economically destructive cuts to education, health care, and other critical services in state budgets. In many states, cuts to services that largely affect working families have been accompanied by unpopular tax giveaways to millionaires and big businesses – trickle-down policies mirrored in the proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2012 authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), which would privatize Medicare while extending tax breaks for the super-wealthy.

In recent town hall meetings and other community gatherings across the nation, legislators have started to feel the heat from constituents angry over these politically toxic and fiscally irresponsible proposals.

In Ohio, where Gov. Kasich’s proposed budget included almost $400 million in education cuts, public outrage is manifesting itself in seemingly unlikely places: suburban areas that voted for the Republican governor in last years’ election. As the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports, this demonstration of voter anger is making an impression on conservative legislators who have been “battered” in recent district meetings with constituents:

"We are looking to take the edge off of this problem across the spectrum of school districts – not just for the upper" property wealth districts, said [Rep. Ron] Amstutz, a Wooster Republican shepherding the budget through the GOP-controlled House. "But we are concerned about the districts getting high percentage cuts."

Taxpayers from those districts, many in traditional Republican territory, are also concerned – and downright angry. Hundreds of them have been giving GOP lawmakers an earful at recent community meetings.

At the same time that Republican legislators in Ohio are responding to voter pressure and urging their governor to scale back the damage of budget cuts, Republican legislators in Florida are similarly urging their governor to scale back billions in corporate tax cuts. Gov. Scott’s proposed plan to phase out state corporate taxes entirely was described as being on “life support” after Republican legislators balked. In something of an understatement, State Sen. Nancy Detert (R-FL) justified her opposition to repealing corporate taxes by saying it was "just kind of odd” to pass billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts “during the worst of times."

This wave of contentious town hall confrontations has not been limited to meetings with state legislators. Members of Congress returning to their districts from D.C.have also been getting an earful from constituents over proposed cuts, rising income inequality, and their votes for the Ryan budget.

In recent public meetings in Florida, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New York, and across the nation, conservative members of Congress have been directly confronted over voting to privatize Medicare and refusing to raise taxes on the wealthy, part of what the New York Times reported on as a national trend of right-wing representatives “increasingly on the defensive, facing worried and angry questions from voters.” One lawmaker even resorted to pre-screening questions from voters lest he be asked about unpopular cuts.

It’s no surprise that voters are reacting in this manner to state and federal proposals that balance the budget on the backs of working families, children, seniors, and others who can least afford it. As poll after poll has shown, the more voters know about the specifics of many budget cuts that target these groups, the more vociferously they oppose them. At the same time, asking millionaires and corporations to pay their fair share in taxes continues to be the most popular solution to budget shortfalls.

This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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