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A year ago, Gov. Jerry Brown said at an annual breakfast celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that education funding was a civil rights issue, defending his budget plan in the first days of his new administration.

This year, Brown didn't attend. The Democratic governor has a new budget proposal now, and lawmakers at breakfast this morning said it would hurt children, the sick and the poor.

"The members of the California Legislative Black Caucus are aware of how our communities are hurting, and we're doing all we can to prevent the budget from being balanced on the backs of those who can least afford it," said Sen. Curren Price, the Inglewood Democrat and chairman of the black caucus, which put on the event. "We're joining with (Senate) President Pro Tem (Darrell) Steinberg and others in asking the governor to hold off on his proposed budget cuts that are going to hurt schools, the sick and the working poor until the budget initiative is voted on."

If approved by voters in November, the initiative would raise the state sales tax and income taxes on California's highest-earners. But Brown wants the Legislature to enact spending cuts by March, a measure legislative Democrats have dismissed.

"Why would we make cuts that are going to harm people and harm the economy in March when in fact in May there's a ... probability that the deficit number is going to be less?" Steinberg said when Brown proposed his budget last week.

Steinberg invoked King's legacy in his remarks this morning, at the downtown Holiday Inn.

"The politics, the difficulties, the struggles, the bills, the differences, sometimes the partisanship, the elections - they are all about the larger purpose that Dr. King spoke so eloquently about," Steinberg said. "How do we make sure as Californians that every kid has a chance, that the words about equal opportunity and good education are not just words, but are reflected in our public policies? How do we make sure we don't do any more damage to the poor and the needy and those who have suffered more than others because of the difficult budget cuts and decisions we've had to make over the last number of years?"

Brown has said the cuts are necessary in California's poor financial state.

Among the crowd at breakfast was Mervyn Dymally, lieutenant governor when Brown was governor before. Dymally, a former congressman, assemblyman and state senator, was honored in a video tribute, for which Brown recorded a message.

Brown, who had a sometimes strained relationship with Dymally, called him a friend and "one of the legends of California political history."

The 73-year-old governor added, "I'm very glad that he's upholding the finest traditions of us older folk who still cling to power."


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