Hundreds of Bay Area AIDS activists and their supporters marched in San Francisco’s Civic Center on Wednesday to protest state budget cuts for HIV treatment and AIDS prevention.
“We are outraged, because we know there will be more infections,” Mark Cloutier, CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said at a noontime rally in Civic Center Plaza.
“They are taking away prevention, education, and testing money,” Cloutier told a crowd of about 200 people. “That puts San Franciscans in peril, and we’re not going to stand for it.”
Cloutier and other speakers demanded Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state legislators restore more than $80 million in cuts to the state’s Office of AIDS. The agency is charged with preventing HIV infection in California and providing services for residents infected with HIV.
The cuts include $52 million slashed by the governor’s line-item veto last week. The amount represents more than 10 percent of all his line-item veto cuts.
That disproportionate figure suggests discrimination against AIDS patients, many of whom are low-income and in dire need of services, said Brian Basinger of the AIDS Housing Alliance in San Francisco.
Basinger vowed to sue the governor if the funds are not restored.
H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the California Department of Finance, said the governor made his line-item veto cuts “with reluctance, but out of necessity.”
“The governor was presented with a budget that was out of balance, and with no reserve,” forcing him to make drastic cuts that had not been on the table before, Palmer said. The line-item cuts also affected programs for low-income children, and to prevent domestic violence, Palmer said.
“The veto was no statement on the value of these types of programs,” Palmer said. He emphasized that some AIDS-treatment services, such as the state’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program, were untouched by the budget process.
Still, many protesters said they felt victimized by the budget cuts.
“[The governor] probably feels we won’t fight back,” said Erika Molina of San Francisco, who wore a Grim Reaper costume and stood on the steps of the California Supreme Court as protesters marched by.
“San Francisco will fight back,” she said.