Assembly Operating Budget Used for Health Care, Other Services
Assembly leaders have used the legislative body's $150 million annual operating budget to direct funding to state services -- including health care -- without much oversight, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports.
Details of Spending
According to the AP/Bee, the operating budget is meant to provide funding for hiring aides, renting offices and other Assembly-related expenses.
However, Assembly speakers from 2008 to 2014 diverted a total of $115 million from the annual operating budget to boost services across the state, such as health care and education (Nirappil, AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/25). For instance, the Assembly has given:
- $5.4 million to the state Department of Aging;
- $2 million to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development;
- $1.5 million to the state Department of Veterans Affairs;
- $1 million to the state Department of Social Services; and
- $30,000 to the California Health Benefit Exchange (AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/25).
Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said using the operating budget in such a way allows lawmakers to fill in gaps that arise across the state. She said, "It is good to have flexibility because sometimes crises happen, and it affects our constituents."
Assembly leaders also noted that the operating budget is a "use-it-or-lose-it formula," so such spending ensures the funding will continue, according to the AP/Bee.
Steve Boilard, a former analyst with the California Legislative Analyst's Office, said, "The alternative is the Assembly could spend money on itself and give itself higher salaries or more staff."
Watchdog Groups Warn of Potential Abuse
However, government watchdog groups note that the spending has little oversight and could lead to misuse.
Some critics of the spending say it could end up being used by lawmakers as a bargaining chip among their allies and opponents, according to the AP/Bee. For instance, the Assembly gave $2 million to labor research centers last year to offset budget cuts made under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) administration, but such centers often release research that support democrats' priorities.
Douglas Johnson, an expert in state government at Claremont McKenna College, said, "These causes may be great and very worthy of the money ... But if so, they should be able to get the money through the normal grant process" (Nirappil, AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/25).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.