Calif. Lawmakers Face Challenge in Selling Their Budget Proposal
On Tuesday, California's top legislators began lobbying their caucuses to vote for a recent budget agreement to close the state's $26 billion deficit, the AP/Stockton Record reports.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Republican and Democratic leaders from the Assembly and Senate on Monday announced a deal to resolve the shortfall in part by cutting state health services and other programs.
The governor and legislative leaders say their proposal would help restore California's financial footing and allow the state to stop issuing IOUs.
Lawmakers are expected to vote on the budget plan tomorrow (AP/Stockton Record, 7/21).
Budget legislation requires a two-thirds majority vote, meaning that the plan's approval will require support from most Democrats and at least some Republicans.
However, observers say it is unclear whether Democrats will vote for a plan that includes such severe cuts to health and social services (Young, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/21).
In addition, some Republicans might oppose the proposed accounting maneuvers, which shift state funding obligations to later fiscal years (Harmon, San Jose Mercury News, 7/21).
Budget Plan Details
The new budget proposal aims to reduce state spending by cutting:
- $1.3 billion from Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program. Lawmakers say the state will request higher federal contributions for the program.
- $124 million from Healthy Families, California's Children's Health Insurance Program. Lawmakers hope foundations and not-for-profit organizations will provide gap funding to maintain the program.
- $226 million from the state's In-Home Supportive Services Program. The budget would eliminate services for certain clients and require IHSS workers and caregivers to undergo fingerprinting and background checks in an effort to reduce fraud.
In addition, the budget includes a proposal to sell the State Compensation Insurance Fund, which provides workers' compensation insurance in California. The Legislative Analyst's Office has said it is unlikely the state will be able to sell the fund this fiscal year (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 7/21).
Interest Groups Exert Pressure
As Assembly and Senate leaders work to persuade their colleagues to support the budget plan, numerous interest groups are mounting opposition to various elements of the proposal.
The Latino Coalition for a Healthy California has sent out mailings urging lawmakers to reject the proposed $875 million in combined cuts to state welfare programs and Healthy Families (San Jose Mercury News, 7/21).
Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, said "People are scared that their coverage isn't going to be there when they need it." He added that the budget proposal "certainly suggests that even the safety net is not going to provide coverage, even if we fall into poverty, even in the worst of circumstances" (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/21).
Los Angeles County Officials Threaten To File Lawsuit
In related news, a budget plan provision to extract $4.7 billion in local funds through various measures has prompted Los Angeles County supervisors to take action toward suing the state.
Los Angeles County stands to lose $313 million in redevelopment funds and $109 million in gasoline taxes.
Other local governments are expected to pursue similar legal action against the state (Rothfield/McGreevy, Los Angeles Times, 7/22).
Republicans Wary of Prison Cuts
Many Republican lawmakers already have said they will not support a budget provision that would cut $1.2 billion from state prison spending.
The provision could result in the release of certain nonviolent inmates and redirect elderly or ill inmates to non-prison hospitals (Yi, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/22).
About 6,300 detainees could be shifted to nursing homes or home confinement under the plan.
Although Assembly Minority Leader Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) agreed to the full budget proposal earlier this week, he said he was unaware of the reduced corrections spending at the time.
Blakeslee said he told legislators that "there will be no Republican votes for any portion of the budget" if the prison cuts remain in the plan (Sanders/Yamamura, Sacramento Bee, 7/22).
Editorial, Opinion Pieces
- Los Angeles Times : The budget agreement California leaders reached this week will leave "many seniors and children without medical care" and weaken the state safety net, a Times editorial states.Â Moreover, provisions that shift funds from local governments will compound state funding cuts to Healthy Families and other programs, according to the editorial (Los Angeles Times, 7/22).
- Dan Balz, "The Take," Washington Post: In the Post's "The Take," Balz questions "whether California's experience will transfer to the rest of the country," citing the state's highly partisan Legislature and its debate over health care reform (Balz, "The Take," Washington Post, 7/21).
- Anthony Wright, "The Treatment," The New Republic: The cuts to Healthy Families are possible in part because California has the "seventh-worst uninsured rate in the nation," according to Wright, who adds, "After all, with several hundreds of thousands of uninsured children already, what's hundreds of thousands more?" Wright concludes, "And that's a notion that needs to fundamentally change with health reform" (Wright, "The Treatment," The New Republic, 7/21).
In an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America" today, Gov. Schwarzenegger discussed health care cuts in the budget and national health care reform efforts (Cuomo, "Good Morning America," ABC, 7/22).
On Tuesday, KQED's "Forum" included a discussion of the budget (Krasny, "Forum," KQED, 7/21). Today's "Forum" is scheduled to include a discussion with KQED Sacramento bureau chief John Myers, Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) (Krasny, "Forum," KQED, 7/22).
In addition, KPBS' "These Days" included a discussion of the budget deal (Cavanaugh, "These Days," KPBS, 7/21).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.