GOV. DAVIS: To Sign Budget Today Despite Misgivings on Health Spending
Gov. Gray Davis will attend a ceremony at the Capitol today to sign the state's $81 billion budget -- the first time since 1993 that a budget has been approved before the July 1 fiscal year begins (Willis, AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/29). But the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the governor is expected to use his line-item veto authority to trim "a number of areas" before he signs. Some areas of disagreement: The Legislature "had wanted to make long-term care for illegal immigrants in nursing homes a permanent entitlement." Davis, however, desires only a one-year extension in the program and a cap on the number of patients it serves. Last night, the Assembly approved a Davis request that "reduces state funding for a pay increase for in-home support services workers to be determined by bargaining, dropping the amount from $90 million to $33.6 million." The Assembly did not take up limits on new Medi-Cal spending that Davis has requested, but Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) predicted it would pass this morning (Mendel, 6/29).
Easy Does It
The Orange County Register examines Davis' role in cutting the Legislature's proposed health care expansions down to size. The perception in Sacramento, the Register reports, is that "health care remains below education and crime on the public's list of priorities." Phil Isenberg, a health care lobbyist, said, "Health care is moving up on the agenda, but it's moving ... like a Chevy in second gear. You aren't going to see these massive moves." At a recent press conference, Davis expressed reservations that should the economy's growth slow, the state would still be obligated to cover a host of new enrollees. He said, "I want to make sure we don't commit ourselves to the point where we have to depend on receiving a $4.3 billion surplus every year. This is the largest budget surplus this state has ever been blessed with. I do not assume that will happen each and every year." And Davis has defenders, including Assemblywoman Carole Migden (D-San Francisco). She said, "A governor's got a panoply of options that need to be balanced. Should we not fill potholes? Should we let the streets fall into disrepair? Should we not replace textbooks?"
Among the health care expansions covered by the budget, the Healthy Families program was broadened to cover children in families with incomes up to 250% of the federal poverty level, and Medi-Cal eligibility requirements were loosened for working parents. The changes will cover as many as 400,000 residents at a cost of "less than $100 million." But Assembly Democrats and health care activists had wanted much more, including combining Healthy Families and Medi-Cal into one monolithic program that would cover anyone earning up to 300% of poverty. Sara Nichols of Neighbor to Neighbor, an advocacy group for the poor, said, "It seems to me that you fix the roof while the sun is shining. This is the time. We have the money and the political will to extend coverage to the people in this state who really need it. Unfortunately, this sort of patchwork approach is a stopgap measure. We need to get back to talking about universal coverage. ... This issue is coming back whether Davis wants it or not" (Weintraub, 6/28).