It has been three weeks since Governor Jerry Brown first floated his ideas for trimming a $25.4 billion deficit, which included roughly $6 billion in cuts to health-related services.
Since then, legislators have listened to hundreds of Californians objecting to those cuts in budget hearings. Diana Dooley has sat in on hearings, talked with the subcommittees and spent a lot of time with legislators and staff to kick around all of the cuts and their possible alternatives.
“I could come up withÂ eight or 10 programs that are [candidates for amending cuts],” Dooley said after Brown’s State of the State speech last night, “but it’s premature to say where there might be modifications.”
Part of the reason it’s unlikely that there will be major changes, Dooley said, is because staff members and health services experts have pored over and over the choices for a long time.
“We have given our best effort, up and down and every way to Sunday, just trying to come up with a reasonable package in an unreasonable time,”
That’s not to say the budget proposal isn’t fungible, it could still be altered — as long as new sources of funding or cuts can be found, she said.
“I can’t say that at this point. There’s certainly nothing where I have had a change of heart on anything yet,” Dooley said. “We will engage with everyone, we’ll meet with the subcommittees, we’ll work with anyone who has a modification that’s a different way to carve this up.”
Yesterday, news came from a different front, when a Florida judge ruled against national health care reform, in a case that appears headed for the Supreme Court.
That development, along with the House’s vote to repeal reform, gave Republicans a little more ammunition in the budget hearings — even suggesting that California hold off on implementing the health benefits exchange until after a Supreme Court ruling.
“I have said since Jan. 3, when I started on this job, we are going to continue to prepare for health care reform,” Dooley said. “This is going to be litigated as many new programs are. But the law is the law. We just have to get the budget done first.”
Three members of the exchange’s board have been chosen, but appointment of the other two board members will most likely happen after the budget talks finish, she said.
Brown’s budget proposal includes a plan to raise money by having voters approve a tax extension. When he first announced it, he said that, in the event the voters didn’t approve it and even more cuts had to be made, that health services were unlikely to be cut further. In his State of the State speech last night, though, health programs were among the litany of possible new cuts if the tax extension didn’t pass (or if getting the measure onto the ballot is blocked by Republicans in the Legislature).
“We’d just have to find another 12 Â½ billion dollars,” Dooley said. “Deeper cuts in education, deeper cuts in health — there’s nowhere good to go. It’s already not good.”