Budget Burdens from DC to Sacramento…

HEALTH ACCESS UPDATE
Thursday, February 4, 2010

BUDGET ACTION HEATS UP AT STATE & FEDERAL LEVEL
* Chiang Tells Budget Committee of Cash Crisis, Urges “Credible” Action
* Obama’s Federal Budget Includes Health Reform and Help for California
* Other Items: CBP Report on Growing Need for Services; Single-Payer Bill Advances

* Read Our Health Access Blog for updates on state budget, the latest in D.C.
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ASSEMBLY BUDGET COMMITTEE REVIEWS THE BIG PICTURE: Budget Chair Noreen Evans (D) led committee members Wednesday in a sharply focused Q-and-A with State Controller John Chiang, Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor and representatives with the state Department of Finance.

Not since July 12, 2007, has California actually had cash on hand, Chiang said. Since that date, the Department of Finance has relied on “external borrowing and internal borrowing” from various special funds. In answer to lawmaker’s queries, the controller said the state’s finance department has identified 710 of the state’s 1,000-plus special funds from which it can borrow internally.

Repeatedly, Chiang told legislators that California “needs credible and sustainable budget solutions” that do not include past-year gimmicks such as proposing to sell off the state compensation fund, or EdFund (the state’s guarantor of student loans) or the state Lottery — all of which were said by the administration to be worth far more money than they actually were, and attracted no buyers anyway.

Chiang was firm in telling the budget committee that members needed to make “tough choices” to buck up the state’s economic and educational future, as well as to ensure its quality of life does not decline sharply. “We’ve lost 1 million jobs…. We need to decide what kind of state do we plan to have — and if we are going to fund essential services, we really need to address the question of revenue.”

Both Republicans and Democrats made remarks indicating they’ve had enough of cutting state services for taxpayers, the disabled, the elderly, and K-12 students as well as university-bound students. Assemblyman Jim Silva (R) said as a teacher he is tired of “seeing students are getting short-changed. I get my back up with I hear that California students are at a disadvantage in getting university educations.”

Assemblywoman Diane Harkey (R) noted that she only joined the Legislature about a year ago, but already she’d been through three cycles of closing budget deficits. “We’re not just in a budget problem. We are overloaded with debt.” Others, including Democrats Jerry Hill and Robert Blumenfield, pointed out that some of the harsh health care service cuts that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is championing will cost the state more money in the long-run as people seek care in emergency rooms or long-term care facilities.

Chiang said Wall Street financial experts do not consider the governor’s demand for $6.9 billion from the federal government an intelligent answer to California’s perennial deficit woes. “When the governor issued his ‘6.9 billion solution,’ it was not viewed as a totally credible solution, leading Standard & Poors to downgrade California’s rating from A to A-.”

“We’re going to have to educate our students for new economies,” Chiang said, “Your actions can make the difference in setting this generation on the right fiscal path. For too long, when people don’t make tough choices, students, the aged, disabled and taxpayers all end up suffering.”

Evans, the committee chair, said sub-committees will begin meeting next week to scrutinize details of the governor’s budget proposal. Regarding an unprecedented Department of Finance letter requesting blanket authority to defer payments to various state creditors, Evans said “I will clean up my language from what I said when I first saw this request for the Department to have legislative authority. I’m extremely skeptical and I suggest you come back with an actual plan.” Vice Chair Jim Nielsen (R) joined Republican colleagues in attempting to distance himself from the administration’s request for open-ended authority to defer payments. “This is a breath-taking application,” Nielsen said. “To just ask us to give you a blank check … we can’t afford that anymore.”

PRESIDENT OBAMA PUTS FORWARD FEDERAL BUDGET PROPOSAL: Earlier this week, President Barack Obama released his proposed federal budget. The proposal attempts to balance short-term economic stimulus with long-term efforts at deficit reduction. In attempting to reducing the deficit by $1.25 trillion over 10 years, the proposal lets the Bush-era tax cuts expire, and prioritizes the passage of pending health reforms in Congress. To deal with the immediate recession, the budget proposes a variety of provisions, such as continuing COBRA subsidies to help the unemployed purchase health coverage. It would also extend enhanced Medicaid federal matching funds from the stimulus for six additional months to states, providing $25.5 billion nationally, and at least $1.5 billion to California in the budget year through June 2011.

The Office of Management and Budget has a specific fact sheet on the federal budget and California. Health Access has more about the federal budget on our blog.

CUTS PROPOSED AT TIME OF GROWING NEEDS: The cyclical, seemingly never-ending state budget grind has Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stuck in a rut, still swinging away with an ax at the safety net at the time it is needed most. That’s the basic message that comes through from a report released Tuesday by the California Budget Project.

California has lost 1,000,000 jobs since the start of the recession, the report says. People need help, families need help, whole communities need help as they scramble against the tide of economic devastation. Cuts, the CBP says, will only further weaken the economy and could impede the national recovery.

The CBP report says that 100 prominent economists of all ideologies recently warned that,”It is economically preferable to raise taxes on those with high incomes than to cut state expenditures [during a recession] … Steep state budget cuts will exacerbate the economic downturn.”

The report noted that California now has 3.6 million more working-age individuals than 10 years ago, but is now down to approximately the same number of jobs as 10 years ago. More than one in five working-age Californians — or 21.4 percent — were either unemployed or underemployed in December 2009. (The calculation includes 354,000 jobless people who want and are able to work, but who are left uncounted in official statistics because they have not searched for work in the last month.)

As need grew, California unfortunately responded by cutting off programs — suspending enrollment in Healthy Families, for example, even though the number of children whose low-income families bought coverage through the program increased steadily by nearly 100,000 kids from July 2007 to July 2009, the report says. To read it and view helpful charts and graphics, go to www.cbp.org.

SINGLE-PAYER, OTHER LEGISLATION STARTS TO MOVE AGAIN: With the new year, bills are starting to move again, including SB 810, the single-payer health reform bill authored by Democratic Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco. That bill looks to be headed to the Governor’s desk again this year. It’s onto the Assembly after passing the Senate last week, the last week a bill was eligible to pass out of its house of origin. While it still faces the barriers of a two-thirds vote for financing, and a probable gubernatorial veto regardless, it does keep a broad range of health reform options in the policy conversation, and highlights the deteriorating status quo of our health system. If anything, some advocates hope it will provide a lesson from state legislatures to their federal counterparts, that they should not quit just because of a setback.

For more information about anything in this update, contact its author, Cynthia Craft, at ccraft@health-access.org.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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