Can you talk about cuts without talking about them?

The Bee editorial board this Saturday bemoans that “after months of haggling… the two most powerful men in California government are still not on the same page.” Yet its condemnation is not for Governor Schwarzenegger, who unilaterally cut another half-billion dollars in vital services, beyond his agreement with legislative leaders.

Their misplaced scolding is for Senator President Pro Tem Steinberg, who is suing (as are several groups) over the Governor’s authority to make such cuts.

What’s remarkable about the editorial is that it makes no attempt to acknowledge the serious constitutional issues about unchecked gubernatorial power to cut outside the once-a-year budget, without legislative approval or oversight. Voters rejected “spending cap” proposals that included similar power grabs (although with differences in the details) in both 2005 and earlier this year. Yet the Governor is assuming this power anyway.

What’s misleading about the editorial is that it treats the legislature as a monolith. It says the legislature rejected over $1 billion in budget solutions, without specifying it was, by many accounts, specifically the Assembly Republicans who balked. Instead, the Governor didn’t punish them, but rewarded them with cuts to the safety-net that they had sought, with the fallout on the vulnerable Californians who rely on the services he cut.

And yes, what’s most shameful about the editorial is that nowhere does it mention the actual substance of the cuts, mostly to health and human services. How can these cuts be discussed without even mentioning what they are, and their impacts–such as zeroing out state funding for community clinics and battered women’s shelters, or additional, steep cuts to maternal and child health, AIDS and HIV treatment and prevention, and children’s health insurance.

The legislature had already agreed to cuts that were beyond the pale, for example forcing California to actively kick children off of Healthy Families coverage–but the Governor’s additional cuts threaten the viability of the program as a whole. The Budget Conference Committee spent several weeks to be deliberate in making cuts, and all that was undone by the Governor’s veto pen. If anything, the legislature already had went too far, too deep, and we–and particular our children–will suffer the consequence.

These would be inconvenient facts to mention in the editorial’s desire to be “safely beyond the budget debate.” Whether those that directly are served by these programs, or for all Californians who rely on our health system, the rest of us are hardly beyond the debate, but are going to start feeling it first hand.

Those who are suing the Governor–which includes but is not limited to Senator Steinberg, since several health provider, social service, and other community groups are as well–are right to do so, both to preserve check-and-balances, and on the sheer human impact of the cuts. Too bad the Bee didn’t want to even tell it readership what we were talking about.

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

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