Severe cuts to be sought in special session…

Earlier today, the Governor’s office held a call with leaders from the health and human services community, about the budget and the upcoming special session. I was on, but our friend Marty Omoto at the California Disability Community Action Network gives a full report at the California Progress Report:

Saying the budget situation is “unprecedented”, high level Schwarzenegger Administration officials said today in a conference call to health and human services advocates that the Governor will propose major cuts to health and human services as part of a package of proposals to address the growing State budget crisis that he wants the Legislature to approve when they meet in special session next week. Administration officials also said that the Governor will also propose ways to increase the State’s revenues…

Herb Shultz, senior advisor to the Governor, Vickie Bradshaw, the Governor’s cabinet secretary, and Secretary Kim Belshe of the California Health and Human Services Agency were among Administration officials who provided the briefing. The officials said that details of the Governor’s proposals are not yet available at this point, but will be when the Governor issues his formal proclamation soon, that officially calls the Legislature back into special session.

Bradshaw said that the State’s revenue loss is “far beyond what we expected” and that the budget shortfall is significantly larger and “dramatic”.

“We are in a state of fiscal crisis” said Bradshaw and that “short term fixes” cannot solve the enormous state budget shortfall.

She said that given the enormous crisis, the Governor viewed it as important to call special session of the Legislature now, to correct the problems this year, but warned that it will mean “significant cuts to all of our major programs”.

“None of the cuts will be easy,” Bradshaw said and urged that advocates and other Californians to help policymakers “look for as many alternatives as possible”.

Belshe, who oversees 12 state departments that have major responsibility for many critical health and human service programs that serve children and adults with disabilities, mental health needs, seniors and low income families, said “we
would agree that the situation we face today is without precedent”.

“Very often health and human services becomes the focal point” for cuts because of the size of the budget, but that the size and magnitude of the problem means every budget area will be impacted, including health and human services. She said it will mean controlling costs and caseload growths in programs but that “it won’t come without pain and difficulty” and will be a challenge for “all of us to address”

Belshe said that many of the reductions that will be proposed in health and human services would, if approved by the Legislature, take effect this budget year in order to have impact on the State’s growing deficit.

Both Shultz and Bradshaw said several times that the Governor is not looking at closing the gap between what the State spends and what it takes in as revenue this year or next year with spending cuts only but ways to increase revenues.

Bradshaw, said that “whatever we don’t get in revenue generation” would mean getting it in spending reductions.

So not lots of detail on the substance of the cuts, but some on process.

The special session will start November 5th, the day after election day. Governor Schwarzenegger will propose a package that includes both cuts and revenues, not just a cuts-only approach… which is an improvement from last year, but we’ll see what that actually means. He will seek revenues that require a “bipartisan” vote, so he will be seeking a 2/3 vote, or at least 2 Republican Senators, and 6 Republican Assemblymembers in addition to all Democrats.

While the legislature is not required to act, the Governor will push for action by November 30th, when this legislative session ends, since the newly-elected Legislature starts on December 1st.

Finally, there was significant discussion about the need for a federal economic stimulus package that includes an increase in federal Medicaid matching funds. For those who care about health care, our advocacy will need to be at both the state and federal level.

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

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