The role of the LAO…

Conservative blogger Jon Fleischman at the FlashReport has a post attacking the “unelected” Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) about their “alternative budget” proposal that includes revenue increases, not just cuts. The Sacramento Bee’s Dan Weintraub defends the LAO and its role.

There are several issues here: the substance of the LAO’s proposal, how the recommendations should be considered by the Legislature, and the LAO’s overall role in the budget process.

Weintraub is right that the LAO has put forward policy and budget proposals all the time, but for some reason, probably political, people have invested the office with a more mythic role recently. The LAO has no more power than any other analyst outside the Capitol, does not have make decisions or cast votes, and is not accountable to anybody if it gets things wrong. Fleischman is right that the LAO has no more claim to the truth. Rather, it is there to provide advice to the Legislature, just like other think tanks, consumer groups, and specific interests do.

Sometimes that advice by the LAO is heeded, and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes that information is good and the advice helpful; other times it isn’t.
* So when the LAO suggested a potential compromise regarding negotiating prescription drug discounts for the uninsured, it provided a useful frame to break the deadlock after an expensive ballot ballot and for consumer groups to push and for the Legislature and the Governor to agree to the groundbreaking AB2911.
* When the LAO continually recommends the mandatory enrollment of the aged, blind, and disabled into Medi-Cal managed care, the Legislature continually–and appropriately–rejects proposals that to date have not included the appropriate patient protections.

On the budget, the Legislature has often taken the budget recommendations as a buffet, something from which to pick-and-choose. The Legislature appropriately takes the LAO recommendations in context: another perspective, but not the final word. (We were certainly amused/irritated that some legislators that never listened to the LAO before suddenly were taking the analyst as gospel on the issues that the LAO raised regarding health reform.)

So what about the LAO’s Alternative Budget?
* It’s useful that the LAO has suggested raising revenues as part of the budget mix.
* It’s noteworthy that the LAO actually rejected the inclusion of the Medi-Cal provider rates, given the impact it would have on access to care. The Legislature and the Governor, unfortunately, has already made that cut.
* We disagree with the LAO’s advice to make even *steeper* cuts to health care in certain areas. In addition to some of the heartbreaking cuts in Medi-Cal benefits, the LAO would potentially triple the cuts to public hospitals, with a rationale that doesn’t recognize how care is delivered locally. The LAO would gets rid of continuous eligibility for children, in effect making its harder for many children to get on and stay on medical coverage. The Legislature would be wise to reject these cuts, as they have in previous years.

But the decision on all these matters is up to the Legislature and the Governor, who should then accountable for their actions. We’ll support good ideas (such as balancing some of these cuts already made with revenues.) We will provide information to counter the LAO analysis if we see the need. The LAO is doing their job, and their recommendations should be put in context.

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

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