Wednesday, March 10th, 2004


* Election Message: No Mandate for Cuts, Ground Rules for the Budget Debate

* Next Two Months Critical to Demonstrate Impact of Cuts

While health care was not on the ballot, this past election has significant impact on health care, and the shape of the budget debate moving forward. Propositions 57 & 58 passed by a wide margin, while Proposition 56 failed.

SETBACK ON 56: The defeat of Proposition 56, to be clear, was a setback for health care advocates. The reforms were needed to stop the ongoing cycle of late and irresponsible budgets, and to change the dynamic of the budget process that has gotten us into our current crisis. Advocates will have to find different ways to keep legislators accountable to budget decisions, including decisions to cut health programs. In the long term, the lack of reform continues to make it difficult to win the broad reforms needed to meet the health care needs of all Californians, and the ultimate goal of quality, affordable health care for all.

ELECTION ANALYSIS: A combination of factors conspired against Proposition 56. With no real contest in the presidential primary contest, it was a remarkably low turnout election, with an electorate seemingly exhausted from the historic recall election just a few months ago. The recall and change in Administrations also changed the dynamic of the race: much of the voter demand for change had dissipated. The reform agenda in the Budget Accountability Act was overwhelmed by the focus on Propositions 57 & 58, which were similar sounding and were also billed as the solution to the state’s budget crisis. Among the choices, Proposition 56 was the only initiative that had a funded opposition, which was successful in raising questions about the provisions. When voters are confused about an issue, they tend to vote “no.” And in this case, they felt they did their part to address the budget problem by supporting 57 & 58, something that was supported by most political leaders.

NO MANDATE FOR CUTS: That said, health advocates should also be clear about what this election did not state about the budget. There was no mandate in this election for additional cuts to health or other vital services. If anything, some of the support for Proposition 57 was a desire to avoid more cuts, which were threatened without passage of 57 & 58. In several local elections around the state, voters approved tax increases to prevent cuts, including Measure A in Alameda County (see below) around health issues.

NEW RULES FOR NEW PHASE OF BUDGET DEBATE: What the election does is set the ground rules for a new phase in the budget debate. Proposition 56 would have changed the dynamic for the better, but its defeat still leaves us with the same budget process that advocates have had some success in preventing the worst of the cuts in the past several years. The passage of the bond in Proposition 57 does not erase the deficit, but defines its size—around $14 million. It prevents the need for drastic cuts immediately, and otherwise re-affirms that timetable for the budget debate.

With the election in the past, we now mark a new beginning for budget debate. March and April are traditionally the times that legislative budget committees review proposed cuts, and study the impact of those cuts. Starting with a Monday, March 8th hearing by the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Health, there will be a series of hearings, as well as advocacy activities, rallies, lobby days, and events through the announcement of the May Revision of the budget. Advocates will need to put significant emphasis to demonstrate the severe impact of the proposed cuts, and to indicate that there are other choices.

SIGNS OF HOPE AT HIGHLAND: Under that theme, Alameda County voters gave their support (by 70.9%) for Measure A, a property tax increase in order to fund health care services, especially to keep open Highland Hospital and the Alameda County Medical Center, the key safety net health care institution in Oakland. They followed the lead of Los Angeles voters over a year ago, and this victory indicates once again that voters support health care, are against cuts and the closure of health care institutions–even if it means they must share in the solution with additional revenues.

ACTIONS NEEDED IN NEXT TWO MONTHS: Numerous organizations are sponsoring and planning hearings, activities, lobby days, and rallies over the next three months to make the case to voters, and ultimately, to Governor Schwarzenegger to prevent these cuts, and choose another solution. Events include a range of town hall meetings and actions in local districts around the state, and mobilizations in Sacramento of hundreds of community leaders. This includes a major combined action in Sacramento of thousands on May 12th, sponsored by groups representing seniors, children, hunger, and health care advocates. More information will be available in the Health and Budget Advocacy Calendar. If your organization is planning your own event or activity, please let us know so that we may include it.

Anthony E. Wright

Executive Director

Health Access

1127 11th St., #234, Sacramento, CA 95814

Ph: 916-442-2308, Fx: 916-497-0921

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