There was no escaping the sharp wit and quick tongue of Sen. Denise Moreno Ducheny (D), chair of the Senate Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review, on Tuesday as the panel heard its first airing of the rationale behind the governor’s budget proposals to drastically slash taxpayer-funded health services — for the second year in a row.
Again and again, Ducheny offered succinct retorts that, in effect, signaled to the admininstration that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ideas amounted to little more than glasses-half-empty. In nearly every area of cuts described, Ducheny demanded more data before moving forward on the governor’s punishing health-care cuts for California’s most vulnerable populations at a time when the prolonged recession continues to drag down the state’s economy.
More than once, Ducheny and other senators questioned why revenue-raising options were not considered as alternatives to decimating services to taxpaying, lower-income citizens. “Most of these programs were started in the first place with the theory that they would save us Medi-Cal dollars in the long run,” Ducheny said, demanding more concrete figures from the administration’s Department of Finance as it outlined proposed cuts in adult day health care, Healthy Families coverage for children, mental health programs, HIV-AIDS drug assistance and more.
“It’s a pig in a poke, is what it is,” Ducheny said, chiding the finance department and the Legislative Analyst’s Office representatives for not presenting more details to support the claim of potential savings. “It’s a bit of an irony that, if we’re the seventh-richest state in the union, why the people who put us there couldn’t help us more, by paying a [higher] Vehicle License Fee, for example.”
Said Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco): “When the governor talked about ‘Sophie’s Choices,’ he didn’t suggest revisiting the tax breaks for revenues. He didn’t say that was one of ‘Sophie’s Choices.'”
Still, time and again, both the LAO and DOF representatives fell short in their explanations of how the puzzle pieces of the governor’s proposed budget cuts fit together in a way that made sense in helping Californians weather the tsunami of a persistent recession.
Those offering testimony against the governor’s cuts raised the discussion to a blunt level not frequently heard in such a formal setting. They spoke of the elderly and the frail expiring before being able to find a bed in a long-term nursing home. They spoke of children being left behind to fail in classrooms; they spoke of more and more people becoming homeless, hopeless, ailing and unjustly relegated to being second-class citizens. Phrases like “fiscally foolish,” “morally reprehensible” and “appalling and horrific” replaced the more polite, mutually beneficial language that advocates typically offer up in legislative hearings.
Regarding the proposal that Healthy Families vision care benefits be dropped for children whose low-income parents pay 150% more in premiums than they did a year ago, Ducheny said, “How are the children going to ‘Race to the Top’ if they can’t read?”
Senator Roderick Wright, a Democrat from Los Angeles, provoked the most heated discussion in dismissing what he called “the euphemisms regarding ‘reduction of services.'”
Should the governor’s proposals be adopted, Wright said, “We are voting to let people die. If we don’t face the consequences of these cuts, if we don’t face the fact that we are discussing life or death for some folks. . .we are doing a disservice to the public.”