Lawmakers, governor spar on health budget

perata.jpgState Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland; Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley; and others were at Alameda County Medical Center’s Highland Hospital in Oakland for a news conference this morning denouncing the governor’s proposed budget cuts.

This latest of Perata’s budget roadshow appearances brought doctors and nurses to the fore, talking about how the cuts will jeopardize the availability and quality of emergency medical care for all Californians.

“Hospitals and emergency rooms across California are feeling the squeeze,” Perata said. “The bottom line is these budget cuts would weaken the emergency medical care system and put all the lives it protects at greater risk.”

hancock.jpgSaid Hancock: “Balancing the state’s budget on the backs of poor people isn’t the solution. The Governor’s proposed budget cuts will cause irreversible damage to our state. Slashing billions of dollars out of our healthcare system endangers the fiscal health of hospitals and the well-being of seniors and children.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s revised budget proposal recommends reducing hospital funding by $100 million and taking health insurance away from 470,000 children and 429,000 adults, the lawmakers say; as it is, the state already has a shortage of hospital beds, increasing emergency-room waiting times and fewer emergency rooms.

Aaron McLear, Schwarzenegger’s press secretary, said Perata should tone down the rhetoric and start working on a compromise solution.

“The governor has said he would love to provide more money to health and human servicess and education and parks and everything else, but we can’t spent money we don’t have,” McLear said to me this afternoon, adding the governor must provide a balanced budget proposal and “he doesn’t believe we ought to be raising taxes… The governor believes his May revision is the best we can do given that we’re $17 billion short.”

“We’re anxious to get started on hearing more than rhetoric, on hearing solutions from the Legislature,” McLear continued, noting he considers lawmakers his partners in this crisis and wants to work with them. “But the process doesn’t move forward if all you have is the leaders of the legislature out there doing press conferences.”

Of course, the Democrats’ news conferences are a tactic not only to build public pressure on the governor and Republican lawmakers to back off their no-tax-hikes pledge and fully fund hospitals, schools and the like, but also to build support for the bigger political goal of doing away with the requirement that budget and tax bills pass both Legislative houses with two-thirds majorities rather than just simple 50-percent-plus-one majorities.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.