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Reactions to Jerry Brown’s May budget revision

From Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles:

“The Governor’s May Budget Revision is another key milestone in our effort to pass a balanced on-time budget by June 15th. We appreciate the Governor’s commitment to maintaining the fiscal stability that has come from an improving economy, legislative Democrats making tough but necessary budget cuts, voters approving the majority-vote budget and voters standing with Democrats in supporting temporary tax revenues. We will review the Governor’s proposals and revenue projections, along with the LAO’s revenue projections, in depth, and his revised budget will be thoroughly discussed throughout the Budget committee and subcommittee process. Assemblymembers will review the Governor’s proposal through the prism of principles outlined in our Blueprint for a Responsible Budget: continuing fiscal responsibility, strengthening the middle class, and delivering effective, efficient services for Californians. On the whole, the Governor’s framework and the Assembly’s Blueprint seem to track well, and we’ll spend the next month reconciling our priorities.”

From Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, R-Visalia:

“Governor Brown today put forward a revised state spending plan that I believe charts a realistic path forward in meeting the budget priorities of hard-working taxpayers. Republicans share the Governor’s commitment to paying down state debt and holding the line on new spending. It is our hope that Legislative Democrats will follow the Governor’s lead in making fiscal discipline a core budget principle. We must resist the temptation to blow through the surplus using one-time money for ongoing programs and reverse the progress we’ve made in closing the deficit.”

From state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento:

“Overall, this May Revision is a refreshing change. For the first time in four years, we no longer have to stare at enormous deficits and make agonizing decisions on which cuts will do the least harm to our children, to the poor, and to middle class families.

“That’s the politically correct thing to say, and it happens to be true.

“I agree we must aggressively pay down our state’s debt and set aside money for a reserve, but there’s a disappointing aspect to this proposal. It’s important that we also begin making up for some of the damage done to tens of thousands of Californians. Unless the Legislative Analyst has a different conclusion, the Governor proposes few if any resources to restore cuts made over the past few years to the courts, and to health and human services.

“The Governor’s Local Control Funding Formula is the right policy direction, but our serious concern about how it’s accomplished remains. The concentration grants treat thousands of disadvantaged students unequally. It also fails to expand the proven success of career pathway programs which can reduce dropout rates and improve our kids’ readiness for the workforce by combining rigorous curriculum that’s also relevant to students’ career goals.

“The budget debate begins in earnest. I look forward to a deeper analysis of revenue projections in the coming weeks while we continue to work with the Governor on the best budget for California’s economic recovery and its people.”

From state Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Brea:

“The Governor has revenue estimates that are lower than anyone expected, largely due to the increased payroll tax suppressing the economy. Higher tax rates and continuing high unemployment mean less money in people’s pockets and less money to propel the economy.

“We have common ground with the Governor in a belief that we cannot return to a culture of overspending that drives new budget crises. Governor Brown referred to this as a ‘Call for Prudence,’ we would call it ‘Common Sense.’ It seems that the Governor’s biggest budget challenge will be in restraining legislative Democrats and their growing wish list of new spending.

“Senate Republicans continue to believe that the State must meet the promises of the voter approved Proposition 30 tax increase measure by increasing funding for K-14 and higher education. We also believe that the Governor should support our efforts to allow Californians to vote on the bi-partisan rainy day reserve fund that had been previously scheduled for the 2012 ballot. Implementing a voter approved rainy day reserve requirement is the best way to protect against future budget crises and ensure stability.

“The Legislature should spend less time on a growing list of additional tax proposals such as soda taxes, oil severance taxes, tobacco taxes and several property tax measures that undermine historic Proposition 13 protections and instead focus on the growing public safety crises caused by the passage of AB 109, the Governor’s Public Safety Realignment scheme that has shifted 65,000 criminals from state prison to our local communities and neighborhoods.”

From California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye:

“I’m disappointed that the Governor’s revised budget proposals provide no more fiscal relief to the courts. Given the state’s current fiscal condition, I had hoped for more effort to help stop the downward spiral of the judicial branch budget. Courts across the state are already closing courthouses, courtrooms, and reducing the hours they serve the public. Without reinvestment in the courts, these terrible impacts will only expand, and the poor and middle class residents who rely on the courts to resolve issues that affect their lives and livelihoods will be adversely affected, as well those businesses still digging out from the effects of the great recession. We need adequate, ongoing funding for the courts that will permit us to reverse the damage caused by five years of budget cuts. The reforms I’ve put in place have helped save money and created more efficiencies. We needed critical support a year ago from the other two branches and now the need for justice is urgent. I am heartened by Speaker Perez’s comments last week about the need to begin reinvesting in the courts. I am optimistic that the Legislature and the Governor can work toward reversing some of the adverse impacts on access to justice before a budget bill is passed and signed.”

There’s a whole lot more, after the jump…
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Reax to Gov. Jerry Brown’s ‘State of the State’

From state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento:

“We enter 2013 surrounded by the most positive atmosphere in several years, and the Governor’s State of the State address points us toward the great potential that lies ahead for California. With bold action, the Legislature worked with Governor Brown to weather the storm of fiscal adversity in perhaps the most difficult period in modern California history. We handled that well; we can also handle success in the better times that lie ahead.

“I join the Governor in his call for fiscal restraint, but neither can we be afraid to be bold in our vision for California. We cannot spend money that we don’t have, and we won’t. As the economy grows, we will develop smart strategies to pay down debt, to build-up our reserves, and also to begin restoring what’s been lost when the opportunity is there to do so.

“We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work to further restore the promise of this great state.”

From state Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar:

“We share the Governor’s optimism and celebration of California’s entrepreneurial spirit, business community and educators. We are encouraged by the Governor’s acknowledgement that we need to pay down debt, develop a rainy day fund, and avoid saddling our college students with more tuition increases.

“We look forward to working with the Governor on education reforms to ensure that all California students can obtain a world class education.

“While the Governor acknowledged the loss of jobs in California and focused on job creation in Silicon Valley, he did not offer any substantive proposals for job creation or helping California’s working families. The long-term solution to California’s economic challenges is to get Californians back to work.”

From Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley:

“Governor Brown’s State of the State address was a breath of fresh air and the first time since my start in the Assembly that the dark cloud of deficits was lifted.

“To the naysayers who doubted California’s ability to bounce back from the worst global economic collapse in recent memory, the Governor reminded us that together Sacramento and California voters acted decisively and proved them wrong. Our state is on its way to economic recovery.

“I commend Governor Brown for his message of optimism and boldness that reflects a return to California the great. He outlined our past and present efforts that will continue to secure California’s status as the golden state with unparalleled education opportunities, global leadership on transportation, clean energy and climate change and an innovative, growing economy.

“While restraint is necessary to not invite the next bust cycle, restoration of essential safety net services is also important to support Californians still hurting from the economic downturn.

“I am proud that, among the achievements mentioned by Governor Brown, legislation I authored is among accomplishments that have helped pave the way for internet sales taxes, responsible for over 1,000 new jobs in the state and California’s achievement of more than 20 percent renewable energy this year.

“It’s an exciting time for California – and a proud moment for all – as we continue the work ahead of shaping a stronger economy, fueling technology, expanding health care, supporting education and combatting climate change.”

From California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro:

“Today, the Governor wasn’t so much kicking the can down the road as he was hiding the can entirely. And while we’re glad he embraced a number of key Republican proposals, there’s still no plan to create jobs. If you’re unemployed, you want action, not rhetoric.

“His bold proclamations of an economic turnaround conveniently ignored the facts: our cities are going bankrupt because they can’t pay off pension obligations, 4.4 million taxpayers have left the state since 1998 while job creators are fleeing the worst business climate in the nation, and continuing government waste and abuse undermines any promise of fiscal restraint. It’s time for a reality check.

“The overall picture of California’s economy is not nearly as good as Gov. Brown paints it, mainly because Democrats raised taxes retroactively and have virtually guaranteed future job losses to add to the millions of Californians out of work today. This all may be ‘par for the course’ for Jerry Brown, but not for those living with less through no fault of their own. They have a much more realistic outlook and our leadership would do well to accept that reality instead of trying to blur the facts.”

Much more, after the jump…
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The buzz on Jerry Brown’s May budget revision

From state Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and state Senate Budget Vice Chair Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar:

Bob Dutton“Senate Republicans believe Governor Brown is moving in the right direction by making education and law enforcement funding a top priority. We also applaud the governor for embracing Republican proposals of paying down state debt and providing some job-creation incentives.

“But the May Revise goes too far on taxes and not far enough on reforms.

“Rather than curbing government spending, the governor’s revised budget still sets the state on a course of excessive spending growth in the future – spending that relies on tax increases.

“With $6.6 billion in new revenues, Republicans are right – we don’t need, and it’s ridiculous to ask voters for, five years of new taxes.

“Clearly the California economy is trying to recover, which makes it critical that the state budget include reforms that Senate Republicans have been seeking from day one – a hard spending cap, pension reform and business-regulation relief.

“The Senate Republicans’ long-terms solutions provide the stability small businesses need to grow and create jobs.”

From State Senate Budget Committee Chairman Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco:

Mark Leno“The revised budget proposal Governor Brown released today makes use of the state’s unexpected improved revenues in a fiscally responsible way and addresses California’s structural deficit so that we do not dig the hole any deeper. While our cash forecasts are encouraging, we are far from resolving the long-term deficit problem, and must not fall into the trap of utilizing one-time solutions, borrowing and deferments that would only aggravate the problem. This revised budget is an honest and balanced spending plan that extends current revenues to stimulate the economy, secure jobs and protect public investments in K-12 education, universities, public safety and social programs. I am committed to working with Governor Brown, my colleagues in the Legislature and the people of California to help our state recover and flourish once again.”

From Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare:

Connie Conway“In our ‘Roadmap to a No Tax Increase Budget,’ Assembly Republicans showed that we can protect funding for the classroom and law enforcement without raising taxes. We call upon the Governor to stop trying to raise people’s taxes and start working across party lines on a no-tax increase budget compromise. Protecting our core priorities, reforming state government and bringing back private sector jobs – without raising taxes — must continue to be our focus as we work to get California back on track.”

From state Treasurer Bill Lockyer:

“The Governor deserves credit for not succumbing to expediency and remaining focused on California’s longer-term fiscal future. The plan reflects an understanding that, despite welcome revenue increases, the State still faces significant budget shortfalls not just in the next fiscal year, but in subsequent years. It closes those ongoing deficits with a balanced approach that solidifies California’s fiscal foundation without short-circuiting the state’s economic recovery.

“The plan’s effect on our ability to borrow $10 billion to meet the State’s cash-flow needs remains unclear. If full implementation of the Governor’s FY 2011/12 plan remains contingent on voter approval of taxes, my office will not be able to complete a cash-flow borrowing transaction unless the final adopted budget includes real, inescapable, quickly-implemented spending cuts that would be triggered if voters reject the taxes.”

Lots more, after the jump…
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Assembly panel OKs new insurance regulation

Health-care reform advocates are pleased that the Assembly Health Committee voted 12-7 yesterday to approve AB 52, which would give the state Insurance Commissioner the power to reject excessive health insurance rate increases.

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones – who sponsored the bill carried by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles – said health insurers regularly announce premium increases that far surpass the rate of medical inflation, sometimes several per year. Regulators in 20 states have authority not only to review rate hikes but to reject the excessive ones, and Jones and Feuer believe it’s time California joins them.

“Since I took office, Californians have made it exceedingly clear that they want me to reject excessive rate increases, but I do not have this authority as Insurance Commissioner – AB 52 can change this,” Jones said in a news release today, noting he had introduced this legislation three times while serving in the Legislature.

Feuer said the Assembly Health Committee “recognized that Californians should not have to depend on the whim of an insurance company to halt a major rate increase. This was a crucial first step toward getting AB 52 signed into law, but until that happens, California families will continue to live in fear that they are just one rate hike away from no longer being able to afford health insurance.”

Health Access California Executive Director Anthony Wright called the committee’s approval of the bill “a good first step toward the rate relief that Californians so desperately need, as we continue to stuggle with the one-two punch of an economic recession and rising health care costs.” California needs this authority especially to keep insurers from gaming the system before other consumer protections are put in place in 2014, he added.

Carla Saporta, health program manager at The Greenlining Institute, said the claim that patients will lose access to care if state regulators stop insurers from price gouging “is a classic robber-baron mentality.”

“Groups that truly represent healthcare consumers and small businesses – including minority small businesses which have been badly hurt in the current economy – can see through the spin,” she said. “That’s why community clinics such as La Maestra in San Diego and the Korean Health Education Information & Research Center in Los Angeles have joined with many ethnic chambers of commerce and business organizations to support this bill. Small business owners and organizations have told us that they want us to fight for AB 52, and we will.”

Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Natomas – a pediatrician by trade – joined with the committee’s Republicans to oppose the bill.

“Dr. Pan has dedicated his life to building a healthier California by making real, on-the-ground improvements to our health care system,” Brian O’Hara, Pan’s press secretary, said today. “He knows that if we’re going to actually improve health outcomes and reduce costs, we need more innovations, not regulations, so at this point AB 52 does not make for a balanced approach.”

The bill now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

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Healthcare reform anniversary brings hot debate

Supporters of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act were engaged in a full-court press of messaging today on how the health-care reforms – signed into law one year ago tomorrow – have benefited Californians and people across the nation.

Health Access California executive director Anthony Wright, joined by advocates from the California Public Interest Research Group, the Western Center on Law & Poverty and the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, held a conference call today to roll out a new report showing that hundreds of thousands of Californians already have directly benefited from the law.

Among those beneficiaries, the report says, are:

    • More than 100 employers and trusts that got specific financial assistance with early retiree coverage.
    • Nearly 1,800 Californians who had been denied private coverage due to their health status, who now have coverage through the new Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Program (PCIP).
    • Thousands of children with pre-existing conditions who now have new access to coverage.
    • Thousands of Blue Shield policyholders who won’t see a third rate hike in six months and Anthem Blue Cross policyholders who will see reduced rate hikes, thanks to additional scrutiny that came in part due to the new law.
    • Tens of thousands of young adults (out of nearly 200,000) who now get coverage through their parents’ health insurance.
    • Hundreds of thousands of workers employed by small businesses that are getting a tax credit so they can better afford to provide coverage for their employees.
    • Hundreds of thousands of seniors who got a $250 check to assist with prescription drug costs.

But the advocates said California still has a lot of legislative and regulatory work to do in order to prepare for the law’s full implementation – most notably, perhaps, the nuts and bolts of getting its new Health Benefit Exchange up and running by 2014, they said.

Another task that needs tackling is “aligning California law to the Medicaid expansion by 2014, both in terms of new populations eligible and new eligibility rules,” the report says. “As important, California needs to overhaul and streamline its eligibility and enrollment systems, so that obtaining coverage is quick, easy, and seamless for California consumers – whether they are eligible for Medi-Cal or Healthy Families, subsidies in the new Exchange, or private coverage.”

That conference call was soon followed by another featuring Small Business Administration Regional Administrator Elizabeth Echols, Small Business California President Scott Hauge and Small Business Majority CEO John Arensmeyer, taking questions from small business owners on how the law affects them.

“We’re trying to inform the small business community about what’s in the law but also hear what your needs are, what your questions are,” Arensmeyer said.

Small Business Majority and Pacific Community Ventures this month surveyed 804 California small business owners with fewer than 20 employees on key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The results, released yesterday, showed small business owners are more likely to retain or start providing health insurance because of the healthcare tax credits and state insurance exchange requirements included in the law, but also that many small business owners remain under-informed about these and other provisions.

Echols, Hauge, HHS Region IX Director Herb Schutlz and others had done a similar, live event yesterday in San Francisco. Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, issued a statement yesterday along these same lines.

“The Affordable Care Act is a winner for America’s small businesses. Right now, it is currently helping small businesses by offering tax credits to firms that provide coverage to workers, and offering consumer protections that help small business workers buy coverage on their own,” he said. “Once reform is fully enacted, small businesses will have access to the same affordable, high-quality care that large businesses provide.”

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, headlined a rally at the Concord Senior Center today.

“We see right here with us today the very real and very positive impact that health reforms have had on people in our community,” he said. “Regardless of your political views, there is no denying the fact that the law is benefiting people right now and will continue to benefit millions more over the next few years.”

“There’s no denying it, when young adults stand up and say – ‘if it wasn’t for health reform, I wouldn’t have insurance.’ You can’t deny that the law is benefiting people when tens of thousands of small business employees have been offered health insurance thanks to the small business tax credits in the bill.You can’t deny that this law is a sigh of relief for parents who don’t have to worry about lifetime caps on care for their kids,” he continued. “And you can’t deny the law is helping seniors who have received help with the high cost of prescription drugs and are getting free preventive screening under Medicare thanks to this law.”

California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton got on the messaging bandwagon today, too.

“Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress seem hell bent on destroying these hard won protections and are doing everything in their power to turn back the clock on our collective health care future. Instead of focusing on creating jobs and growing our economy, they’re scheming to defund the Affordable Care Act or supporting efforts to challenge it in court,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “We thank Democrats like Leader Pelosi, Senators Feinstein and Boxer and members of the California Democratic Congressional Delegation for standing firm and acting as a bulwark against these dangerous and destructive efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act.”

Republicans are doing some messaging of their own.

The National Republican Congressional Committee used the issue and anniversary to keep up its constant barrage of attacks on House Democrats it believes to be vulnerable, including Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton.

“Jerry McNerney has consistently put the interests of Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party ahead of his constituents,” NRCC spokesman Tyler Houlton said. “McNerney is directly responsible for the increase in healthcare costs California families are now experiencing.”

And U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the Senate Finance Committee’s ranking Republican, will hold a news conference tomorrow in Salt Lake City detailing “the provisions and realities of the $2.6 trillion health law.” He’ll be joined by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtlef, who will provide an update on the one year anniversary of the lawsuit filed by Utah and other states challenging the law’s constitutionality, and by Utah Metal Works owner Mark Lewon, who “will put an actual picture to the provisions his company, and many others are faced with as they try to remain successful and profitable in the face of government mandates found within ObamaCare.”

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Advocates crow as Blue Shield yanks rate hike

Sacramento and Washington are abuzz over Blue Shield of California’s announcement today that it’s withdrawing its plan for a May 1 increase in health insurance rates for individual policyholders.

Blue ShieldIt would’ve been the third such rate hike since October; the three hikes combined would have raised rates by as much as 87 percent for some of its 200,000 policyholders, according to the California Department of Insurance. San Francisco-based Blue Shield has said rising health care costs forced the previous rate hikes; it said it lost $27 million on individual policies last year and expects more such losses this year. The cancelled increase will save members about $35 million to $40 million in added premiums.

Health-care affordability advocates say federal and state health-care reform laws are responsible for the insurer backing down.

“This latest withdrawal by Blue Shield shows that scrutiny matters. The new spotlight on rising health insurance rates, placed by the new federal health law and aggressive implementation at the state level, is having an impact of saving consumers money,” Health Access California Executive Director Anthony Wright said in a news release.

But while the Department of Managed Health Care and the California Department of Insurance now have the authority to review whether or not proposed rate increases are excessive, unjustified or unfairly discriminatory, neither department has the authority to reject such an increase.

“This is the third insurer that has withdrawn or reduced rates as a result of additional scrutiny and requests that they justify those rates. New federal and state laws now make these rate hikes public, but we need to take the next step, to pass the rate regulation bill now pending in the California legislature,” he said. “Blue Shield says they want a focus on the medical costs driving health care costs – but that’s what rate review and regulation would help do.”

And that’s what California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones says he’s intent on doing. He wants to bring California in line with the 20 states in which insurance regulators have authority not only to review rate hikes but to reject the excessive ones; he has sponsored AB 52, carried by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, to give that authority to his office and the DMHC. (Actually, the bill right now just declares the Legislature’s intent to make such a change, but I hear it’ll be amended in the next few days so that it would actually do the deed.)

Dave JonesJones issued a news release today saying he appreciates Blue Shield’s support of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act enacted last year, and of the health benefits exchange California is moving to enact under it by 2014. The law lets the Insurance Commissioner recommend which insurers will be allowed to sell insurance in this exchange, and “Blue Shield’s decision to refrain from a third rate increase is certainly consistent with their desire to participate,” Jones said.

“But one of the missing pieces of the federal healthcare reform is the authority to reject excessive rate hikes,” he added. “Today’s news is a welcome development and certainly a relief for several hundred thousand of Blue Shield policyholders in California, but it reminds us all that insurance companies hold all the cards when it comes to setting rates. Blue Shield policyholders still had to pay the first two rate increases. Those with health insurance are at the mercy of insurance company decisions to raise rates multiple times each year. That’s why we need to pass Assembly Bill 52.”

Feuer issued a statement today too, saying “(f)amilies and businesses should not have to depend on the whim of an insurance company to halt a major rate increase. Without a robust rate approval process in place, Californians will continue to experience these outrageous increases.”

Members of Congress were quick to weigh in on today’s developments as well.

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s ranking Democrat, issued a statement calling Blue Shield’s withdrawal of its premium increase “good news for Californians who faced losing their insurance because of this rate hike. While California families are still suffering from the recession, they shouldn’t also have to worry about yet another hit to their pocketbooks.”

And Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, said Blue Shield is putting its money where its mouth is. “As one of the few insurers that has worked collaboratively toward health care reform, today’s actions show that its not just talk – they’re willing to put their money behind their words. I commend them for taking this action. While other insurers may be less willing to make moves like this voluntarily, the good news is that the tools enacted in the new health reform law will force them to be more honest and forthcoming.”