Taking care of California's most vulnerable

Thursday, July 30, 2015

For Californians with serious developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy and autism, the services available through regional centers and other community-based programs are a lifeline. The professionals and staff provide care and assistance to equip these individuals with tools and skills they can use to live as independently as possible. 

Of all the ways the government spends taxpayer dollars, most would agree that these programs, which help people who are truly the least able to care for themselves, should be a priority in the state budget. With $10 billion in unanticipated revenue this year, and a record-setting $265-billion budget, they should have been at the top of the list to receive adequate funding.

But given the opportunity, the governor and Democrat-controlled legislature opted to spend the money elsewhere and punt programs for the disabled – along with health care and transportation – to a special session instead. Why? Because they want to use these programs as a bargaining chip to push through tax increases on families in order to fuel government spending in other areas.

Throughout the budget process, Republicans advocated for adequate funding for disabled services as well as health care services for the poor. It was evident then, and is still clear now, that we can support these programs without asking Californians to pay more for them.

As part of the special session, Senate Republicans are proposing two measures that would work toward accomplishing these goals.

SBx2 4 would require that new revenues be used to increase reimbursement rates for developmental disability services and restore the remaining 10 percent reductions to Medi-Cal reimbursement rates made during the 2011 budget. The companion measure, SBx2 11, would require that monies saved from the closure of outdated state developmental centers be used to increase funding for community services for the developmentally disabled.

While these discussions and committee hearings begin, it is important that we also keep in mind what was included in the budget. How is it possible that $10 billion in new tax revenue was just not enough to provide these services to the most vulnerable Californians? Here is some of what the Democrats prioritized:   

  • Over $400 million to provide pay raises to powerful public employee unions.
  • $200 million to fund another Medi-Cal expansion that California clearly cannot afford. 
  • $142 million for free cell phone plans that include unlimited texting and data.
  • $23 million to expand the welfare cash cards program to provide for drug felons.

The money was there. But instead of giving these Californians their due during the budget process, the governor and his party seem to believe that the only option now is to tax the health care plans of 24 million people. Those new taxes could cost a family of four more than $1,200 every year, increasing their cost of living and hindering their ability to save, spend, and invest their hard-earned money for their futures.

Californians do not need a new health care tax. They need a budget that is accountable and reflects the right priorities. This budget evidently fell short. We must now ensure moving forward that the state is more prudent and efficient while protecting the taxpayers’ money.

All along, there were ways to fund these programs and support those with developmental disabilities. With an honest and open discussion, Republicans continue to stand ready to work with our Democrat colleagues and the governor to build consensus to responsibly help those who need it most.

Senator Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, serves as vice chair of the Public Health and Developmental Services Committee for the 2015-16 Second Extraordinary Session on health care. He represents the 23rd Senate District in the California Legislature.