Health Care, Water, and the Rest of the Week in California Public Policy and Politics7 min read

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What else is happening in California while Sacramento treads water?

Two other significant events occurred this week that are not directly related to Sacramento but deserve mentioning. The first is the Writers Strike that has serious economic consequences to the state’s economy. With at least a dozen prime-time TV shows dark and dozens of other creative productions stopped because of the strike, thousands of people are now out-of-work.

Both the Governor and L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa are calling for a quick solution to the strike, but the producers won’t even consider talks until the Writers Guild sends its members back to work. The Guild has made it clear its members are serious about seeking some piece of the internet and digitalized products they help create. The corporate big wigs say this is a non-starter so the impasse looks ominous.

For more on this story, check out the first article and the second from the LA Times.

The second story, that has serious consequences to the state’s economy and critical eco-system as well, was the completely avoidable oil spill in the Bay Area that leaked 58,000 gallons of bunker-fuel into the San Francisco Bay. Today’s LA Times quotes what may be the understatement of the year by the Coast Guard’s top dog in California. In summing up the problem (the ship hit a support on the base of a SF-Bay Bridge tower rupturing two fuel tanks holding the heavy and filthy bunker fuel that spilled into the Channel) Rear Admiral Craig Bone stated, “They were skilled enough individuals on board this ship. They didn’t carry out their mission correctly.” One can only wonder how much they pay these heavyweights for their brilliant deductive reasoning.

The result of this mess is that hundreds of birds and wildlife are at risk; most of this fuel will not be recovered and the commercial and sport crabbing season will be closed. The costs of this negligence will be enormous and the only question is who will pay for it. Hopefully whoever owns the ship will have to do so, but the costs and the devastation are never fully recovered after this type of disaster.

For more on this story, see this SF Chronicle article or the LA Times story.

Health Care in the Governor’s Special Session

As mentioned, the healthcare debate has actually started moving, although the question of whether it can actually survive its own compromises is the question. The legislative leadershiphas made concessions on the issue of whether all Californians have to buy insurance. The Governor insists on keeping the insurance companies in the play, although he cannot articulate what they add to health care. In meeting his demand, Nunez and Perata have removed their objection that individuals who cannot afford insurance should not have to buy it. They have also reduced their demand that employers kick in a 7% payroll contribution. Instead, they are proposing a sliding scale with big companies supplying 6.5% and small employers contributing only 2%.

Over and above the problems we mentioned last week, these concessions make the program even more financially unrealistic. As the amount employers have to contribute is reduced, employers will be paying less-and-less of the cost to fund the program. With a cap on what low-income individuals will be required to pay, larger and larger subsidies will be necessary to fund the program. The obvious question is where are we going to get the money to cover the difference, especially as the gap is increased, rather than decreased by these concessions?

The Governor’s answer is a $2 per pack cigarette tax, an idea that is guaranteed to engender a full-scale attack by the obscenely rich tobacco industry, fresh off victories in other states where attempts were made to increase sin taxes on their unhealthy products. They have demonstrated an unquestionable commitment to spending millions to ward off further efforts to tax or reduce the use of their cancer-causing products.

In a state where we are already overwhelmed by the amount of advertising big business is willing to spend to either promote or beat back ballot initiatives, we can expect to add yet even more to the circus our initiative process has become. In the coming year, we’ll see hundreds of millions spent by the gaming industry alone. Since a cigarette tax will have to be placed before the voters in lieu of a 2/3 vote in the legislature (where we couldn’t get a 2/3 vote for anything at this point), we will see more and more slick and misleading ads polluting our TVs and mailboxes should this health care proposal see the light of day.

For these reasons, in addition to the numerous problems we’ve been talking about for weeks, this health care reform should be D.O.A. as financially unrealistic and totally inadequate. That being said, one cannot underestimate the fervor by which the Governor and the legislative leadership would like to pass some kind of health care measure and claim victory. We know the Governor likes to see his picture on the cover of major news magazines and that the legislature would like to have something tangible to claim as they head into the Prop 93 battle, but this proposal isn’t it. We can only hope that reasonable minds will realize that there are too many moving parts to this that are too delicate to mesh in this plan. Meaningful and real health care reform must be based the most cost effective and equitable system to delivering meaningful healthcare to all. This plan isn’t it. Check out Dan Walter’s take.

The latest on the February 2008 Proposition 93- The term limits/expansion initiative

As we reported last week, this attempt to change term limits by giving the current members more time and then reducing the number of years a legislator can serve from a maximum of 14 to 12, has started to sour under closer and closer scrutiny. The latest bad news for the proponents comes in the form of an announcement by Republican State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. A man of enormous wealth (estimated at close to $1 billion), Poizner held a press conference this week to announce his initial contribution to the “No on 93” forces of $1.5 million. When added to the $1.5 million already promised by the out-of-state Term Limits organization, this represents real money and a very serious challenge to those who are funding the “Pro 93” side. With continued hammering by major newspapers on legislative travel and spending, the stature of the legislature continues to suffer. Whether right or wrong, it plays into the most cynical sentiments of the public, making it impossible to have a rational discussion of the importance of expertise, institutional memory and continuity in the service of public policy.

It really doesn’t matter that Poizner’s motives are strictly to advance his own stature with the Republican base that perceives him as Republican Light, nor that it will give him an opportunity to expand his statewide profile without claiming it is primarily for future political purposes (think Governor in 2010). It will all be chalked up to politics-as-usual. And even for the least cynical amongst us, they’ll be right. It’s not hard to figure out why politicians are held in such low-repute these days. We really need to do more to engender the people’s trust than what we’re seeing in the media. After all, we need good people to do good work and raise the public’s confidence in public servants and public service. Sadly, such a switch in emphasis and behavior is unlikely to happen in the near future.

Hannah-Beth Jackson is a former Assemblymember who served in the California Assembly from 1998-2004. She Chaired the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety, the Committee on Natural Resources as well as the Legislative Women’s Caucus.

After term limits and redistricting forced her out of office, she helped start Speak Out California and serves as its President. Speak Out California is a progressive internet site envisioned by California’s progressive leaders to effectively craft the issues and messages that will encourage public participation in bringing new ideas and vision to California’s political landscape.

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