The California Budget Goes to Court3 min read

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There’s a confluence of high-profile lawsuits against the state today, on big topics with far-reaching consequences. First, the medical community is suing over Medi-Cal payments:

“Doctors, hospitals and health care providers filed a class-action lawsuit Monday seeking to block the state from cutting payments to them for treating the poor.

“The lawsuit argues that an upcoming 10 percent rate cut to Medi-Cal — the state-run health insurance program serving 6.5 million low-income residents — will exacerbate a shortage of doctors, dentists and pharmacists willing to treat poor patients because payments are so low.

“Medi-Cal already doesn’t cover the cost of providing care,” said Dr. Richard Frankenstein, president of the California Medical Association, which led the lawsuit. “If these cuts take effect, Medi-Cal patients will be forced to seek care in already overcrowded hospital emergency rooms, which undermines access to care for all Californians.”

“The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday, seeks an immediate injunction to block the reduction from taking effect July 1.”

San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom has been at the forefront of criticizing these payment cuts, and when he talked to bloggers at the CDP convention he predicted this lawsuit would be successful. The future of emergency room care and Medi-Cal really hangs in the balance: if the payments are inadequate, hospitals and doctors might turn these patients away, straining the ER system and increasing the crisis in health care access.

In a separate lawsuit, a taxpayer group is suing to block $12 billion in prison construction bonds:

“Even though the state is facing a $20 billion dollar deficit and our high schools, colleges, universities, health care facilities, and food banks alike are threatened with billions of dollars of reduced funding, the Governor and our Legislative leaders want to build 53,000 new prison and jail beds. We already have 170,000 prisoners in California. We don’t need more prison beds — we need sentencing reform and better support in the community for recovering drug addicts, people with mental illness, and parolees.

“That’s why we are filing our lawsuit today to stop the Governor from borrowing $7.4 billion in lease revenue bonds to build new prison beds, at a total cost of over $12 billion including interest payments. Operating these new prison beds will cost at least $1.5 billion each year, or a staggering total of $37 billion over the next 25 years. Our lawsuit argues that the $7.4 billion in lease revenue bonds violates the requirement in the California Constitution that all significant long term debts be approved by the voters. The lawsuit aims to force the state to ask its voters whether they want to build the 53,000 prison and jail beds proposed in AB 900. The New York Times has dubbed AB 900 as “the single largest prison construction program in the history of the US.” Not only is AB 900 a tremendous waste of government resources, it also threatens the very premise of democracy by shutting voters off from their constitutional rights.”

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And considering that a year after passage of AB 900, not one bed has been constructed, I’d say that this is a money pit and taxpayers need to step in to stop the digging. We have better solutions in the way of sentencing reform, and while Democrats in both chambers of the legislature play politics over which sentencing bill will become the primary one (Sen. Romero’s clearly should, IMO), the crisis grows. And given that these construction bonds are little more than a boondoggle, California will probably end up following the lead of several states and release a mass of inmates early. There are real solutions to be had here, but pissing away $12 billion dollars is not one of them.

As if the state didn’t have enough problems…

Dave is a writer, comedian and TV/film editor based in Santa Monica. He is an elected member of the Democratic State Central Committee from the 41st Assembly District. He blogs on state and national politics at http://d-day.blogspot.com/

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