Once again, California legislators are speechifying passionately about the need for more money to pay for the care of 290,000 people with intellectual disabilities served by California’s regional centers.
State government has a budget surplus once more. And yet efforts to raise rates for the care of people with autism, cerebral palsy and other severe lifelong disabilities are sputtering, needlessly.
At a hearing Thursday, Senate Health Committee Chairman Ed Hernandez and other Democratic senators urged Republicans to provide the necessary two-thirds vote to approve $2.5 billion in combined annual tax hikes on managed care organizations and tobacco and e-cigarettes.
Lawmakers intend that of the $2.5 billion, $230 million would go to the 21 regional centers. That would amount to a 7.5 percent raise for centers and workers who care for individuals with lifelong developmental disabilities. The remainder of the money would go to all manner of health-related programs.
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Republicans, led by Sen. Jim Nielsen of Gerber, countered that Californians are taxed too heavily as it is, and that Democrats who control the $170 billion budget should use some of the surplus to pay for the care of such people.
Unless the logjam breaks soon, caregivers who provide service for 290,000 developmentally disabled people will have gone without a raise for a 15th year.
Unless the logjam breaks soon – Friday is the last day of the regular 2015 legislative session – caregivers who provide services for developmentally disabled people will have gone without a raise for more than a decade.
Both sides speak some truth.
The state does have money this year. On Thursday, state Controller Betty T. Yee issued a monthly cash report showing that in August, state tax revenue was $637.8 million above the projections made two months ago when lawmakers approved the budget.
It’s also good policy to raise tobacco taxes. Price hikes will dissuade young people from smoking. And e-cigarettes should be taxed and regulated for what they are, nicotine delivery devices. Additionally, the Medi-Cal budget faces a $1 billion-plus hole if the tax on managed care organizations expires next year.
Senators, being politicians, resorted to clichés as they struggled to sound oh-so-sincere about the importance of the rate increases.
“History is watching us,” one said. “The safety net should not be shredded,” another said. “The time to act is now,” yet another one declared. One lamented the need to care for the most vulnerable among us. Undoubtedly, they believe their trite rhetoric.
But, please, spare intellectually disabled people and their families and caregivers the speeches. It is unseemly to use them as pawns in end-of-session games. Find common ground.