Latest News

Speaker floats leasing lottery to pay for universal health care

As the state slips into its third week of the fiscal year without a budget, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez said legislative options to bring in new revenues to California have narrowed, more or less, to money from gambling.

"I have a fundamental problem with the proliferation of gambling in California, personally. I don't like it," Núñez said. "But given the limited options that we have for new revenue streams, the irony is that it's one of the only things that's out there right now for us to even consider."

The speaker, in an interview with The Bee Capitol Bureau, said that money for the budget was the "driving force" behind the Assembly passage of Indian gambling compacts earlier this year to add more than 17,000 slot machines to existing reservation casinos.

"We did it for the money," said Núñez, a Los Angeles Democrat, who added that the new gambling revenues allow the state to stave off cuts to social programs.

Núñez also said he was open to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to lease the state lottery to a private vendor for a lump sum payment for as much as "$50 billion in a cash payment."

Núñez said the money, if properly invested, could continue to pay for education and possibly form a chunk of the funding needed to create a universal health care system in the state.

Selling the lottery could provide "$3.5 billion dollars over and above paying for ... education," Núñez said.

In January, Schwarzenegger introduced a universal health plan that would assess doctors 2 percent and hospitals 4 percent of their earnings, as well as impose a 4 percent payroll fee on employers.

The Núñez-estimated $3.5 billion from the lottery could substitute for the levies on doctors and hospitals, which Democrats have said are taxes and would not win support from legislative Republicans. No Republicans have said they support those charges.

The health plan introduced by Núñez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, provides coverage to many of the state's uninsured through a 7.5 percent levy on employers.

"We can actually do universal health care in California, if you marry (the lottery money) with my health care plan," Núñez said. "Hypothetically speaking, if that's the only solution that I have to fully fund the health care plan, I would do it."