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CMA Capitol Insight: Off Season



November 12, 2013
Area(s) of Interest: Advocacy Health Care Reform Licensing & Regulatory Issues 

CMA Capitol Insight is a biweekly column by veteran journalist Greg Lucas, reporting on the inner workings of the state Legislature.


Off Season

The Legislature is in hiatus until after January 1 – more precisely, hiatus from the Capitol. Legislators are working in their districts, which is the best time to meet personally with them and bring an issue to their attention. It’s not near as “off” an off-season for the governor. There’s that pesky budget to create, which he has to share with California sometime before January 10. This year’s budget is $138 billion, so there are lots of pennies to account for. To do that before January 10 means that nearly all of the budget’s estimates of cash coming and expenses accruing are at least 30 days old, and more like 60. That’s one reason why the Legislature tends to not really buckle down on examining the budget until May, when there are more actual revenue and expenditure totals available.

Filling the Void

One of the more reliable sources for information in the Capitol is the Legislative Analyst. The office usually takes advantage of the Legislature’s off-season to burrow into the budget passed by lawmakers and signed by the governor. There can be quite a difference in the two versions, such as hundreds of millions of dollars of line-item vetoes. This year there isn’t. Other than correcting a technical error, the Democratic governor didn’t reduce or eliminate any non-public schools general fund spending, the analyst notes in their 49-page examination of the budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2014. Traditionally, that means there’s either plenty of money, or that deals have been struck between the governor and lawmakers over spending priorities. Or, as in this case, both. A centerpiece of the budget is Gov. Brown’s new formula to allocate $2.1 billion to public schools so that more money goes to those with higher numbers of English learners or students with learning disabilities. Senate Democrats were tepid about the idea until Brown agreed to spend more on mental health programs and other areas of the budget important to the members of that caucus – whose votes were essential to passing the budget.

Ho-Hum

There isn’t much, relatively speaking, in the analyst’s analysis about Covered California, nee the California Health Benefit Exchange, since its almost $120 million operating budget comes primarily from the federal government. Similarly, there’s a brief discussion of legislation adopted as part of the budget that expands eligibility for Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid, to include adults under age 65 with income up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line. Doing so is optional under the Affordable Care Act, but states that do it get a goodly chunk of federal money to help pick up the tab – about $1.7 billion during the current fiscal year. The federal government says it will pick up the full freight of the broadening coverage to an additional1.6 million Californians until January 1, 2017, when the state has to shoulder 10 percent. No fool California; the legislation was written so that if the feds reduce their matching rate to 70 percent or less before January 1, 2018, the expansion is terminated within 12 months.

For Those Keeping Score at Home

The federal poverty line for a family of four is $23,550. The 133 percent of the poverty line figure the Affordable Care Act uses is $14,856 for an individual and $30,657 for a family of four.

Pressed in Peace

Cotton isn’t wrinkle-free by nature. But as it does with so many other challenges, the human mind managed to unravel cotton’s predilection for creaselssness. The result is a wash-and-wear world where all can enjoy the comfort and convenience of permanent press. Much of the credit for this too-often-taken-for-granted milestone is given to Dr. Ruth Benerito, who died in October at age 97. She eventually held some 55 patents, many of them involving cotton. The New York Times notes in their obituary that wrinkle-free cotton was developed by Shakers in the 19th century, but quickly adds that it doesn’t diminish Benerito’s achievements. It was the rare woman of Benerito’s day that earned an advanced degree – let alone a Ph.D. – but her father believed all his children, regardless of gender, should have the same educational opportunities. Benerito, a New Orleans native, repeatedly told interviewers she was one of a number of researchers and scientists who contributed to changing cotton’s molecular structure to make it “lie down and behave,” as the Times puts it. She spent most of her career at the USDA Southern Regional Research Center in her hometown of New Orleans. After retiring, she taught at Tulare until she was 81. She was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2008.

Fear, The Most Powerful Motivator

“I haven’t had a cigarette in probably six years. That’s because I’m scared of my wife.” So said President Barack Obama, the most powerful man in the world, to Maina Kiai, a United Nations official. The president might have been less candid about his smoking habit if he’d known his microphone was on.

Heard It Here First

Elsewhere in the Legislative Analyst’s budget examination – available at www.lao.ca.gov – it’s noted that nearly all of the $19.9 billion in bond funds approved by voters in November 2006 have either been spent or earmarked for spending. Good that the money is being used, but now what? The analyst doesn’t point out that gas tax revenue is falling. More Californians are driving – as any commuter will attest – but they’re driving less distance and they’re behind the wheel of increasingly fuel-efficient vehicles. Gas tax revenue is the primary funding source for California street and highway maintenance and construction. There’s been no increase in the gas tax in 20 years. And the federal Highway Trust Fund, which supplies California and other states with transportation dollars, has been broke since 2008. An even-numbered election year like 2014 is unlikely to be the time elected officials decide how best to extract more money from their constituents – even if for needed transportation improvements. But the coverage of the issue will increase as the shortage grows more acute over the next 12 months.

The Final Jeopardy Answer

The one Republican woman to hold statewide office since 1850. Who is Ivy Baker Priest, of course. Born in Kimberly, Utah, Priest worked as a sales clerk and telephone operator to support her family during the Great Depression. Her lobbying as a delegate at the 1952 Republican National Convention for Dwight Eisenhower helped give his candidacy the momentum to win the nomination. Priest worked on his campaign, coordinating the women’s vote, and was named United States treasurer after Eisenhower’s election. She moved to California and was elected state treasurer in 1966 on a ticket topped by Ronald Reagan. She died in office in 1975. Among her more memorable quotes: “The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning.” And: “Great opportunities to help others seldom come but small ones come daily.”

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