As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Steinberg Looks To The 2010 Ballot To Restore Children's Health Care?

Looks like Darrell Steinberg is hedging his bets on fixing the broken political structure in Sacramento by going to the ballot to protect children's health coverage:

Days after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed to abolish the Healthy Families Program (which would entail booting more than 900,000 California kids out of health insurance), Steinberg’s Committee for a New Economy on Monday made a $75,000 contribution to Californians for Children’s Health — a sizable cash infusion for a committee that previously had only about $20,000 in its coffers.

The statement of organization for Californians for Children’s Health says the group – for which a Web site is under construction – exists to support “expansion of children’s health coverage,” and its sponsoring organizations include the Children’s Defense Fund Action Council; the Children’s Partnership, a project of the Tides Center; Children Now; and PICO California. Its CFO is PICO California director Jim Keddy; its secretary is Kelly Hardy, Children Now’s associate director for health.

Hardy earlier today told me Californians for Children’s Health aims to develop a ballot measure for November 2010, and although today’s rapidly changing budget environment makes it hard to say exactly what that measure’s specifics will be, “we’re contemplating new revenue sources that would come in, not General Fund sources, that would support children’s coverage programs.”

Steinberg has a history of going outside General Fund revenues to pay for social services projects - see the millionaire's tax in Prop. 63, which funds mental health programs.

You need to play within the hand dealt, and voters have shown a willingness to use tax increases to fund specific programs. Losing the Healthy Families Program would mean 900,000 kids without health care in California, and we would be the only state in the country not accessing federal SCHIP funds. So obviously, you try to get that revenue absolutely any way you can.

At the same time, is this any way to run a government? Create a system where no revenues can be raised inside the legislature, forcing stakeholders and politicians to go to voters to look for a dedicated stream here and another dedicated stream there? This is unsustainable to the nth degree. We will not transform California one dedicated funding stream at a time. It just won't work, and we'll spend hundreds of millions of dollars on consultants in the process. Steinberg shouldn't foreclose the option, of course, but his money would be better spent on reform efforts so that he no longer needs to go to the voters for everything, and we can have a representative democracy such that has worked in America for over 220 years.

Moreover, I fear that Steinberg is setting this fallback plan up assuming that Healthy Families will be either eliminated or gutted in the next couple weeks. Perhaps the donation to a potential ballot committee is a threat to the Governor; but perhaps it's a signal that the cuts can come down. Let's be clear - in the meantime, while we wait for the results of that election, children will die from a lack of health care coverage. We have other options - Jean Ross describes some of them beautifully here - and the Democratic legislature should be drawing lines in the sand, not giving up on drastic cuts and making contingencies.

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