Budget Subcommittee SPOTLIGHT: March 18, 2016

Friday, March 18, 2016

Subcommittee #1 (Education)

Block (D-San Diego) Chair, Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa), & Allen (D-Santa Monica)

Community Library Funding Short of Potential. State funding for local libraries was hard-hit by the Great Recession, falling from about $48 million in 2006-07 to zero in 2011-12. Funds have been partially restored since then. Unfortunately, local library funding remains flat under the Governor’s budget proposal at about $14 million. Local libraries are the one place where virtually anyone can go for a free self-education, including preparation for college or career, and they are scrambling to keep up with today’s digital technology. In keeping with the fiscal priority to educate and prepare individuals to be career ready, Senate Republicans support the continued restoration of library funding from recession-era cuts, with an emphasis on digital delivery options such as e-book availability and digitizing important resources to make them usable by all Californians.

 

Subcommittee #2 (Resources, Energy, Agriculture & Transportation)

Wolk (D-Davis) Chair, Nielsen (R-Gerber), & Pavley (D- Agoura Hills)

New Helicopters Come With Big Price Tag but Little Information. The Governor’s budget includes a $100 million General Fund “placeholder” to purchase 12 new helicopters, but despite the size of the funding request, CalFire has provided little of the needed information, such as actual cost estimates. Not until the Department of General Services selects the winning vendor will the Legislature get an estimate of the costs. Legislative estimates for the helicopter purchase price alone could range in the hundreds of millions of dollars. In 2015, this subcommittee approved a requirement that the department provide three options relating to the helicopter procurement along with cost estimates for personnel and capital outlay. Unfortunately, this requirement was stripped from the final budget, and the result is proving to be a less competitive and less transparent procurement process, with fewer options for the Legislature to consider when deciding whether or not to appropriate funding. Senator Nielsen questioned CalFire on its bid process and expressed concerns about whether the selection process will result in the best value for the taxpayer. The department indicated that it will be providing more information in May.

CalFire Addresses Employee Misconduct. After numerous press reports on allegations of employee misconduct and questionable personnel practices at CalFire, the Governor has responded by proposing more staff and training. Specifically, the Governor proposed $4.4 million and new staff to establish a professional standards program that would provide additional training, conduct background investigations, and develop guidelines to promote consistent application of employee requirements and standards. The state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended that program funding be limited to three years to provide the Legislature an opportunity to evaluate the program’s effectiveness before committing on-going funding. It is not clear that throwing more money at the department will solve the problem. Senator Nielsen emphasized the importance of this issue. The Legislature must review this proposal thoroughly in order to make the best possible decision not only for the integrity of the department but for the safety of the public.

 

Subcommittee #3 (Health & Human Services)

Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) Chair, Monning (D-Carmel), & Stone (R-Temecula)

Possible Improvement in Dental Care Though More Information Needed. California’s Denti-Cal program, which provides dental care to Medi-Cal enrollees, has increased efforts to monitor and improve delivery of dental services following a scathing 2014 state audit. Senate Republicans had requested this audit out of concern over the quality and availability of dental care, and the audit report documented California’s lack of program monitoring and abysmally low reimbursement rates. Early data following the 2015 budget’s restoration of dental rate cuts shows some increase in the number of dental services, though more data is needed to evaluate whether care is truly available to those who need it. The majority party in Sacramento has frequently sought to expand enrollment in programs like Medi-Cal without ensuring that care services are actually available when needed. Senate Republicans believe a state fiscal priority should be to keep promises to vulnerable people who use programs such as Denti-Cal, and promote access to care through adequate reimbursement is essential.

Botched Implementation Continues to Drive Higher Costs. More than two years after Medi-Cal expanded coverage under federal health reform, the botched implementation of its information systems continue to drive taxpayer costs higher by hundreds of millions of dollars a year. While a massive backlog of applications has mostly been addressed after two years, the budget still proposes $655 million in extra administrative costs in part because information systems problems require eligibility workers to perform manual, paper-based “work-arounds” rather than the streamlined electronic processes that proponents of federal health reform promised. Senate Republicans believe that government needs to be accountable to its citizens, and remain concerned that even when major errors drive huge costs, there are few consequences for state departments that waste taxpayer money.

 

Subcommittee #4 (Housing, Veterans Affairs, & General Government)

Roth (D-Riverside) Chair, Nguyen (R-Garden Grove), & Pan (D-Sacramento)

Hearing cancelled this week.

 

Subcommittee #5 (Revenue, Labor, PERS, STRS, Public Safety, & Judiciary)

Hancock (D-Berkeley) Chair, Anderson (R-San Diego), Beall (D-San Jose)

Prison Health Care Transition. In 2005, a federal district court found the state’s poor delivery of medical care to inmates in its prisons to be unconstitutional and placed the function of prison medical care in receivership. For the last decade, the Receiver has overseen prison health care for the state, working to rectify problems and set up a system that delivers constitutional care that the state will be able to manage on its own. The subcommittee discussed recent progress toward the goal of transitioning responsibility back to the state, including the Receiver’s action last week to relinquish control of a second facility to the state. The Receiver testified that he intends to accelerate his review of recent medical inspections, which will hopefully lead to additional facilities being delegated back to the state. This was an informational item and no vote was taken.

Are Alternative Housing Programs Safe? The subcommittee discussed three proposals that would expand various corrections programs that provide alternatives to traditional prison beds for inmates who are nearing the end of their sentences. The first proposal would more than triple the Male Community Reentry Program, increasing the number of available beds from 220 to 680. The second would expand the existing Alternative Custody Program, which is currently offered only to female offenders, to also include males. The third would increase the number of beds in the Community Transitional Reentry Program for Women by about a third. After questioning department executives about the seemingly high number of escapes from these programs, including two earlier this year adjacent to the 38th Senate District he represents, Senator Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) voted against the proposals, which the subcommittee approved on a 2-1 vote. Senator Anderson reiterated his support for programs that help inmates transition from prison to productive society, but expressed concern that the state is not doing enough to ensure the safety of the public in the densely populated urban areas that surround many of these low-security facilities.