Senate GOP Budget Update: Week of April 21-April 25

Friday, April 25, 2014

Contact: Peter DeMarco, Director of Communications @ 916-651-4029

Subcommittee #1 (Education)

Block (D-San Diego) Chair, Liu (D-La Canada Flintridge) & Wyland (R-Escondido)

The subcommittee did not meet this week.

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

Beall (D-San Jose) Chair, Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) & Nielsen (R-Gerber)

Democrats Want to Spend Tax Dollars on More State Attorneys to Force Farm Workers Into Union Participation, State Funding Needed to Support Animal Health and Food Safety Inspections, and Subcommittee Approves Funding to Combat Environmental Effects of Marijuana Cultivation.

The subcommittee discussed a variety of issues within the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Agriculture Labor Relations Board, Department of Pesticide Regulation, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife; the most notable items include:

  • Taxpayer Funds Being Used to Force Private Employees to Unionize.  A lawsuit has been filed by a farmworker against members of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) claiming that the ALRB denied workers their right to a fair and free election. In response, Legislative Democrats and the Governor want to spend another $1.9 million to hire more state lawyers who will investigate and sue agricultural businesses.  Recently, a group of farmworkers voted to decertify representation by the United Farm Workers Union. However, the votes remain uncounted because the ALRB claims (the election was invalid. Senator Nielsen (R-Gerber) questioned the basis of the ALRB’s request for four additional attorneys but only one field examiner since the examiners are the ones doing the work of observing farming practices.  The ALRB indicated that these new attorneys are for future litigation activities against agricultural businesses.  ALRB also indicated that the Attorney General was defending them in the lawsuit filed by the farmworker.

Apparently the ALRB is only interested in counting votes when it helps unions expand their power, but employees who want to decertify from a union will remain trapped.  Senator Nielsen voted against this item but it was ultimately held open.

  • Additional Funding for the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System Justified.   The Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System experienced $3 million in General Fund reductions over the past few years. In response, the agriculture industry stepped up with a voluntary fee increase to continue essential activities such as milk and dairy food safety and meat and poultry inspection.  However, emergency preparedness and response to disease outbreak programs have been reduced or discontinued which increases the risks to animal health and food safety.  The CDFA acknowledged that the program needs additional resources and that a funding plan will be developed.  Stakeholders have indicated that without additional funding in the 2014-15 fiscal year, the department will close the Turlock laboratory and reduce sampling and equipment updates in the toxicology division that identify chemicals and contaminants. CDFA may also begin applying fees to the general public for necropsies of backyard chickens which could reduce public participation and result in undetected diseases and increased outbreaks.  Senator Nielsen stated that the industry has stepped forward in recent years to increase fees on themselves when the program took General Fund cuts but that there is a general public benefit from these program activities and that the state General Fund should be predominately responsible. The department agreed.  Senator Nielsen asked that the item be held open until stakeholders and the department could meet to discuss the funding shortfalls further.  The item was held open.
     
  • Additional Funding to Crackdown on Marijuana Grower’s Devastating Effects on the Environment Approved. The Governor’s Budget proposes $3.3 million in new funding from various sources to provide Department of Fish and Wildlife and the State Water Resources Control Board with additional staffing to implement a new task force, a new permitting program, and enforcement activities to address the natural resources damage that is occurring from marijuana cultivation. This issue was discussed at a prior subcommittee hearing but was held open.  The item was reheard with Senator Nielsen strongly supporting the proposal having worked with regulatory agencies and local law enforcement in Butte and Shasta counties to fight this widespread environmental problem on California lands.  The funding was approved unanimously. 

Subcommittee #3 (Health & Human Services)

Corbett (D-Hayward) Chair, Monning (D-Carmel) & Morrell (R- Rancho Cucamonga)

The Subcommittee heard various issues related to Medi-Cal, Public Health, and other state health programs; the most notable items include:

  • Public Employee Union Give-Away for Medi-Cal Administration. The state Medi-Cal Program pays county workers to process applications for enrollment into Medi-Cal coverage.  As federal health reform brings millions of new enrollees into Medi-Cal, the Governor’s budget proposes $1.5 million for more state staff to develop a cost-reimbursement method of paying counties for their costs. However, the proposal fails to include any incentives for counties to increase efficiency or take measures to restrain their costs. Instead, since they get paid based upon how much they spend, counties would have every incentive to hike pay and benefits for their unionized workers and then tell the state to foot the bill. This proposal is irresponsible at best. With taxpayers already spending $1.8 billion annually for Medi-Cal county costs, Senate Republicans believe it is essential to find ways to increase program efficiency and reduce costs. This proposal from the Governor is essentially a blank check for public employee unions. The staffing item was held open for a vote at a later hearing.
     
  • Abortion Providers Receive a Raise While Payments for Wheelchairs and Other Critical Health Care Services Get Cut. The Medi-Cal Program has begun to implement 10 percent provider payment cuts totaling $566 million in 2014-15 for most types of Media Cal providers, including nursing homes, dentists, and wheelchair providers. In many cases, these cuts include “retroactive” savings going back over two years that effectively reduce payments by more than the 10 percent cut. However, some provider groups are clearly receiving preferential treatment. Buried in hundreds of pages of budget detail released by the Governor is a proposal to raise rates for abortions by 40 percent ($5.5 million General Fund), despite the lack of any data showing limits on access to abortions in California.  Meanwhile, the cuts of more than 10 percent are imposed on providers that help disabled children get customized wheelchairs, threatening to put those providers out of business.  Regardless of one’s position on the broader abortion debate, Senate Republicans find it inexcusable that critical services such as wheelchairs for disabled children would be considered such a low priority given the other choices.  The issue of provider payments was held open for a vote at a later hearing.

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

Roth (D-Riverside) Chair, Berryhill (R-Twain Harte), & Torres (D-Pomona)

The subcommittee did not meet this week.

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

Hancock (D-Berkeley) Chair, Anderson (R-Alpine), Mitchell (D-Los Angeles)

The subcommittee did not meet this week.