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CMA Capitol Insight With Anthony York: January 19, 2016

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

The Budget Battle Begins

Gov. Jerry Brown introduced his budget this month, and it was about what was expected for anyone watching the governor in recent years. Brown did propose a solution to the fight over the managed care organization (MCO) tax, though no final deal has been announced. Passing such a tax would require a two-thirds vote, and Republicans have said they’re skeptical of the need for the tax.

If a deal cannot be reached, Brown has earmarked a number of programs that he said would be cut, including services to the developmentally disabled. Money for the disabled has become a budget priority for Republicans and Democrats alike, and the governor’s plan to link funding to an extension of the MCO tax is an example of the governor's trying to use his budget leverage to move Republicans. GOP leaders have accused Brown of placing a figurative gun to the head of disabled services, and using some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens as pawns in the Sacramento budget battle.

So it goes.

As for the Legislature, the Assembly has already chosen its leader for what could be the next several years. Democrat Anthony Rendon was elected by the house earlier this month to take the gavel from Toni Atkins sometime this spring. That means Rendon, who has made early childhood education a priority, will be in control during this year’s budget negotiations.

Last week was the deadline for two-year bills to clear the house of origin, or be tabled for the year. Among the bills that failed to move was Assemblyman David Chiu’s (San Francisco) AB 463, which would have required more disclosure from drug companies about the costs of developing certain therapies and medications.

Advocates for the bill said it was an important step to bring transparency to the prescription drug process, while opponents claimed the measure would simply create bureaucratic hurdles and divert resources away from research and development. While the bill itself may be dead, the issue of prescription drugs, who should pay for them, and how much they should cost will be a major issue in Sacramento and across the country in this presidential election year.

We’ve also seen some jostling for the Assembly’s open Central Valley seat, vacated when Asm. Henry Perea resigned his post to take a job with Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

The opening could bring another physician to Sacramento. Joaquin Arambula, MD, an emergency room physician and a Democrat, pulled papers to run, as has Fresno City Councilman Clint Olivier, a Republican.

The election, which will be held on April 5, will be to fill the remainder of Perea’s term, which ends this fall. If no candidate receives 50% in the first round, there will be a runoff among the top two finishers, regardless of political party, later this spring.

Regardless of who wins, the seat will again be up for grabs in November along with 79 other Assembly seats.

While the seat is in the Central Valley, it is in a very Democratic part of Fresno, and has been held by Democrats for decades. But the timing of the special election and the state’s special election rules could potentially give Republicans a chance. If another Democrat enters the fray, it could increase Oliver’s chances of victory.

Arambula has been backed by the Democratic establishment in the area, including Rep. Jim Costa and Perea. CMA is also among the groups that have backed Dr. Arambula’s candidacy.

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