CMA Capitol Insight With Anthony York: October 13, 2015
CMA Capitol Insight is a biweekly column by veteran journalist Anthony York, reporting on the inner workings of the state Legislature.
Another One Bites the Dust
The dust is just settling on hundreds of bills that were signed or vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown in the final flurry of activity for the 2015 legislative year. The session ended with some classic Jerry Brown signing messages and vetoes, and a strong, implicit message for lawmakers in the year ahead.
The governor’s most personal and talked-about signing message accompanied his signature on a proposal that will give the terminally ill the right to end their own lives.
The bill was passed as part of the special session on healthcare, and Brown’s office gave lawmakers an early indication that he didn’t think the special session was an appropriate venue for the emotionally charged issue. But in the end, the governor took the bill on its face and delivered one of the most thoughtful signing messages you will ever find from an elected official.
“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death,” Brown wrote in a signing message. “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”
The special session yielded little else, with lawmakers failing to agree on a plan to raise the managed care organization (MCO) tax and increase Medi-Cal reimbursement rates. But proponents of a new tobacco tax measure, including the California Medical Association, announced their plan to move ahead with a ballot measure for November 2016 that would hike cigarette taxes by $2 per pack to raise money for Medi-Cal. The initiative drive got a boost from billionaire Tom Steyer, who has lent his support to the effort.
Back in the Capitol, Brown also made news for the bills he refused to sign. Among them were a series of tax-credit proposals, many of which were aimed at helping the poor. Brown cited long-term concerns about the state’s fiscal health as his reason for rejecting the proposals.
His office even grouped the vetoes together in a press release, hailing the governor’s action as vetoes that were necessary to “help maintain California’s fiscal stability.”
“Despite strong revenue performance over the past few years, the state’s budget has remained precariously balanced due to unexpected costs and the provision of new services,” Governor Brown said in his veto message. “Given these financial uncertainties, I cannot support providing additional tax credits that will make balancing the state’s budget even more difficult.”
The governor also vetoed a series of bills that would have expanded Medi-Cal services, or other healthcare benefits, and specifically cited the failure to extend the MCO tax as a reason why.
“Until the fiscal outlook for Medi-Cal is stabilized, I cannot support any of these measures,” Brown wrote.
Taken together, the message to the Legislature is clear: Pass the tax increases that the governor called for, particularly in the healthcare world, before seeking to expand services. But Brown also seemed to open the door to expanding healthcare services if and when that extension happens.
However, Brown also raised flags about greater budget instability. The state stands to lose billions if Proposition 30 taxes are not extended by the end of 2018, and a coalition of labor groups is trying to get voters to extend those taxes next year.
The vetoes are a sign that Brown is unlikely to budge from his position as the self-proclaimed protector of the state budget, and will continue to hold the line of state spending until more can be done to shore up the state’s revenues.