- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

July 2

The Oakland Tribune on Gov. Brown’s actions on health care:

Gov. Jerry Brown has a problem. His state is a model for President Barack Obama’s health care reforms. But that will only continue if he can agree with the Legislature on a plan for ensuring long-term health care revenue stability.

It explains why the governor is convening a special session of the Legislature this summer on health care. Brown must use his shrewd political skills to solve two major problems:

-The governor must agree with legislators on a tobacco tax hike to raise enough money to improve the state’s woeful Medi-Cal reimbursement rates, which are the worst in the nation. The governor knows it won’t do any good for California to provide health insurance to the uninsured unless there is sufficient funding to pay doctors to accept their cases and treat them.

-Brown must cajole legislators and the managed care community into helping him fill an unexpected $1 billion hole in the 2016 budget. The federal government recently announced that California’s managed care tax on providers doesn’t meet federal standards because it only taxes those providers who accept Medi-Cal patients. The governor will have to come up with enough incentives so that providers who don’t accept Medi-Cal patients will agree to a tax on their services.

Succeeding in today’s health care world is all about acquiring leverage and knowing how and when to use it.

This fall, California health care officials will be negotiating a new five-year Medicare waiver agreement that will govern the extent to which the federal government funds the state’s safety-net programs. The more willingness California shows to invest in its programs, the more generous the federal government will be with its funding.

Solving the Medi-Cal reimbursement and managed care tax problems will go a long way toward convincing the federal government that California wants to continue playing a leadership role in the health care reform progress.

The governor and the legislators have leverage to convince enough Republicans to go along with Democrats in increasing the tax to raise more money for health care funding. Polls show Californians strongly support a tobacco tax increase, and supporters could threaten a much more robust tobacco tax initiative in 2016 if the industry and Republicans don’t play ball.

On the surface, getting managed care providers to tax themselves may appear to be a more challenging task. But the governor has the means to ensure they will gain sufficient dollars to make them whole by dedicating a portion of the tobacco tax to offset their losses.

The reforms aren’t perfect, but on the whole, the plan works best when there is enough funding to give safety net programs the resources they need to keep Californians healthy.

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July 3

The (Torrance) Daily Breeze on housing construction amid the drought:

Perhaps it’s human nature, when a person is concerned about one big problem, to apply answers to entirely other problems through the filter of the main concern.

That is certainly what many Southern Californians concerned about excess population growth are doing when it comes to the West’s ongoing drought.

Here we are, they say, after four dry rainy seasons, with the governor imposing restrictions on everyone in the state - residential and commercial, agricultural and recreational - aimed at cutting back by 25 percent, and still we are allowing the building of new homes and businesses!

They say it in the grocery-store lines, around the office … well, water cooler, and in many different ways in their letters to the editor.

The two-facedness, say our fellow Californians, is simply outrageous. They see a complete disconnect between a government that on the one hand is enforcing the strictest cutbacks ever in how much water we have access to and on the other refuses to simply put a moratorium on building permits. So long as the state continues to run dry, they say, how can we add more construction that seems to put up a welcome sign aimed at adding more users of water to the 40 million people here already?

The concern is understandable, and yet, as with many such common wisdoms, it is wrong, when viewed as part of the state’s true water-use picture. Residential water use is a drop in the bucket. Not that it would be a very good idea at all, but if we covered most of the state’s vast open spaces with homes instead of growing agricultural hay, we’d use less water than we do now.

The rest of the nation has always been interested in most things Californian, and The New Yorker’s staff writer in Los Angeles, Dana Goodyear, recently contributed an extraordinary piece on the dying Salton Sea vis a vis our drought. In it, she noted that in order to save the state-mandated million and a half acre feet of water a year, Californians must forgo “long showers, frequent laundering, toilet-flushing, gardening, golf.” Letter-writer Thomas Sittler of Foster City in the Bay Area responded by noting that California alfalfa-growing alone - much of which is exported to China and the Mideast to feed their cattle - uses 5.2 million acre feet a year, “or the equivalent of about a hundred billion showers.”

A hundred billion? That ain’t hay. So, clearly, building new condominiums, in relative terms, has almost nothing to do with the water-supply problem in California.

Slow-growth and population-control advocates need to instead sustain their arguments on their own merits rather than by bringing water into the picture. Especially in terms of suburban sprawl in Southern California, with its deleterious effects on freeway gridlock, air quality and workers’ time with their families, the case can be made that we need to stop expanding our megalopolis.

But our cities need more housing, not less, as part of the solution to the supply-and-demand economics that has made houses and apartments unaffordable to too many of us, and to help solve the tragedy of tens of thousands sleeping on the streets each night. Smart growth - more multi-family, closer to transit - rather than no growth is still the best policy for California as we await some blessed rain.

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July 5

The Santa Maria Times on California’s livability:

We recently mentioned a program that prepares jail inmates for jobs, once they re-enter society. The question today is - will society be ready?

The Great Recession is fading into the past. Things are looking up. There are more and better-paying jobs - the great American dream appears to be back on track.

Or is it?

We recently came upon a report on the best places in America to begin a new career. This should be of special interest to recent high school and college graduates.

Unfortunately, if you graduated from a school here in California, this state is not your best bet for future employment - and that is a problem for just about everyone living here. More about that in a moment.

And here’s a shocker: If you believe one of the big metro areas is your best shot at landing a good job, places like New York City or Los Angeles, you are incorrect.

Of the 10 top-rated job markets in America, six are in the state of Texas, with Irving holding down the No. 1 spot. Irving business and industry offers professional-level jobs starting at more than $3,000 a month, has 233 entry-level professional jobs per 10,000 residents, and also boasts a high quality-of-life ranking.

The only California city on the top-10 list is Fremont, in seventh spot, with 195 entry-level positions available per 10,000 residents, a relatively high median annual income, and an even higher quality-of-life ranking than Irving, Texas.

Why so few California cities ranked in the jobs-availability survey? That’s an easy one - housing. When you look at the level of income it takes to own a home, California’s overall ranking is abysmal.

One of the top job markets is Houston, in part because that little metropolis and several others in Texas require only a $50,000-a-year income to afford a median-priced home. The most affordable of the California cities with adequate job opportunities is Sacramento, with a minimum of $58,000 a year to qualify for a home purchase.

After Sacramento, California’s housing affordability factor skyrockets. A wage-earner in the Los Angeles Basin needs a minimum of $85,000 a year to afford a home, it’s $95,500 in San Diego, and a whopping $141,500 annually in the San Francisco area.

Maybe that explains why people already owning a home in San Francisco often come off as snooty. But before we crow too loudly, take an honest look at local affordability. Even though North County median prices are far better than those on the South Coast, it still takes a hefty income to afford a home in this market.

And that’s the kind of income this region needs, but does not yet have.

It’s not difficult to see this pattern developing, because this region has been struggling to locate and attract businesses that offer more and higher-paying jobs. We already have the perfect climate. We have plenty of space. We also seem to have the civic will to do the kinds of things necessary to attract new commerce.

What seems to be missing is a concerted effort by a wide range of governments, groups and organizations to work together to develop a strategy for commercial growth into the future.

At the beginning of this year, we established as one of the missions on this editorial page to promote safe and sane economic growth, to build a future for our children and their children, which includes reasonably priced housing. Together, we can do this.

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July 6

The Modesto Bee on water management:

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials, who operate the Central Valley Project, relied on a faulty gauge in April and overestimated the amount of cold water behind Shasta Dam.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife biologists insisted that twin pulses totaling 35,000 acre-feet - enough for 12,000 acres of almonds or to supply 90,000 homes with water for a year - be sent down the Stanislaus River in April to push juvenile Chinook salmon toward the sea. But no Chinook salmon went with that water, according to a report from FishBio, which monitors our region’s rivers.

The release of so much water from New Melones was faulty judgment. The Shasta error was based on faulty equipment. Neither instills a great deal of confidence in those attempting to manage our water system through a time of extreme drought.

The Shasta mistake is cascading through the entire water system. Federal and state officials are compensating for the “instrument calibration error” by drastically reducing water being released from Shasta into the Sacramento River. Scientists say they must hold onto what’s left of the cold water in California’s largest reservoir until the fall to be used in a pulse flow to entice spawning salmon up the river.

But by cutting Shasta’s releases, downstream water system operators are being forced to release more from Lake Oroville and Folsom Lake. Those releases protect crops and water destined for Southern California by preventing salt water incursion into the Delta. By the end of this summer, Sacramento’s Folsom reservoir, about the size of Lake McClure, is expected to fall to 120,000 acre-feet - well below last year’s historic low. Oroville, which can hold 3.5 million acre-feet, will be at a quarter of capacity.

Meanwhile, to the south, the 2,500 landowners in the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority have fallowed more land this year than ever before - 40,000 acres. The authority is made up of four irrigation districts encompassing 240,000 acres in Fresno, Madera, Merced and Stanislaus counties. They planted crops based on Bureau of Reclamation commitments that they’d get 350,000 acre-feet this year, or 40 percent of what would be a full allocation.

July is when the need to irrigate is greatest. But water system operators cannot transport water south if they hope to preserve what remains of the Delta ecosystem. That leaves farmers who planted annual crops with a choice: pump more groundwater, or let crops shrivel.

Farmers can lose a crop of tomatoes or alfalfa and rebound next season. But with the cost of water having risen steadily over the past decade, many have switched to permanent crops like almonds to recoup those added costs.

In 2010, the San Joaquin River authority had 23,962 acres planted in fruit, nuts and vines. By 2014, that number was up to 45,000 acres - primarily almonds, walnuts, pistachios and pomegranates, said executive director Steve Chedester. Without CVP water, growers will tap groundwater to save their trees. That means more drilling, more costs, more potential subsidence.

This is leading many people - especially non-farmers - to call for wholesale revision of the state’s water laws.

Before tossing aside 230 years of laws, rules and court decisions, it must be recognized that small farmers are at a horrible disadvantage when competing for water against larger, more well-funded entities. It also must be recognized that the best soils frequently have the most long-standing water rights, and to divorce the water from those soils will not only ruin family farms, but result in a waste of one of the state’s great assets.

In this drought, water managers have no room for faulty equipment or faulty judgment. Don’t compound the mistake with a hasty revision of our water laws.

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July 7

Los Angeles Daily News on funding for developmental services:

State Sens. Mike Morrell, Isadore Hall III, Jean Fuller, Connie Leyva and Tony Mendoza, and Assemblywoman Patty Lopez. These are the legislators we’re counting on to lead the way in re-establishing sufficient and sustainable funding for services for those with developmental disabilities.

Those six lawmakers have three things (at least) in common: They’re each on the Legislature’s special session committees considering ways to fund Medi-Cal and developmental disabilities services; they each represent a district in the greater Los Angeles area and the Los Angeles News Group footprint; and they each signed state Sen. Jim Beall’s Feb. 24 letter to his colleagues seeking a 10 percent funding boost for developmental services.

So we look for them now to help bring their fellow committee members along in fulfilling the Lanterman Coalition’s request for that immediate 10 percent boost in funding for regional centers and in rates for vendors, and perhaps even more importantly for a sustainable method to maintain funding for years to come at rates actually high enough to provide those necessary services.

Here’s another list: State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, and Sens. Ed Hernandez, Holly Mitchell and Ricardo Lara; and Assembly members Miguel Santiago, Marc Steinorth, Richard Bloom, Jimmy Gomez, Reginald B. Jones-Sawyer, Jay Obernolte, Ling-Ling Chang, Autumn Burke and Freddie Rodriguez. Those 13 lawmakers are involved in the special session and represent L.A.-area districts, but had not signed Beall’s letter in support of a funding boost as of mid-May. That doesn’t mean they’re against realistic funding for our most vulnerable fellow Californians, of course, so we’re looking for each of them to put their legislative abilities and their votes behind the effort now.

Sen. Hernandez, D-West Covina, is chairman of the Senate’s Public Health and Developmental Services Committee in the special session that is under way. He made it quite clear in his opening remarks at Friday’s meeting that he expects his committee to come up with “viable revenue solutions” to correct the current underfunding for Medi-Cal and developmental services.

The signatures on Beall’s letter showed that this is a nonpartisan issue. Fifteen Democrats and nine Republicans signed on the Senate side, as did 26 Democrats and 15 Republicans in the Assembly. That’s 24 of 40 senators and 41 of 80 Assembly members - majority support.

What was partisan was the way they wanted to get there. Republicans argued correctly that there was plenty of unanticipated revenue to fund developmental services properly in the budget deal that Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature reached, and that special sessions should not have been necessary. They’re right, but Democratic leaders stiffed developmental services in the budget deal in favor of the special sessions. That’s politics.

Now it’s up to the special session committees to figure out how to take proper care of those with developmental disabilities. If you agree, contact your legislator - especially if he or she is on either of the lists above.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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