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State Budget Limbo


By Krista Almanzan

Watsonville, CA – The phone keeps ringing and the patients keep coming in to the clinics run by Watsonville based Salud Para la Gente. That's one thing staff is certain won't change, even though everything else in this non-profit's future has a big question mark on it. "What are we not going to be able to provide to our patients? We have to figure out in terms of staffing, if worst case scenario, are we going to have to lay people off?," asked Sara Clarenbach, Director of Advocacy and Community Engagement for this network of health clinics in Santa Cruz County.

They provide primary care to low-income, uninsured and underinsured people by finding reimbursement programs that will pay for their health care. It's those reimbursement programs that are threatened as the Governor and Legislature try to resolve the state's $24-billion budget gap.

The Governor initially proposed eliminating those programs. The new package pushed by Democrats scales that back. And what actually happens could lie somewhere in between. So until an agreement is reached, they can only prepare for a number of possibilities. "It's really a rolling crap shoot because it changes virtually every day, so we've tried to put together a matrix of the programs which the Governor was proposing to eliminate completely. And if they had been eliminated or are eliminated, you know you can calculate the numbers. And then, you know, you can take 100% loss, 50%, do different scenarios and figure out what that's going to mean in terms of service delivery," said Clarenbach.

Every day a decision is delayed means another day in limbo for Salud, but it also means another day to lobby the Governor and Legislature. That's how opponents of the proposal to cut $70-million from the State Parks system are using the time. Monday they rallied at the State Capitol and they've spent weekends collecting petition signatures. The cut would close more than 200 parks statewide including all the State Parks in Santa Cruz County and almost every one in Monterey County. Fighting to keep them open may seem like a tough battle when up against something like health care. But Bonny Hawley, Executive Director of Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, doesn't see it that way. "It's not like we have to choose one over the other. We feel like the State Parks can stay open and there can be adequate funding it's just a matter of the legislature getting behind a proposal," said Hawley.

That proposal is for a State Park Access Pass, which is part of the package Democrats worked on over the weekend. Through a $15 annual fee added to vehicle registrations, all cars with California plates would receive free day use access to the parks. But with the Governor insisting he won't support any new fees or tax increases, State Parks supporters are in the same boat as the health care advocates. It's a place where only one thing seems clear. "I think everybody is going to suffer cuts. There's just no way out of this without every program in the state suffering cutbacks," said Assemblyman Bill Monning, "Organizations are standing up arguing why their particular program should not be cut. And they make strong arguments, and if we had a magic wand, we wouldn't cut any of these programs." And if they had a magic wand, this on-going budget battle would likely be resolved by now.