Bud­get deal grants child im­mi­grants healthcare

Brown’s com­pro­mise with leg­is­la­tors could cover 170,000 youth.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris Mege­rian and Me­lanie Ma­son

SACRA­MENTO — Im­mi­grant chil­dren who are in the coun­try il­le­gally would re­ceive public healthcare cov­er­age in Cal­i­for­nia un­der a bud­get deal an­nounced Tues­day by Gov. Jerry Brown and leg­isla­tive lead­ers.

An es­ti­mated 170,000 im­mi­grants 18 and younger could qual­ify, mark­ing another vic­tory for ad­vo­cates and law­mak­ers who have worked to make the state more wel­com­ing to unau­tho­rized res­i­dents.

“With this bud­get, we’re say­ing that im­mi­grants mat­ter, ir­re­spec­tive of who you are or where you’re from,” said state Se­nate leader Kevin de León (D-Los An­ge­les).

Demo­cratic lead­ers also won more money for state- funded child care, preschool and den­tal care as well as a boost for public univer­si­ties. But they gave up other spend­ing they wanted and ac­ceded to Brown’s rev­enue pro­jec­tion, which was about $3 bil­lion lower than theirs.

The com­pro­mise — the prod­uct of what Brown de­scribed as “stren­u­ous ne­go­ti­a­tions” — paves the way for a new bud­get to take ef­fect July 1, the start of the next fis­cal year. How­ever, some work re­mains un­fin­ished; the gover­nor called for spe­cial leg­isla­tive ses­sions to ad­dress road re­pairs and public healthcare.

The ex­pan­sion of healthcare cov­er­age to qual­i­fy­ing im­mi­grant chil­dren would be­gin in May 2016, cost­ing $40 mil­lion in the new bud­get and an es­ti­mated $132 mil­lion an­nu­ally af­ter that.

Sen. Ri­cardo Lara (DBell Gar­dens), who had pushed for the change, de­scribed it as a “mod­est in­vest­ment” that would pre­vent chil­dren from re­ceiv­ing their healthcare solely in

emer­gency rooms.

“Cal­i­for­nia once again paves the way while Washington, D.C., con­tin­ues to cre­ate road­blocks for these com­mu­ni­ties,” Lara said.

The de­ci­sion was de­nounced by Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Fed­er­a­tion for Amer­i­can Immigration Re­form, which sup­ports strict en­force­ment of immigration laws.

“This is just one more ex­am­ple of Cal­i­for­nia pay­ing huge bills for its con­tin­ued ef­forts to ac­com­mo­date illegal immigration,” Mehlman said.

“It forces the taxpayers to pay money to pro­vide healthcare that could be go­ing to other vi­tal needs in the state,” he added. “And God knows there are many vi­tal needs go­ing un­met in the state.”

The fi­nal agree­ment was an­nounced a day af­ter the Leg­is­la­ture ap­proved $117.5 bil­lion in gen­eral fund spend­ing, $2.2 bil­lion more than Brown wanted. Con­tin­u­ing talks pro­duced a fi­nal plan of $115.4 bil­lion, only slightly larger than the Demo­cratic gover­nor’s orig­i­nal pro­posal.

A se­ries of shuff les — such as ad­just­ing a healthcare cost es­ti­mate, adding re­stric­tions to a schol­ar­ship pro­gram and con­sol­i­dat­ing some ad­min­is­tra­tive func­tions — freed up enough money for law­mak­ers to ob­tain higher fund­ing in other ar­eas.

“This is a sound and wellthought-out bud­get,” Brown said.

Un­der the plan, the Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity sys­tem would re­ceive a $97-mil­lion in­crease and the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia sys­tem would get an ex­tra $25 mil­lion — two in­vest­ments aimed at boost­ing en­roll­ment.

The blue­print has an ad­di­tional $265 mil­lion — more than half of what law­mak­ers wanted — for preschool and state-sub­si­dized child care. And pay­ments to den­tists who serve low-in­come pa­tients would be re­stored to pre-re­ces­sion lev­els at a cost of $30 mil­lion.

The deal also pre­serves other pro­grams sought by both Brown and law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing $380 mil­lion for an earned in­come tax credit that would al­low the work- ing poor to keep more of their pay­checks.

Other leg­isla­tive pro­pos­als were jet­ti­soned.

A broader in­crease in pay­ments to physi­cians who treat the needy didn’t make the cut. Nei­ther did a plan to al­low women on public as­sis­tance to re­ceive higher ben­e­fits if they have ad­di­tional chil­dren while on wel­fare. Cal­i­for­nia cur­rently bars such in­creases.

Sen. Holly J. Mitchell (DLos An­ge­les), who pushed for re­moval of the re­stric­tion, said she was livid.

“I guess we’re in the busi­ness of pick­ing win­ners and losers,” she said. “It seems poor peo­ple and their chil­dren al­ways end up at the bot­tom.”

Asked how the bud­get deal was struck, Brown de­scribed it as “a grad­ual un­fold­ing of deeper un­der­stand­ing.”

He didn’t say whether he had threat­ened to veto the Leg­is­la­ture’s bud­get.

“I don’t is­sue threats,” Brown said. “I en­gage in frank and hon­est con­ver­sa­tions.”

Law­mak­ers are ex­pected to vote on the agree­ment Fri­day. The spe­cial leg­isla­tive ses­sions, which could run con­cur­rently with the reg­u­lar ses­sion, will be held later this year to ad­dress re­main­ing is­sues.

Brown wants to use the ses­sion on healthcare to re- vise and ex­tend the state’s tax on man­aged-care plans to com­ply with fed­eral reg­u­la­tions.

With­out the tax, Brown said, Cal­i­for­nia would lose a sus­tain­able source of fund­ing for public healthcare and in-home care for low-in­come el­derly and dis­abled res­i­dents.

The sec­ond ses­sion would be geared to­ward find­ing new ways to pay for $59 bil­lion in over­due road re­pairs. Law­mak­ers have dis­cussed mod­i­fy­ing the state gas tax or charg­ing a new fee to fund im­prove­ments.

“One way or the other, we’re go­ing to have to find some so­lu­tions,” Brown said.

Repub­li­can sup­port would be needed to raise taxes or fees.

Se­nate Repub­li­can leader Robert Huff (R-San Di­mas) crit­i­cized Democrats for con­sid­er­ing such moves, say­ing that even though the state has a sur­plus, “they are back to the tax well look­ing for more money.” chris.mege­rian @latimes.com Twit­ter: @chris­mege­rian me­lanie.ma­son@latimes.com Twit­ter: @mel­ma­son Times staff writer Pa­trick McGreevy con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Rich Pe­dron­celli As­so­ci­ated Press

SE­NATE LEADER Kevin de León, left, talks Tues­day with Gov. Jerry Brown af­ter the Democrats’ “stren­u­ous ne­go­ti­a­tions” over the next state bud­get.

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