Governor wants stalled budget passed



Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently brought his campaign to end a deadlock over the state budget to a Central Coast senior citizens center that could be forced to close this month without a check from the state.

"We need to pass this in order to do many things to keep our communities safe," Schwarzenegger said at a news conference at the Santa Maria Wisdom Center on Aug. 13.

"Instead of solving problems, we are creating problems, and the government should never be the source of the problem," the governor said.

Without a budget in place, the state controller won't be able to make the $2.1 billion in state payments due to hospitals, community colleges, childcare centers, nursing homes, and other programs this month.

San Luis Obispo's county-run health services aren't likely to feel the fallout, said Jeff Hamm, director of the SLO County Health Agency. With healthy reserves and other budget pots to go to, county health and welfare programs will continue.

"It becomes more of an accounting issue for us," he said.

But Hamm noted that privately run programs, or those headed by nonprofits without major reserves are far more vulnerable.

For Community Health Centers of the Central Coast, which runs 18 clinics from Lompoc to Paso Robles that depend heavily on state funding to provide care to low-income patients, the stalemate has required the nonprofit to take out a loan to continue operating.

"We are not cutting down on any patient services most patients don't even realize we are not getting paid right now," said Bob Lotwala, chief financial officer for CHC.

He said the loan will carry the nonprofit into mid-September. Beyond that, the future is uncertain. "It will become more and more difficult as the weeks go by."

At Transitions Mental Health, a nonprofit that addresses mental illness in SLO County, Executive Director Jill Bolster-White said the stalemate has left the program "in purgatory."

She's watching the budget debate closely because Schwarzenegger's original budget proposal would have cut about a half million dollars from the program locally. The latest version of the budget includes the funding, which has led the county to continue passing along funds from its own coffers.

"We're moving forward as though it's being funded, but that's going out on a limb," Bolster-White said.

"We're very, very worried," said Alice Reyes, assistant program director for the Santa Maria Wisdom Center.

Reyes said the center, which serves 91 seniors, will be forced to close at the end of August if the funds do not arrive.

The center provides nursing services, medication management, social and recreational activities, meals, and other services for seniors at the center at 1414 North Broadway. More than 90 percent of its funding comes from the state.

Life Steps Foundation, Inc., the parent company of the Santa Maria Wisdom Center, is one of the few social service agencies in California licensed as a Medi-Cal (the state's Medicaid program) provider for disadvantaged families. The budget impasse also jeopardizes the future of the foundation, which serves about 38,000 families, Reyes said.

"We're at the point where we need interim funding from the state not just for our center, but for 340 centers around the state," Reyes said. Without interim funding, Reyes said, "for those 38,000 families, it will be a disaster."

Senior citizens throughout California who rely on state-funded services are worried, said Martin Migden, who lives in Rancho Gardens, a senior community next door to the Wisdom Center.

"It affects all the seniors when we're on a limited budget," Migden said.

Schwarzenegger, standing next to state Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, at the news conference, praised Maldonado for his vote for the budget.

"Frankly, I am dumbfounded. I don't know why this budget hasn't passed," Maldonado, the lone Republican state senator to approve the budget thus far, said at the news conference.

The $145 billion budget was supposed to have been passed by June 15. The budget was approved by the state Assembly on July 20, but it remained deadlocked in the state Senate, where Republican members have argued for a document that includes more cost-cutting measures.

Schwarzenegger said he plans to line-item veto $700 million worth of funding once the budget is passed the amount it would take to balance the budget. He also said the budget pays down an additional $2.5 billion in debts, and limits funding growth to less than 1 percent.

"This budget is going to bring the deficit down to zero," Schwarzenegger said.

As of Aug. 14, the state Senate had not yet set a date to reconvene.


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