Reshuffling Responsibility Will Not Fix the State Budget

Discussions like these are vital during a budget crisis like the one we are all facing now.  I know that my colleagues and I are committed to working with the Governor and the Legislature to manage the short-term impacts of this budget crisis, as well as looking at long-term solutions to how we provide critical services to the people of California and the County of Los Angeles.  We want to be part of that solution.

The centerpiece of the proposed 2011-12 State Budget is a realignment plan that moves more services under local control.  Let me be clear; I believe that services are best provided close to those receiving them.

I must, however, voice my concern that under the current proposal, the State is shifting full responsibility for billions of dollars in programs to counties, with only a short-term commitment of dedicated revenue to pay for them.

We are still gathering data and accessing the potential impact, but we must ensure that the realignment plan be feasible and sustainable.  Many of the services we provide are the final safety net for people in despair.

I am particularly concerned about this as it relates to public safety.  We cannot fund critical public safety programs with fluctuating funding streams.  The Realignment Proposal must include a Constitutional guarantee to provide counties with a permanent, dedicated and stable revenue source to fully support realignment for as long as counties retain these new program responsibilities.  These revenues must be guaranteed beyond the five year period currently being proposed.

As I said, we want to work with the State, but we can’t do so at any cost.  We must all work together to find creative solutions to how services are provided and some of these ideas may require the State making changes and allowing more flexibility at the local level.

For example, it would be very helpful if the Legislature were to look closely at some of the mandates on counties that are already in place, and see what can be relaxed or even eliminated.

Let me give you a few potential solutions: if you were to eliminate the “State-only” Medi-Cal rules governing the Mental Health Managed Care program, counties would be able to access additional federal reimbursement for Medi-Cal outpatient psychiatric services.

Also, if the Drug Medi-Cal program could be reconfigured to allow us to screen clients rather than just push everybody into services, it would relieve the administrative burden significantly and we would still be able to serve those who need treatment for substance abuse.

In another area, if legislative measures could be taken to ensure counties have greater access to SB 81 bond funds for youthful offenders and you could relax the match requirements, the risks in taking on the high-risk juvenile offenders – which I still think is very problematic – could be somewhat mitigated.

A big concern I do have is around foster care.  There is a new mandate imposed by the State under AB 12 that would require us to serve foster youth until the age of 25.  It’s a well-intended vision, but the cost for doing this is still being evaluated and won’t be released until later this year.  I think we should consider holding off on this until we understand the full costs, which could be well beyond what we would receive for foster care under this Realignment proposal.

Those are just a few ideas that we have had – and I hope they illustrate our commitment to working together.  Digging out of this hole won’t happen with the State or the counties digging their heals in the ground.  We all need to share ideas, give and take, and above all, listen.