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Budget Writers Offer Compromise on Medical Aid for Poor

Times Staff Writer

Democratic legislators, who had wanted to increase payments for county medical services for the indigent by nearly $100 million, offered Wednesday to accept only half that amount in an effort to reach agreement with Republican Gov. George Deukmejian.

The compromise offer was made as Democratic budget negotiators dominating a two-house legislative conference committee sought to cut nearly $600 million from their proposed $35.4-billion state budget for fiscal 1985-86. The Legislature must deliver a budget to the governor by June 15.

Initial reaction to the Democrats’ compromise by Deukmejian Administration officials was cool. Deukmejian has not considered anything above a 4% increase in the roughly $500-million budget for medically indigent programs.

2 Key Items Rejected

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In other action, the committee rejected two key Deukmejian budget proposals, cutting financing recommended by the governor for the state Commission on the Status of Women and removing toxic cleanup projects funded through a $100-million 1984 bond act from the governor’s spending plan.

The committee also rejected $26.8 million to provide for unrestricted abortions for poor women, choosing instead a policy limiting abortions to cases in which a woman’s life is endangered by pregnancy or in which the pregnancy results from rape, incest or poses a health threat to the fetus. The state Supreme Court previously has rejected the restrictive policy on legal grounds.

The proposed compromise to increase financing for services for the medically indigent was offered by Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (D-San Jose), one of six budget negotiators who met for the third full day.

Vasconcellos, in an emotional plea, said Deukmejian would probably veto all of the proposed $97.7-million increase provided in the Senate-approved budget but might agree to an increase of $50 million.

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“What I am trying to do is craft something the governor can sign,” Vasconcellos said.

Beginning of Cutbacks

The issue dates to 1982, when then-Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., in an effort to curb spending during a fiscal crisis, cut state aid to the medically indigent by 30%. Deukmejian made further cuts after he took office in 1983. Counties say they need $90 million to $100 million to bring programs up to where they were before the series of state budget reductions.

Deukmejian, in each of the last two years, has vetoed Democrat-backed spending increases for programs for the medically indigent.

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A Department of Finance official told the conference committee that the Administration has the same concerns this time. The chief one is that county costs are hard to determine because programs vary from county to county and hospital to hospital.

C. David Willis, a program budget manager, said, “We acknowledge that there is a problem,” but headded, “We don’t know enough (about) how these hospitals operate.”

Vasconcellos, chairman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, reminded Willis that Deukmejian approved funds for a $1-million study of the problem last year but that the Administration has not looked at it.

Vasconcellos said the funding increase is part of a package of health care increases he will propose to Deukmejian. One key element will call for the expenditure of $30 million in interest that would be generated by the governor’s proposed $1-billion budget reserve.

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As the budget negotiators’ moved through their third day, their biggest problem remained accommodating the governor’s proposed $1-billion reserve. The Senate-approved budget allotted so much to other programs that the reserve was whittled down to $370 million. Deukmejian is insisting on a $1-billion reserve and has said he will veto as much spending from the budget as it takes to establish such a reserve.

Assemblyman William P. Baker of Danville, one of two Republicans on the committee, noted that up until Wednesday the conferees had been adding more to the budget than they had been cutting. “It looks like we are going to give the governor a free hand,” he said.

He and the other Republican, Sen. John Seymour of Anaheim, generally have been quiet, overridden on key votes by the four Democrats.

Democrats Prevail

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Democrats defeated Baker and Seymour on a GOP-sponsored plan to withhold funds for the state Department of Family Planning if funds are used to advertise or promote abortions.

The two Republicans also ran into opposition when they backed the governor’s proposal to provide a $700,000 budget for the Commission on the Status of Women, an agency wracked by partisan wrangling.

Democrats went ahead with their own compromise solution to the problem by approving a $480,000 budget for the commission. That is $20,000 more than Democrats earlier had indicated they would approve. The extra money was added to provide benefits for the executive director.

Deukmejian had hoped to finance toxic cleanup projects from the budget. Democrats on the committee, however, highly critical of the Administration’s toxic waste efforts so far, said they wanted the governor to present a more detailed plan. They provided $6.7 million to begin developing a toxic cleanup priority list. Funds for specific projects will be covered in another bill moving through the Legislature.

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