A delegation of county supervisors from California lobbied Congress Tuesdayagainst President Bush’s proposed cuts in Medicare payments to hospitals, arguing that their health “safety nets” for the needy already are strained by a lack of money.
The 150 county officials also said that they oppose Bush’s plan to reduce mass transit subsidies and impose a 20% cut in U.S. payments to the counties for timber logged on federal lands inside their borders.
They told members of California’s congressional delegation that they oppose earmarking of any possible increase in the federal gasoline tax for deficit reduction. They said that they favor placing any added gas tax money in the highway trust fund for the benefit of motorists.
Bill Coates, a Plumas County supervisor who heads the County Supervisors Assn. of California, said that the counties have been asked to provide more services, while federal aid for many programs has been reduced sharply in the last decade.
“With the recent demise of general revenue sharing, California counties overnight lost $250 million a year in discretionary funds desperately needed,” he said at a news conference. “Our message to Washington is clear. California counties are struggling with an unrelenting fiscal crisis. . . . Give us the money and the flexibility to serve our people.”
Coates said county hospitals often are the last resort for recent immigrants and residents without health insurance. “Unfortunately, we’ve got so many folks landing in our safety net (that) we can’t support the load,” he said. “If we don’t take care of them, they’re going to die. The worst job in the world is trying to run a safety net without any money.”
Madge Schaefer, a Ventura County supervisor, said that elected officiaals often must reduce law enforcement budgets to preserve health care for the needy, making a daunting choice between “cops or docs.”
Willie Kennedy, a San Francisco county supervisor, said that the costs of caring for AIDS patients, the homeless and the mentally ill are mounting while the federal government is considering reductions in its assistance for many programs. “If we have to cut services, the county supervisors will get the blame,” she said.
Barbara Shipnuck, a Monterey County supervisor, said that Bush’s proposed reduction in Medicare’s reimbursement rate for hospitals and a cut in U.S. payments for graduate medical education would hurt the standards of medical care.
Coates said that the county officials presented their views to members of the California congressional delegation and expressed “grave concern” over financial problems at the local level, noting: “There’s more talk about revenue sources. Personally, I don’t think there’s any way they can run all the things they want to run without a tax increase.”
But Larry Naake, the state supervisor group’s executive director, said that the Californians strongly oppose a proposal floated by Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) of the House Ways and Means Committee to raise the federal gasoline tax by 10 cents or 15 cents a gallon to reduce the budget deficit.
A consensus appears to be developing in California on a $20 billion package for highway repair, he said, including a state gasoline tax increase from 5 cents to 10 cents a gallon. A federal gas tax increase atop that would be especially unwelcome, he said.