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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's special election


June 13, 2005

California Nurses Assn. Assails Mean-Spirited Initiatives

Noting Consequences for Patients and Health Care in State

On the eve of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's announcement of a special election, the state's largest organization of RNs today warned that several of the initiatives pose a significant threat to the health and safety of Californians.

"California has a growing healthcare emergency. But rather than improve health care access or quality, this governor is promoting a plan that will almost certainly produce severe reductions in vital health programs, while seeking to silence the voice of caregivers to protect the safety of patients and all Californians," said Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the nearly 60,000-member California Nurses Association.

The budget cutting initiative

Under this initiative, the governor would have unilateral power to impose sweeping budget cuts, including the ability to override state laws, and could even slash spending during years of surplus by declaring a fiscal emergency (California Budget Project analysis).

Health programs, a major component of the budget, along with education and public safety, would be especially threatened. For example, noted CNA, the governor would have unchecked authority to:

--- Slash Medi-Cal for 6.7 million Californians, including many seniors in nursing homes

--- Cut the Healthy Families Program that helps 750,000 children see a doctor

--- Reduce funding for health measures approved by the voters, such as two tobacco tax initiatives: Prop. 10, to provide children with community health care, and Prop. 99, funding other health programs

Additionally, the budget initiative endangers every county health program, including emergency services, clinics, public health programs, and indigent care with almost certain cuts, one reason the California State Assn. of Counties has circulated a memo warning of a "severe fiscal impact on counties." (Los Angeles Times, June 8, 2005)

"This is not reform," said DeMoro, "it is a mean spirited assault on our health care and social safety net. There is a common sense solution to improving the state's financial picture - to reverse the declining share corporations pay in state taxes, not exacerbate the healthcare crisis and harm millions of Californians."

Redrawing legislative districts

DeMoro called this initiative part of Gov. Schwarzenegger's overall approach to accumulate increased power for his corporate backers by removing political opponents. "His goal is to redraw legislative districts to force out critics and replace them with allies who are in line with the agenda of his corporate donors."

Many of the legislators the governor is targeting, said DeMoro, have been sponsors or supporters of key health care reforms, such as programs to increase health care coverage, provide affordable prescription drugs, curb the abuses of HMOs, and establish registered nurse-to-patient staffing ratios.

'Voluntary' drug price limits

Big pharmaceutical companies have financed an initiative, linked to a proposal made by Gov. Schwarzenegger earlier this year, for "voluntary" reductions on prescription drug charges.

"This is a transparent effort by some of the wealthiest corporations in the world, big pharmaceutical firms, to avert real reforms that would make affordable drugs available to those in need," said DeMoro. "Big pharmaceutical companies have been major donors to Gov. Schwarzenegger. He has rewarded them by vetoing bills that do not rely on 'voluntary' reductions by an industry that is notorious for price gouging and corporate excess. This ineffective approach would perpetuate the declining access to needed medications for millions of patients."

Silencing the voice of nurses and other caregivers

The initiative to restrict the ability of public employees and their unions to participate in the political process, while leaving corporate donors untouched, "is a grave threat to public safety," said DeMoro.

"It's no accident that corporate interests, such as the health care giants, have been major donors to all of these initiative efforts, or that it coincides with the governor's increasingly demagogic attack on unions," said DeMoro. "Gov. Schwarzenegger and his corporate backers would like to silence the voice of registered nurses and CNA, and other unions, who have challenged their policies and their attacks on patient protections and other vital health needs."

Finally, DeMoro noted that the $80 million in public funds being wasted on the election could be better spent on health programs. The same $80 million would provide health insurance for 64,725 young adults for one year or provide prescription drugs for 88,954 seniors for one year.

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