Tax hikes for universal health care in California?
A group of Democratic legislators on Thursday unveiled a package of bills to create a universal health care program funded by new taxes.
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To implement single-payer health care, or not to implement single-payer health care?
That’s the question facing state lawmakers after a group of Democratic legislators on Thursday unveiled a package of bills to create a universal health care program called CalCare. The proposal has already earned better reception than it did last year, when it was tabled without a hearing after lawmakers raised concerns about its lack of a funding source.
Democratic Assemblymember Jim Wood of Santa Rosa said Thursday that he will vote to move the bill forward next week when it’s scheduled to be considered by the Assembly Health Committee, which he leads.
- Wood: “I continue to feel the frustration, desperation, and quite frankly, the anger that many Californians experience in their efforts to access quality and affordable health care. … Something’s got to give, so next Tuesday, I’ll be voting for change.”
But the funding source — taxes — proposed in a separate bill will likely face an uphill battle. Tax hikes must be approved by two-thirds of lawmakers in both the state Assembly and Senate — a tall order, especially in an election year — and a majority of voters to go into effect. And the doctors’ lobby, insurance industry and business groups are already mobilizing against the bill.
- Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable: This “middle-class tax increase will drive more families into poverty, force more small businesses to close and compel more employers — and jobs — to leave this state.”
- A 2.3% excise tax on businesses after their first $2 million in income.
- A 1.25% payroll tax on employers with 50-plus workers.
- An additional 1% payroll tax on wages for resident employees earning more than $49,900.
- A progressive income tax starting at 0.5% for Californians earning more than $149,500, up to 2.5% for people making about $2.5 million annually. (Those rates would also be adjusted for inflation.)
The bills present a conundrum for Gov. Gavin Newsom, who vowed to implement single-payer health care when campaigning for the governorship in 2018. That earned him the backing of powerful groups like the California Nurses Association and progressive activists — and now they want him to make good on his promise, especially after they mobilized to help him defeat the recall last September. An estimated 3.2 million Californians remain uninsured.
- Assemblymember Ash Kalra, a San Jose Democrat and the proposal’s main author: “Doing nothing is not action. It is, in fact, the cruelest of actions while millions suffer under our watch.”
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Other stories you should know
1. Californians hunker down — again
That sound you hear is thousands of Californians entering quarantine or isolation as omicron sweeps through the state. Nearly three dozen state lawmakers were absent from Thursday floor sessions after many of them, including Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, were potentially exposed to COVID-19 at a farewell event for a colleague on Tuesday night, CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff reports — marking an inauspicious start to a legislative session that began less than a week ago. Other employers are beefing up protections: Los Angeles County is requiring businesses to provide, no later than Jan. 17, well-fitting medical-grade masks, surgical masks or respirators to employees who work indoors in close contact with others.
Quarantine figures are similarly startling in other workplaces. About 40% of hospitals are facing critical staff shortages, with some reporting that as much as 25% of their staff is absent due to virus-related reasons, a California Hospital Association representative told the Associated Press. Nearly 900 San Francisco teachers and aides — a whopping 20% of the district’s educator workforce — were absent Thursday, and Oakland Unified educators plan to hold a “sickout” today. Staff shortages have prompted temporary school closures in the East Bay, San Gabriel Valley, Redondo Beach, La Mesa and Carmel Valley, among other areas. Almost 200 San Diego Police Department employees are in isolation or quarantine. Around 450 Los Angeles County firefighters are quarantined, forcing the department to take the unprecedented step of transporting patients to the hospital in fire trucks rather than ambulances. And virus outbreaks are spreading through homeless shelters across the state, increasing demand for hotel rooms for self-isolation.
- Nathan Fletcher, chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors: “The challenge … is not only getting the rooms, but getting them staffed.”
2. State swamped by testing demand
Worker shortages are only exacerbating California’s difficulty in meeting testing demand. Newsom announced tonight that he will deploy the California National Guard to expand capacity at testing sites. But the problem is also one of supply: COVID-19 tests are nearly impossible to find in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, and the race to secure coveted appointments resulted in a four-hour traffic jam on Auto Mall Parkway in Fremont on Thursday. With appointments booked weeks in advance, and rapid test kits flying off the shelves as soon as they’re restocked, local governments such as Santa Clara County are trying to set up their own supply chains by negotiating with vendors. But increasing the supply of workers has proved even more challenging.
- Santa Clara County’s public health department: “Our main hurdles are staffing and lab capacity — more personnel are needed to administer additional tests and to process in the laboratories across the country.”
Demand for booster shots, meanwhile, isn’t nearly as high. Only 38% of vaccinated Californians have gotten a booster shot, according to an analysis from CalMatters’ Kristen Hwang and Ana Ibarra, and a third or less of residents are boosted in 20 of 58 counties. Only three counties — San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo — have seen more than half of their vaccinated residents get boosted.
3. Fire risk halts massive project proposal
A $1 billion proposal to build a luxury resort, fire station and 1,400 housing units in one of California’s poorest — and most fire-prone — regions was put on hold Thursday, when a superior court judge ruled that Lake County and the project developer failed to adequately account for potential hazards that could result from a wildfire forcing thousands of people to evacuate at the same time. The ruling is a win for Attorney General Rob Bonta and environmental groups, who recently secured a similar halt on a proposed development in a wildfire-prone area of San Diego. Taken together, the two rulings send a clear message: Local governments should not attempt to ease California’s housing crisis by building in areas of high fire risk — a term that applies to increasingly large swaths of the state.
- Bonta: “We can’t keep making shortsighted land use decisions that will have impacts decades down the line. We must build responsibly.”
- Lake County Supervisor Moke Simon: “The investments proposed, including adding housing supply and even a fire station and helipad, offered the potential for lasting regional economic benefits. If the ultimate result of this decision is the project not moving forward, that will be a tremendous loss.”
On the opposite side of the weather spectrum, PG&E estimates that it will finish restoring power by next Tuesday or sooner to approximately 14,000 customers in the Sierra Nevada foothills, some of whom have been without power for 11 days after fierce winter snowstorms swept the region.
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Wrong move to restrict water rights: California should reward, not punish, local agencies that plan for responsible water use and make critical infrastructure upgrades, writes Sean White, director of water and sewer for the city of Ukiah.
Regulate Big Ag’s water use: Portraying our agricultural economy as driven by subsistence needs rather than the desire to maximize profit is a gross mischaracterization of a multibillion-dollar industry, argues Elizabeth Reid-Wainscoat of the Center for Biological Diversity.
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