Saturday, June 30, 2007

Senate Republicans kill foster care bill
Lin, Judy. Sacramento Bee Capitol Bureau, June 29, 2007.

Senate Republicans turned up the heat on budget talks by killing a Schwarzenegger-backed foster care bill Thursday on the grounds that it would continue unchecked state spending.

The state Senate voted 23-13 along partisan lines on Assembly Bill 845, which would have allocated $10.5 million for counties to provide temporary housing to youths after they leave the foster care system. Although Democrats hold a majority, they needed Republicans to get to a two-thirds majority of 27.

"We don't have a budget on time this year because we're billions of dollars out of whack because of hundreds of programs like this," said Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Penn Valley.

The move angered Democrats, who said Republicans shouldn't use some of the most vulnerable children in the state to make a statement about the budget. Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, called it a matter of "compassion and decency."

After the defeat, Perata said Democrats intend to shut down a committee today that has been trying to balance the budget so leaders can negotiate in private meetings.

The Schwarzenegger administration said it intends to negotiate for a funding increase for foster care in the budget.

The new fiscal year begins Sunday, and Republicans and Democrats have indicated they are not close to a budget deal. GOP members are seeking cuts beyond those proposed in May by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Democrats want to preserve social and welfare programs.

On Thursday, Republicans used AB 845 as an example of the Legislature's need to contain growth in programs, which they say has helped drive up the state's structural deficit. The Legislature's budget analysts have pegged the new fiscal year's operating deficit at $3.4 billion.
"We have a huge budget problem," said Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster.

But Democrats said it wasn't right to hold former foster children hostage, especially when leaders had already agreed to fund the program.

As part of last year's foster care reform package, Schwarzenegger, Democrats and Republicans agreed to remove a requirement for counties to match state funds as an incentive for counties to apply for transitional housing money.

At the time, the program was estimated to cost about $4 million. However, once the county match was removed, nearly all counties applied, increasing the tab to $10.5 million.

Had AB 845 been approved, it would have allowed county welfare departments to operate about 700 beds for former foster care youths between the ages of 18 and 24. Welfare officials say the bill's defeat means many counties won't be reimbursed for programs.

Backers say foster youths tend to need more help becoming independent adults because they tend to lack family support. Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, argued the program saves the state money by keeping young people from becoming the next generation of welfare mothers and prison inmates.

Runner, who said he has an adopted foster child in his extended family, said he supports the program but would rather see counties carry some of the cost. He said the state's tab could run up to $40 million in a few years.

Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association, said counties already pay more for foster care programs than the state requires.


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