Ariz. Tax Hike Only A Band-Aid, And Other State Tales Of Budget Woes

The Wall Street Journal: States are being squeezed by "shrinking state budgets and rising health-care costs" and often vulnerable residents are paying the price. Barbara Hickey, 67 of Florence, S.C., is one of them. She is confined to a motorized wheelchair, lives alone and "relies on certified nurse's assistants to get her in and out of bed, bathed, clothed and fed." South Carolina officials want to cut back the amount of  subsidized care they provide but that could force Hickey into a more expensive nursing home. "Home health care—funded largely by Medicaid—generally costs less money than institutionalizing developmentally disabled people like Ms. Hickey. But the political reality is that it's easier to cut back home services than to close a 24-hour facility, which can leave people with nowhere to go" (Ansberry, 5/20).

The State: "The S.C. House cut $50 million from its $5 billion spending plan Wednesday — primarily from health care — which Democrats said was punishment for supporting a veto of $20 million in new fees to support the state's court system. The cuts limit health care access for low-income children, end a drug program for AIDS patients as well as two programs that help patients purchase prescriptions, limit those on the state-run Medicaid program to three prescriptions a month and eliminate state-funded cancer screenings" (O'Connor, 5/20).

The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger: "[N]early 164,000 senior citizens and disabled residents ... received a reprieve yesterday when [Gov. Chris] Christie canceled a proposed $310 deductible and increased co-pays" for prescription drugs for seniors on state health programs. The Republican governor's move was, in part, a pre-emptive strike against a Democratic bill up for approval today that would restore those cuts by increasing taxes on income over $1 million" (Heininger, 5/20).

The Associated Press/Arizona Republic: "Arizona voters overwhelming approved a temporary sales tax increase to avert deeper cuts in education and other public services but there's no argument that the state doesn't still face deep fiscal troubles." The tax will raise $918 million this year to help avert cuts, including to health programs. But, the budget gap remains at $2.2 billion (Davenport, 5/19).

Los Angeles Times: "Facing political fire, the state's largest public pension fund Wednesday retreated for a month from a plan to approve a $700-million increase in taxpayer contributions it gets from the state and about 1,000 school districts. State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, a member of the California Public Employees' Retirement System board, said the fund needs to assess the consequences of the huge hike on California at a time when the state faces an estimated $19-billion budget deficit" (Lifsher, 5/20).

Star Tribune: Nurses in Minnesota are running "headlong into wrenching changes in the hospital industry," and are on the verge of a major strike. "Fourteen Twin Cities hospitals and their 12,000 nurses are locked in the most contentious bargaining in a quarter century. Nurses will vote this week whether to authorize a strike, which could begin as soon as June 1. ... The nurses say the hospitals want to cut health and pension benefits they've fought years to secure and to change work rules in ways that will endanger patients. The hospitals say they're responding to economic realities -- a tough recession and looming health reform -- and patient care will not suffer" (Yee, 5/19).

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