Monday, August 27, 2007
Schwarzenegger Vetoes Conservatorship Reform Funding
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Friday signed into law a $145 billion budget for FY 2007-2008, but not before using his line-item veto power to cut $700 million, including $17.377 million that would have implemented conservatorship reforms approved by lawmakers last year.
“It is my intention for the Judicial Branch to delay implementation of the [Omnibus Conservatorship and Guardianship Reform] Act until the 2008-09 fiscal year,” the governor explained in his veto message.
Court officials consider the cut “devastating,” their chief lobbyist told the MetNews.
Kate Howard, head of government affairs at the Administrative Office of the Courts, said that trial courts statewide had been gearing up to implement the reforms, which the governor signed into law a year ago.
“We had no notice this was on the chopping block,” Howard said.
Assembly Judiciary Chairman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, voiced disappointment.
“This cut falls heavily on seniors and others who have been taken advantage of by conservators lacking sufficient court oversight,” Jones said. He echoed Howard, noting that the funding was not on a list of cuts proposed by Senate Republicans, “nor did we have any prior word from the governor’s office.”
The governor’s stated intention to fund the reforms next year offers little solace, he added.
“It’s more than a mere delay,” Jones said. “We desperately need to have more court resources to oversee conservatorships. There will be seniors and others who will suffer financial and physical abuse as a result of this.”
Jones said he will fight to include the funding next year. He called the veto “another example of Republican-inspired budget cuts that fall on the neediest and most vulnerable Californians who are without a voice.”
The omnibus act is actually a package of four bills that Schwarzenegger last year said will “help ensure that individuals entrusted with the well-being of our most vulnerable citizens are not taking advantage of or harming them.” He said add the time he was “proud to sign this legislation to protect those who cannot care for themselves.”
The bills are:
•AB 1363 by Jones, which mandates improved court oversight, increased information sharing with relatives of conservatees, and expanded assistance to non-licensed conservators and guardians through conservatorship and guardianship court proceedings;
•SB 1116 by Sen. Jack Scott, D-Altadena, which imposes new requirements for court oversight of transactions related to conservatees’ real estate, and encourages maintaining a conservatee in his or her personal residence by establishing notice requirements and requiring a more thorough review before placing a person in a place other than his or her residence;
•SB 1550 by Sen. Liz Figueroa, D-Fremont, which establishes a licensing and disciplinary scheme for professional fiduciaries, defined as persons that perform conservator or guardian duties for two or more persons to whom they are not related, as well as persons who act as a trustee or specified agent for more than three people or three families to whom they are not related, and establishes a Professional Fiduciaries Bureau within the Department of Consumer Affairs; and
•SB 1716 by then-Sen. Debra Bowen, now the California secretary of state, which seeks to prevent financial abuse and neglect of elderly and disabled conservatees and of wards by providing courts with additional oversight tools, including increased access to information regarding assets and financial records, and improved oversight over conservatorships through more frequent court reviews and unannounced inspections.
Increased protection for conservatees and wards has been an issue for several years for advocates, who have pointed to events such as a Riverside County scandal earlier this decade.
Investigations resulted in long prison sentences for a conservator and an attorney who used their positions to steal more than $1 million from people whose property they were supposed to be protecting, and in the retirement of a Superior Court judge who was subsequently censured for misconduct that included using his position to purchase conservatorship property without competitive bidding.
Schwarzenegger’s signature on the main budget means the state can immediately begin releasing billions of dollars in payments to schools, hospitals, state contractors and a variety of social service agencies that have had payments cut off since the fiscal year began July 1.
The budget spends $145 billion, with $103 billion in the general fund used for day-to-day government operations.
The signing ceremony followed a bitter stalemate led by Republicans in the Senate, who sought greater cuts to eliminate the state’s operating deficit and a variety of other concessions.
Schwarzenegger acknowledged the holdout, but said it made the final spending plan better.
“Some things are worth fighting for, and a good budget is one of those things,” he said, noting that the state’s deficit was $16 billion when he took office in 2003.
With three weeks left in the legislative session, the signing also moves the state’s debate over health care reform onto center stage. Hearings on hundreds of other bills, as well as proposals to upgrade California’s massive water-delivery system and change the way legislative districts are drawn also will shift into overdrive.
Schwarzenegger’s office said the spending cuts fulfilled a promise to Senate Republicans to help end one of the longest budget stalemates in 30 years.
Senate Republicans on Tuesday ended their standoff by accepting largely symbolic concessions from Democrats to limit environmental lawsuits against transportation and flood-control projects.
Republicans considered Schwarzenegger’s promised line-item vetoes to eliminate the operating deficit as a victory. But the most conservative lawmakers warned that the governor’s cuts would at best provide only temporary relief.
California still faces multibillion-dollar deficits through 2011, and depressed housing and credit markets threaten to erode state tax revenues even further.
The 2007-08 budget also shifts $1.3 billion in unanticipated tax revenue from higher gasoline prices to pay for ongoing general fund expenses. Democrats had sought to keep the money for public transit projects.
The total budget figure of $145 billion includes payments to special obligation funds and money to repay bonds the state has sold in past years.
This summer’s deadlock was California’s third longest budget impasse during the past 30 years, eclipsed only by stalemates in 1992 and 2002. Wisconsin is now the only state in which lawmakers have not passed a budget for the fiscal year that began in July.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company