SACRAMENTO (KPIX 5) — When it comes to spending the tobacco tax approved on the state ballot last November, Governor Jerry Brown seems to have a somewhat creative interpretation of what voters approved.
You may remember the ads. To stop kids from smoking, Proposition 56 added a $2 per pack tax on cigarettes
82 percent of the money collected was supposed to increase funding for existing healthcare programs, essentially making the pie bigger.
Voters went for it.
But the budget the governor released at the Capitol Thursday doesn’t use the new tax money for health programs.
“Unfortunately, the administration is continuing its past practice of diverting that special purpose revenue to the general fund instead of spending it for the purposes for which it was collected,” explained Assemblyman Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia).
According to the legislative anaylst office, the governor’s proposed budget uses $1.2 billion in tobacco taxes to “pay for typical year-to-year cost increases” in the program or basic Medi-Cal maintenance.
Rachel Linn Gish is the Director of Communications for Health Access California, one of the groups that helped write Prop 56.
“We very much would like to see an investment in the Medi-Cal program, which is what the voters really said when they voted for prop 56,” said Gish. “They wanted to increase the benefits, they wanted to increase the number of people that receive care.”
Health Access California wants to see some of the money pay for expanded services for young adults and dental care.
KPIX 5 asked the governor about his plan.
“There is only a certain amount of money. And if you don’t do what our budget does, then you have to find other cuts in the Medi-Cal program, said Governor Brown. The reason why I did it was because I thought that was the least harmful, least painful way to go.
KPIX 5 politics reporter Melissa Caen asked Brown if he thought that might hinder attempts to go to the voters later if they lost faith over how the taxes from Prop 56 were being used.
“They’re going for Medi-Cal. And there is flexibility in the way they wrote that and we’re just trying to use the money we have in the best way we can,” answered Gov. Brown.
As a representative for one of the groups that helped write Prop 56, Gish disagreed with the governor.
“The governor is not the only person who makes decisions in the budget,” said Gish. “We have been talking to many other legislative leaders throughout the Capitol.”