Top lawmaker boycotts governor's meeting

July 6, 2009 9:47:46 PM PDT
A key lawmaker decided to boycott an important budget meeting with the governor on Monday, claiming he wants to turn California's money problems into reality TV.

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The move by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, is the latest tactic in a political soap opera in Sacramento that's adding to the state's multi-billion dollar deficit every day that there's no solution.

Ten-thousand more IOUs went out to pay California's bills, with more to go as long as the state budget mess hasn't been solved. A clearly frustrated Assembly speaker boycotted morning negotiations. It's a sign things aren't going so well.

"In my opinion, they're getting worse. They're getting worse because I believe we're not talking about the subject. We need to be talking about closing the deficit," said Speaker Karen Bass.

Leaders have been bickering about social services for weeks now. Republicans and the governor are holding out for a complete overhaul of California's welfare system to help weed out fraud and abuse, a move Democrats are not willing to tackle right away.

"All those proposals are being met with tremendous amount of resistance because the legislators, many of them have more interest in protecting the people that provide those services, rather than the people that receive those services," said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-California.

The governor talked to prosecutors from several counties about fraud just in In-Home Support Services alone. Of the $4 billion spent to help the aged, blind and disabled, the governor estimates as much as a quarter is spent illegally.

"Just six cases this year, we had $1.4 million in fraud in IHSS. Just in six cases. So the proof is there," said LA County Chief Deputy District Attorney John Spillane.

Ricardo Hagen is a state-paid care-giver, who's willing to get fingerprinted, as the Governor is proposing.

"That sounds good to me. That'd weed out a lot of people that don't deserve the program. There's a lot of people that do abuse it. I've seen it. I've watched it happen," said Hagen.

But Speaker Bass insists the governor is over-stating the fraud and dismissed his thoughts on televising budget talks like a reality show.

"You know what? I'm not going to participate in a reality show. I just think it completely minimizes the crisis that we're dealing with to turn into a TV show," said Speaker Bass.

Adding more drama, many of those IOUs are already showing up on eBay and Craigslist for sale. The treasurer's office just issued new rules guiding those third-party sales.

The budget mess just pushed California's credit rating lower again, only two notches away from junk bond status.

The company Fitch Rating dropped the state's bond rating from A- to BBB. The better known Standard & Poor's already downgraded California to "A" back in February, and has hinted it's on the verge of lowering it again, as Fitch just did.

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