By  | Orange County Register

“Tacky bluffs” is what I called Gov. Gavin Newsom’s attempts to hold hostage vital state help to Californians, including Alzheimer’s patients. The CalMatters interview included the quote in an article on the $14 billion in cuts he’s pushing for schools, public safety and essential services.

I said, “Gavin has to do some awkward things to try to get federal help, but I find these tacky bluffs a little disturbing.”

The federal help would come from the $3 trillion additional relief bill House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, pushed through the House of Representatives. It is being held up in the Republican Senate and is opposed by President Donald Trump. Much of the money would bail out states such as California that even before the crisis got into fiscal difficulties, largely from unfunded pensions and retiree medical benefits.

If you want to assert leverage, just tell everyone that you’re going to reduce assistance in the budget to senior citizens, schools and public safety unless manna appears from Washington, D.C.

It’s like a comedy routine. A scene where the bad guy grabs another bad guy and says to everyone, “Let us both out of this surrounded bank or the bad guy gets it.” It’s a bluff. But, it’s not funny.

You may as well say, “If D.C. doesn’t subsidize our bloated budget, with all of its flaws, then we’re shutting the I-5 down permanently.” It’s not realistic. Stop it.

An Orange County Register editorial branded it the “Fire the Firemen First” strategy that “depends on convincing the public that there’s not one bit of waste or overspending anywhere in the budgets of school districts or local governments that can possibly be cut in order to free up money for essential services.”

The silliness of the governor’s exaggerations is driving down the little credibility he has, after he helped inflict these massive unemployment numbers by designating that one in five Californians was nonessential.

But these proposed cuts would hurt real people and their families, even as the state begins opening for business. In a May 19 letter to the Democratic leadership in the Legislature, the California Alzheimer’s Association warned the “proposed cuts to key programs will devastate and disrupt the same vulnerable Californians our state’s stay home order was designed to protect.”

The cuts especially would “proportionately impact diverse communities who experience the disease at much higher rates.”

Funding would be slashed for In-Home Support Services (IHSS), the California Department of Aging and caregiver resource centers. Eliminated completely would be the multipurpose senior services program (MSSP) and community-based adult services (CBAS).

Throughout California, a state with a population of 40 million, about 4,000 people have died so far from the coronavirus. Data show about half of those have died in senior care homes. About 5 percent of those with the disease have young-onset Alzheimer’s. That means 95 percent are age 65 and older.

Dumping services that assist fragile seniors only makes sense if the proposal is used as a stunt.

Commendably, last year Newsom signed my Senate Bill 496, Protections Against Financial Abuse of Elder and Dependent Adults. It received unanimous, bipartisan support in both houses of the Legislature.

As I said at the time, “With growing Alzheimer’s and dementia concerns, it is critical that we provide safeguards to prevent financial abuse for those in the beginning stages of a difficult life journey.”

But such protections won’t be worth much if these patients are forced out of the centers caring for them, into family homes that may now be suffering financially from the coronavirus depression.

Governor, think this one through. As the patients’ immune systems are severely compromised, the disease could spread quickly among them, then jump to their families and others, possibly sparking a second outbreak.

Obviously, I am aware the state budget faces a huge financial hit from the coronavirus. Yet instead of cutting essential services, the governor should be using this crisis to advance long-needed reforms, beginning with pensions and retiree medical benefits that continue to annually chew up $8 billion of the general fund.

This is the time for real leadership, not bluffs or stunts, tacky or otherwise.

This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register.  Read it here.