Friday, March 6, 2009

Why I Support Newsom: Compassion and Pragmatism to Address Urban Homelessness

Up until 2002, San Francisco had a long-standing program of providing direct cash payments to support its homeless population.

But cash can’t solve this problem. For many people, homelessness is only partially due to poverty. The homeless population struggles with mental disorder, addiction, lack of economic opportunity, and all sorts of other issues. These problems aren’t addressed by cash payments, and where addiction is an issue, cash payments may exacerbate problems. And then there’re the quality of life crimes. Chronic homelessness can result in aggressive panhandling, loitering, street crimes, and all sorts of other unpleasantness. These issues aren’t just unsightly, but they also hurt local businesses, deter tourism, and diminish the tax base.

San Francisco was stuck. The entrenched policy solution wasn’t working, and in some ways, it was hurting both the homeless and the rest of the City. But the voters were compassionate, and didn’t want to cut the homeless off from public assistance.

In one of his major initiatives as a Supervisor, Newsom lead an initiative campaign to reform the City’s approach to the homeless, and to provide “Care not Cash.” The idea was simple: dramatically reduce direct payments to the homeless, and use the savings to invest in comprehensive services and more stable housing. The results have meant thousands of homeless moving from a month-to-month government dole to having the shelter and services necessary to lead more dignified lives.

This is exactly the sort of innovative thinking we need for California. We have all manner of entrenched policies, practices and spending. California needs leadership that can look at these problems and see more than the unsolvable. We need someone who can be creative, who can show us how to trade up from what isn’t working, without abandoning our higher ideals.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Marty Block Abstains

The resolutions passed on March 2nd opposing Proposition 8 as an illegal and unprecedented revision to the state Constitution passed both houses and, in the Assembly, with a 44-27 vote.

Of the 8 Absent, Abstaining or Not Voting, one of these was Marty Block.
Check it out:

It should be mentioned that this is a guy who the Gay and Lesbian Times called “a true ally on the most important issues in the GLBT community.”

Other Democrats, such as Salas, Saldana, Buchanan and Perez, voted for it. I don’t know what was going through his head, but he should at least explain why he chose to be “not present.”

I derive no joy from writing this, but I feel that we who supported him deserve to know why.

Why I’m supporting Gavin Newsom for Governor

A number of people have been asking me for an explanation for why I’m supporting San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom for governor of California in 2010. It made sense to write out my reasons, and I’m posting them here to share with you.

I’m supporting Gavin Newsom for governor of California, because he has proven his ability to address old and lingering problems, with new and creative solutions.

In California, our budget system is gridlocked. Our primaries favor the uncompromising extremes from either party. Our initiative process allows for private interests to dominate policymaking. These are seemingly impossible problems to overcome. The prevailing wisdom in California is that we’re ungovernable, that our problems are too entrenched, to difficult to solve.

We need someone who can take a fresh look at our state. We need someone who doesn’t get bogged down in the politics of the past, and isn’t afraid to experiment with new ideas.

What I’m going to do here, is to present a series of posts explaining why I support Newsom for governor of California. I’ll update this page with links, as I publish the follow-up posts. I have a number of reasons for preferring Newsom, and I think readers will find them easier to digest in smaller, subject-specific posts.

Before I go on, I also want to point out that San Diego Politico is not, as a blog, endorsing a particular candidate for governor. My endorsement of Newsom is one that I make individually. This is a group blog, and other bloggers on this site might have different preferences. I encourage them to explain why they support other candidates. Also, after this series, I will not be posting on “all-Newsom all the time.” But my allegiance may come out from time to time, and I think it’s best that I’m up front about them, so you know where I’m coming from. So, without further ado…

Why I Support San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom for Governor of California:

Why I Support Newsom: Innovative Approach to Health Care

Mayor Gavin Newsom took a very creative approach to health care in San Francisco.

One of the biggest barriers to state and local healthcare reform is a federal statute called ERISA. The statute precludes state or local governments from mandating that employers offer particular benefits, including health care, to their employees. The rationale for this policy was to prevent a patch-work system of local requirements. Without local regulations to worry about, employers would only have to establish a single healthcare program to cover all of their workers nationwide.

But ERISA doesn’t require employers to provide healthcare, and it preempts states or local governments from doing so. The unfortunate result is stagnation. Localities haven’t served as the laboratories of democracy and haven’t explored new ways of providing health care. In the marketplace, health insurance is given only to those who can demand it. It’s given to the white collar, the skilled workers, and those represented by unions who can bargain on their behalf. The transitory workers, the restaurant employees, and the unorganized have to brave life without health insurance. Local governments have been enfeebled and were prevented from taking meaningful steps to require employers to act responsibly toward their employees.

Instead of throwing up his hands in defeat, and letting ERISA be an excuse for the persistence of uninsured San Francicans, Newsom took a creative approach to the problem. San Francisco couldn’t mandate that employers provide specific types of health insurance, so a new program, Healthy San Francisco, was structured to require employers to pay a “minimum wage” for health care.

The requirements are pretty minor - employers must pay between $1.17 to $1.85 for health care for each employee, for every hour worked. Larger companies have to pay on the higher end of the scale, and small employers are exempt. Most employers that previously provided health insurance already met this minimum expenditure requirement. Those that didn’t spend sufficient amounts for employee health care paid the difference to the City, which used those fees to provide subsidized health care for San Franciscans who didn’t receive health care from their employers.

A panel of judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Healthy San Francisco against a challenge that argued the health care minimum wage violated ERISA. Healthy San Francisco survived ERISA’s ban on local mandates because, as the court explained, the program was “only concerned with the dollar amount of the payments an employer makes toward the provision of such benefits,” instead of mandating specific types of employer-sponsored health care plans. The court described as series of options for employers to satisfy their obligations including only paying for only preventive care, or providing health care only through an on-site clinic.

It has yet to be decided whether the full Ninth Circuit will review the panel’s decision. And the plaintiffs, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, has vowed to make an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if they are denied again by the Court of Appeals. Healthy San Francisco isn’t a perfect solution. Some employers don’t provide health insurance at levels that a lot of us would consider adequate. But in the context of ERISA, where mandates on employer health benefits are prohibited, there are limited policy options. It was Newsom who was willing to experiment with a new health care policy that creatively fit within those limits.

The City of San Francisco, and all localities, shoulders the costs of its uninsured when people use emergency rooms as their primary health providers. It’s a more efficient use of city resources to provide real health care, instead of only reactionary, emergency care when conditions turn from chronic to catastrophic. Even if the healthcare minimum wage financing program is invalidated by the courts, Healthy San Francisco will not be left by the wayside, and the City will employ other alternatives. “It may set us back,” Newsom has told the New York Times, “but it’s not going to end this program.”