Two long-vexing problems confronting our Valley — not enough doctors, and not enough clean drinking water — could be addressed by innovative legislation that we urge Sacramento legislators to embrace by Friday’s budget deadline.
Although the Valley is a great place to raise families, we have trouble luring medical professionals. Did you know the Bay Area enjoys 411 doctors for every 100,000 people, while the San Joaquin Valley struggles with only 157? The statewide average, by the way, is 237.
Modesto’s water is plentiful, it’s true — but many towns with polluted sources are concentrated in the Valley. In his first week on the job, Gov. Gavin Newsom brought his cabinet to Monterey Park Tract, a community nine miles south of Modesto with wells contaminated by nitrates and arsenic, so they could see how bad water affects people. Our people.
Our state representatives have struggled for decades for answers to these difficult problems. Assemblyman Adam Gray’s bill, which he calls the Inland California Healthy Communities Act, would provide a good start at the expense of a relatively few wealthy gamblers.
It turns out that the best way to predict where a physician in training will set up shop is to look where she’s getting that training, and where she grew up. The dream would be to create a medical school in the Valley that might retain some of our bright young people, as only one medical student in five from California stays here after graduating.
Gray last year succeeded with legislation laying the groundwork for a medical school partnership between UC Merced and UC San Francisco, but it included no money. So he looked around for a funding source and settled on big-time gamblers. Smart ones deduct losses from state and federal income taxes, costing California $320 million a year on the former. That’s money we could keep by simply discontinuing state deductions for wagering losses, Gray figures.
Because the benefit applies only to those who itemize deductions, fewer than 150,000 people are taking that tax advantage, he said. Gray proposes redirecting $85 million a year to two medical schools, one in our region and another at UC Riverside established in 2008. The rest of the money would be split between safe water systems in poor communities, and public education.
Sounds good to us. But nothing, as they say, is ever easy.
For starters, the Legislature is weighing other clean drinking water proposals that might carry more weight. In his budget proposal, the governor floated new taxes or fees on all water users, dairies and fertilizer sales, and a bill with those components is getting some traction in the Assembly. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, may favor taking $150 million a year for clean water from the now-ample general fund, and its $21 billion surplus, rather than raising new fees or taxes.
More important is growing opposition to Gray’s Assembly Bill 1606 from powerful Indian tribes and wealthy casinos, who say their patrons shouldn’t be picked on. We think it’s a weak argument; rare will be the gambler who pauses while throwing the dice to contemplate the downside of a discontinued deduction in case it’s not a winning roll.
But these gambling interests have a lot of influence at the Capitol, the kind that can drown out Valley voices. We raise ours to say it’s high time the state addressed historic inequities by providing better access to two of life’s most basic blessings: clean water and adequate medical help.
What: California Priorities: A discussion on child and senior health care
When: Thursday, June 13, 9-11 a.m.
Where: Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I Street, Modesto
What: A panel of local and statewide access talk about issues – and seek solutions – on myriad issues tied to the health of our growing population of children and seniors and througout Stanislaus County and the Central Valley.
Tickets: Even is free. Go to eventbrite.com and search “California Priorities”