Diana Dooley, Gov. Brown's new health and human services secretary, is by all accounts a smart, thoughtful person with an impressive record of public service. But in a profile in the LA Times, she is quoted as saying something that reveals a troubling attitude about the nature of the fix California is in.
Dooley's previous job was as head of the state's children's hospital association. In the Times piece, she calls her efforts there "as close to God's work as I'll ever get."
If you understand why California is broken, this sort of comment -- full of obliviousness and unearned moral vanity -- should make you scream.
What's the problem? Dooley's chief accomplishment was leading the passage of two statewide ballot initaitives authorizing $1.8 billion in general fund bonding for expansion and renovation of children's hospitals. That may sound good, but here's what that amounts to in practice: Dooley and her hospitals, at a time of budget crisis, played on voters' feelings about sick children to conduct a raid on the state treasury.
The problem is not merely that these kind of initiatives represent ballot box budgeting. These bonds provided no funding mechanism--they merely made a claim on the general fund. Structured this way, these bonds added to the state's debt and its debt service -- which Dooley's new boss the governor has correctly identified as a mess. And by making a claim on the general fund, the children's hospitals under Dooley essentially took money from broad public services -- including health programs.
As health and human secretary, Dooley will have to carry out cuts in health programs that are deeper because of the kind of debt and ballot box budgeting in which she particpated. And there's justice in that. She'll have to clean up a mess she helped make.