BY JIM MILLER | The Press-Enterprise
Only hours into the 2013-2014 session, a pair of new lawmakers from Riverside introduced a pair of virtually identical measures to annually appropriate $15 million to UC Riverside’s School of Medicine.
The bills are the first of their kind so early in a legislative year. Their authors, state Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, and Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, pledged to secure money for the medical school during their campaigns this year.
On a separate track, supporters are pressing to include money for the school in the next state budget. Prop. 30’s approval last month avoided billions of dollars in trigger cuts, including some to the University of California.
University officials have tried since 2008 to secure ongoing state money for the school amid massive budget shortfalls. In 2011, officials postponed the school’s first freshman class because of the lack of state money, which at one point also jeopardized the medical school’s accreditation.
Yet even with the improved budget outlook and, for the first time, the presence of two hometown supporters in the Capitol’s large Democratic majorities, the medical school money is far from a lock.
The school’s dean, G. Richard Olds, said he is optimistic.
“We are now in the best position since I’ve been here to get state support,” Olds said Thursday. “I would like to think that this is the year we finally get it.”
UC officials are scheduled to meet with aides to Gov. Jerry Brown early next week to talk about budget issues, including the medical school, said Patrick Lenz, the university system’s vice president for budgets.
Roth and Medina introduced their bills separately. If one bill gets hung up, supporters could rally behind the other, said Chuck Dalldorf, a Roth spokesman.
“The intent is to definitely work together on this,” he said.
Lucy Krohn-Camarillo, Medina’s chief of staff, said of the legislation, “Putting something out there early on shows we’re serious about this issue.”
Olds and other Inland supporters say the medical school will bring more physicians to the medically underserved Inland area. The school has received millions of dollars in local-government and private-funding commitments, as well as $10 million in state money in 2010-11.
Riverside-area lawmakers, at that time Republicans, and UC officials, though, have come up empty the past two years in their attempts to get additional state money for the school. Those efforts came amid a partisan fight over Republicans' refusal to support Brown’s proposal to put higher taxes on the ballot.
Beginning early this year year, the medical school became a major part of the campaign for Riverside County’s 31st Senate District.
Roth and his Republican opponent, former Assemblyman Jeff Miller, promised to pursue money for the school in their campaign mailers and TV advertisements.
Last summer, Miller introduced a bill that would have allocated the medical school $15 million from an expected healthcare-related legal settlement. Democrats blocked the measure, with each side accusing the other of using the school as a political football.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, campaigning for Roth the day before the election, said Roth would have the best chance of getting the medical school money.
Yet Steinberg, Brown and others also have urged a go-slow approach on proposals for new spending as interest groups look to make up lost ground after billions of dollars in cuts in recent years.
A decade ago, some legislative Democrats and aides criticized the idea of putting a new UC campus in Merced, an idea championed by the region's legislative delegation. The proposal, though, had a powerful ally in then-Gov. Gray Davis.
Brown has been more circumspect. Last spring, he said the state needed “to get our house in order” before making new spending commitments.
If the money is included in next year’s state budget, the Roth and Medina bills are moot.
Olds said the school needs the state to step up one way or the other. “This is the same $15 million we’ve needed since 2008,” he said.