March 14, 2013

Riverside lawmakers ask for budget appropriation

BY JIM MILLER | The Press-Enterprise

A pair of Riverside Democrats made their case Thursday to a panel of Senate budget writers that this year’s state spending plan needs to include $15 million for UC Riverside’s medical school.

The medical school’s future depends on lawmakers appropriating the money, Assemblyman Jose Medina and state Sen. Richard Roth told the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee’s education subcommittee.

Riverside County and other donors have committed $18 million to the school, which is scheduled to open later this year. Some of that money, though, hinges on the state funding, as does extending the school’s accreditation next year.

“Without the $15 million we’re talking about today, the community commitments associated with that may dry up, the preliminary accreditation that the medical school received will be pulled undoubtedly, and the school will fail,” Roth testified.

There were no votes Thursday. The panel’s three members seemed to agree on the need for the school in the medically underserved Inland region — but all stepped well short of pledging to support allocating state money to it.

“The last four years, we’ve made some awful cuts that just tore at your heartstrings,” state Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, told Roth and Medina. “If I had it, it would be an easy call. I don’t think we have $15 million just sitting around unspent.”

Supporters say the school will address a severe shortage of primary-care physicians in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The need will only grow as the state expands the low-income Medi-Cal program as part of the federal Affordable Care Act.

University officials and Inland lawmakers have tried since 2008 to secure ongoing state money for the school amid massive budget shortfalls. They received $10 million in 2010 but have come empty since then, forcing officials to postpone the school’s first freshman class.

“I’m not sure that there’s an understanding up here that the buildings are in place and how far along the medical school is at UC Riverside,” Medina said after the hearing. “I’m a little surprised.”

Another subcommittee member, state Sen. Mark Wyland, R-Escondido, said he supports the medical school.

Wyland, a 2014 candidate for the redrawn Board of Equalization district that includes Riverside County, said school supporters should look at options such as expanding ties with UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and reaching out to well-heeled donors in Los Angeles.

Roth, though, said the Inland region has always had a hard time attracting doctors who attended medical schools and completed their residencies in west Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay Area. “Much of its rural and nobody wants to go there to be a doctor,” the senator said.

Medina and Roth plan to make the same presentation to the Assembly’s education budget subcommittee in the coming weeks. On a separate track, the lawmakers have introduced virtually identical bills to appropriate the medical school money.

Medina’s measure is scheduled to have its first committee hearing Tuesday, March 19. Roth’s bill does not have a hearing date set.


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