One of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s final acts as governor of California could prove to be the one that defines his legacy. On Thursday, Schwarzenegger passed a series of major reform bills for healthcare, all of which supplement the federal legislation passed earlier this year.
California will also become the first state to implement an oversight board for insurance exchange marketplace since President Barack Obama’s sweeping federal healthcare law reform was passed. Being one of the first states in the nation to enact large-scale reform will make California an example, good or bad, for other states in terms of healthcare in the future.
However, the inherent Catch-22 of social progress is that focusing on one area of policy usually comes at the neglect of another.
In this case, increased federal attention to healthcare hold the potential to damage California education, most explicitly through budget cuts. Although the government budget deficit might not affect USC students and the funding for our programs, it dramatically increases the strain on the University of California and California State University systems.
A $200 million budget deficit in the UC system stalled construction on $355 million of new infrastructure and cut UC admissions by 3,800 students. Meanwhile, faculty pay has gone down, and student tuition has gone up. Overall, the UCs are facing grim circumstances at best. Education has been and should always be a top priority for the state government, but spending money on healthcare implies less money for public education. This in turn means that less research can be done, fewer programs can be developed and more students will hesitate to attend a UC school because of financial concerns. All of these factors spell trouble for the public education system in California.
Though healthcare is indisputably an important cause, the federal government has already taken steps to amend that system. Education, however, remains the elephant in the room. Many levels of public education in California are in shambles, facing furlough days, lacking resources and other budget constraints that limit students’ educational experience.
The healthcare laws are positive steps to reform the system. They set a good precedent for other states to follow and allow more people access to affordable healthcare programs.
The laws are not the problem — they are based on solid principles and are concordant with federal government policy. In fact, they strengthen the legitimacy of Obama’s plan by showing that the state governments agree with the need to reform healthcare. Schwarzenegger advanced a bipartisan solution by spending on new programs. Republicans might oppose the bill by calling state-run programs “bureaucracy,” but the state’s decision to provide healthcare to as many people as possible is beneficial to those in need.
Above all, the budget is the biggest issue for the California government. Schwarzenegger leaves office with a huge deficit that will be a challenge for even the brightest economic minds.
California will not climb out of the budget crisis overnight. Falling further into debt harms many elements of the state’s government, but we need to find a way to keep a spotlight on education while healthcare is taking the attentions of both California’s public and its lawmakers.
At this point, the citizens and lawmakers of California might have to make a decision on what they value more: education or universal healthcare.
Cyrus Behzadi is a freshman majoring in communication.