An idea floating around the Capitol deserves the full support of legislators and the governor: that savings from the upcoming closures of California’s three remaining developmental centers should be used to sustain developmental services, and not be swept into the state’s general fund.
A proposed Assembly resolution to that effect, ACR77, was introduced a couple of weeks ago by Assemblymen Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, and Devon Mathis, R-Visalia, with Assemblymen William Brough, R-San Juan Capistrano, Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach, and Marc Steinorth, R-Rancho Cucamonga, among the co-authors.
At about the same time, advocates for Californians with developmental disabilities rallied at the Capitol to protect funding for developmental services. And Mathis sent a letter last month to the chairman of the Assembly budget subcommittee on health and human services, asking that the committee consider a proposal to deposit all savings from the closure of developmental centers and revenue from the sale of those properties into the Department of Developmental Services Trust Fund.
California has decided to close its three remaining developmental centers — in Costa Mesa, Porterville and Sonoma — by 2021, moving their 7,000 clients into community settings, where they will be served by regional centers, which provide and contract for developmental services. (Similarly, Lanterman Developmental Center in Pomona closed after its last client moved out into the community in December 2015.)
ACR77 points out that the average budgeted cost to serve a client in a developmental center in the fiscal year 2017-18 budget is expected to be about $700,000. According to a 2015 Legislative Analyst’s Office report, the average cost to deliver services to a client with similar needs through the regional center system is between $75,000 and $300,000 a year.
So considerably savings will accrue to the state government as the three centers shut down, starting with Sonoma next year, plus revenue from the potential sale or reuse of the facilities. The amount at stake has been estimated at $500 million.
Why is it important for those funds to be used for developmental services, rather than absorbed by the general fund for unrelated purposes?
Because state budgets have shorted developmental services for nearly two decades, failing to keep up with the rising costs of services. Then developmental services took a $1 billion budget hit in the Great Recession, from which they have not recovered. A boost in funding for the current budget year — negotiated as part of a complicated managed care organization tax deal — was a good start, but it was just that.
Developmental funding should continue to rise within each year’s state budget, as does state support for other priorities. And a good way to give that funding the shot in the arm that it needs is simply not to siphon off the operational savings that will result from closing the centers. It costs the state budget nothing,…