SUNDAY COLUMN | As the Legislature made a mad dash this week to clear its calendar of bills from its houses of origin, one specific floor debate in the Assembly showed why many distrust government and unfortunately assume their hands are tied by the sheer volume of corruption to do anything about it.

Non-profit hospitals, which are laughably only so by definition and not by any sense of logic, do not provide anywhere near the amount of charity care due to their communities in exchange for highly sought after and lucrative tax exemptions. The game is rigged like so much in the corporate world. A state audit ordered by the State Senate Joint Legislative Audit Committee clearly revealed the racket non-profit healthcare providers like Sutter Health and Kaiser Permanente have perpetrated on taxpayers.

Testimony at a State Senate select committee convened by State Sen. Ellen Corbett on the subject last year claimed providers reaped almost $2 billion more in government benefits than their expenditures for community benefits. In addition, half provide less than 2.5 percent of their operating expenses on charity care.

In short, there are no regulations for accurately accounting how much aid these non-profit hospitals are actually providing. In addition, there are no rules for what exactly is charity care. Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski this week used a canvas shopping bag given by a local non-profit hospital as an example of what can be counted as “charity care”—a shopping bag (really?).

What these corporations get away with is akin to a high school teacher allowing their students to submit their final grades for the semester. Would you give yourself the C+ you rightly deserve or would you be like Sutter Health and grossly inflate their false, yet amazing generosity?

When this audit was presented in San Leandro last August, Sutter Health, which now operates San Leandro Hospital, ran an ad in the consistently complicit San Leandro Times claiming over the years it had offered $756 million in charity care. I won’t waste another column inch on the claim, it’s all bullshit.

In addition, Assemblyman Allen Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) defied credulity Thursday in the Aasembly when he and others claimed forcing non-profit hospitals to accurately report the value of community benefits would actually hurt the poor and decrease the level of charity care they might receive.

What Republicans in the Assembly presented (they weren’t only to blame, Democrats ultimately defeated the bill) was a laughably obtuse and lame argument against Wieckowski’s AB 975, which would have merely placed accounting rules for how much or how little non-profit hospitals provide in community benefits. That’s all. In fact, Sutter and Kaiser had already brought the wheels of government to a screeching halt by gutting the bill of any teeth while in committee.

However, even in its final state, Assemblymembers Wieckowski, Rob Bonta, Bill Quirk and Nancy Skinner should be praised for pushing this important issue even if it failed last Friday. This imbalance between the level of tax exemptions non-profits receive from taxpayers and what they actually give back to the struggling local safety net is not fair. To be clear, it’s a bait and switch hatched long ago that borders on stealing from the people of this state.

“If this deal is not cut, we will be getting a closure notice. I truly believe that letter is written.”
Alex Briscoe, the director of Alameda County Healthcare Services, May 29, urging the Eden Township Healthcare District to approve a $20 million subsidy to keep San Leandro Hospital. The proposed deal offered by Sutter Health to turn over the facility expires July 1.

The Week That Was

Gov. Jerry Brown in San Leandro Thursday.
PHOTO/Steven Tavares

-Brown out in the East Bay: Gov. Jerry Brown came to San Leandro this week for the grand opening of the Zero Net Energy Center, a energy neutral building that now houses training facilities for union electricians. Brown made his laudatory comments, said he enjoys a good drink and espoused the threat of global warming. However, during the past few weeks, environmentalists have pounded his rhetoric, noting it differs from his actual policies.

-Deadline week in the Legislature: Over 700 bills were decided this week in the Assembly alone. While a bevy of bills from the East Bay’s delegation now head to the State Senate, there were some notable local defeats. Despite unanimous support from the East Bay, a procedural bill that could grease the skids for a waterfront arena in San Francisco for the Warriors easily passed. In addition, a bill centered on the region’s fight with Sutter Health over non-profit tax exemptions failed miserably despite its good intentions. Legislation regulating medical cannabis dispensaries also failed, but a bill raising the state’s minimum wage was successful.

-Debarment moves forward: The goal of symbolically handing Goldman Sachs a slap in the face in Oakland for its egregious corporate behavior leading to the Great Recession once again comes before the City Council next week. Amendments made by Councilmembers Desley Brooks asserting greater control for the council over the debarment process to potentially prohibit Goldman Sachs from bidding on city contracts in Oakland again passed committee this week. Over the past few months the issue has met resistance from city administration.

A’s Demolish Giants: The hometown Athletics took three of four games from the Giants this week in a fashion not seen since the victorious 1989 World Series. However, a controversy erupted when reporter Jon Heyman tweeted it was a shame “ATandT” Park sat empty while Monday’s game was played across the Bay at the Oakland Coliseum. A’s fans and some players were angered by the perceived slight and unmercifully belittled Heyman online. A wave of civic and team pride flipped the conversation, though, putting Oakland in a position it seems to relish as the scrappy underdog.

Tweet of the Week
“Interesting dynamics with #Athletics players showing love for Coliseum while Lew Wolff argues for new ballpark in San Jose.”
-@hangingsliders, tweeting May 31 on the controversy started by a New York-based sports reporter who tweeted a lament this week that San Francisco’s AT&T Park was unused while the Bay Area rivals played an interleague game in Oakland.

Best Reads
>>>A piece in The Atlantic on Jerry Brown in this space last week portrayed the governor in a positive light, now here comes the critics. First, Robert Gammon lays out how Brown’s record on the climate is faulty. (East Bay Express, May 29.)

>>>Others have pegged the beginnings of California’s renaissance not on Brown, but on the groundswell of liberalism being currently fostered in the state Legislature. This piece lays out the specifics behind this school of thought. (Salon, May 31.)

>>>Not every school district in Alameda County has a crummy superintendent. Oakland’s Tony Smith had begun to turn around OUSD before abruptly leaving earlier this year. However, there’s reason its next leader can continue what Smith started. (EdSource, May 27.)

Voice of the People
“Ha! Ha! Ha! All of Oakland’s thugs and gangbangers will have guns and the innocent citizens will be disarmed. Stupid is as stupid does.”
Kalifornia Kafir, commenting May 28 on Assemblyman Rob Bonta’s AB 180 would allow the Oakland City Council to enact stronger gun control law than the rest of the state on “Oakland Gun Bill Passes Assembly.”