Politics & Government

Governor open to a health care tax

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Schwarzenegger on Monday said he is open to a general tax increase to pay for health care for the uninsured, but will leave it to voters to decide.

The governor, who has adamantly opposed proposed tax hikes in the past, told reporters during a Capitol news conference, "I never close the door on anything."

Schwarzenegger, who faces opposition from fellow Republicans in the Legislature who are uniformly against any new taxes, said a 1% sales tax for health care proposed by the California Restaurant Association "wasn't our idea."

But, he said, it is "very important that we look at all the different ideas that come from the outside and within the administration and then you put everything on the table in our discussions."

The governor said, however, that voters should ultimately decide whether they want their taxes raised.

"I always like [and] feel comfortable with the idea that we do the funding mechanism through the people, through a ballot initiative," the governor said.

Administration officials say the governor, who last week called a special session of the Legislature on health care, is committed to negotiating a bill with lawmakers and leaving the funding decision to voters.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, told The Sacramento Bee editorial board last week that Democratic lawmakers have been "thinking through what are some of the possible concessions that we could make."

Núñez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, are proposing that employers be required to spend at least 7% of their payroll on health care.

Schwarzenegger has proposed a 4% payroll fee, which was endorsed Monday by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

Administration officials said the Northern San Diego Chamber of Commerce and the Orange County Chamber previously endorsed the governor's plan, including the 4% payroll fee.

Democrats expect employers to pay more. According to Perata, about 80% of employers in the state are "spending on average 13.5%."

The payroll fee is just one of several issues dividing the governor and Democrats. Schwarzenegger said he spoke to Núñez and Perata on Monday in a continuing effort to reach a compromise.

"It could take us three weeks, it could take us four, it could take seven," Núñez said. "But I'd like to get it done sooner, rather than later."