Commentary: California's whine falls on deaf ears

California justifiably takes pride in being consistently among the top states in per-capita income. And while it can do better, it ranks in the middle of states for the share of people living below the poverty level. (It was 23rd nationwide, with 12.4 percent in poverty in 2007).

So when the governor and other California leaders go to Washington asking for a federal bailout, they ought to expect skepticism. They also might acknowledge that California is getting $85 billion in federal stimulus funds, more than any other state.

Former Gov. Pete Wilson's column in The Bee on Tuesday made a case for federal help, but it reflected a tone of entitlement that is unlikely to wring a dime out of Washington.

Two issues stand out:

• Medicaid: Wilson and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger believe the formula for reimbursing states for providing health care to lower-income people – known as Medi-Cal in California – is flawed. States with higher per-capita income get less than states with lower per-capita income, they argue.

Mississippi, at the bottom in per-capita income, gets 75 cents for every dollar it spends. California, near the top in per-capita income, gets 50 cents.

What's unfair about that?

The problem is not the formula itself, but the timing of it. The current reimbursement rate relies on income data for 2004, 2005 and 2006, when California's per-capita income grew at above-average rates. The next update isn't scheduled for three years, using 2007, 2008 and 2009.

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