Add $3.1 Billion to Budget Deficit?

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There's a chance the budget hole just got deeper, if the courts side with the man tapped to resolve problems with health care in California's prisons.

Clark Kelso, the federal court appointed receiver for prison health care, decided today to pull the trigger on formal legal action to get $8 billion he says is needed to bring medical standards up to a constitutionally guaranteed level.

The action comes after legislative action stalled back in May on a bond package to pay for prison health care. Kelso's filing with the court asks for $6 billion to build new health care facilities, and another $2 billion to complete projects at existing facilities.

And as for the headline... that's a factoid mentioned by Kelso today designed to get the attention of lawmakers, who remain at loggerheads over a new budget. He estimates that if a court rules against the state in this new lawsuit, the costs in the current 2008-09 fiscal year would be $3.1 billion... potentially bringing the budget shortfall up to more than $18 billion.

For now, it seems, Governor Schwarzenegger is maintaining optimism. "The administration will continue to work cooperatively with the receiver and the Legislature to provide the necessary funding for the receiver's efforts," said gubernatorial spokesman Aaron McLear.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new California Politics & Government Desk. He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades, serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and most recently as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. In 2014, he was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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