Flap’s California Morning Collection: January 26, 2012


Mission San Gabriel

The California Legislature is in session. Today’s schedule is here.

On to today’s California headlines:

California air board to vote on landmark electric-car rules

In a move that could reshape the American automobile industry, California regulators Thursday are expected to approve sweeping new rules requiring that 15 percent of new cars sold in California by 2025 run on electricity, hydrogen or other systems producing little or no smog.

The regulations by the California Air Resources Board, dubbed the “advanced clean car rules,” would start in 2018, ramping up each year and ultimately resulting in 1.4 million “zero emission” vehicles on California roads by 2025. Today there are only about 10,000 such vehicles in the state.

“This is a really large step. It’s transformational,” said Tom Cackette, an engineer and chief deputy director of the air board. “Ten years from now the market is going to look quite a bit different.”

The rules are the latest example of California’s influential role in reducing tailpipe pollution across the country. The Golden State was the first to ban leaded gasoline, require catalytic converters and limit vehicles’ greenhouse emissions. But unlike with many previous regulations, the auto industry isn’t fighting the latest groundbreaking California rules in court.

Apart from electric cars, the new proposal also affects vehicles that run on gasoline and diesel, requiring a 75 percent reduction in smog-forming emissions from new cars, SUVs, pickups and minivans. And they require a roughly 50 percent reduction in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. That will force carmakers to build significantly more fuel-efficient gasoline and diesel models.

The air board estimates that those regulations will add $1,900 to the price of a new car by 2025 — but will save $5,900 in gasoline costs over the life of the average vehicle.

Environmental groups and the auto industry both predict that the upshot of the 15 percent “zero emission” mandate will be that vehicles such as the battery-powered Nissan Leaf and the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt will become as commonplace on freeways by the end of this decade as hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius are now. Both the Leaf and Volt went on sale last year.

California calls $25-billion mortgage settlement ‘inadequate’

Calif. Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris’ office has called a proposed $25-billion settlement with the nation’s mortgage industry “inadequate.”

“We’ve reviewed the details of the latest settlement proposal from the banks, and we believe it is inadequate for California,” Shum Preston, a spokesman for Harris, said in a statement. “Our state has been clear about what any multistate settlement must contain: transparency, relief going to the most distressed homeowners and meaningful enforcement that ensures accountability.  At this point, this deal does not suffice for California.”

Many analysts consider California’s participation to be key to a strong deal. Harris walked away from talks with the banks last year, saying not enough was being offered by the financial institutions for California homeowners.

Since then, certain terms have been added to lure the Golden State back to the table, and Harris has opened separate inquiries into the mortgage business.

State attorneys general have received drafts of a $25-billion settlement with the nation’s biggest banks that would overhaul foreclosure and mortgage servicing practices. No deal has been officially reached among the states, federal agencies and the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers: Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co.,Citigroup Inc. and Ally Financial Inc. Individual states must decide whether they will join a settlement or pursue independent lawsuits and investigations.

The proposed $25-billion settlement would cover only mortgages held by the banks privately and exclude those from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

California taxes not business-friendly, conservative group says

California’s combination of business, sales, income and other taxes ranks it close to the bottom of the 50 states for being business-friendly, according to an index put out by a conservative Washington think tank.

California placed 48th, ahead of only New York at 49th place and New Jersey at 50th, said a report released Wednesday by the Tax Foundation.

The findings are likely to become an issue in a campaign by California Gov. Jerry Brown to put an initiative on the November ballot to temporarily raise the state sales tax and the individual income tax for people who make over $250,000 a year. Brown wants the money to pay down state debt, boost school spending and balance the budget.

Gil Duran, a Brown spokesman, dismissed the Tax Foundation findings as politically motivated.

“This is a partisan group funded by conservative foundations and its assertions must be taken with a grain of salt,” he said. “California added 230,000 jobs in 2011 and personal income grew by $100 billion — far outpacing  the nation. Our state is attracting business and investment from around the world.”

According to the foundation, the top 10 states with business-friendly taxes were Wyoming, South Dakota, Nevada, Alaska, Florida, New Hampshire, Washington, Montana, Texas and Utah, the report said. Many of them made it to the top tier because they don’t collect a major tax, such as on corporate income.

California Republican chairman lays out game plan for 2012

California Republican Party chairman Thomas Del Beccaro knows he won’t find many votes for right-leaning candidates in the Bay Area or Los Angeles. But he’s hoping his party can rally support for conservative ballot initiatives, giving Republicans a stronger voice in California politics.

Del Beccaro said Republicans’ policy proposals resonate with individual voters statewide, even if the party lacks enough clout in Sacramento to block Democrats’ legislation or spending plans.

Voters “agree with us on the tax issue. They agree with us on budget reform. They agree with us on law-and-order issues. They agree with us on local control for education,” he said. “We should be promoting these ideas not just as parties, but as candidates throughout the state so we can do better.”

By pushing ballot initiatives on these issues, voters may take a second look at Republican candidates, said Del Beccaro, who has been the state party chairman since March 2010.

“We’re not going to do anything less for legislative races,” he said. “But we need to add in this focus on initiatives, which will help us in legislative races.”
One initiative, which is being pushed by anti-tax groups, would cap government spending. Another seeks to prevent unions from collecting dues directly from paychecks if they’re using the money for political purposes. It also would curb donations from corporations and unions to candidates.

Enjoy your morning!


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