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Feb 14 2012

Flap’s California Morning Collection: February 14, 2012

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Fresno, California

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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

On to today’s California headlines:

Gingrich raises money in California, pledges to lower gas prices

On a day packed with fundraising events to refuel his campaign, Newt Gingrich insisted Monday that he would not drop out of the GOP presidential contest even though polls show he is not now winning the argument against Rick Santorum that he is the best conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.

The former House speaker also appealed specifically to California conservatives, promising to make the state competitive in the fall, calling for the preservation of memorial crosses that came under fire for being on public land, knocking the teachers union in Los Angeles for defending incompetent teachers, saying he would rein in federal environmental officials, and pledging to take on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which just ruled against the state’s same-sex marriage initiative.

“This is a consistently bigoted, anti-religious court,” Gingrich said, also pointing to its controversial decision that the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance violated the Consitution. “I’d ask the Congress to look seriously at either impeaching or replacing the 9th Circuit.”

Gingrich was in the state primarily to raise money, but he deflected questions about whether that meant his campaign was in financial trouble.

“My fundraising has always been difficult because when you are a candidate of bold new ideas, it takes a while,” he said.

In between fundraising events, he stopped at Cielito Lindo Restaurant to speak to more than 150 California Latinos who are backing his campaign, many of whom noted his advocacy of creating a way for illegal immigrants who have been in the country for years to become legal residents.

Obama’s budget plan cuts aid for California farms, beaches, illegal immigrants in prison

California has a big stake in the debate begun Monday with release of the Obama administration’s proposed fiscal year 2013 budget, even if the sprawling document has only a short lifespan.

If adopted, Obama’s budget would mean fewer subsidies for Central Valley farmers, smaller grants for Valley counties and less money for incarcerating the illegal immigrants who crowd the state’s jails and prisons.

The $3.8 trillion budget also subtracts money used to clean California beaches while it invests in preserving Valley lands and aiding some of the state’s 2.5 million community college students.

Republicans who control the House call the 1,200-plus page bundle of documents dead on arrival, and even Democrats stress it’s only a starting point, at most.

The administration, for instance, proposes a modest $70 million for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, down from the current $240 million. This repeats a familiar plot. Presidents of both parties invariably propose cuts in the program that reimburses states for imprisoning undocumented immigrants, and lawmakers from both parties always strive to add more.

Roughly 13 percent of California state prison inmates are identified as undocumented immigrants, and in some county jails, the percentage may be even higher. Overall, California and its counties spend upwards of $1 billion to incarcerate illegal immigrants.

“That leaves a big hole,” Matthew Cate, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said of the funding shortfall in a recent interview. “I would love to see the federal government play a bigger role.”

All told, the administration identified 210 federal programs for notable cuts or consolidation. Many proposals are retreads that have been rejected before.

Dan Walters: Jerry Brown has a big problem with tax measures

When Jerry Brown goes into his bunker – or monk’s cell or man-cave – and issues cryptic messages, you know he’s up to something.

California’s governor did it again last weekend during a brief appearance before a state Democratic convention in San Diego.

He could have used his time to give Democratic activists a compelling argument why they should get behind his plan to raise Californians’ taxes to balance the state budget – the plan that he’s been trumpeting day and night, publicly and privately, for weeks.

Instead, he barely mentioned taxes, saying, “Look, we’ve got some issues. We’ve got a tax measure, we have a … few issues there, and we’ll be talking about that from time to time.”

Then he added, cryptically, “You’ll get your marching orders soon enough,” and ducked out quickly. He refused to answer questions from reporters, saying, “I think you guys have to take each speech one at a time.”

Brown’s got a big problem. While he claims that his plan would bolster schools and “public safety,” the two most popular governmental functions, many education officials are downright hostile. They complain that even if his tax plan passes, schools would get no increase in per-pupil financing, as a recent report from the Legislature’s budget analyst points out.
“In other words, education doesn’t get more funding if (Brown’s tax plan) passes,” San Diego’s deputy schools superintendent, Scott Patterson, told his local newspaper recently. “Instead, we get less funding if it fails.”

California’s high-income taxpayers dropped sharply

Gov. Jerry Brown wants to hit California’s highest-income taxpayers with billions of dollars in new taxes, and is jousting with other groups with their own tax-the-rich measures over which, if any, will win voter approval.

But the number of Californians with $500,000-plus annual incomes declined dramatically from 2007 to 2009 as the state’s economy stagnated, leaving fewer to tax, the California Taxpayers Association points out in a compilation of data from the Franchise Tax Board.

The latest FTB statistical report covers the 2009 tax year, and Cal-Tax points out that it listed just 98,610 California tax returns with adjusted gross income of $500,000 or more, down nearly a third from the 146,221 in 2007. Data for 2010 are not yet available.

Those 98,610 tax returns were just over a half-percent of the 14.6 million returns filed for 2009, but they accounted for 18.8 percent of the taxable income and 32 percent of the income taxes paid that year.

Economists believe that most of the decline reflects lower incomes, rather than an exodus of high-income taxpayers from the state, but there are no hard data on that point.

Enjoy your Valentine’s Day!

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