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May 14 2012

Flap’s California Morning Collection: May 14, 2012

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Santa Monica, California

Good Monday morning!

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

The California Assembly’s Daily File is here and the California State Senate’s here.

California Governor Jerry Brown will be releasing his revised budget this morning and it will not be good news for Californians.

Gov. Jerry Brown is releasing his revised budget in Sacramento at 10 a.m., and with his deficit estimate now at $16 billion, nobody thinks it’ll be easy on the eyes. As Kevin Yamamura reported Sunday, “No sector that relies on state funding is likely to escape deeper cuts. Brown has already told state worker unions to expect at least a 5 percent compensation reduction.”

Brown’s morning news conference will be streamed live on the California Channel’s website. The revised budget itself will posted online shortly after 10 a.m. at this link. Afterward, the governor will head to Los Angeles for a second news conference at 2 p.m.

On to today’s California headlines:

Tough sell for tobacco taxes in California

 In the past decade, red and blue states alike, from Mississippi to New York, have approved more than 100 tobacco tax hikes in a desperate hunt for budget revenue.

But not one has passed in California, whose 87-cent cigarette tax dropped from third-highest in the nation in 1999 to 33rd today despite the state’s ongoing budget woes.

That confounds health advocates, who otherwise consider California to be a trailblazer when it comes to bans on smoking in bars and restaurants, and public campaigns urging tobacco users to quit.

But longtime state budget watchers are hardly surprised. They largely blame the state’s supermajority requirement to pass tax hikes in the Legislature. That forces tobacco tax votes to the ballot, where industry can spend unlimited sums of money.

June primary is key test for state’s top-two election system

In the first broad test of California’s new “top-two” election system, many candidates in heated races for Congress and the state Legislature have been campaigning earlier, spending more money and downplaying their party affiliation as they try to widen their appeal.

Gone are the party primaries, except in the presidential race. Now all state candidates appear on a single ballot. Only those who come in first or second on June 5 will move on to the November general election, in which no write-in or other added candidates will be allowed.

The new rules, approved by California voters in 2010, further empower voters who don’t belong to a political party — already the fastest-growing category in California, accounting for more than 21% of the state’s registration.

For the first time, some ballots for 53 congressional, 20 state Senate and 80 Assembly seats include unaffiliated candidates. Among the 36 who list themselves with “no party preference” are two congressional candidates who recently ditched their party ties: Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks and former Assemblyman Anthony Adams of Hesperia, both previously Republicans.

 State’s swelling deficit will bring painful cuts. Where to start?

As The Times’ Anthony York and Christopher Megerian reported Sunday, Brown’s announcement doubled as a sales pitch for tax hikes that he hopes voters approve at the ballot box in November. He said budget cuts, primarily to public education, would be even worse without increasing the sales tax a quarter-cent for four years and raising levies on incomes of $250,000 or more by 1 to 3 percentage points for seven years.

“We can’t fill a hole of this magnitude with cuts alone without doing severe damage to our schools,” Brown says. “That’s why I’m bypassing the gridlock and asking you, the people of California, to approve a plan that avoids cuts to schools and public safety.”

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) said severe spending reductions in previous years have left few places for lawmakers to make more cuts, meaning higher taxes are needed to close the larger-than-expected deficit.

“The size of the deficit and the dwindling of options after years of severe budget cuts also show that our state absolutely needs voters to pair cuts with revenues,” he said in a statement.

Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar said Democratic lawmakers should have reduced spending on welfare and other social services in March, as Brown requested.

Dan Walters: Municipal bankruptcy infighting flares anew in California

When Vallejo declared bankruptcy in 2008, one collateral consequence was a years-long political duel in the Capitol between lobbyists for local governments and those for unions representing their workers.

Unions pushed legislation that would have required local governments to get permission from an obscure state agency before filing for bankruptcy – an agency that is and probably always will be dominated by union-friendly Democratic politicians.

Although it did not come to pass in Vallejo, unions representing police officers, firefighters and other local workers were worried that a federal bankruptcy judge might be willing to abrogate their contracts and perhaps even reduce retirement benefits.

By routing bankruptcies through the state agency, union leaders clearly hoped, officials of insolvent local governments could be barred from seeking payroll relief.

Ultimately, the unions and the local governments, primarily the League of California Cities, agreed to a compromise last year, one that in general required insolvent entities to use mediation to seek relief from creditors and file bankruptcy only as a last resort. It was enacted by the Legislature and signed into law.

Enjoy your morning and Dan Walter’s Daily video: Lawmakers fiddle while Californians vote

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