The California Legislature is not in session today.
Governor Jerry Brown is in Los Angeles and President Obama is fundraising in San Francisco.
On to today’s headlines:
California’s unemployment insurance fund debt grows
California has borrowed $11 billion from the federal government in recent years to prop up its insolvent unemployment insurance fund. The loans kept benefits flowing to millions of laid-off workers, but now the bill is coming due.
The state recently sent $303.6 million to Washington, the first of what could be many years of interest payments required to service its debt to Uncle Sam. It will have to pony up at least a half-billion dollars in 2012 and even more in coming years. The state, which already is struggling to close a massive budget deficit, probably will be forced to make even deeper cuts to schools, law enforcement and other basic services.
In the meantime, California employers in January will be hit with a mandatory surcharge of about $25 per employee to begin paying down the principal on the federal loan.
California operates one of the nation’s most expensive unemployment insurance systems. But the taxes needed to fund it, 100% of which are paid by employers, aren’t sufficient to support the system.
Although jobless benefits are about the same as the national average, costs have exploded because so many Californians have lost their jobs and been unable to find new ones quickly. California’s September unemployment rate of 11.9% is the second highest in the nation, behind only Nevada at 13.4%. About 2 million Californians are unemployed; a third of them have been out of work for a year or more.
Other states are struggling as well. Thirty-four states have borrowed $39 billion to pay unemployment benefits that have mounted during the worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Still, experts say California’s system is fundamentally out of balance and in need of a major overhaul to return it to solvency.
Dan Walters: Jerry Brown still hazy about upcoming tax initiative
California voters are certain – as certain as anything can be in the topsy-turvy world of politics – to pass judgment on a multibillion-dollar tax increase measure next year, but what kind of measure is very much up in the air.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who tried and failed to persuade some Republicans this year to place taxes on the ballot, has often declared his intention to seek more tax revenues from voters via an initiative in 2012.
However, Brown has ducked when asked by reporters what he would include in his tax measure, saying in several ways that he’s still working on it.
He can’t delay much longer, however, because realistically, he and his allies – most likely public employee unions – would have to launch their initiative drive early in 2012 to assure placement on the November ballot.
The governor is caught, it appears, in something of a political vise.
Los Angeles jails see surge in inmates
Authorities are keeping a wary eye on swelling inmate populations as hundreds of extra criminals are sent to Los Angeles County jails under a broad shakeup of California’s corrections institutions.
Since Oct. 1, when the new rules took effect, the county has seen more than 700 extra inmates sentenced to county jail instead of state prison – a greater-than-expected rate that could mean the county’s 17,000 or so beds are all taken by Christmas, Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo Jr. said Monday.
“We expected 170 a week,” Rhambo said. “This is 235 a week.”
In a bid to save cash and reduce recidivism, the state passed rules requiring judges to no longer sentence non-violent, lower-level offenders to state prison for crimes such as auto theft, burglary, grand theft and drug possession for sale.
Under the restructuring, post-release supervision for all but the most violent offenders is also being pushed down to the county level.
Rhambo said it’s likely the initial high rate of inmates could be attributed to defense attorneys stalling for time in recent months so their clients could be sentenced locally instead of to state prison.
More than 40 percent of the new inmates were sentenced for drug offenses. Rhambo said his department would consider releasing some of those inmates early to ensure there’s always room for more serious criminals.
“We want the jail for the ‘Oh my Gods,’ not someone who’s a drug abuser,” he said.
Prison officials say 3,400 could lose jobs, not 26,000
California’s prison agency made big headlines Friday when officials announced they were beginning to send out a whopping 26,000 layoff warnings to employees. At the time, they said far fewer people were likely to lose their jobs, but they couldn’t predict how many.
Today, they’re saying it’s likely to be far, far fewer than 26,000 — in fact, they’re predicting that closer to 3,400 positions could be eliminated by the end of February, when the layoffs are scheduled to take effect.
The discrepancy is based both on standard operating procedure (the state usually notifies three times the number of employees than they actually plan to layoff) and the fluidity of Gov. Jerry Brown’s realignment plan. That plan, which will leave many lower-level offenders in county jails instead of state prison in the coming months and years, is an attempt to curb the state’s exploding prison population — and is the reason prison employees are at risk of losing their jobs at all.
But unlike normal layoff procedures — where a department is given a cold, hard number to cut out of its budget — there are a lot of uncertainties tied to realignment. Robert Downs, who heads up the prison department’s office of personnel services, said state officials have had to rely on inmate projections from counties, courts and others to come up with estimates on how many staff members they will need next year.
Things get even more complicated when you start factoring in that employees at risk of losing their jobs may choose to transfer to similar positions within the prisons system or volunteer for a demotion to a previously held position. Employee retirements could also impact the final number, Downs said.
“A lot of people want to know how many staff will be laid off, and though we are unable to say that, as a starting point we can say at this point in time that its likely 3,400 positions will go away,” Downs said, adding that more employees — likely those that work in the parole division — could lose their jobs next year in the one or two more rounds of layoffs that are currently anticipated.
Enjoy your morning!