Category: Death Penalty

Jul 26 2012

Flap’s California Morning Collection: July 26, 2012

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Audience watches the San Bernardino City Council on July 18 declare a fiscal emergency and begin preparations to file for bankruptcy protection. LA Times Photo

Good Thursday morning!

The California Legislature is not in session for a summer recess.

The California Assembly has adjourned until August 6, 2012 and the California State Senate is also in adjournment.

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

On to today’s California headlines:

There is a great deal of California Water news today, but I will NOT be covering it. My lovely wife works for a large, Southern California water company and anything I would write would be seen as a direct conflict to either her employer or us.

So, on to the other California headlines:

Bankrupt San Bernardino must cut spending by a third

San Bernardino must cut government spending by a third, almost assuredly resulting in widespread layoffs or pay reductions for city workers, as it prepares to officially file for bankruptcy protection, city officials said.

Interim City Manager Andrea Travis-Miller told the City Council that it must cut $45.8 million from the $166-million budget to ensure the city remains solvent throughout the current fiscal year, which runs through next June. Crafting the austerity plan will be required as part of the Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy process.

“By any definition, a 30% budget cut in a single fiscal year is a severe haircut. Indeed, you might even call it a scalping,” Mayor Patrick Morris said at a special council meeting on the city’s fiscal crisis Tuesday evening.

At the meeting, the seven-member council voted unanimously to suspend debt payments and freeze staff vacancies, saving $5.4 million in July alone, the first and easiest step in what’s expected to be a budgetary bloodletting in the months ahead.

Death penalty repeal pits Mayor Villaraigosa vs. former Gov. Wilson

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa goes up against former Gov. Pete Wilson in a debate over the death penalty that will be coming soon to mailboxes throughout California.

Villaraigosa signed the ballot argument to be included in the official state voter guide on Proposition 34, which would repeal the state’s death penalty if approved on the November ballot. Wilson signed the “no” argument.

“Proposition 34 lets serial killers, cop killers, child killers and those who kill the elderly, escape justice,” says the argument against the measure, also signed by Keith Royal, president of the California State Sheriffs’ Assn., and Marc Klaas, who became an advocate for crime victims after his 12-year-old daughter, Polly, was murdered.

Downtown L.A.’s Underwater Home Mortgage Crisis

In many movies, downtown Los Angeles is a stand-in for New York City. Its nooks and crannies mimic that most urban of American cities, and Ramon Garcia’s condo on Seventh and Spring streets is no exception. His seventh-floor window overlooks a courtyard in the Bartlett, a 1911 bank designed by the architects who planned City Hall, and his 550-square-foot residence is smaller than a racquetball court.

But one detail would be unthinkable in New York. If he sold it, Garcia estimates he’d get $105,000 — half what he paid in 2005. While 30 percent to 60 percent of the Inland Empire’s homes have “underwater mortgages,” making that region a national symbol of the nation’s housing crisis, rarely reported is that downtown L.A. is just as “underwater” as Riverside: Its residents owe far more than their homes are worth.

“It kind of sucks, because I don’t know if it will ever be worth what I paid for it,” Garcia says.

According to Zillow Real Estate Research, 31 percent of American homes are underwater, about like the city of L.A. (Other data peg the percentage lower.) But in 90014, Garcia’s ZIP code, an astonishing 78 percent of condos and lofts are underwater. Nearly four out of every five residents in the area roughly bounded by Sixth Street, Ninth Street, San Pedro Street and Grand Avenue own places worth far less than the loan they signed.

In the United States, ZIP code 90014 is in the top 1 percent of underwater mortgages.

And it’s bad all over downtown.

ZIP codes that extend from downtown north and south into other areas are underwater, by 66 percent (90017: part of the Financial District and part of Pico-Union), 64 percent (90021: part of Industrial District, Warehouse District and part of Skid Row), 51 percent (90012: City Hall, Civic Center, Chinatown), 44 percent (90013: site of Downtown Art Walk, part of Skid Row), and 36 percent (90015: South Park, L.A. Live, Fashion District).

Vallejo leaves bankruptcy period behind, charts new course

This hard-hit former Navy town, just up Interstate 80 from San Francisco’s glittering lights, weathered its humiliation long enough as California’s first sizable city to file for bankruptcy protection.

Now as Stockton, San Bernardino and perhaps other California cities head into their own bankruptcy proceedings, Vallejo wants people to know it’s on the mend.

It balanced its general fund budget last year and socked away nearly twice the reserves the bankruptcy judge ordered after the city nearly died – belly up and devastated – in 2008.

But its financial challenges aren’t over.

While Vallejo, population 118,000, emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2011, it continues to push for more benefit concessions from employees and retirees in the interest of long-term solvency.

“People ask whether it was worth it,” Vallejo Mayor Osby Davis said of the city’s slide into a bankruptcy filing and hard recovery since. “That question suggests we had an option. It was filing bankruptcy or not existing as a city any more.”

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Aug 30 2011

Flap’s California Morning Collection: August 30, 2011

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Santa Cruz, California

The California Legislature is in session today.

Lengthy senate sessions M-F this week. Noon-5pm today then 10am start times thru Friday- which btw is the last day to amend bills on floor

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

California Governor Jerry Brown is in Las Vegas today. Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom is in charge of California.

On to the links:

Democrats want to push initiatives to November

The California Democratic Party’s 2011 drive to reshape the 1911-vintage initiative process to its political advantage appears to be picking up steam as the legislative session nears adjournment.

Gov. Jerry Brown has already vetoed one bill that would have banned initiative petition signature-gatherers from being paid by the name. But the state Democratic Party has called for change, several other restrictive measures are pending and Democrats are noodling around with requiring all initiatives to go on the November ballot, rather than having some decided in the June primary.

“We’re considering it,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Monday.

Democrats fear that pending measures opposed by their public employee union allies might pass in June, when Democratic voter turnout would be low, but would be much less likely to win in November, a presidential election with a big Democratic turnout.

The so-called “paycheck protection” initiative, which would bar unions from deducting political funds directly from members’ paychecks, worries union leaders the most. It would severely reduce their political clout – which is, of course, why conservative groups want it.

Nothing has appeared in print yet, but to affect the 2012 elections, the election shift would have to pass before the legislative session ends on Sept. 9.

Whether Brown would sign it, however, is problematic, since he’s already indicated an aversion to partisan changes in election laws by vetoing the measure that restricted how signature-gatherers are paid. And it would overturn a legal interpretation 40 years ago by Jerry Brown when he was secretary of state.

Senate pulls plug on Perez priority

One day into the final two weeks of the legislative session, lawmakers and their staffs are bracing for gridlock in Sacramento as the State Senate rejected the Assembly speaker’s top legislative priority Monday.

Legislators and Capitol staffers are concerned that Assembly Speaker John A. Perez will take some sort of punitive action against them in response to the defeat of his Assembly Bill 46, which sought to disincorporate the Los Angeles County city of Vernon. A tiny city, but plagued by corruption, Vernon is home to fewer than 100 residents but roughly 1,800 businesses. The speaker made it his top priority this year to dissolve the city.

The Senate, however, had other ideas. Amid concerns that disincorporating the city would affect businesses and jobs, senators of both parties spoke loudly against Perez’s bill, saying it was a drastic step that would needlessly hurt the economy. The bill died on a 13-17 vote, with a whopping 10 senators abstaining.

The concern now is what Perez may do in response to this public defeat. Perez has developed a reputation for confrontation and retribution. For weeks now, he’s been engaged in a war of words with Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, who has challenged the speaker over cuts to his office budget and the secrecy surrounding them.

Brown will now decide commutation bill

It’s now up to Gov. Jerry Brown to decide whether victims and their families should have a say before some inmates are set free early.

By a unanimous vote Monday, the Assembly sent Brown the legislation that was sparked by a killing near San Diego State University.

Assembly Bill 648 would require a 10-day notification to prosecutors when a clemency application to the governor is filed. Prosecutors could then relay the request to victims and families who may want to protest.

Brown, a Democrat, has not taken a position on the bill, but previously has said he would “look with some suspicion” on any measure seeking to limit a governor’s powers steeped in the constitution.

However, he did add that, “I would look at anything that would be sensible from the point of victims.”

If signed into law, the legislation could provide a small measure of satisfaction for the parents of Mesa College student Luis Santos, who was stabbed to death during the October 2008 brawl.

Esteban Núñez, the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, later pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the death and was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

But then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, intervened on his last day in office, reducing the sentence to 7 years. Later, he revealed he did it as a “favor” for former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, a Democrat. The two forged close ties over the years, despite being from different political parties.

“Of course you help a friend,” Schwarzenegger told Newsweek magazine.

The measure is being carried by San Diego Assemblyman Marty Block, a Democrat. San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is the sponsor, with the support of Fred and Kathy Santos, parents of the stabbing victim

Former L.A. prosecutor Gil Garcetti backs ending CA death penalty

A former Los Angeles County district attorney joined an effort to end California’s death penalty Monday, backing an initiative proposed for the November 2012 ballot that would replace capital punishment with life prison terms.

“The death penalty in California is broken and it is unfixable,” Gil Garcetti said at a news conference held to release details of the proposed ballot measure. “It is more likely that the convicted murderer will die in prison before execution is imposed.”

A recent study estimated the state spends $184 million annually on death penalty cases and incarceration above what it would cost to convert the terms to life behind bars. The former prosecutor said the ballot measure would devote $100 million over three years to law enforcement from money the state could save by ending capital punishment.

The ballot measure would also require murderers to work in prison, with their earnings going into a victim compensation fund, said Jeanne Woodford, a former San Quentin State Prison warden.

Woodford, also a former California corrections secretary, now is executive director of Death Penalty Focus, which works to eliminate executions.

Garcetti is one of 104 law enforcement officials who signed a support letter after lawmakers last week shelved a bill by Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, that would have put a similar initiative on next year’s ballot. Hancock’s bill failed to get enough votes to clear the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Garcetti served two terms as top prosecutor in the state’s most populous county before he was defeated in 2000.

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Aug 26 2011

Flap’s California Morning Collection: August 26, 2011

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Marina Del Rey – Mother’s Beach at dawn

A morning collection of links and comments about my home, California

Bill to kill state’s death penalty shelved in Assembly committee

California’s death penalty has new life.

Legislation seeking to eliminate the death penalty was shelved today in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Senate Bill 490 would have placed before voters in November 2012 a measure to close death row and replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole.

Sen. Loni Hancock, a Berkeley Democrat who proposed the measure, said she withdrew SB 490 from consideration after its fate became clear.

“The votes were not there to support reforming California’s expensive and dysfunctional death penalty system,” Hancock said in a written statement.

“I had hoped we would take the opportunity to save hundreds of millions of dollars that could be used to support our schools and universities, keep police on our streets and and fund essential public institutions like the courts,” she said.

Gov. Jerry Brown, before the bill was shelved, suggested that he might support placing the death penalty before voters.

Brown declined to discuss SB 490, but said that in general, “When we have deep, troublesome issues that create gridlock in the Legislature, going back to the people can be a way to break the gridlock.”

SB 490 was fiercely contested, with opponents saying that the death penalty provided a deterrence to murder and that eliminating it would betray the families of homicide victims.

A Field Poll last year found that 70 percent of Californians support the death penalty.

Golden State, get ready: Here’s Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s whirlwind CA fundraising schedule

Texas Gov. Rick Perry better junk those cowboy boots and don running shoes when he hits California next month for the first time as a GOP presidential candidate.

In the 48 hours after the Sept. 7 Reagan Library debate, he’ll be going non-stop for two days, picking up cash every step of the way across the Golden State.

His two-day fundraising schedule in California, as published by Politico.com, doesn’t give him a lot of time to down much of that rubber chicken on the circuit. Perry will be hobnobbing with a crowd of big donors and big pols — backers who include former state party chair Shawn Steel and his wife, Board of Equalization member Michele Park Steel;San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos, former CA Assemblyman Mike Villines, and Gregory Slayton, a former Silicon Valley insider and big GOP fundraiser who was appointed Consul General to Bermuda by President George W. Bush.

  • On Sept. 8, the morning after the debate, he’ll be at a 7:30 a.m. VIP reception and photo op, followed by breakfast at the Hyatt Aventine on La Jolla Village Drive in San Diego. (Not far, as we noted in Twitter, from Mitt Romney’s $12 million waterfront mansion in the same neighborhood.)
  • That’s followed by a noon VIP reception and lunch at the Ialand Hotel in Newport Beach.
  • That’s followed by a 5:30 p.m. VIP reception and photo op at the home of Paula Kent Meehan in Los Angeles.
  • That’s followed by a Host Committee Dinner at the home of Carla and Fred Sands in Los Angeles.
  • On Friday, Sept. 9, Perry will be hitting a 7:45 a.m. VIP reception and photo op with breakfast in Bakersfield at the Bakersfield Inn.
  • That’s followed by his Silicon Valley stop, a noon VIP reception and lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in East Palo Alto.
  • That’s followed by a 5:30 p.m. reception and dinner in Fresno, at The Downtown Club.

Ploy to Block “Amazon Tax” Vote Outrageous

On the very day Governor Brown spoke about job creation, legislators are concocting an outrageous ploy to prevent the people from voting to overturn the ‘Amazon Tax.’

Clearly these lawmakers are afraid the public is poised and ready to vote down the failed ‘Amazon Tax’ that is costing our state jobs.

Instead of continuing their attack on out-of-state online retailers, the Governor and Legislature ought to be asking these companies how we can work with them to get Californians back to work.

Ex-California official defends socializing with celebs on public dime

An appointee of former Gov. Pete Wilson wasted $51,000 hobnobbing with celebrities, attending the Golden Globe Awards, World Magic Awards, a Julio Iglesias concert and other events while claiming he was recruiting for an “anti-stigma” program at the Department of Mental Health, a state audit said Thursday.

Arthur Kassel, a Beverly Hills resident who recently retired from the state, denied his time was wasted, even though none of the celebrities he talked to ever did a public event or radio ad shedding light on the unfair stigma suffered by the mentally ill.

He said money was never budgeted to allow the anti-stigma program to move forward.

“People who have mental illnesses have no voice,” Kassel said. “We were hoping if the buidget ever got fixed in California that we would be able to do a star-studded show to tell people what the problems are.”

Kassel, who also described himself as a special advisor to Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, was not identified by name in the audit, which refers to him only as a “senior official.” But Kassel confirmed he was interviewed by auditor-investigators about his work attending celebrity events for the “anti-stigma” program.

State auditor Elaine Howle disagreed that the money was well-spent, noting neither Kassel nor his supervisor “could identify any measurable benefit that the state garnered as a result of the senior official’s interaction with celebrities at social and entertainment events in the name of Mental Health’s anti-stigma program.”

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Aug 24 2011

Flap’s California Morning Collection: August 24, 2011

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The California Legislature is in session today

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

On to the links:

State agency’s mishandling of land costs millions, auditor finds

The State Lands Commission has mismanaged public property, costing millions of dollars in lost revenue by not renewing expired leases, keeping rents at market level or evicting delinquent tenants, the state auditor concluded Tuesday.

“The commission has not always managed its more than 4,000 leases in the State’s best interest with the result that it has missed opportunities to generate millions of dollars in revenues for the State’s General Fund,’’ Auditor Elaine Howle wrote to the Legislature, which asked for the report.

The agency manages lands the state acquired from the federal government at statehood, including river and lake beds, submerged lands along the coast and school property.

The review found that the commission missed opportunities to generate up to $8.2 million in just some of the leases looked at by auditors. The commission is supposed to review rents periodically and increase them if necessary, but auditors said the agency failed to conduct the reviews promptly, “causing it to lose $6.3 million in increased rent it may have been able to collect.’’

Howle estimated that the state lost $1.6 million from 10 leases where the rent was delinquent but the lessee was able to remain on state land. In one case, a boating service company in Crockett had not paid any rent since 1989, but the commission had not taken action to remove the tenant.

As Budgets Continue to Shrink, the Lines Will Grow in California Civil Courts

Lines at a courthouse are kind of like hurt feelings in a divorce: they are expected, they are unavoidable, but, hopefully, they are dealt with quickly.

For the romantically estranged residents of San Francisco, however, the wait for a divorce may soon drag on longer than the life span of most Hollywood marriages, as a series of cutbacks threatens to cripple the civil courts. Under a plan unveiled last month and due to take effect this fall, San Francisco will close 25 courtrooms, reduce clerks’ hours and lay off more than 175 employees, effectively bringing much of the business of the court to a crawl.

Katherine Feinstein, the presiding judge of San Francisco Superior Court, said the average time for a divorce would be at least 18 months. All manner of other civil matters — small claims, civil and class-action lawsuits, probate and conservatorship cases, and big-money complex cases — will also probably take longer to settle.

“The civil justice system in San Francisco is collapsing,” Judge Feinstein said.

But San Francisco is hardly alone in seeing hours or services cut; other California counties have already made cuts or are expected to soon.

Tax Increases Killing Jobs

Gov. Jerry Brown and the Democratic Legislature finally have discovered that California has to create more jobs. The governor last week appointed banker Michael Rossi as his new Jobs Czar.

Yet Brown, the Democratic Legislature and the L.A. Times’ tax-obsessive columnists continue to push for higher taxes. They might pause a bit and consider Illinois, which vies with California and New York for the country’s worst state business climate.

Earlier this year Illinois increased taxes to close a budget deficit. The results are in: total devastation to state jobs. The Illinois Policy Institute reported:

Illinois started to create jobs as the national economy began to recover. But just when Illinois’s economy seemed to be turning around, lawmakers passed record tax increases in January of this year. Since then, Illinois’s employment numbers have done nothing but decline.

Data released today by the bureau confirms this downward trajectory. When it comes to putting people back to work, Illinois is going backwards. Since January, Illinois has dropped 89,000 people from its employment rolls.

The costliest executions in America

Alarcon did, in fact, recite all the particulars of his indictment of a dysfunctional system.

Because the state does not spend enough on lawyers to handle death penalty appeals, he noted, the backlog in California is three times the national average. Because the state requires direct appeal to the Supreme Court, death penalty cases make up 20 percent of the court’s workload. It takes four or five years just to appoint a defense attorney to handle the initial appeal, and another three years or more to appoint counsel for habeas corpus proceedings.

“The cost of maintaining the death penalty has become an onerous financial burden on California taxpayers,” he testified.

But Alarcon offered some ideas other than abolishing capital punishment: amend the Constitution to allow appellate courts to handle capital appeals; change the evidentiary standards so that prosecutors could seek the death penalty only when they have extraordinarily strong evidence such as DNA samples; put an extra $85 million a year into hiring attorneys at the state’s Habeas Corpus Research Center.

The bottom line of Alarcon’s and Mitchell’s findings is that the system is horribly broken and has become a bottomless money pit. It has become, they write, “the most expensive and least effective death penalty law in the nation.”

Because voters established it, only voters can fix it. And voters can’t be expected to make sound decisions unless they know all the facts — and until now, no one has ever told them how much it costs.

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Aug 23 2011

Flap’s California Morning Collection: August 23, 2011

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Good morning!

The California Legislature is in session and considering the end of session bills.

An interesting hearing today on the California Death Penalty, which I have been commenting upon for quite a few years over at Flapsblog.com.

Sen. Loni Hancock, on a mission to replace the death penalty with permanent imprisonment via SB 490, will host a hearing today on the costs of capital punishment. It begins at 10 a.m. in room 3191 at the Capitol.

Testifying will be Arthur L. Alarcón, senior judge with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Loyola of Los Angeles law professor Paula M. Mitchell. The two have written a report called “Executing the Will of the Voters? – A Roadmap to Mend or End the California Legislature’s Multi-Billion Dollar Death Penalty Debacle.”

On to the links……

Amazon Opens Wallet — Again — for Initiative Battle

Amazon really doesn’t want to collect sales tax.

The Seattle-based company has now spent $5.25 million to try to put a measure on the June 2012 ballot that would repeal a law requiring online retailers to collect sales tax.

According to newly released campaign filings, Amazon made a $2.25 million campaign contribution on Aug. 10. That’s on top of $3 million the online retailer contributed to the initiative in July.

Ned Wigglesworth, spokesman for the “More Jobs Not Taxes” committee, which is running the repeal campaign, would say only that Amazon’s second multimillion-dollar contribution in as many months was necessary “to cover costs associated with the first phase of the campaign.”

Wigglesworth said his committee was working with a “growing coalition of taxpayer groups, consumers, small businesses” to overturn the new online sales tax law — although so far state records show Amazon to be its only contributor.

State colleges, universities may need to make more budget cuts

Students starting the school year at California Community Colleges this week will pay higher fees and have fewer courses from which to choose. At California State University campuses, students will find their classes packed, fewer library books available and the ranks of part-time faculty thinned.

That dismal picture could worsen if the state’s financial problems force colleges and universities to make additional budget cuts mid-year, leaders of the systems said Monday during a conference call with reporters.

As it is, the state’s 112 community colleges will offer 5% fewer classes this fall, Chancellor Jack Scott said. Based on projected annual demand, an estimated 670,000 students who otherwise would enroll in at least one class will not be served, he added.

Community college students, whose fees already have risen to $36 per unit for this school year from $26 last year, are likely to face a further increase if state revenue doesn’t meet projections. State funding to the two-year colleges was reduced $400 million for this year. Further cuts would trigger an additional $10 per unit fee increase for spring 2012.

That has appeared more likely since a recent report by state Controller John Chiang that California’s tax revenue fell $539 million below expectations in July.

Scott said a mid-year increase would be especially difficult because campuses would have to collect the fees from students who had already enrolled for the second semester.

“All of the colleges…are looking carefully at their budgets,” Scott said. “As to whether it would push some over the edge, I don’t know yet. They have cut back on the number of class sections and many may well have to eliminate summer session.”

Poll: Longer Legislative Terms, Stronger Initiative System

If a unique gathering of Californians for a weekend full of talks about government proved anything, it may be that the best chance for consensus lies in the what’s most absent in politics: substantive dialogue.

On the last weekend in June, 412 citizens from around the state gathered in Torrance to discuss what’s wrong with California’s system of governance and how it might be fixed. This morning, the backers of the event released their findings at a news conference in Sacramento.

Tops on the list: longer legislative terms, an initiative process that allows for amendments by citizens but not by politicians, and a focus on performance measures for state government.

The event and subsequent report are the work of a group called What’s Next California, comprised of everyone from activists to academics. While few may expect the work to be quickly embraced by either the state’s warring political factions or gloomy and distrustful voters, it nonetheless helps provide a window into what can happen when people think, talk, and search for consensus.

The results were gathered through what’s called a deliberative polling process, where participants are asked opinions before participating in the event, then tasked to engage in several deep discussions with other citizens, then re-asked their opinions on the same topics.

Outgoing SF State President Slams Governor

The president of San Francisco State University said Monday that Gov. Jerry Brown “doesn’t seem to appreciate high-quality education in California.”

In a telephone interview shortly after announcing his retirement, SFSU President Robert Corrigan accused Brown of not doing enough to protect higher education from deep budget cuts. 

Corrigan, 76, is retiring at the end of the school year after nearly 24 years as the university’s president. He said the state’s budget crisis will take years to resolve.

“I think we are looking at a five-year [budget] problem in California,” Corrigan said in a telephone interview. “At my age, I am not likely to be around for five years.” Corrigan plans to return to his research in American history after retiring. “The next president needs to deal with the Legislature and the governor as best that they can,” he said.

SFSU is one of 23 campuses in the California State University system that has absorbed deep budget cuts over the last several years. In the last three years alone, state cuts of $84.9 million have forced SF State to raise tuition six times, increase class sizes and merge eight academic colleges into six.

Corrigan said he worries that the middle class is being priced out of universities like SFSU. The university had 29,718 students in the 2010-11 school year.

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