Good Monday morning!
The California Legislature is in session. Today’s schedule is here.
Remember: Friday is the last day for policy committees to pass fiscal bills introduced in their house. So, there will be some action around the Capitol this week.
The California Assembly’s Daily File is here and the California State Senate’s here.
On to today’s California headlines:
Cost of public retiree health care soars in California
As Stockton contemplates a bankruptcy filing, cities, counties and school districts throughout California are grappling with the same issue that has led the delta port city to the brink of insolvency – soaring costs for retiree health care.
San Francisco, which once allowed its public employees to qualify for full retiree medical benefits after working just five years, is projected to pay $153 million in retiree health care costs this year, about 5 percent of the city’s general fund.
The Ventura County city of Thousand Oaks capped its contributions for retiree health care at $435 a month but still faces a $12.6 million unfunded liability for the perk, an amount equal to about 18 percent of the city’s general fund budget.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest school district, promises 100 percent lifetime health benefits to retirees, their spouses and dependents. It now faces $10.3 billion in long-term unfunded liabilities for the benefit, 1 1/2 times the district’s annual budget.
And at the state level, retiree health care costs have ballooned from $560 million annually a decade ago to a projected $1.7 billion in the coming fiscal year, almost 2 percent of general fund spending.
The benefits’ costs are expected to double for the state and local governments over the next 10 years.
Action slow so far on Gov. Brown’s pension reforms
It’s been six months since Gov. Jerry Brown put forward his proposals to make the public pension system more affordable, yet action on his 12-point plan has been nearly imperceptible.
That has led Republican lawmakers to accuse the Democrats who control the Legislature of stalling. Democrats acknowledge the slow pace, yet say they are making progress and intend to enact reforms before the session ends in August.
“It’s not as fast as I would like, but it’s complicated,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said this week during an appearance before the Sacramento Press Club.
He said Democrats have an obligation to deliver pension reform, particularly as they will ask voters in November to approve hikes to the income and sales taxes. But he also said they have “a different take” on parts of the governor’s plan.
Brown’s reform packaged called for increasing the retirement age to 67 for new, non-public safety employees and having local and state government workers pay more toward their pensions and retiree health care. Among other changes, the governor would put new workers in a hybrid plan that includes a 401(k)-style vehicle.
Frustrated that Brown’s reform package had not been translated into individual bills, Republican lawmakers earlier this year did it themselves. They submitted a legislative package that copied Brown’s 12-point plan and asked that it be heard by the Conference Committee on Public Employee Pensions, which has held five hearings throughout the state reviewing retirement benefits for public employees.
‘No party preference’ is new political flavor in California
Congressional candidate Linda Parks isn’t one for conventional choices.
As she tells voters in a recent television ad, her favorite ice cream flavor is not chocolate or vanilla, but the nuts-and-marshmallow-loaded Rocky Road.
And her chosen party preference on the June 5 ballot?
“I’ve had longtime supporters tell me, ‘I don’t even know what party you are.’ And I like that,” said Parks, a Ventura County supervisor who has been both a member and, more recently, a punching bag of both the Republican and the Democratic parties. “I like the fact that they can’t peg me as one party or the other.”
Parks is one of 36 candidates with “no party preference” running for state and federal office in California this year, the first time the option is available for primary candidates.
Her candidacy for the 26th Congressional District is getting attention because of the chance she’ll succeed in becoming the first independent elected to the House of Representatives since 2004.
No-party-preference candidates make up just a fraction of the more than 500 people running for state and federal office on the June ballot. But some observers say a win – or even a good show – by Parks or other no-party-preference candidates could pave the way for more independents to run for elected office in California.
“In this climate with the tea party and the Occupy movement and the anti-incumbent sentiment, if it turns out that that does translate into ‘no-party-preference’ candidates winning, we can expect to see all sorts of people shedding their party affiliation in the future,” said Kimberly Nalder, an associate professor in the California State University, Sacramento, Department of Government.
Tobacco marketing targets low-income, black youth, researchers say
Tobacco marketing is targeting California’s low-income and African American youth, according to researchers who examined advertising throughout the state.
Academic researchers funded by the state’s Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program found that there was greater visibility of menthol cigarette advertising at retailers near high schools where there are larger African American student populations.
According to the most recent statistics issued by the Federal Trade Commission, the tobacco industry spent $10 billion on marketing in 2008.
“There is a systematic targeting (of disadvantaged communities) by the tobacco industry, which is an extraordinary public health problem,” said Lisa Henriksen of the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who presented the research at a legislative briefing in Sacramento last week. “The addition of menthol to cigarettes makes it easier to smoke and more difficult to quit.”
Henriksen’s research [PDF], published last year, found that as the proportion of black students increased at a California high school, so did the share of both menthol-related advertising and Newport brand promotions at nearby retailers. The study looked at all cigarette advertising, but specifically analyzed promotions and price discounts for Newport and Marlboro, two of the most popular brands with underage smokers, researchers said.