Tag: California Budget

Jun 29 2012

Flap’s California Morning Collection: June 29, 2012

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Fallbrook, California

Good Friday morning!

The California Legislature is in session. But, both houses have adjourned until noon on Monday, July 2, 2012.  Today’s schedule is here.

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

On to today’s Californa headlines:

Molly Munger sues state over initiative treatment

The proponents of a tax measure on November’s ballot – a rival measure to Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative – have sued the secretary of state over what they say is a change in law that could “imminently threaten to alter the results” of the fall election.

Molly Munger, who is sponsoring the Our Children Our Future measure to raise taxes for education, filed suit in Sacramento County Superior Court Thursday alleging that elections officials in Los Angeles and Alameda counties did not follow proper procedures and allowed Brown’s initiative to qualify before her initiative. Munger had submitted petitions for her initiative before Brown did.

Because Brown’s initiative qualified first, it will receive higher placement on the ballot than Munger’s. The suit also challenges the validity of a bill passed as part of the budget this week that would place all constitutional amendments at the top of a ballot, behind only bond measures. Brown’s measure is a constitutional amendment; Munger’s is not.

Jerry Brown cuts $195.7 million from budget

Gov. Jerry Brown sliced $195.7 million from the budget that lawmakers sent him, disappointing fellow Democrats by taking money from child care, college scholarships and state parks and adding more to a rainy-day fund.

In a series of line-item vetoes detailed Thursday, Brown brought general fund spending to $91.3 billion and the overall state budget, including dedicated funds and bond money, to $142.4 billion.

The governor did not explain his vetoes publicly. His finance director, Ana Matosantos, said he wanted a larger reserve to cushion the state against any financial turbulence in the coming fiscal year, which begins Sunday.

Although Brown reduced some park funds, officials said state operations would cease as of Sunday at only five of the 70 properties originally proposed for closure. Agreements with private donors, nonprofits and other government agencies will keep 40 of the natural and historic sites open; 25 others will continue operating as more funding agreements are negotiated.

Dan Walters: California’s budget vote change is biting back

I told you so. Or, more accurately, I was one of several commentators who warned voters two years ago that a ballot measure to reduce the legislative vote margin on the state budget from two-thirds to a simple majority could backfire.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who rode advocacy of political reform into his first governorship, is a more-than-willing participant in this subversion of legislative process. He’s implying to voters that he’s solely focused on achieving his political aims, such as raising their taxes, and doesn’t really care what it takes to get there.

Earlier, he had signed a measure requiring all initiative ballot measures to go on the November ballot, aimed specifically at making it easier for unions to defeat a pending “paycheck protection” measure that would restrict collection of campaign funds via paycheck deductions, reversing a policy he followed himself as secretary of state before becoming governor in 1975.

So why are Democrats wielding their newly minted budgetary power so ruthlessly? Because they can, one supposes, and perhaps because with the Legislature’s public approval ratings already at rock bottom, they have nothing to lose.

Lowering the budget vote threshold to a simple majority in 2010, may have, as its advocates said, enhanced democracy. But the way it’s been used is an anti-democratic regression to insular, arrogant and self-dealing governance.

Russell Takasugi sentenced for stealing from clients

A judge Thursday sentenced Russell Takasugi, the son of Nao Takasugi — a late assemblyman and Oxnard mayor — to six years and eight months in prison for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from two elderly clients.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Colleen Toy White listened to 14 people, including friends, relatives and clients of Takasugi, address the court before sentencing. She also said she read more than 90 letters from supporters along with a letter from Takasugi.

She added that prosecutor Marc Leventhal submitted a document with details of the crime, giving a voice to the deceased victims.

White said she took into consideration that the Simi Valley lawyer had no criminal record, had paid more than $1 million as restitution and had been disbarred from practicing law for life.

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Jun 27 2012

Flap’s California Morning Collection: June 27, 2012

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Hearst Castle, San Simeone, California

Good Wednesday 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.

Tonight at midnight California Governor Brown must sign the California budget.

Gov. Jerry Brown has until midnight tonight to sign the budget, and both the Senate and the Assembly have scheduled sessions at 9 a.m. to vote on legislation needed to finalize it.

Click here to see the list released Tuesday of 21 updated measures they’re expected to consider. Brown may be sharpening his blue pencil already.

On to today’s California headlines:

Stockton council votes to go into bankruptcy protection

Years after betting on a sustained housing boom to bankroll a waterfront redevelopment and dole out salary and benefit perks to city employees and retirees, Stockton cashed in its chips Tuesday in a plan that will lead it into bankruptcy.

The City Council voted to approve an austerity plan, including stopping bond payments and making deep cuts in retiree health care, as part of a plan to file Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

The insolvent city of nearly 300,000 residents, home to America’s second-highest rate of foreclosure, is now certain of the additional ignominy of becoming the largest city in America to declare bankruptcy.

Only six years ago, Stockton had appeared to be a boomtown as median home prices shot up from $110,000 to $400,000.

Bursting with new tax revenue and anticipating 10 percent annual increases in its budget resources, Stockton cashed in by selling bonds for an urban renewal including a $68 million arena and invested $125 million in a pension fund that resulted in fiscal disaster.

On Tuesday night, in preparation for the bankruptcy filing, the City Council voted 6-1 to enact a plan to slash retiree health coverage starting this year and possibly eliminate it next year.

Stockton also will use bankruptcy protection to suspend contracts with its public employee unions to cut city employee pay and benefits. It will also stop bond payments as it seeks protection from creditors and renegotiates its debts.

Stockton to file for bankruptcy, will be largest U.S. city to fail

This Gold Rush-era port city, an epicenter of California’s agricultural exports, will become the nation’s largest city to seek protection under the U.S. bankruptcy code after its City Council on Tuesday stopped bond payments, slashed employee health and retirement benefits and adopted a day-to-day survival budget.

City Manager Bob Deis likened the process to cutting off an arm to save the body. He is expected to file bankruptcy papers immediately.

A Delta wind had scrubbed the Central Valley sky blue as residents gathered hours early for the 5:30 p.m. meeting.

Most knew what the night held; bankruptcy has been a long time coming. Stockton has been in negotiations with its creditors since late March under AB 506, a new California law requiring mediation before a municipality can file for reorganization of debt. It was the first use of the law, and policy analysts who watched its torturous and tedious progress have titled their report on it “Death by a Thousand Meetings.” Mediations ended Monday at midnight.

Recent council meetings have been boisterous and contentious. Tuesday night’s meeting was quieter, with an evident sadness on faces in the packed audience. Many residents said they were there mostly to hear for themselves that the day so long expected had finally come.

The Three Words That Made Pensions Untouchable

As it stands in California law, on the day municipal workers start their jobs, their pension benefits can only go up, not down.

This legal principle has been a bedrock behind the city of San Diego’s decade-long pension drama. Despite a growing pension debt that has dominated the city’s political discourse, reforms have focused on new employees, not the retirees or current workers who are owed the bill.

It’s one reason why the June pension initiative, Proposition B, stuck new workers with 401(k)s, yet did nothing to guarantee San Diego’s existing pension debt would be cut.

This legal principle is important, foundational even, to how California governments do business. And, according to a fascinating new article in the Iowa Law Review, it all goes back to three words in a 1917 California Supreme Court decision about benefits for a police widow.

At issue in that 1917 decision was the legal status of pensions. Are they bonuses granted to employees after their service to the government? Workers’ property akin to their houses or other possessions? Or part of their employment contracts?

The 1917 decision didn’t make a definitive call. Instead it used the three words, “in a sense,” to link pensions to unbreakable contracts for the first time. In the 95 years since that initial decision, courts in California and other states have expanded on that three-word phrase to the point where we are now with pensions. The article calls the legal principle the “California Rule.”

Shenanigans abound as final budget vote nears

 More legislative shenanigans appear to be in the works as state lawmakers prepare to vote on the final pieces of the state budget Wednesday.

One newly introduced budget trailer bill would create a statewide authority to negotiate union agreements for In-Home Supportive Services workers. The IHSS program is managed at the county level, where collective bargaining agreements are currently negotiated.

This new proposal, pushed by the Service Employees International Union and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, would take collective bargaining power away from the individual jurisdictions that actually run IHSS and give it to officials in  Sacramento, the seat of union power.

Watch for this bill to be controversial with some moderate Democrats.

Another trailer bill raising eyebrows deals with Californians who qualify for both Medi-Cal and Medicare, which we wrote about earlier on the OC Watchdog blog. This bill would enroll so called “dual eligible” Californians in Orange and seven other counties into managed care plans, to save the state money on their health care.

Some California doctors have been concerned that this proposal would force them to accept low fees for their services, but the initial, proposed language of the bill tempered some fears. Initially, the bill said that doctors would be paid “according to the prevailing Medicare fee schedule” and would receive “the full Medi-Cal rates for Medi-Cal benefits.” From the doctors’ perspective that’s not so bad.

Recently, however, the language was changed to say that the state would “pay providers reimbursement rates sufficient to maintain an adequate provider network and ensure access to care for beneficiaries.” This new language has doctors very worried that they’re going to be forced to take peanuts for their services.

Enjoy your morning and Dan Walter’s Daily video: ‘We told you so’ on majority-vote budget

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Jun 21 2012

Flap’s California Morning Collection: June 21, 2012

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Mission San Francisco de Asís

Good Tuesday 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.

On to today’s California headlines:

Jerry Brown’s tax initiative officially qualifies for November

As Democratic state leaders continue budget negotiations, Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax hike on sales and upper-income earners officially qualified Wednesday for the November ballot, as did two other tax measures.

Brown’s tax initiative will be joined by a rival measure to hike income taxes on all but the poorest Californians as well as an initiative to raise taxes on multistate corporations based elsewhere, the Secretary of State’s Office announced. A total of 11 measures, including a water bond, are now on the November ballot.

Brown and lawmakers are counting on voters to pass his tax plan to generate an estimated $8.5 billion in the current budget cycle, which provides additional funding for schools and helps bridge the state’s $15.7 billion deficit. Though state leaders considered its qualification a foregone conclusion, some political experts began to wonder whether it could miss the June 28 deadline to reach the November ballot as the date drew closer.

The Brown initiative would raise sales taxes by a quarter-cent on the dollar. It would also hike income taxes starting at $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for joint filers.

Brown backs away from bullet train fight

Gov. Jerry Brown backed away from a fight with environmentalists yesterday, abandoning a plan to exempt the $68 billion California bullet train project from environmental laws.

Brown had hoped to fast-track construction of the controversial project by sidestepping key provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act.

But the idea had put him at odds with most of the state’s green groups.

The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Planning and Conservation League were among the organizations that in recent days had strongly criticized Brown’s plan.

The Sierra Club had called Brown’s idea “dangerous” and “a political mistake.”

Most of the state’s environmental groups backed Brown in his 2010 campaign for governor. Several green groups have been firm supporters of the rail project, which would link San Francisco and Los Angeles with trains traveling more than 200 miles per hour.

Lawmakers move to allow sports betting in California

Betting that either Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court will remove the federal obstacle that bars the activity nearly everywhere except in Nevada, the Legislature is moving toward positioning California to allow betting on sports events.

Advancing a bill that passed the Senate with only two dissenting votes in May, an Assembly committee on Wednesday gave bipartisan support to a measure that would give card clubs, horse racing tracks and Indian casinos the ability to add sports betting if the state is given the authority to do so.

Nevada has long held a monopoly on big-time sports betting in the United States, and under the provisions of a 1992 federal law only it and three other small states, all of which previously allowed for limited betting on sports, are allowed to conduct that activity.

But New Jersey voters recently amended their state constitution to legalize sports betting and Gov. Chris Christie last month said his state will begin allowing wagers on football, basketball and other sports contests this fall, daring the federal government to try to stop it.

That could set up a showdown before the U.S. Supreme Court over whether the federal law that allows some states but not others to participate in a commercial activity violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

In addition, New Jersey Sen. Frank LoBiondo has introduced legislation in Congress that would allow additional states an opportunity to establish legal sports betting.

California will be in position to follow New Jersey’s lead if SB 1390 by Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood, makes its way through the Legislature and is signed by Gov. Jerry Brown this fall.

Jerry Brown and Democrats close to deal on welfare budget

Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats are nearing a deal on welfare-to-work cuts that would reduce how long families can receive full aid and child care, but provide exemptions such as one for people in areas with high unemployment.

The Democratic governor and lawmakers are still negotiating how broadly the exemptions would apply, said sources close to negotiations who did not want to be named because the deal remains incomplete. The criteria would determine how much the state could save and the extent to which Brown can declare a shift in the welfare model as he asks voters to raise taxes in November.

Brown wants lawmakers to remake the state’s welfare-to-work program, known as CalWORKs, by imposing more severe consequences for not finding work. Democrats are willing to accept some changes, but they say the governor’s plan is too severe when work is scarce even for more qualified job applicants in California.

“The typical CalWORKs recipient doesn’t have a high school diploma,” said Mike Herald, a lobbyist for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “They’re having to compete right now in a job market where even people with high school diplomas can’t get hired.”

The dispute over CalWORKs has become one of the biggest sticking points in budget negotiations between Brown and his own party’s lawmakers. Facing the threat of lost pay, Democrats sent the governor a $92 billion spending plan on Friday’s constitutional deadline that relied on softer cuts to the program.

Brown has until Wednesday to sign or veto the main budget bill, while the new fiscal year begins in 10 days. Lawmakers could avoid a veto by passing a compromise budget by Tuesday or pulling back the budget they approved last week.

Enjoy your morning and Dan Walters’ Daily video: ‘Are Republicans an endangered species in California?’

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Jun 20 2012

Flap’s California Morning Collection: June 20, 2012

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Redwood National Park, California

Good Wednesday 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.

On to today’s California headlines:

Vote remains close on Prop. 29 tobacco tax ballot initiative

The vote count for the June 5 tobacco tax ballot initiative remained tight Tuesday as elections officials across California continued tallying hundreds of thousands of uncounted ballots.

The measure, Proposition 29, was losing by 17,534 votes – or four-tenths of 1% — a gap that narrowed from 63,000 on election night, according to the California secretary of state’s office.

More than 4.9 million ballots already have been counted across the state. The secretary of state’s office estimates that, as of Tuesday morning, just over 370,000 ballots across that state remained uncounted. Shortly after the primary, there were more than a million uncounted ballots statewide.

The uncounted ballots consist of many cast by mail, as well as provisional and damaged ones.

Approved state budget still not a done deal

Majority Democrats may be able to crow over producing an on-time state budget, but that’s like claiming a trophy at half-time.

Though the Legislature passed the budget Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown and leading Democrats are still immersed in private talks to close out a number of divisive issues before they can seal the final deal.

Among those: So-called “trigger” cuts that would be automatically imposed if voters in November reject tax hikes, how to potentially erase 15 days from the school calendar, a 5 percent pay cut for thousands of state workers and ways to cushion blows to the poor and disabled.

Democratic leaders say their goal is to act on about 20 bills needed to implement the budget in the coming days, perhaps as soon as Thursday. Brown, also a Democrat, is reportedly sitting on the main budget bill until he sees the other so-called “trailer” bills. Then he can take his blue pencil and make deeper cuts, if necessary.

Brown has until June 27 to make up his mind on the budget and line-item spending vetoes.

Same-day voter registration bill moves forward in Legislature

Election seasons come and go, and with them public attention to the political process waxes and wanes.

“The really heartbreaking fact of the matter is that a lot of the excitement kicks in about two weeks before Election Day. But by then it’s too late, and a lot of people are left sitting on the sidelines,” said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. “If we can engage people when they’re excited, we have an opportunity to create a lifelong voter.”

The Legislature on Tuesday moved closer toward embracing one way to help Californians seize that moment by allowing voter registration to take place through Election Day — an approach that has sparked sharp partisan divisions in the past.

On a party-line vote, with majority Democrats in support, the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee approved a bill to allow same-day voter registration as soon as a new statewide computerized database is operational. The system will let elections officials check the status of all voters statewide.

The measure — AB 1436, by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles — has been approved by the Assembly and next heads to the Senate Public Safety Committee, which must consider the bill because it would increase the maximum penalty for voter fraud.

UCLA forecast: Economy to lag 3 more years — High unemployment, slow growth impede progress

California’s long slow slog out of the Great Recession will continue for at least three more years amid tepid job growth and persistent high unemployment, according to a forecast released today.

And there is a critical component still missing in the state and national economies, said the quarterly UCLA Anderson Forecast.

“There has been no recovery,” economist Edward Leamer, the forecast director, lamented in his outlook for the nation.

The problem is that growth in both gross domestic product and jobs has been weak since the recession ended in the second quarter of 2009.

“More of the same is in the cards, although the housing market is turning around, promising there will be growth in the years ahead, even with frugal consumers and frugal governments holding things back,” Leamer said.

He points out that in each of the previous 10 recessions, GDP — the value of goods and services produced in the U.S. — returned to its previous peak within two years. This time it has taken almost four years.

He forecasts GDP growth of 2.4 percent by the end of next year, increasing to 3.4 percent by the end of 2014.

Robert Kleinhenz, chief economist at the Kyser Center for Economic Research at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., said that the state and local economies will likely play out as UCLA predicts.

Enjoy your morning and Dan Walters’ Daily video:’Two blows for open government’

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Jun 19 2012

Flap’s California Morning Collection: June 19, 2012

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Yosemite, California

Good Tuesday 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.

Vice President Joe Biden is in California today.

Vice President Joe Biden will hit California today to keynote the 40th Annual International Convention of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, in Los Angeles. AFSCME is celebrating its 75th anniversary.

Then he’ll travel north for a fundraiser at Sacramento’s Sutter Club. Tickets for the event, to raise money for the Obama Victory Fund, start at $500.

On to today’s California headlines:

California Dems resist Gov. Brown’s welfare plans

California legislators may have passed a budget, but Democratic leaders and Gov. Jerry Brown are fighting to a standoff over his proposal to restructure the state’s welfare program.

Brown is pressuring the Legislature for deeper cuts amid a projected $15.7 billion shortfall. Negotiations continued Monday with Democratic lawmakers resisting Brown’s proposal to reduce welfare spending, one of many issues still to be resolved before the state’s spending plan can be implemented.

Brown, a Democrat, wants to emphasize getting people back to work, while reducing aid for parents who aren’t meeting requirements under CalWORKS, the state’s welfare-to-work program. The governor’s office says his plan would save $880 million.

But Democrats say it’s foolish to pay for job training when there aren’t enough jobs to go around. They would rather preserve cash grants.

“It is inefficient and, quite frankly, foolish, to invest in training for jobs that don’t exist,” Assembly Speaker John Perez said last week before passing the initial budget plan.

Democrats want to extend existing cuts on county work training and child care assistance programs, but the move would save $428 million—less than half of Brown’s proposal.

Their differences on welfare remain a major sticking point as Democratic leaders seek the governor’s approval this week on bills that must be resolved before the budget can take effect.

Need a shoe shine? Assemblyman Das Williams will do it

In need of a shoe shine?

Assemblyman Das Williams is at your service.

The Santa Barbara Democrat is inviting his donors to get their footwear polished and fixed at Russo’s Shoe Repair across from the state Capitol tomorrow.

“They’re just one of those places that, I bring them a pair of shoes that looks like it’s on death’s door and they make ’em look magical,” said Williams, who is even offering to shine some himself.

An invitation touts the 5 p.m. fundraiser as a birthday celebration, but this party favor doesn’t come cheap.

Tickets to the event, which benefits Williams’ re-election bid, start at $1,000, though he says he’s letting invitees come for less.

Das Williams Shoe Shine Event

California schools facing shorter year

Sydney Walker is scared. She is worried her children, who attend San Juan Unified schools, won’t be prepared for college or classes next year if state lawmakers allow school districts to cut the school year by as many as 15 days.

That could shorten the school year to 160 days – tying California with Colorado for the shortest school year, and well below the national norm of 180 days.

Walker says she knows families who would have trouble finding child care if districts cut school days.

That’s what lawmakers are counting on, according to many education experts.

They say Gov. Jerry Brown, who proposed the shortened school year, and Democratic legislators are using the issue to get California residents to vote for a tax initiative in November.

Will the state budget wrap this week?

Only in Sacramento could lawmakers meet the deadline for passing a budget and still not have a spending plan.

Yet that’s where we are today after Democrats in the Legislature approved a $92 billion budget on Friday (to ensure they kept getting paid), but failed to take up the budget trailer bills necessary to actually implement the spending plan pending more negotiations with Gov. Jerry Brown.

The sticking point is CalWORKs, the state’s welfare-to-work program. The governor wants more cuts. The Democrats in the Legislature don’t.

Brown has until June 27 to sign or veto the budget plan approved by the Legislature. That gives the governor and Legislature nine days to cut a deal, or else lawmakers will have to approve a new budget package. The state’s new fiscal year starts July 1.

Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he hopes to have it all wrapped up this week.

“It is certainly my goal — and I’m just, you know, one spoke on the wheel here — to get this wrapped up within several days,” he said. “That’s what I’m hopeful for. That’s what we’ll work towards and, you know, I’m relatively confident that we’ll be able to do so.”

Steinberg added: “We’re very close. We’re only a couple hundred million dollars apart. And when you consider past budgets and the gulf that existed in those negotiations long into July and August and September, this is different and I think it is better.”

Enjoy your morning and Dan Walters’ Daily video: ‘There’s a lot of waiting going on…’

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