Tag: Tobacco

The California Flap: January 22, 2013

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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 is here.

Some important deadlines to remember:

  • January 25, 2013: Deadline to send bill ideas to the California Legislative Counsel for drafting.
  • February 22, 2013: Deadline to introduce bills.

Each member of the Assembly and State Senate are allowed to introduce up to 40 bills in this two year legislative session.

On to the morning’s California headlines:

  • California engineers question high-speed rail oversight – As California prepares to embark on its largest public works project in decades, a union that represents state engineers is questioning whether all the construction work will be thoroughly scrutinized.Contractors submitted bids this week to design and build the first 30-mile stretch of track for the $68 billion high-speed rail system, which eventually is designed to link Northern and Southern California by trains traveling up to 220 mph. The contract they sign is expected to be for up to $1.8 billion to build the initial segment in the Central Valley.The documents outlining the requirements for the bids say the independent contractor that would design and build the first phase of the project would hire the inspectors charged with testing the work on that segment, running from Madera to Fresno. The inspections would then be submitted to the California High-Speed Rail Authority.Critics, including lawmakers and a state engineers union, say the arrangement could present a conflict…
  • CalPERS nears a record $260 billion in assets – The California Public Employees’ Retirement System is poised to top a record $260 billion in assets, the market value it held before the global financial crisis wiped out more than a third of its wealth.The largest U.S. public pension, with half of its money in publicly traded equities, was worth $253.2 billion on Thursday, or about 97% of the pre-recession high set in October 2007. The fund returned 13% in 2012, about the same gain as the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index.”A lot of the improvements in portfolio returns is simply reflective of the return of the market,” Chief Investment Officer Joe Dear said. “But there is still an important lesson there, which is that when the crisis was full on, we didn’t drastically reduce our equity exposure.”
  • Tobacco tax hike eyed for 2014 state ballot – Get ready for another round of tobacco tax wars, California initiative style.And count three big reasons for a do-over of the electoral skirmish in 2014: the relatively low level of the existing tax, the narrow margin of the vote in 2012, and the fact that it may now be a fight not over bureaucracy and research but rather college tuition.”I think the right measure, going to the right revenue source is going to be the magic combination,” says Democratic strategist Jason Kinney. “And that’s why I think so many people are looking at it.”
  • Jerry Brown’s budget is a boon to California’s unions – Gov. Jerry Brown continues to pose as an iconoclast who is willing to make the tough choices necessary to keep California afloat, but the budget he released recently is more evidence that he remains the cat’s paw for the state’s public-sector unions.“I want to advance the progressive agenda,” Brown said at the press conference unveiling his supposedly balanced budget, “but consistent with the amount of money people made available … I respect and embrace my role of saying ‘no.’”But he certainly has said yes to union demands. The budget is the culmination of Brown’s campaign to convince Californians to raise taxes on themselves. They complied by approving Proposition 30 to help the school kids, yet Brown has played games with that money — earmarking some of it for union pay hikes as a payback for all that help during the Nov. 6 campaign, according to GOP leaders.
  • California death penalty: Will state follow Arizona, which has resumed executions after a long hiatus? – When Arizona prison officials injected condemned rapist and murderer Richard Stokley with a single, fatal drug dose last month, it marked the state’s sixth execution of the year in the nation’s second busiest death chamber.Now that California voters in November narrowly preserved the death penalty, Arizona’s path could foreshadow the future for this state, where not a single one of the 729 death row inmates have marched to execution in seven years.As in California, interminable legal tangles once shut down Arizona’s death penalty system as the state executed only one inmate, who volunteered to die, from 2001 to 2010. But Arizona emerged from numerous court battles that removed all of the legal roadblocks that remain in California.The result has been 11 executions since October 2010, nearly the number California has carried out since it restored the death penalty in 1978. Significantly, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, often the last word for death penalty appeals in the …
  • Plenty of green carpool stickers remain available in California – Green stickers for plug-in hybrids: 9,022. Limit: 40,000. Expire: Jan. 1, 2015 White stickers for electric vehicles and those running on alternative fuels: 21,770. Limit: None. Expire: Jan. 1, 2015. Yellow stickers for hybrids: 85,000. Ended July 1, 2011.
  • Brown seeks to reshape California’s community colleges – With a slate of bold and controversial budget proposals, Gov. Jerry Brown has placed a renewed focus on the state’s struggling community colleges, the world’s largest system of two-year schools that are often overshadowed by the University of California and Cal State systems.The governor’s recommendations are aimed at keeping community colleges affordable, keeping classes accessible and moving students faster through the system to allow them to graduate or transfer to a four-year university at higher rates. Brown’s spending plan must clear the Legislature, and some college officials have vowed to oppose — or at least try to modify — some portions.
  • Medicare Pricing Delay is Political Win for Amgen, Drug Maker – Just two weeks after pleading guilty in a major federal fraud case, Amgen, the world’s largest biotechnology firm, scored a largely unnoticed coup on Capitol Hill: Lawmakers inserted a paragraph into the “fiscal cliff” bill that did not mention the company by name but strongly favored one of its drugs.The language buried in Section 632 of the law delays a set of Medicare price restraints on a class of drugs that includes Sensipar, a lucrative Amgen pill used by kidney dialysis patients.The provision gives Amgen an additional two years to sell Sensipar without government controls. The news was so welcome that the company’s chief executive quickly relayed it to investment analysts. But it is projected to cost Medicare up to $500 million over that period.
  • Dan Walters: Public debts cloud future for California cities – The tendency among local officials – much like their brethren in the state Capitol – is to make financial commitments with little thought to long-term consequences.That’s how our governments dug themselves into deep budget holes – spending revenue windfalls on new services, giving employees big pension and health care benefits retroactively, and borrowing for grandiose projects without economic viability.Three of California’s cities rode that path into bankruptcy. While one, Vallejo, has emerged, two others, Stockton and San Bernardino, are still ruminating over which creditors will take haircuts.Stockton’s situation is especially egregious because it committed all of those fiscal sins. Its biggest debt is money it borrowed to pay its pension obligations, a double whammy.

    In fact, most public debt in California is in the form of pension promises whose dimensions depend on assumptions of pension fund earnings.

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Flap’s California Morning Collection: May 24, 2012

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Santa Monica, California

Good Thursday 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:

Approval of Gov. Jerry Brown slips in public opinion poll

The honeymoon is ending for Gov. Jerry Brown.

For the first time in a major California poll since Brown took office, a plurality of likely voters disapproves of the job he is doing, according to a Public Policy Institute of California poll released Wednesday.

The margin is pencil-thin – 43 percent disapprove while 42 percent approve – but follows more than a year of relatively favorable marks for the Democratic governor. In April, Brown’s job approval rating among likely voters was 47 percent.

Brown’s dip in public opinion was registered in the days immediately after his announcement last week that California’s budget deficit had grown to $15.7 billion, up from $9.2 billion in January.

Prop 29 support plummets, new poll finds

If anyone ever tells you that money doesn’t matter in California politics, show them the results of the new statewide poll on voter support for Proposition 29.

The initiative — which would add an additional $1 tax per pack of cigarettes and use the money for cancer research — is still ahead in the new poll… but not by much.

The poll from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California finds that 53 percent of those surveyed now say they’ll vote for Prop 29.  Which sounds good, until you consider that in March 67 percent supported the measure.

Meantime, opposition has gone up from 30 percent in March to 42 percent now.

Put it all together and Prop 29 — which was winning by a whopping 37 points two months ago — is now only ahead by 11 points.

The big change since March: the anti Prop 29 bonanza of television ads.  Tobacco companies ponied up some $40 million to kill the initiative, which gives them about a 7-1 advantage in campaign cash over Prop 29 supporters like the American Cancer Society and cyclist Lance Armstrong.

Special-interest spending floods Cailfornia races in new political landscape

As federal super PACs continue to pour money into the presidential and congressional contests, state-level independent committees are spending big to influence the outcome in California’s legislative races.

Independent expenditure committees, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts, are active in more than a third of state races on the June 5 ballot, spending more than $7 million to support and oppose candidates.

The spending, which will grow as groups ramp up mail pieces, radio and television ads and in-person appeals by paid staff in the final days of the primary campaign, is expected to easily exceed the more than $7.4 million in independent spending the Fair Political Practices Commission tracked in the 2010 legislative primary contests.

While a U.S. Supreme Court decision opened the door to unlimited special-interest spending in federal races in 2010, the use of independent committees became the norm in California state elections a decade earlier.

Observers say the number of competitive races this year, a product of redistricting, a new primary process and turnover in the Legislature, is driving numbers up.

LAUSD will pay $200,000 settlement over alleged sexual harassment by former Superintendent Ramon Cortines

Los Angeles Unified will pay $200,000 and give lifetime health benefits to settle a sexual-harassment allegation filed by a facilities executive against retired Superintendent Ramon Cortines, officials said Wednesday.

Scot Graham, who has worked in the Facilities Division for 12 years and is now director of leasing and asset management, claims that Cortines made unwanted sexual advances during a weekend spent at the superintendent’s second home in Kern County in July 2010.

Graham’s attorneys notified the district in March – nearly a year after Cortines retired – that he intended to file a sexual-harassment claim.

Hoping to avoid potentially expensive litigation, the school board met three times in executive session before voting 4-3 on Tuesday to approve the deal.

The settlement gives Graham $200,000 cash, plus lifetime health benefits that officials valued at roughly $250,000. In exchange, the 56-year-old Graham agreed to retire from his $150,000-a-year job on May 31.

Enjoy your morning and Dan Walters’ Daily video: Will independents thrive on June 5?

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Yes on Prop 29 Goes After Dr. La Donna Porter

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No on Prop 29 spokesperson Dr. La Donna Porter

The Yes on California Proposition 29 are now making the doctor appearing in ads opposing the proposition an issue.

She’s the family physician in the doctor’s smock turning up in California’s living rooms on TV spots, declaring the tobacco tax measure on the June ballot a menace.

But now Dr. La Donna Porter is coming under fire from tobacco-control groups and other doctors who are convinced the tobacco doctor — a registered Republican who once campaigned on behalf of a toxic chemical — is in it for the money and is being paid by tobacco companies. Public records show that she’s struggling to save her home from foreclosure and lift herself financially from two personal bankruptcies.

But in an exclusive interview with this newspaper, Porter’s husband defiantly defended her, denying that his wife has been paid for her work against Proposition 29.

“We don’t know anybody in the tobacco industry,” said John Porter from the couple’s home in Wilton, 25 miles from Sacramento. “They haven’t offered any money. And I’ve been with her every step of the way.”

Porter said he was “disgusted” with what he calls a “character assassination” against his wife.

The proponents for the smoking tax, California Proposition 29 have made a misstep here. The physician in the ads is not really an issue, the way the smoking tax money is spent IS.

Here is the video of the ad:

Even if Dr. Porter had received compensation for her participation in the ads, so what? Physicians and dentists are paid all of the time for professional opinions and testimonials.

As long as they are disclosed any payments to Dr. Porter are irrelevant.

Remember folks this is a political ad.

If anything, this attack on the good doctor while mentioning her financial difficulties will elicit sympathy for her position. I wonder who the consultant for the Yes on 29 campaign is?

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Flap’s California Morning Collection: April 23, 2012

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Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad

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?

“None.”

“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.

Enjoy your morning and here is Dan Walters discussing California unemployment numbers:

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CA-Prop 29: Big Tobacco Comes in BIG to Defeat June Anti-Smoking Proposition

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No surprise here. The Big Tobacco companies are protecting their customer base.

If there was any uncertainty whether Big Tobacco — the nation’s leading makers of cigarettes — would let this June’s statewide campaign for a tax hike slip by without an all out war… the question was answered quite definitively late Thursday.

That’s when the campaign to defeat Proposition 29 reported almost $9 million in new contributions from the parent company of Philip Morris, USA and R.J. Reynolds.  Add that to the companies’ contribution earlier this year of $12 million, and the effort to kill a new $1-per pack tax on cigarettes is now sitting on a war chest of close to $21 million.

Prop 29, if passed by the voters two months from now, would earmark all of the new tax proceeds for cancer research.

There never was any doubt that the tobacoo companies would spend what it takes to defeat this measure. It is profit protection.

But, remains un-answered to me as how they will spin their campaign on television?

Without a doubt, the supporters of Proposition 29 will have a hard time matching the advertising budget.

However, the chances of passing this measure appear to be very good – at least until the television spots start appearing.

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