November 2009

Cyber Monday Subsidized by California Taxpayers

By Jack Kaplan

Just a reminder while all of the news shows are reporting wall to wall coverage of "Cyber Monday", that this might be a good time to insert a headline into the news shows and in the print media, that On-Line Businesses like powerhouses, such as Amazon, and others, are able to offer such great bargains because they are spared of paying California's 10% sales taxes, and the requirement to collect and report those taxes, while our local merchants are stiffed by the California legislature, and made to charge and collect those taxes, thereby putting those local merchants on an uneven and non-competitive playing field. And eventually destroying our community of local stores.

Californians Could Save Billions With Transit Friendly Communities

By Traci Sheehan

Planning and Conservation League

A new study by Oakland-based non-profit TransForm, shows that California residents living in transit-friendly communities, with good access to jobs and shopping sites, spend considerably less on transportation than those in other parts of the state. Those personal cost savings were complemented by local government savings on infrastructure, increased sales tax revenue, and substantially lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Restore the Delta Calls Out Phony Astroturf Group

By Barbara Barrigan-Parilla
Restore the Delta

Restore the Delta (RTD) has called on "Friends of the Delta" a disingenuous Astroturf group (an organization without any real members) based out of a public relations firm in Newport Beach, CA to stop using Restore the Delta materials in information packets it distributes. 
Residents and advocates of the Delta region have a right to know when they're being hoodwinked. The use of RTD material to further a cause that is completely counter to our mission is repugnant and must stop now. With 'Friends of the Delta' like these, who needs enemies?

Noteworthy Website: PrivacyRights.Org

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC), a leading authority on personal privacy issues, recently launched a totally redesigned website:

Established in 1992, the San Diego based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse is a nonprofit consumer organization with a two-part mission -- consumer information and consumer advocacy.

Privacy Challenges and Implications of an Electric "Smart Grid" System

By Zack Kaldveer
Communications Director, Consumer Federation of California
and author of the blog Privacy Revolt

A critically important debate has emerged regarding the privacy implications and challenges that a transition to a smart grid system for electricity poses and how such concerns can be addressed.

Holidays a Celebration of Common Values

By Assemblyman Steven Bradford

Hello, this is Assemblymember Steven Bradford, representing the 51st Assembly District.
With the leaves on the ground and the air becoming brisk, we are reminded that the holiday season is upon us.
Though this time of year takes on many different meanings for Californians, there are some universal themes that present themselves to all of us.
The holidays not only remind us to be thankful for what we have, but to remember those that are less fortunate, especially in the midst of our nation’s greatest recession.
In Sacramento, the recession brought a sharp decline in revenues, but we were able to save some semblance of a safety net for the most vulnerable Californians.
As the newest member of the Assembly, I am looking forward to future opportunities to help all Californians take part in the economic recovery.

I Guess They Don't Actually Want A 2/3 Majority

By Robert Cruickshank

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, back in July:

"The 2/3 requirement that we have in this state. I know it's a tired old saw. But when you really think about, that is the cause of so much of the dysfunction in the legislature. you have a minority party that obviously worked in tandem with the governor that cost the state 6-7 billion dollars tonight for no good reason. To somehow improve your negotiating position.

It is without question the most irresponsible act that I have seen in my 15 years of public service...I hope that the significance will truly capture enough attention that the people will decide it is time to change the system that allows the minority to essentially rule the day. That's not just the Senate Republicans, it was the Governor too, who was apparently out to prove a point. And he proved a point."

Is Lieberman Arguing Against Big Bird?

By Anthony Wright
Health Access California

Senator Joe Lieberman's latest argument against the public health insurance option struck me strange:

"This is a radical departure from the way we've responded to the market in America in the past," Lieberman said Sunday on NBC's "Meet The Press." "We rely first on competition in our market economy. When the competition fails, then what do we do? We regulate or we litigate...We have never before said, in a given business, we don't trust the companies in it, so we're going to have the government go into that business."

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post thought that was a wierd comment, too:

"What does he think Social Security is? Or Medicare? Or public fire departments?"

Food Stamp Program Helps 2.9 Million Californians Avert Hunger

By Scott Graves
California Budget Project

With Thanksgiving upon us, it seems fitting to give thanks for a key component of the nation’s safety net for low-income families – the Food Stamp Program. More and more Californians with incomes below or near the poverty line turned to the program to help put nutritious food on their tables as the recession deepened and job losses mounted over the past two years.

The number of Californians receiving food stamp benefits reached nearly 2.9 million in August 2009, an increase of more than 814,500 (39.4 percent) from the August 2007 level of nearly 2.1 million. By comparison, the number of Californians receiving food stamp benefits during the prior two-year period – August 2005 to August 2007 – increased by just 3.1 percent.

See the graph here.

Coming to a Voting Booth Near You...

By Pete Schrag
California Progress Report Columnist

Unless the weak array of other candidates sucks Dianne Feinstein into the race for governor – you can take that verb in several ways, all descriptive – the most important decision for voters next year may not be the Tweedle-dee vs. Tweedle-dum run for governor.

It could be the contest over one or several of the 76 initiatives – yes 76 -- that may appear on the same ballot. Some are promising. Some are awful. Some are initiatives voters have rejected before, in some cases not long ago, that seem to be designed largely to harass and force opponents to spend resources they could otherwise spend in other ways.

Feinstein told Channel 5 in San Francisco earlier this month that her decision on the governor’s race will depend on “what precise programs are put forward by various candidates to handle what is a very serious structural budget deficit in this state…It's of major consequence and California is in considerable distress, and there have to be reforms."

Reform Sacramento’s Private Contracting Process Now

By Willie Pelote Sr.

The recent revelation that private contractors have bilked California taxpayers out of billions by performing shoddy and unsuccessful computer upgrades for state agencies since at least 1994 provides further proof that Sacramento’s outsourcing of public services and resources needs to end.

According to the Los Angeles Times, technology consultants have repeatedly taken advantage of the state’s lack of computer know-how by promising quick fixes for low prices on projects that routinely turn out to be more complicated and expensive.

This combined with the state’s inability to order its computer systems costs California valuable revenue by making it difficult for the state to manage its money, say state finance officials.

California Can’t Help Itself

By Dave Dayen  N92Q76H4DFBT

Indulge me for a minute while I talk California state politics. I swear there’s a lesson for everyone…

John Garamendi, the state’s Lieutenant Governor, won election to Congress earlier this month. Arnold Schwarzenegger has the opportunity to appoint a replacement, who must then be confirmed by the Senate. He named that replacement last night on the Jay Leno Show (I’m sure announcing a Constitutional officer in state politics did wonders for Jay’s ratings): a guy named Abel Maldonado.

Ranking Maldonado – A Review of Scorecards

From Staff Reports

Announcing his pick for Lieutenant Governor on the Jay Leno show last night, Governor Schwarzenegger said this about Senator Abel Maldonado “He’s a terrific, loyal man that has worked very hard in public service. But he’s also into bipartisanship and post partisanship, so he can cross the aisle. He makes decisions based on what’s best for the people rather than what’s best for the party.”

A review of legislative scorecards prepared by organizations across the ideological spectrum shows that Senator Maldonado gravitates somewhat closer to the center than most of his Republican colleagues.  These scorecards rank lawmakers on votes cast for or against the organization’s position on a range of bills in the organization’s issue areas. (In several cases 2009 scorecards are not yet available so we looked at 2008 scorecard).

Fast Tracking My Bill to Increase Higher Education Funding

By Assemblymember Alberto Torrico

While California is preparing to go into special session next month to consider legislation to help it receive millions in federal Race to the Top Kindergarten-12 education funds, I'm asking the state to also fast track my bill to provide the community colleges and public universities with more than $1.3 billion.

As we have witnessed from the thousands of students, faculty and staff who marched and protested last week, higher education funding is an urgent matter that demands our action. The Race to the Top will lead to a dead end if we deny California’s high school graduates a chance to pursue a higher education in our own state universities and community colleges.

California's New Deal

By Robert Cruickshank

California never had a New Deal. While California voted for FDR in 1932 (and for each of his three reelection bids), state politics were dominated by right-wing factions in both the Republican and Democratic parties for much of the era. In 1934, when Upton Sinclair won the Democratic nomination on a socialist platform called End Poverty In California, or EPIC, he was unable to overcome a sophisticated campaign machine built by conservative Republican Frank Merriam, which included political ads created by movie studios and shown in cinemas statewide before the election. (A centrist Democrat, Raymond Haight, also ran in the 3-way contest, costing Sinclair anti-conservative votes.)

Compassion? Only Some Of The Time.

By Steve Mehlman, UDW Homecare Providers Union

In case you missed it, link here to read the heartwarming story of Sara Granda, who was paralyzed from the neck down in an auto accident in 1997, but has gone on to get three college degrees and has just passed the State Bar Exam.

Gov. Schwarzenegger should be commended for going to bat for Sara so she could take the bar exam.

But down in San Diego, it’s a different story for Michael, who’s also a quadriplegic.  Michael recently received a phone message from a fraud investigator from the Department of Health Care Services. He was told that if he didn’t contact the investigator immediately, he would lose his IHSS home care services. He complied. In a subsequent meeting, the investigator said he had no idea why someone like Michael would be targeted for a fraud investigation.

Protests Oppose Tuition Hikes, Layoffs, Furloughs

By University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) CWA 

Thousands of students, staff and faculty across the state demonstrated their opposition to tuition increases, layoffs and furloughs last week, beginning on Wednesday as the UCLA Regents’ meeting got underway.

At UCLA, demonstrators converged on Covel Commons for the November Regents’ meeting, but UC officials locked most out of the room where the meeting was being held. Fourteen protesters were arrested the first day of the meeting after they stood up and refused to leave, singing the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.” 

Spoiled: California Food Safety Legislation Dies On The Vine

By Jill Replogle
Protect Consumer Justice

Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez started the year with high hopes that he could transform California’s system of ensuring food safety .

The issue had drawn national attention. “Omnivore’s Dilemma” was atop the best seller lists, while authorities announced they had detected salmonella in hundreds of tainted peanut butter, paste and other products produced by Peanut Corporation of America, prompting a massive recall and a bankruptcy.

Water Water Everywhere Two: What the Heck Is A Delta?

By Sheila Kuehl
(2nd of 4 essays on the 5 separate pieces of water legislation recently passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor).

What Is The Delta and Why Is It Important?
If you roll out your big map of the rivers, watersheds and estuaries of California (what? you don't have one?), you will see that most of the water originating north of Sacramento and the Bay Area flows into and through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  The official boundaries of the Delta run from Sacramento in the north, to Tracy in the south, and from Hwy 5 on the east, halfway into Contra Costa County in the west.  More than half of California's snow and rainfall drains into the Delta, mostly through the Sacramento River, and the runoff navigates over a thousand miles of sloughs feeding habitat and agriculture.

No Free Lunch

by Scott Graves
California Budget Project

Bond measures often succeed at the polls, and it’s easy to see why. They require only a simple majority vote; generally – but not always – pay for infrastructure, such as schools and highways; and appear to be “free money” since voters aren’t asked to raise taxes in order to repay the bondholders.

In reality, there’s no free lunch. Debt service (principal plus interest on bonds) becomes a new General Fund obligation paid out of the same limited revenues that also fund services that enhance the quality of life for all Californians – everything from K-12 and higher education to in-home care for low-income seniors and people with disabilities.

A recent report by State Treasurer Bill Lockyer shines a spotlight on this issue. The report shows that debt service on voter-approved bonds (including those that are projected to be approved and sold over the next two decades) will consume a rising share of the state budget.