June 2010


Alcohol Industry Reaps Rewards While California Residents and Government Budgets Suffer

By Sarah Mart
Marin Institute

Last year, alcohol companies funneled more than $3 million dollars to key California legislative committee members, the Governor’s “Budget Reform Now” political action committee, and various lobbying efforts. Topping the list of Big Alcohol political influencers in 2009 were Anheuser-Busch InBev ($417,968), Wine Institute ($327,859), Diageo ($220,697), and MillerCoors ($190,000).

Everyone Except Politicians and Pundits Agree: Austerity Is Recklessly Insane

By Robert Cruickshank

This week we're finally seeing a consensus emerge about the negative, destructive impact of austerity. Economic observers from Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman to the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank are now in agreement that further state and local budget cuts would throw the country into a double-dip recession, and make it that much more difficult to pull ourselves out of the recession.

As California Vies for New High-Speed Rail Funding, New Report Highlights What’s in Store

Erin Steva
CALPIRG

High-speed rail is finally on the move.

For decades, America has been falling behind the rest of the world’s rail systems, but we took a big step forward when Congress allocated $8 billion towards high-speed rail in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Transportation requested state applications for $2.3 billion in high-speed rail money it will award this year. Although these funds pale in comparison to the $100 billion China will spend on high-speed rail this year alone, the funds will allow California’s system to move forward.

As California nears the construction of fast trains, the state has much to learn from experiences abroad. The CALPIRG Education Fund just released a new research report, Next Stop: California. The report examines high-speed rail lines in operation for decades in Asia and Europe, outlines the benefits California can expect, and makes policy recommendations on how the state can maximize the benefits of its investment.

As UC Stonewalls Contract Negotiations, Researchers Take their Fight for Fairness Online

By Steven Maviglio

The union representing 6,500 scientific researchers at the University of California today launched a new online information campaign highlighting the role of postdoctoral researchers (“postdocs”) in California’s economy, saying that after UC has stonewalled contract negotiations for 18 months, it is time to take their case to the public.  A barrage of online ads in major scientific, academic, and news websites shows postdocs are critical to California’s research and innovation engine.
 

Governor’s Medi-Cal Proposal Threatens People with Disabilities, Mental Health Needs, and More

By Marty Omoto

Sweeping changes to the State’s Medicaid program – called “Medi-Cal” - is the focus of two identical bills before the Assembly Health Committee (SB 208) and Senate Health Committee (AB 342). The Schwarzenegger Administration proposal submitted to the federal government earlier this month will have a major impact on hundreds of thousands of children and adults with disabilities, mental health needs, the blind, seniors, and persons without health insurance. 

The proposal submitted to federal Centers on Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) under the US Department of Health and Human Services, is known as the “Section 1115 Medicaid Waiver Demonstration Project”, and includes mandatory enrollment for hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities, mental health needs, the blind and seniors into Medi-Cal managed health care plans.

California's High School Drop Out Crisis

By Duane Campbell

California has a Secretary of Education as well as a Superintendent of Public Instruction. The Superintendent organizes the state educational programs and implements state mandates. The Secretary of Education is an advisor to the Governor. The current Secretary is Bonnie Reiss, about the 5th Secretary under Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Secretary Reiss has a letter to the editor in the Sacramento Bee of Tues. June 29, responding to an earlier column by Dan Walters about the state’s persistent high drop out rate. The letter is a classic piece of propaganda.

Students Tax Themselves to Make Campuses Greener

By Ngoc Nguyen

The student union building at the University of California in Riverside, known as the HUB, is the pride of the school. It is a popular hangout that houses eateries, stores and student organizations.

In a few years, the student union will have another distinguishing feature – solar panels towering atop its two buildings.

The solar project, which will be funded entirely by students, is a first for the campus. In April, UC Riverside students passed a fee referendum, agreeing to tax themselves $2.50 per quarter for four years, and using the proceeds in part to install solar panels to boost renewable energy on campus.

Sen. Lou Correa Kills Nation’s First Anti-‘Predatory Equity’ Bill

By Dean Preston
Tenants Together

Lou Correa, a Democratic State Senator from Orange County, has killed the nation’s first bill to stop predatory investments that displace renters from their homes. The bill, AB 2337, authored by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), sought to ban the state’s public employee pension funds from investing in “predatory equity” schemes.

The issue gained significant attention after real estate investments by CalPERS and CalSTRS in East Palo Alto and New York City resulted in the displacement of thousands of rent-controlled tenants and the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars. Senator Correa’s committee stopped the bill yesterday at the request of the California Association of Realtors. Correa has received significant campaign donation from realtor interests.

Schwarzenegger's Drive to Privatize: from Fort Ross to the MLPA

By Dan Bacher

A visit by a Russian president and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative may at first not seem to have much in common, but both represent the Governor's relentless drive to privatize the state's public trust resources.

On June 22, Schwarzenegger welcomed Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev on a historic visit to California. During Medvedev's trip, Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, head of the Renova Group of Companies, signed an agreement with Schwarzenegger to provide "substantial financial support" to keep Fort Ross State Historic Park open.

Austerity versus Safety

By Robert Cruickshank

For three years now California has embraced austerity budgets. As a result, we have record unemployment, a persistent and deep budget deficit, and have been slashing vital public services that will take years to fix, and risk the creation of much deeper social and economic problems. On those merits alone, budget cuts have been proven a failure.

But now we are seeing some of the most dangerous - literally - effects of the austerity mania. Because local governments have been hit by a double-whammy of lost tax revenues thanks to the recession, and state theft of other funds, many cities are having to make huge cuts to services. Closed libraries are bad enough. Laying off police officers is much worse.

Math is Hard

By Anthony Wright
Heath Access

Another victory! Aetna has withdrawn their proposed rate hikes averaging 19% for patients who pay premiums in the individual health insurance market. Once again, "significant mathematical errors" were found.

This started back when the double-digit rate hikes of Anthem Blue Cross of California got attention during the health reform debate. After basically rubber-stamping them as regulators have customarily done, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner then ordered an independent review of the rates, but given the very limited authority given California regulators, few thought it would make a difference. But in fact, the independent actuary found math errors and other problems, leading Anthem Blue Cross, California's biggest insurer, to withdraw the proposed rate increase.

Cut This: The Death Penalty

By James Clark

California’s governor has proposed closing the state’s $20 billion budget gap with a drastic cuts-only approach, slashing funding for vital human services without working to increase revenue. Yet one state program seems to be immune from these cuts: the death penalty. 

We think the time has come to CUT THIS.

From the Field: SD 15 Still Up for Grabs

By Eric Wooten

TWEEET!

We’re at the half, and despite an impressive number of yards gained by Team Blakeslee, this game is still tied!

That’s how a sports announcer would call the special election to replace Abel Maldonado in Senate District 15.

Yet some fans (of both teams) believe Republican Sam Blakeslee has already won, despite the campaign only being half over.  And no, despite the rumors circling Sacramento as late as Friday, there aren’t enough ballots hiding in some clerk’s office for Blakeslee to win.

Assembly Budget Chair Blumenfield: Jobs the Central Priority for Assembly Democrats in Budget

By Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield

SACRAMENTO – In this Democratic weekly address, Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield (D-San Fernando Valley), Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, highlights the continued emphasis Assembly Democrats put on saving and creating jobs as efforts to finalize a budget continue.

Click onto the following link for the English language MP3 file. The running time is 1:14.

http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/Newsline/Audio/20100625RadioAddressEngl...

Click onto the following link for the Spanish language MP3 file. The running time is 2:58.

http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/Newsline/Audio/20100625RadioAddressSpan...

Whitman’s Attack on Brown: Baloney and Blather

By Peter Schrag

Meg Whitman’s overnight conversion from immigrant-basher to Latino-lover shows that she’s just as adept at self re-invention as Jerry Brown, who became a born-again tax-cutter the night Proposition 13 passed in 1978.

Forgotten was the demand that illegal aliens be denied access to the state’s colleges and universities. Overnight came the Spanish-language commercials on Univision and other Latino outlets showing the candidate amid smiling Hispanics promising jobs. Forgotten was the cry “no driver's licenses, no sanctuary cities, and absolutely no amnesty. Period.”  The face of former Gov. Pete Wilson, which she used not long before to certify her tough-on-illegals bona-fides, vanished. 

New Bill Highlights Loopholes in Upcoming Water Bond

By Traci Sheehan
Planning and Conservation League
 
On Tuesday, the Senate Natural Resources and Water committee voted to pass AB 2775 (Huffman and Cogdill), a bill that tacitly acknowledges one of the fatal flaws of the $11.14 billion water bond that will go before voters this November. The bill strikes a provision in the water bond that would allow private companies to own the costly infrastructure, like dams, that could be funded by the bond. According to Assembly Member Huffman, the privatization provision "didn't get carefully reviewed or considered" when the bond was written.

The Civil Justice System and Holding Corporate Wrongdoers Accountable

By JG Preston
Protect Consumer Justice

Three recent opinion pieces related to the civil justice system caught our eye…

Former New York attorney general and governor Eliot Spitzer wrote on Salon about the dual roles played by the tort system and government regulation to help keep consumers safe.

The law of incentives is what links the Wall Street cataclysm and BP’s ongoing eco-disaster:  In each case, we socialized risk and privatized gain, creating an asymmetry that created an incentive for private actors to accept and create too much risk in their business model, believing that at the end of the day, somebody else would bear the burden of that risk, should it metastasize into a disaster….

Nurses Have Whitman on the Run

By Randy Shaw

Remember back in December 2004 when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger told nurses protesting staffing cuts that they were “special interests,” who “don’t like me in Sacramento because I kick their butt?” The California Nurses Association (CNA) then sued the Governor, and helped defeat all of his ballot measures in the November 2005 special election. Schwarzenegger never recovered from his battle with Rose Ann DeMoro and CNA, and now Meg Whitman has foolishly picked a fight with the nurses after demanding the union give her the home addresses and personal information of their members. No union would provide such information. Whitman’s request insulted the nurses by implying that CNA leaders were misinforming members about Whitman's views, and that nurses are easily manipulated by CNA leaders. Now nurses have taken the offensive, and have the well-heeled candidate they call “Queen Meg” on the run.

Big Day in Senate Health on Insurer Oversight

By Anthony Wright
Health Access

Wednesday was a big day in Senate Health Committee, chaired by Senator Elaine Alquist, as legislators considered a number of key bills to provide new patient protections for California consumers, and especially to implement and improve health reform.

Most of the bills were authored by the Assemblymembers, having passed the full Assembly, with the exception of SB 227 (Alquist), the bill about the "high-risk pool" that was reformulated in the context of federal health reform.

California Crossroads

By Annie Notthoff
NRDC

The fight to protect California’s environment entered a new round yesterday when Secretary of State Deborah Bowen announced that the backers of the initiative to repeal our landmark law to combat global warming, AB 32, had qualified their dirty energy proposition for the November ballot. And we, along with a big coalition are ready to fight and defeat their sneaky initiative. 

Yesterday in San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom and local environmental leaders lambasted this deceptive initiative that would roll back AB 32 which has put California on the cutting edge of the 21 Century’s emerging green economy, clean tech research, and the development of carbon-neutral fuel sources.