Archive for 2009

Why Are These Men Smiling?

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

gavin and tony (lat)When Calbuzz came across this photo of San Francisco Mayor Gavin speaking Sunday at the LA Gay Pride festival, with LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa standing by wearing a silly smile, we swiftly kicked into full Kremlinology Mode — determined to divine the intrigue and machinations that led a beaming Prince Gavin to the podium of a political event in the middle of Tony V’s turf.

After all, the Boy Prince is a candidate for governor and, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, Antonio Alcalde, is said by associates to still be considering a run for the big office. So what’s the scoop behind this unusual joint appearance, we mused. Who pushed whom forward, aside, around the bend? Who squeezed, squished and squashed his way into the shot? How did Mr. San Francisco come to hold that microphone on a warm West Hollywood afternoon? Inquiring Machiavellians wanted to know.

Calbuzz set out to do what in the trade is known as “actual reporting,” and rang up Rodney Scott, president of Christopher Street West, who organized the Gay Pride weekend, and urged him to dish, dish. Alas, he not only had no dirt, he also insisted that a) Gavin had been invited a year ago; b) no one tried to muscle anyone; c) the three mayors (West Hollywood’s Abbe Land was there too, as hometown host) cooperated brilliantly and; d) the whole deal was pure kumbaya.

“They put their competitive thing aside and showed up for the LGBT community,” Scott said. “They were amazing.”

Aw, man…

OK, so no scoop, but still the joint appearance left us wondering who benefitted most from the event? Does Newsom, the guy who unilaterally legalized gay marriage in his city even before it was legal and then illegal again, have the gay vote locked up? Or does the Hometown Hizzoner get dibs because of his early adaptor support of the movement?

That’s easy: Score one for Gavin for copping a media freebie in the LA market where he made nice before some 400,000 attendees of the Gay Pride weekend. Sure, Tony V looks gracious –- and gays know he’s an ally — but compared to Gavin, on this issue, he’s an echo, not a choice.

As for the broader question of where the gay vote goes in the Democratic primary, there are two schools of thought:

Camp A says there is no monolithic gay vote. Older gays and lesbians may well gravitate toward Attorney General Jerry Brown, who also has a long history of supporting gay and lesbian causes, and is, like Villaraigosa, a longtime supporter of gay marriage (not to mention having the AG’s office oppose Prop 8 in court).  Everyone’s going to have to compete for gay votes in the Democratic primary.

Camp B agrees with all of the arguments from Camp A, but adds this: Newsom still gets two-thirds of the gay vote just because he’s an international rock star on this issue.

Calbuzz thinks the jury’s out. Gay Democratic voters tend to include a disproportionate share of upper-income, college-educated citizens, many of who are strategic voters. In other words, beyond following political passions in June, they make electability decisions about which candidate to support against a Republican in November.

If Newsom’s primary campaign is in good shape and he looks strong against a Republican, he’ll grab a huge portion of gay voters. But if his bid isn’t all that solid or if he looks weak against a Republican (some obsessively mull his Mr. Know-It-All “whether they like it or not” outburst — we are not among them), then gay voters will be happy to give other Democrats a fair hearing.

In the meantime, Calbuzz, as all who know us understand, takes a backseat to no one in our fervent desire for civility, comity and courtesy in politics; so we’re just pleased as punch to see Tony and Gavey playing so nicely. Harrumph.

– By Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine

Stop The Presses: Jerry “Serious” About Gov Bid

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

jerryTo the surprise of no one, Attorney General Jerry Brown has sent out a fundraising pitch on behalf of his undeclared campaign for governor, seeking to “build a large base of supporters from every part of the state and even beyond.”

Brown has not exactly been coy about his ambition to become both the oldest and the youngest person ever elected California’s chief executive, but his new solicitation puts front and center the concern that he might have to face off against a Richie Rich Republican like Meg Whitman or Steve Poizner.

Says General Jerry:

“…when I see the mess in Sacramento and think about all the people who are suffering as a result, I think seriously about running for governor again…

“But before I make a final decision, I would like to know if it’s possible to build a large base of supporters from every part of the state and even beyond. Two of the Republican candidates for governor are talking about spending their own wealth on hundred million dollar plus campaigns. To counter this private assault on our democracy, people will have to join together in a grassroots effort by the thousands and then by the tens of thousands. We need to fight back to overcome what will literally be a hostile takeover of the airwaves during the next governor’s campaign.”

If all this assault on our democracy talk rings a bell, let us recall that it was the onetime Winter Soldier  himself who practically invented the art of small donor fundraising (with the help of visionary consultant Joe Trippi) that was later perfected by Obama.

Running for president in1992, he famously used the then-cutting edge technology of an 800-number both to raise money and to emphasize that he wouldn’t accept contributions larger than $100, which just happens to be the maximum amount he’s still asking for.  Carla Marinucci has the complete text posted on her blog.

– By Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine

Why New Women’s Commission Is Needed

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

Susan_RoseBy Susan Rose
Special to Calbuzz

Amid the cacophony of the budget debate in Sacramento, the Legislative Analyst’s Office has quietly recommended that California’s 44-year old Commission on the Status of Women be eliminated. The proposal reflects a broad trend across the nation, as longstanding state and local commissions focused on women’s issues are being terminated or consolidated.

At a time when the governor and legislature are poised to cut and cripple other programs that support working and poor women and their families, there is more need than ever for the kind of publicly-funded advocacy long provided by the commission.jackie-speier

To help ensure those women’s issues will continue to be represented in the policy-making process across the nation, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, has introduced legislation to create a national commission on women.

The facts are clear that women still suffer discrimination in many arenas:  We are underrepresented in elective office (only 17 percent of members of Congress are women); earn 77 cents on the dollar compared to men; and represent at least 85 percent of the victims of domestic violence.

In California, 68 percent of minimum wage workers are women. Nearly 37 percent of families headed by single women in California live in poverty and many working women have no health insurance. Women of color suffer all these inequities in greater numbers.

In response to these conditions, Speier has proposed a Presidential Commission on Women (PCW) similar to the one established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, which operated only two years.

In 1963, the Kennedy Presidential Commission issued a report of the status of American women, which resulted in the creation of state and local women’s commissions throughout the country. In the 1970’s, the National Association of Commissions for Women (NACW) was formed to provide support for this network.

Speier’s legislation is intended to expand that early effort in dealing with the broad range of issues still affecting women. It would become a permanent federal body aimed at both reducing discrimination that occurs and advancing the rights of women and girls in areas where social and economic inequalities exist.

The commission created by Speier’s legislation would have a much broader mandate that the Council for Women and Girls, created shortly after President Obama’s election. That group’s mission, while laudable, is limited to reviewing Cabinet level agency federal programs that impact women and their families.

The new, 15-member commission would conduct research, take testimony and make reports and recommendations to the President, Congress and federal agencies. Most importantly, the Commission would have a staff and a budget of $2 million a year to support its work.

The legislation has generated support across the country. A grassroots campaign by WomenCount, a San Francisco-based group that backed Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign, has collected endorsements from 88 organizations which are diverse in membership, purpose and geographical location.

Despite its broad-based support, Speier’s legislation has caused debate, and some opposition, in feminist circles. Critics have suggested that rather than creating a new commission, federal support should go directly to the National Association of Commissions for Women.

In the past, NACW was very active. During my six years as Executive Director of the LA City Commission on the Status of Women (1985-1991), the association produced publications and convened annual national conferences that drew women from across the U.S. to share ideas and programs.

Today, however, there are far fewer local and state commissions, with far fewer resources. NACW itself has no staff and many of its member commissions have or are being defunded. Most recently, the City of Los Angeles consolidated its 34 year-old commission with two other agencies, leaving only one staff member for its women’s program.

These commissions are the only institutionalized form of advocacy for women within government, and would be revitalized by working in partnership with a national organization. A Presidential Commission, as proposed in Speier’s legislation, represents the best chance to strengthen the focus on women’s issues, to revive the movement and to rebuild NACW.

Through passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the creation of its new council, the Obama administration has already made a difference for women. But eight years from now, that council may be history; passage of Speier’s legislation would ensure that the Presidential Commission on Women will still exist, and still be pushing to advance women’ issues.

A new Presidential Commission on Women presents opportunity for progress despite the difficult economic times. Now is the time for women to come together, to collaborate and use every possible avenue to maintain advances and gain greater equality in the coming years.

Susan Rose, former Executive Director of the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women, served eight years on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and is a board member of California Women Lead, a group working to help women achieve elected and appointed office.

The Budget News That Really Matters

Monday, June 15th, 2009

tax-calculatorThis week’s coverage of the budget mess will surely focus on the wars of words and heavy breathing arising from Sacramento committee hearings and press conferences – but the most far-reaching California political news will unfold at UCLA’s De Neve Plaza.

That’s where the Commission on the 21st Century Economy will convene at 9 a.m. Tuesday to hear expert testimony about the “business net receipts tax,” a wonky notion that’s about to bust out of weed-whacking obscurity to take center stage in the most important political debate of 2009.


The commission – popularly known as the “Parsky Commission” after its chairman and Arnold go-to-GOP-guy Gerald Parsky – is a few weeks away from sending the governor its recommendations for retooling California’s clunky tax system. The tax structure is a vestige of Industrial Era policy-making that, as much as any single part of Sacramento’s broken governance system, is responsible for the endless and tiresome Hatfield-McCoy debates over the state’s tangled and troubled finances.

In a rare, and apparently random, moment of rationality and comity, Arnold and lefty Speaker Karen Bass got together a few months ago and appointed the group to figure out how to restructure state tax policy to avoid the boom-and-bust revenue cycles that lead Capitol denizens to panhandle one year and spend like inebriated seamen the next.

While Capitol D’s and R’s engage in yet another budget food fight with all the intelligence and wit of a Lite Beer commercial – “Tastes Great!” “Less Filling!” – some possible solutions to address the state’s long-running budget woe are hiding in plain sight, as framework proposals developed by the commission.

Calbuzz sources say that what the governor wants from the group – and what it’s likely to deliver – is a package of tax changes that raise more revenue – most likely through the aforementioned business receipts tax or a broader but reduced sales tax – and simultaneously lower other tax rates – like income and capital gains.

The political play is to produce a tax reform bill so clean it can be introduced in both houses with assurances no one will be allowed to bog it down with amendments.  Democrats will be able to avoid drastic program cuts and Republicans can claim they’ve cut taxes.  The bill breezes through both houses on an up-or-down vote and bada bing it gets signed by Arnold and everybody goes to dinner.  No muss, no fuss, no partisan fingerprints.

The commission has already assembled three basic packages, with three elements common to all: a) simplifying, flattening and reducing income tax rates; b) cutting business taxes; c) transforming the sales tax into a business net receipts tax.

The third item is the key to the whole deal. The tax, which has been put into effect in Michigan, Ohio and Texas in recent years, is similar to the “value added” tax widely used in Europe and elsewhere.

Basically, the net receipts tax would be paid by every business in the state as a percentage of its gross revenue – minus the cost of goods and services that it purchases from other companies.  Although consumers would not pay the tax directly, as they do at the register with sales tax, they would pay more to purchase goods and services because businesses would roll the tax, along with other costs, into its pricing.

The state would collect the tax on a “unitary” basis, meaning companies that operate both inside and outside of California would be assessed on a portion of their total sales volumes, not just the business they do within the state. Also, the tax would be levied on all types of business – not only on goods, but also on services, like doctors, lawyers and accountants, for example.

Here is an example of how the tax would work, as described by the California Manufacturing and Technology Association:

“The standard way to implement a NRT is to say a business owes some percentage on the price of the product minus all taxes previously paid on the goods. If NRT rates were 10 percent, a computer manufacturer would pay 10 percent of the $50 per unit price ($5) minus taxes previously paid by the semiconductor, software and peripheral manufacturers (say $2). In this example, the computer manufacturer would have a $3 tax liability…

“(The tax) is different from the conventional system of sales tax, because (it) is charged at every stage of value addition – whereas sales tax is imposed on the final value of a transaction only.”

In all three packages being considered by the commission, the receipts tax is the big revenue driver, unlike the present system, with its reliance on income and sales levies:

Package 1
Uniform personal income tax
* 6% rate – no exemption amount, no deductions, no credits
* 6% rate — $5k/person exemption amount, with certain deductions
Eliminate corporation tax
Eliminate state sales tax
Business net receipts tax

Package 2
Simplified personal income tax
* Three brackets, rates of 0%, 4%, 7% — current credits and deductions
Investment tax credit
Reduce corporation tax rate to 7%
Business net receipts tax

Package 3
Simplified personal income tax
* Three brackets, rates of 0%, 4%, 7% — $5k/person exemption amount, deductions for mortgage interest, charitable, property taxes
Eliminate state sales tax on business investment purchases
Reduce corporation tax rate to 7%
Reduce sales and use tax by 1%
Business net receipts tax

There are two other wild card factors still on the table: a possible 18 cent-a-gallon “carbon tax” on gas, diesel and jet fuel and cuts in capital gains rates, of between 1 and 5 percent.

None of this is a done deal, of course.

Getting a consensus recommendation from the commission, which includes conservatives like former Reagan economic adviser Michael Boskin and liberals like Santa Cruz County Treasurer Fred Keeley is by no means guaranteed. Even if commissioners do agree, their proposal will be fly-specked by lefty groups who will dislike elements that are not progressive, and industry groups, who will push for business-friendly changes.

As a political matter, forcing an up-or-down vote on a package in the Legislature would address what-about-me objections from all quarters, in the same way as the prohibition on amendments to congressional legislation produced by the military base closure commission in the 1990s finally solved that intractable problem. (Or like a Pete Wilson-Willie Brown deal from days of yore in Sacramento.)

After all, the impending bankruptcy of state government should be sufficient to show players at every point of the political spectrum not only that sweeping change is needed, but also that everyone will have to compromise to keep California from sinking into the 9th Circle of Hell.

For you herbivores,  Carl Joseph of the Franchise Tax Board has produced a deep-in-the-weeds analysis of the business receipts tax here.

– By Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine