California Reform Movement 2010: R.I.P.

Feb24

Calbuzz is way overdue for a rant about the rich irony of the once-promising reform campaign to convene a state constitutional convention ignobly sinking because of…a lack of money.

Really?

The last time we checked, the membership of the Bay Area Council, the corporate coalition whose staff leadership got the ConCon effort started in the first place, included: Amgen, AT&T, BofA, Blue Shield, Chevron, Comcast, Del Monte, Franklin Templeton Investments, Genentech, Goldman-Sachs, Hewlett-Packard, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Levi-Strauss, Oracle, Pacific Gas & Electric, Shell Oil, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and Wells Fargo, along with more than 200 other of the most successful companies with operations or outposts in the Bay Area.

And so: The effort to qualify for the ballot the group’s signature issue foundered because it couldn’t raise more than a measly $3 million for the campaign? Come on. These guys make Gordon Gekko look like Mother Teresa.

The plain fact is that if the high-end companies that populate the council wanted the convention to go, it would have gone. Instead they slammed shut their wallets, the clearest evidence there could be that they don’t want major reform, because they already know how to navigate the twisted, dysfunctional, Byzantine, gridlocked system just the way it is; unlike average citizens, they can penetrate it with mega-bucks campaign contributions and initiative campaigns.

Exhibit A: PG&E. The Pacific Greed and Extortion Co. will spend up to $35 million on its special interest Prop. 16 on the June ballot. The measure would block cities and counties from going into the public power business without a two-thirds local vote. As Chronicler David Baker reported :

So far, PG&E has supplied all of the proposition campaign’s funding, totaling $6.5 million. On Friday, PG&E took the unusual step of telling its investors that funding for the campaign would affect the company’s 2010 profits, lowering them by 6 to 9 cents per share. PG&E Corp. provided the information while reporting its 2009 profit ($1.22 billion, down from $1.34 billion in 2008) and giving its forecast for 2010.

PG&E describes the ballot initiative as a matter of fairness.

Fairness, indeed.

Our sources inside the Bay Area Council and its “Repair California” political wing note that member companies are also holding back their cash in preparation, as one put it, “for a nuclear arms race in November.”

They’re worried about at least two measures to split the property tax roll to allow higher taxes on business properties, an oil extraction tax, limitations on insurance rates, repeal of Proposition 13′s two-thirds requirement for local tax increases and the potential to overturn AB 32′s climate change provisions. And that’s just for starters.

California Backward: So pathetic are current prospects that Repair California is seriously considering throwing in with the California Forward folks and creating some kind of alliance or united front for reform, even if they have to drop their proposal to actually call a constitutional convention and just push the measure that would authorize voters to call a convention.

California Forward, that other paragon of reform circa 2009, is meanwhile dying a somewhat slower death. The incrementalist sponsors of this once-ballyhooed goo-goo group  are also having trouble, um, raising money – to campaign for two proposed initiatives.

Excuse us if the Calbuzz Paranoid Caucus entertains the notion that what you like to call your  Corporate Interests lost interest in this sucker the minute we blew the whistle on Cal Forward’s backroom attempt to dump the Sinclair Paint exemption, which would allow a majority of the Legislature to raise revenue by imposing mitigation fees on business.

Much of what’s left in one of the Cal Forward measures is spinach-and-broccoli good government stuff like performance-based budgeting, while the other tracks a similar initiative sponsored by the League of California Cities. The one element well worth saving in the Cal Forward soup is authorizing communities to raise the local tax by 1 cent with a majority of the people — which is NOT in the League’s “Keep Your Mitts Off Our Budgets” measure.

Some of the Cal Forward folks — most of whom have been totally feckless at raising money — think they can still get a) a billionaire angel to be named later to fund their ballot measures or b) a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to put something like their measure on the November ballot that would allow approval of a state budget by a majority vote, instead of the two-thirds required now. FFC. Good luck with that, guys.

Meanwhile, the bottom line on the collapse of the goo-goos was articulated nicely by the L.A. Times edit page:

This election year will bring many promises about bold leadership and new ideas, but there comes a point in most democratic societies at which the machinery gums up and some of the most cherished hallmarks of liberty — campaigning, voting, serving in office — descend into mere ritual. That’s when it’s time to rebuild the machinery.

Or not.


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There are 2 comments for this post

  1. avatar Peter says:

    The time for talk is past. Now comes the days of disaster. But beware, there are “reformers” who will use crisis as a means to implement policy that no reasoned person would embrace. Look at South America in the 1970s or Germany in the 1930s.

  2. So the biggest most powerfull companies in California can’t (won’t is more likely) raise the “measly” $3 million to fund the efforts that they themselves began. Why should anyone support the self-serving efforts of PG&E with their ballot initiative?

    Corporate California is a shadow of its former self. They raised the hopes of many Californians who are sick and tired of the “system” in Sacramento and then dashed them out of fear they would upset the Legislature and jeopardize the costly (campaign contributions and lobbyists fees) but cozy (let’s all go to Pebble Beach for a golf tournament with the Speaker) relationship they have with the political class.

    Where is the “sugar daddy” who will fund the part-time legislature measure when we need one?

    And when they start complaining about “job killer” bills later this year, all Californians should remember that when the opportunity came to reform the mess, they lost their nerve.

    As the Cowboy Libertarian says, “All hat and no cattle”.

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