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Archive for the ‘California Constitution’ Category



DBI: Cal Forward, Con Con, Campaign Finance

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

A plague in the newsroom: When dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the Old Chronicle had a cityside editing slot known as the “Plague Desk,” assigned to whatever unfortunate assistant city editor was tasked with herding the cats who covered Politics, Law and Government.

In due time, old school Old Chronicler Carl Nolte invented a fanciful PLAG  desk publication, which he called “DBI: The magazine of politics, law and government.”

DBI stood for “dull but important,” and, thanks to Nolte’s abiding interest in designing and drawing covers for his imaginary mag, it featured headlines like, “Infrastructure: Threat or Menace?” and “The Secret World of the Bay Area Air Pollution Control District,” or “Up Close and Personal with Regional Planning Superstars” and “What’s New in Waste Water Management.”

For whatever reason, in recent weeks the News Gods have favored Calbuzz with a plague of DBI stories, from tax reform to T-Ridge, so today we honor Nolte’s extraordinary contributions to newsroom saloon humor with our own version of DBI.

Kaufman, wearing a Calbuzz botton

Cal Forward moves forward: California Forward has hired ace Democratic consultant Gale Kaufman to quarterback their 2010 campaign for two reform initiatives, after their efforts to get things started faced some delays, thanks in part to a big assist from Calbuzz.

Facing an April 16 deadline to collect 694,354 valid signatures — which means a million or so raw ones — Cal Forward is still awaiting title and summary for its proposed constitutional amendment to revamp the state’s budget process. AG Jerry Brown’s office, which appears to be struggling to keep up with the zillion or so would-be  initiatives flying around, only recently signed off on the group’s other measure, aimed at keeping the state’s hands off local government revenues.

“We’re definitely going ahead with the initiatives. The deadline is tight, but we’ll have enough time,” Kaufman told us, adding that she is confident Cal-Forward, a business-labor-goo goo coalition, will have no problem raising money for the campaign.

Kaufman, who’s elected half the Democrats in the Assembly and whose  client list also includes the CTA, is coming on board amid a batch of rumors about Cal Forward floundering to qualify its initiatives.

Some members have been grumbling that the bipartisan group should scrap its local finance measure, because it’s too similar to an initiative backed by the League of California Cities. Cal Forward’s John Stevens defended the measure, noting that it would give cities, counties and school districts new authority to gain voter approval of one-percent increases in the local sales tax with a majority, instead of a two-thirds, vote. Passage would be pegged to a comprehensive government finance plan prepared by local pols, Stevens told us.

Their second initiative, a proposed constitutional amendment which, at post time, was  still gathering moss in Crusty’s office, has gained more attention and discussion.

Among other provisions, it would require the governor and Legislature to put in place a performance-based budget and a two-year spending plan. It also would reduce the two-thirds requirement for passage of a budget to a majority of both houses.

Amid the initiative push, some legislators are still screwing around with their own version of a similar ballot measure, a rear guard action which isn’t helping the urgency of Cal Forward’s own effort.

Cal Forward submitted an amended version of the budget reform initiative after Calbuzz reported that the original would place restrictions on the Legislature’s ability to enact new fees for state services under the Sinclair Paint decision, an obscure but important policy procedure. After we blew the whistle on the play, some liberal-leaning Cal Forward types screamed bloody murder, and the Sinclair section was rewritten, a move which is partially responsible for the delay.

And thank you for that.

Con Con petitioners vs. pros: We hear there’s a story percolating about the, um, questionable actions by agents of some statewide signature gathering firms unhappy about the initiative petitions being circulated by backers of a constitutional convention.

Apparently some of the professional petition movers fear that delegates to a constitutional convention will, among other things, seek to change the current ballot initiative process, disrupting or killing their business. They want nothing to do with the con con effort, which instead is trying to organize its own, largely volunteer, petition force of 400 people on the street by President’s Day.

Word is that some of the opposition to the convention petitions has been expressed in what you might call your allegedly extra-legal manner. Nobody’s talking for the record about this yet, but don’t be surprised if there’s some action on this front within the week.

What campaign finance decision means for us: The best line we’ve read about last week’s big U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to buy elections contribute to federal campaigns appeared in the NYT’s thundering editorial of outrage about it, which summed up the politics pretty well:

The ruling is likely to be viewed as a shameful bookend to Bush v. Gore. With one 5-to-4 decision, the court’s conservative majority stopped valid votes from being counted to ensure the election of a conservative president. Now a similar conservative majority has distorted the political system to ensure that Republican candidates will be at an enormous advantage in future elections.

Beyond the bald facts of partisan politics, two other things seem perfectly clear about Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission: 1) it will create more work for lawyers; 2) its practical impact in California this year will likely be limited to Barbara Boxer’s U.S. Senate race.

“There’s no impact on state races,” said Karen Getman, one of the smartest campaign law attorneys in the state, with Remcho, Johansen & Purcell.  “But in House races and the U.S. Senate race, the dynamic has changed.”

With most of the state’s congressional districts nicely gerrymandered for one party or the other (this could change in the future if a proposed initiative for a new redistricting commission to redraw House seats passes), it’s unlikely to cause huge changes on that front.

But Boxer, who’s already facing a very tough political environment for Democrats, could well become a test case for how the new court decision affects a big, expensive Senate race. It’s easy to imagine any of the three contenders for the Republican nomination – even third-place runner Chuck DeVore, who could benefit from Tea Party astroturfing right-wing donors or industry-specific hit squads – flooding the zone with big corporate bucks against Babs.

Of course, the decision also allows labor to contribute freely to independent expenditure campaigns on behalf of candidates, so it’s likely Boxer would get a boost from SEIU and AFL-CIO types if she runs into trouble. Bottom line, of course, is that the big winners will be campaign media buyers and TV stations throughout the state, which could find corporations and campaigns road blocking available ad times.

Our own discount copy

Costco Carla strikes again: The forces of eMeg are being weirder than ever in providing info about “The Power of Many: Values for Success in Business and in Life,” the Great Woman’s new self-serving propaganda piece memoir.

Seems like Her Megness is concerned about running afoul of state laws that might look askance on her using the private book venture for campaign purposes, and so has engaged a new battalion of purse holders and coat carriers to staff her book tour.

While campaign types insist they couldn’t possibly scare up a review copy of the thing for the Sensitive New Media Guys covering the governor’s race, the Chron’s resourceful Carla Marinucci scored one in her weekend big box foray:

With less than five months until the June 8 gubernatorial primary, the release of Whitman’s book – listed at $26, but available at Costco over the weekend for $14.99 – is as much a skillfully timed campaign effort as it is a literary one.

Following Costco Carla’s leadership on the matter, Calbuzz managed to secure our own copy of the book at the Santa Cruz Costco Monday, fighting off hordes of fellow shoppers who were actually looking for bargain prices on cargo shorts and shrink-wrapped cartons of dental floss.

We know you’ll find it as scintillating as we have already to hear eMeg tell us, “I personally would have passed on buying Shatner’s old toupee, but I found getting Weird Al for eBay Live! an irresistible opportunity.” We’ll have a full report once we manage to work our way through the damn thing, which clocks in at 277 pages.

Swap Meet: Keeley Blows Whistle on Parsky

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

keeleytestifyingYou may recall the much vaunted, blue ribbon, bi-partisan panel called the Commission on the 21st Century Economy, that Gov. Schwarzmuscle and the Legislature appointed to study California’s tax structure and propose ways to modernize and stabilize the system.

Under the leadership of Schwarzpal Gerald Parsky, the commission was supposed to be transparent, above-board and dedicated to truth, justice and the American way.

Sacramento shocker: That turned out to be a load of crap. Instead of delivering on any of its promises, the commission got itself entangled in a goofy proposal for a business net receipts tax – a quasi,  value-added levy meant to replace the sales tax.

Although an excellent cure for insomnia, the proposal was not only breathtakingly complex, but also had exactly zero political chance of ever being enacted. So we often wondered: where exactly did this idea originate?

The mystery was solved last Wednesday (while the Calbuzz Department of Tax Policy and Coupon Clipping was on a fact-finding mission to Puerto Vallarta), when Parsky and commission member Fred Keeley testified at the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee.

Asked directly where the BNRT came from, Santa Cruz County Treasurer Keeley answered:

That decision was made by the chair, who apparently entered into a contract somehow with Ernst and Young to produce a fully-formed BNRT without any consultation with the commission and then present it and then suck all of the oxygen out of the room for any discussion.

As far as we can tell, no one on the commission was ever asked to approve the $185,400 paid to Ernst and Young to craft the proposal. It seems neither members of the commission nor the public even knew about Parsky’s secret and apparently unauthorized contract.

What a bloody waste of peoples’ time, energy and commitment. And, oh yeah, taxpayer’s money.

EmergDanger-Steep-Cliff-Sign-131129ency health warning: Those afflicted with Seasonal Affect Disorder are advised to avoid close readings of Dan Walters’ column through the holidays, in order to avoid risk of hurling themselves from the roofs of tall buildings.

In several recent scary columns, Walters has hammered away at the  dangers posed by the ever-increasing size of the fiscal nut California must meet for interest payments on its borrowing, noting that the annual cost for the vig on general obligation bonds alone now runs about $6 billion a year, or about the size of the current year deficit, conveniently enough.

On Friday, the Big Fella let fly with a real Old Testament-level jeremiad, which had Calbuzz reaching for the hemlock, until we gulped down another cup of spiked coffee:

So we’re squandering our limited debt capacity on nonessential things such as stem cell research and bullet trains while our existing infrastructure is crumbling, demand from an increasing population grows, politicians’ credibility is almost nil, and bankers deservedly treat us like a Third World country.

Ouch.

billwatkins

Teaming up with economist and sometime Calbuzzer Bill Watkins, Walters also triggered a mid-week Capitol kerfuffle when he reported on a new forecast by Watkins and his team at California Lutheran University that suggested scenarios whereby the state could default on its debt obligations.

That loud noise you heard next was the sound of Bill Lockyer’s head exploding. Within hours of Walters’ blog post, Treasurer Bill and outgoing Department of Finance chief Mike Genest both went nuts denying and denouncing  the very thought of a default.

Lockyer’s spokesman, Tom Dresslar, said in a statement that Watkins’ commentary “was nothing more than irresponsible fear-mongering with no basis in reality, only roots in ignorance.”

Dresslar noted that the state Constitution mandates that tax revenue go first to pay education expenses and second for debt repayment. All other expenses come after debt service.

“After paying lockyerfor education, the General Fund has tens of billions of dollars left to pay debt service,” Dresslar said. “Even at historically high levels, debt service does not come remotely close to needing all the funds left over after schools get paid.”

We’ll leave it to greater minds than ours to sort through the fiscal and constitutional issues embedded in the exchange, although we do admire the sang-froid and snark with which Watkins answered the caterwauling of California’s ranking financial gurus.

“There is also a constitutional requirement to have a balanced budget by every June 30,” he said.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: Anchorwoman gets the giggles as husband chops wife into teeny little pieces.

13: What Reform Plans Would & Wouldn’t Do

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

JarvisFinal-200Our three-day series of guest op-eds about major proposals for political reform last week here, here and here, generated a wave of thoughtful Calbuzzer comments, many focused on Prop. 13.

Several progressives expressed concern that neither the set of initiatives put forth by California Forward, nor the constitutional convention package sponsored by Repair California, would amend the Prop. 13 framework on taxation in a way that would allow dramatic political change.

The issue was raised most directly by Calbuzzer “David” who wrote:

The heart of the state’s dysfunction is the ability of simple majorities of voters to impose supermajority requirements in perpetuity. For instance, Prop 13’s 2/3 requirement on taxes was itself imposed by less than a 2/3 majority. Any “constitutional reform” which leaves this atrocity in place is not a true reform, but simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Since the current con-con proposals explicitly prohibit changing the 2/3 rule, they are yet another waste of time for a state that is rapidly running out of it.

Amid considerable debate and discussion on the site, however, a key difference emerged between the two sets of reforms:

The ballot measures submitted by California Forward would specifically  prohibit changing the Prop. 13 requirement for a two-thirds vote needed to raise taxes, either in the Legislature or locally. But the convention agenda outlined in the Repair California initiative expressly would allow delegates to study and, if they saw fit, to propose to voters a reduction of the supermajority requirement.

Alert Calbuzzer Adrian Covert was the first to call attention to this little-calbuzzernoticed element of the convention initiatives. Covert, who blogs over at pacificvs.com wrote:

The Constitutional Convention proposals…specifically put all vote thresholds on the table. By voting in favor of a convention, voters will in-fact be giving convention delegates a clear mandate to do so.

The guy’s right on a very important point.

The concon package includes two proposed initiatives; the first seeks voter authorization to convene a convention, while the second broadly defines the issues to be considered by the delegates. In the second initiative, Section 83130 (a) (3) states that the convention is authorized to address:

Spending and Budgeting, including the budget process and related requirements, the term and balancing of a budget, voting thresholds, mandated spending and ways to increase fiscal accountability and efficiency.

In other words, the convention could, if it so chose, propose an amendment to alter the two-thirds rules on raising taxes. This reading of the measure was confirmed for us by Clint Reilly, who’s running the Repair California campaign. The group is a political spin-off of the Bay Area Council, whose CEO, Jim Wunderman, got the convention idea started.

To be clear, this is the only element of Prop. 13 that would be in play in either reform package. The convention specifically cannot deal with the Prop. 13 system for determining property taxes:

Section 83130 (b) The convention may also propose to change any statutory provision directly related to the proposed constitutional revision or amendment. The revision, any amendment, or any related statutory provision proposed by the convention may not include new language, or alter existing language, that (1) directly imposes or reduces any taxes or fees; (2) sets the frequency at which real property is assessed or re-assessed; or (3) defines “change in ownership” as it relates to any tax or fee . . .

con_conWhen we first read this, it seemed to us that it left room to allow convention delegates to propose amending Prop 13 to put in place a split roll system, which would assess commercial property at a different (higher) rate than residential.

We thought the language on this was unclear so we interviewed Steve Miller of Hanson Bridgett who drafted the section. He told us it was worded to keep the convention from taking up the split roll.  So that’s the word from the horse’s mouth.

Bottom line: As written, neither of the major reform packages aimed at the 2010 ballot leave much room for changing Prop. 13, but the constitutional convention leaves the door open for one major amendment that could have widespread political impact.

Con Con Pros: Citizens Should Propose Reforms

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

wunderman2By Jim Wunderman
Special to Calbuzz

California’s state government is broken. This dysfunction has left our state unable to deal with the serious issues of our time.

This hurts our state, it hurts our economy and it hurts Calbuzz readers. California’s dysfunction has made us a laughing stock, but it’s not funny, it’s tragic. Californians are frustrated – they should be – and they want something done.

At least two groups have put together serious, well-recognized efforts at reform: California Forward and Repair California. Backed by an original $15 million investment, California Forward has gathered some of the top leaders in our state, plus experts who know the system from the inside.  They came up with a high-priority list of reforms and whittled them down with a “politics of the possible” filter.  California Forward has produced a reform package with many items Repair California, and my organization, the Bay Area Council, might support.

Some have asked if California Forward succeeds, does California still need a constitutional convention?  The answer is an emphatic, “Yes!”

con_conThe source of our woes are deep, including:  an out of control budget process; the broken balance of power between the state and local governments; our election process; our initiative process; term limits; too many overlapping jurisdictions; a lack of sun setting or review on new government units; too much centralized power; unfunded mandates; and poorly constructed executive and legislative branches.

These problems require a big fix, as soon as possible.

The way to do that is with a constitutional convention to examine our governance system in total, and propose a holistic, systemic fix. State constitutional conventions have been successfully called more than 230 times in the United States. It is time to call one in California.

Repair California has turned in ballot language to call the first California convention in more than 130 years.  The measures would call a limited convention to reform four areas of the constitution:

– The budget process;

– The election and initiative process;

– Restoring the balance of power between the state and local governments; and,

– Creating new systems to improve government effectiveness.

Who will be in the room?  That is the critical question and the makeup of this convention is why this effort will succeed where other California reform efforts have failed.

Today, due to deep cynicism, “who” is proposing the reform matters as much as the reform itself.  Voters have made clear they no longer trust “experts” or politicians, they only trust themselves. Due to the drawing of everyday Californians as part of the delegation, this convention will be a celebration of our democracy and our state’s incredible diversity.  John Adams said of gatherings like conventions that they “should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large.  It should think, feel, reason, and act like them.”  The convention proposed for the November 2010 ballot will produce just such a group.

How do everyday citizens make good decisions on reform?  Repair California believes you need established experts there as well.  Therefore, a smaller additional group of delegate seats will be divided by population among California’s counties. In each county, a committee of five local government leaders will review applications at public meetings and pick their county’s expert delegates.

This innovative approach mixes the values of everyday Californians with experts chosen by the elected leaders closest to the people.  It also ensures that the convention’s reforms are vetted by a pool of people just like the voters who will eventually decide on the product of the convention.  The “proposers” will be the people.

The United States of America was founded on a unique vision of self-government that became an inspiration to the world.  The founders and the framers believed, as Thomas Jefferson said, “Every man, and every body of men on earth, possesses the right of self-government… I am not among those who fear the people.”  Over a half century later, President Abraham Lincoln renewed the spirit of 1776 when he declared that America was a place “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Today, California democracy is a bizarre shadow of the founders’ original vision.  Sacramento has been gathering cobwebs for some time, undermined by special interests, raw partisanship, and citizen disenchantment.  In order to once again become a living expression of the founders’ inspiration, California desperately needs a democratic renewal.

While perfect is not possible in any endeavor, this innovative convention was shaped by the state’s best thinkers and thousands of other Californians to reflect the political, geographic and cultural diversity of this huge state.  It is geared to succeed at the ballot.  California needs fundamental change, and no other reform proposal offers this good of a deal.  Not even close.  It is time to let the people speak.  Call the convention.

Jim Wunderman is the President and CEO of the Bay Area Council and a member of Repair California at www.repaircalifornia.com.

Con Con & Cal Forward: Form vs. Substance

Monday, November 30th, 2009

fred keeley_0102By Fred Keeley
Special to Calbuzz

If not the most devalued word in the English language, “reform” must be in the top 10.

From our governor, to individual and creative mixings and matchings of legislators from both houses and parties, through the news and editorial pages of the last remaining daily newspapers published in California, to a wide assortment of good-doing non-profits and foundations, the Age of Reason (followed by the Era of Irony) seems to have given way to the Time of Reform.

The call for “reform” is even coursing through that “series of tubes,” as Alaska’s former Sen. Theodore “Ted” Stevens once so eloquently labeled the Internet.

Reform health care, the financial system, public education, U.S. foreign policy, (enter your first, second, or third personal favorite here) policy.  And especially that mess we still refer to as the governance of California.

Given that I have not had an original thought in my life, and given the vast amount that has been said and written about the challenges of California’s governance by folks way smarter than me, I will simply stipulate that whatever anyone has to say about what is broken, I agree.

That, of course is where agreement ends and the debate about reform begins. And, since Calbuzz is giving me the opportunity to fulminate about my personal favorites, here goes.

Perhaps I have just been around former Speaker Robert Miles Hertzberg too much, but my initial impulse here is to try to quantify that which cannot be measured.

Two months into that unpleasantness remembered as the energy crisis, then-Speaker Hertzberg said to his leadership team: “If there are going to be 100 units of pain visited on the people of California because of this crisis, and we do everything right and reduce that by 40 units; nonetheless, we will always be remembered as the legislature than visited 60 units of pain on the people.”  (Yes, he actually uses words like nonetheless in conversation.)

If there are 100 units of broken governance, then I’ll charge 35 of those to the people we elect to serve in the Legislature and in state constitutional offices, especially the governor.  The other 65 units are the broken pieces of governance we can call the wiring instructions for contemporary California democracy.

If the problem was really about who we elect, then certainly either Gray Davis or Arnold Schwarzenegger would have to have been placed in our history’s “successful” category.

Davis would be high on your list if your belief system tells you that to succeed in California’s complex and expensive executive branch, we need a person with significant public-sector executive experience.

Alternatively, you’d run Schwarzenegger’s flag up your pole if your belief system says that we really need a strong, independent, self-made type to run a tight, lean, efficient service delivery system.

Sadly, despite all of their varied talents, and their hopes and aspirations for themselves and all of us, the best we will probably be able to honestly say about them is that they meant well.

Sure, Gray moved the dial on ocean protection and a few other important topics.  And, fantastically, Arnold’s lasting legacy will be the great degree to which he moved the dial on global climate change policy.

model-tThe problem is less who we send into the machinery of Sacramento, than the tools we lend to the governor and 120 legislators following their election. We have a broken 2009 Chevy and our mechanic has tools to fix Henry Ford’s Model T.

It doesn’t matter how smart, sincere or dedicated these electeds are: if they only have governing tools from the 19th and mid-20th centuries, they will fail. So if we want to be able to hold our elected leaders accountable, we have to make sure they have the tools to do the job.

There are all kinds of ideas about reform in the public arena.  Two of the most visible at the moment are California’s Forward’s initiatives on state budget process and local government revenue protection, and the Bay Area Council’s proposal for a constitutional convention.  (Full disclosure: I am a founding and still-serving member of California Forward’s “Leadership Council,” which should more modestly be called a board of directors, because that’s what it is.)

hertzmckern

The co-chairs of California Forward are the aforementioned Bob Hertzberg, and Tom McKernan, leader of the Southern California Automobile Association. They have worked in good faith with all manner of powerful men and women, at a sustained high velocity, informed by constant and very real community outreach and civic literacy strategies, to produce two essential reforms of California’s existing, out-dated, poorly performing, chronically late and unsatisfying budget process.

California Forward’s product is that which survived a gauntlet-running which did not, mercifully, sand off every hard edge.  While any reform effort that hopes to have a shot at electoral victory must work with everyone, the final product must stand for something (or a bunch of somethings, held together by coherent values).

California Forward’s reform product offers tools to build a very different and positive governance structure built on the best of the state’s populace-based constitution.  The major features include: a bit longer fiscal planning horizon; more accountability imposed on both the executive and legislative branches, and obliging the legislature’s majority party to work constructively with the governor to produce a timely and more financially sustainable budget.

The other reform energy center is the popular notion of a constitutional convention.

According to polling, a substantial and impressive percentage of likely voters really likes this idea.  The existing constitution would be amended to add “some assembly required” language — stuff like how the delegates are selected, what they could make decisions about and what can make it back out to us, as voters who would have to ratify any notions advanced from the convention.  There are powers long ago, awkwardly etched into our state constitution which is ever-growing, increasingly less inspiring and much in need of – dare we say it? — reform.

Either of these ways of getting to the place where there is a spirited debate and decision by the voters is an outstanding idea.  The difference between the two is the difference between substance and form.  This is not a comparative judgment of either.  They are not the same.

Cal Forward is pushing substantive proposals flowing from the contemporary state of agreement regarding meaningful budget and fiscal reform of the miserable budget process we all seem to loath.

The Bay Area Council’s Con-Con proposal is about form and it takes more time.  It may (or may not) produce the same or similar set of budget and fiscal reforms.  The Con-Con could give us a better outcome, or not.

It’s not as if we’ve had about all the reform we can take.  It seems more like we ain’t getting enough.  Let’s get on with all of it.

Fred Keeley is the elected County Treasurer of Santa Cruz County.  He is also a member of the Leadership Council of California Forward.  A former legislator from Santa Cruz, he also teaches at San Jose State University and Pacific Collegiate School, a public charter school.