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Archive for the ‘California Education’ Category



Jerry Brown vs. Charlie Sheen; Higher Ed Hypocrisy

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

As Jerry Brown prepares to hit the road to campaign for his tax plan, our Department of Political Tour Logistics and Grateful Dead Wannabes has drafted a strategy memo with seven key words of advice for the governor:

Try not to act like Charlie Sheen.

As Tom Meyer illustrates today, there are eerie similarities between the  governor’s upcoming tax extension road show and the whack-job actor’s current “Violent Torpedo of Truth” tour.

Both men are scions of a famous father who paved the way for his son’s success in the same profession; both now face an epic crisis that may define his career; both are seeking to escape his predicament by trying to get his hands on other people’s money – Brown in order to finance public schools and health care while cleaning up the state’s fiscal mess, Sheen to make up what he lost by being fired from his highly-rated TV show for the purpose of maintaining his party hearty jones for coke and hookers.

As Brown heads off to far-flung locales in a bid to bring pressure on Republican lawmakers, however, he’s well advised to avoid the blunders Sheen committed in venturing onto unfamiliar turf, far from Mulholland Drive orgies and sensory delights, for his disastrous opening night appearance in Detroit:

1-Don’t refer to women as goddesses. When Sheen hit the stage, he swiftly introduced his self-styled “goddesses,” the porn star and the alleged actress with whom he lives, who promptly locked lips, to wild applause.

Although Anne Gust Brown, Brown’s wife and most trusted adviser, would probably appreciate deification, the other most important woman in his life, Department of Finance director Ana Matosantos, would surely find it unprofessional, if not a matter for the EEOC. More broadly, Brown needs help from every women voter, the most likely group to back his pitch for public schools, and acting like a drooling degenerate creepo sleaze would run the risk of losing their support.

2-Don’t threaten to pummel Bob Dutton. Sheen keeps boasting about his “fire breathing fists,” and how he plans to use them on his former producer and his ex-co-star, as well as Dr. Drew of “Celebrity Rehab,” who said the actor should be on psychiatric medication (“I think me and [Dr. Drew] should jump in the ring and he should see how unstable these fists of flaming fury are,” responded Sheen).

As much as ex-boxer Brown might justifiably harbor similar feelings for Dutton, the whining menopausal GOP senate leader,  he’s probably better off maintaining a veneer of bipartisanship, at least in Dutton’s Rancho Cucamonga  district.

3-Don’t say “I’ve already got your  fucking money, dude.” Sheen used those very words to bait a booing audience member in Detroit, as others loudly demanded refunds. On his tour, Brown no doubt will face folks who are understandably suspicious of politicians treating the public treasury as a  personal bank account, so the governor needs to avoid sounding entitled, while selling his tax plan as an extension of his skinflint cheapskate brand.

In the end, the biggest difference between Governor Krusty and Crazy Charlie is this: Brown (who has never claimed to have tiger blood in his veins) lives in a world based on facts, and will appeal to voters on the basis of rational argument, while Sheen (a self-described warlock) lives in a la-la-land world of fantasy, much like, oh say, most legislative Republicans.

In the California GOP’s world, truth is whatever they say it is. The laws of arithmetic don’t apply, the poor and destitute are invisible, workers don’t have rights, education can be fixed in a jiffy with vouchers and home schools, and corporate loopholes and business-biased tax policies are crucial characteristics of “free markets.”

Selling tax extensions in Inland California is not an easy task for Brown – employing facts, figures and hard evidence to win over citizens whose elected representatives and anti-tax “advocates” have for decades  cynically fed them a steady diet of failed ideology, flat earth sloganeering and Fox News bloviation.

Be careful out there, governor.

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I’m studying for a Ph.D in Poltroonery: Calbuzz yields to no one in our support for California’s system of higher education: we have not only studied but also worked in the system ourselves, we have kids and friends on campuses throughout the state and we staunchly believe that high-quality public universities, colleges and community colleges are crucial to the civic and economic health and future of the state.

So it pained us to see that 250 administrators from public universities and colleges descended on Sacramento Tuesday to argue that they should under no circumstances be asked to absorb any more than the $1.4 billion in cuts they’ve been given because of California’s budget deficit.

“We have done our part,” CSU Chancellor Charles Reed told a crowd outside the Capitol at the start of a day of lobbying. “But you know what? That’s enough.”

Oh really? And if there are no tax extensions or other new revenue sources approved, who should suffer further cutbacks: widows and children, the elderly, blind and disabled? Please, oh self-interested scholars, spare us your self-pity.

Where were Charlie Reed, UC President Mark Yudof and community college Chancellor Jack Scott when the crucial need was rounding up two Republicans in the Assembly and two in the Senate to put tax extensions on the ballot to head off doubling the universities’ $1.4 billion haircut?

Where were the organized legions of trustees, boards of directors, alumni associations*, lobbyists and cronies putting the screws to GOP legislators? They didn’t have the guts to come out, push and pressure for tax extensions and now they want to be protected? What unmitigated gall.

Had the higher education lobby worked and argued fiercely and publicly for extending taxes and fees, they’d be in a far stronger position to fight against further cuts and scenarios of turning away 400,000 community college students, more from CSUs and UCs, not to mention raising tuition and slashing whole programs, institutes, courses and offerings.

Instead, the fainthearted “leaders” of the higher education community let Brown and the legislative Democrats do all the heavy lifting on the overall budget strategy while they singularly argued for more revenue only for California’s once-great system of higher ed. And now, caught once again in the divide-and-conquer budget trap, they call for special treatment.

All of which brings to mind the words of our most venerable mentor, sage and metaphysical consultant, the great Calbuzzer, Confucius:

To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice.

*UPDATE: Thanks to Adrian Diaz for informing us (after our post) that the Cal Alumni Association DID press its members to push for tax extensions with this letter:

Dear Cal Alumni and Friends,

On February 18, the Cal Alumni Association (CAA) Board of Directors, in an unprecedented action, voted to support placing Governor Jerry Brown’s current proposal for maintaining existing taxes on the June 2011 ballot.

Why did the CAA Board take this action? Without the maintenance of existing taxes, the excellence and access of UC Berkeley will be jeopardized by further drastic budget cuts.

In 2009-2010, all departments at UC Berkeley, including academic departments, took a permanent budget cut averaging 19 percent. Last year, approximately 600 staff positions were eliminated. Another 280 are slated for elimination this year. State funding for UC Berkeley is now less than federal funding, less than student fees, and less than private donations.

What can you do? Before Californians can vote on the maintenance of existing taxes, the measure first has to get on the June ballot. The State Legislature must decide by March 10, 2011 to get the measure on the ballot.

Please send an email telling your legislator to put a revenue measure on the ballot, so California voters can decide whether to maintain existing taxes that will help save UC Berkeley.

Governor Brown’s budget already includes a $500 million cut to the UC budget. Without the tax extensions, the Legislative Analyst Office predicts that the UC budget could be cut by an additional $500 million. Of this $1 billion reduction, $160 million could be cut from the UC Berkeleycampus alone.

Californians face a difficult choice — do we balance the state budget by cutting expenditures alone or do we minimizing the damage to one of our greatest educational institutions by balancing the budget with a combination of expense reduction and revenue generation?

While we recognize that no one likes to pay taxes, we are also assured that the Governor’s current proposal does not include any new taxes, only an extension of the existing taxes. Please send an email telling your legislator to put a revenue measure on the ballot, so California voters can decide.

Join the Cal Alumni Association in our efforts to ensure the excellence of our alma mater for today’s Cal students and future generations of Golden Bears.

Fiat Lux,

Alan C. Mendelson ’69
President, CAA Board of Directors

Why Tax-On-Millionaires Measure Is a Slam Dunk

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Vanity Fair, the monthly organ of opulence that chronicles,  celebrates and caters to the self-indulgence of the uber rich, seems a strange place to encounter a learned and astute analysis of wealth inequality in America.

VF’s current issue, however, features just such an insightful piece, by Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, who not only  presents the latest evidence that the world’s oldest democracy is morphing rapidly into the biggest oligarchy on the planet, but also dissects the unhappy social implications of this economic and political transformation.

It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent.

One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone.

All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.

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The case in California: Since our last discourse on the subject, the massive gap between the wealthiest 1% and everyone else in the population has gained more traction as a political issue in California.

Paradoxically, the recent idiocy of Capitol Republicans, who blocked a popular vote on whether to extend a few modest taxes and fees that would  affect almost all Californians, has now made the GOP’s natural base among the very wealthiest taxpayers a far more narrow, rich and inviting target for pols and interest groups who are looking for Plan B to balance the budget while heading off even more cuts to education and other services; Plan B’s  Exhibit A is last week’s announcement by the California Federation of Teachers that they will push for a 1% income tax hike on the state’ richest 1%, a proposal that a new Ben Tulchin poll shows is backed by nearly three in four voters.

Such a proposal would find fertile political ground, in part because the dramatic national trend of growing wealth inequality is, if anything, more pronounced in California.

The Legislative Analysts’ most recent substantive report on the matter, published in 2000, found that in the previous 15 years, the adjusted gross income of the wealthiest 1% of Californians tripled, from 7% to 20%; while the overall wealth of the top one-fifth of taxpayers increased during the period, from 18 to 33%, it declined for the other 80% of taxpayers, at a time when governments were routinely cutting income and capital gains taxes for the wealthy and for corporations.

Talk about the government picking winners and losers.

Self vs. selfish interest: Beyond the moral queasiness such statistics brings on for social justice types, there are many practical reasons, based upon rudimentary self-interest, why this state of affairs represents a clear and present danger to the country and the state.

For starters, the tax-cut, no-regulation policies that have accelerated income disparity in recent decades also triggered the financial meltdown that set off the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Also, the steady, decades-long decline of inflation-adjusted incomes for the middle class shrinks the pool of confident consumers, keeping dollars out of the economy and making recovery more halting and problematic. More broadly, the wealth gap does violence to what Stiglitz recalls Alexis de Tocqueville labeled America’s “self-interest properly understood.”

The last two words were the key. Everyone possesses self-interest in a narrow sense: I want what’s good for me right now! Self-interest “properly understood” is different. It means appreciating that paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest—in other words, the common welfare—is in fact a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being. Tocqueville was not suggesting that there was anything noble or idealistic about this outlook—in fact, he was suggesting the opposite. It was a mark of American pragmatism. Those canny Americans understood a basic fact: looking out for the other guy isn’t just good for the soul—it’s good for business.

For much of its recent history, the U.S. has been a place where the government literally provided the concrete underpinning for economic expansion and growth. Now that the no-taxes-ever-again crowd is gaining ascendance and – amazingly – recycling failed economic policies that crashed and burned the economy, the public-private partnership model that underwrote widespread business success for decades has fallen apart:

A modern economy requires “collective action”—it needs government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology. The United States and the world have benefited greatly from government-sponsored research that led to the Internet, to advances in public health, and so on. But America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.

None of this should come as a surprise—it is simply what happens when a society’s wealth distribution becomes lopsided. The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves.

In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had. They also worry about strong government—one that could use its powers to adjust the balance, take some of their wealth, and invest it for the common good. The top 1 percent may complain about the kind of government we have in America, but in truth they like it just fine: too gridlocked to re-distribute, too divided to do anything but lower taxes.

Why it matters: In California, the impact of these “lopsided” policy changes are seen most visibly in public education or, more accurately, in the decline of public education. With the state financing 40% of the cost of public schools, which have seen the real dollar amounts of that support decrease for several years, policy shops from PPIC to UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access and the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting at California Lutheran University have described and analyzed the destructive impacts that reductions in education and training programs have on the California economy.

At present, California completely fails its lower class population.  It begins with an educational system that many don’t complete, while many of those who do are often unprepared to participate in a 21st century economy.  It ends with a lack of opportunity and upward mobility.

California’s K-12 program is a failure.  Dropout rates are extraordinary, and those who finish are often unprepared for employment or college.  The failure continues when the few who do manage to prepare for college find that the price has gone up and is now unaffordable for many.  Just as bad, classes are often not offered at times that are convenient for working students.

The arguments against: To be sure, there are policy arguments to be made against increasing the taxes on the rich, as the CFT proposes, starting with the fact that it may create an incentive for them to pick up and leave (although another PPIC study has presented data showing this is not the huge problem the Coupal/Fox axis would have us believe ).

Politically, however, that’s beside the point: if Republicans and conservatives hew unwaveringly to their unserious, I’ve-got-mine refusal to help govern the state, both the pressure on, and the demonization of, their core constituency will only increase.

Of all the costs imposed on our society by the top 1 percent, perhaps the greatest is this: the erosion of our sense of identity, in which fair play, equality of opportunity, and a sense of community are so important. America has long prided itself on being a fair society, where everyone has an equal chance of getting ahead, but the statistics suggest otherwise: the chances of a poor citizen, or even a middle-class citizen, making it to the top in America are smaller than in many countries of Europe. The cards are stacked against them.

It is this sense of an unjust system without opportunity that has given rise to the conflagrations in the Middle East: rising food prices and growing and persistent youth unemployment simply served as kindling. With youth unemployment in America at around 20 percent (and in some locations, and among some socio-demographic groups, at twice that); with one out of six Americans desiring a full-time job not able to get one; with one out of seven Americans on food stamps (and about the same number suffering from “food insecurity”)—given all this, there is ample evidence that something has blocked the vaunted “trickling down” from the top 1 percent to everyone else.

All of this is having the predictable effect of creating alienation—voter turnout among those in their 20s in the last election stood at 21 percent, comparable to the unemployment rate.

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.

Jerry Brown, meet Bob LaFollette: Having been bitch-slapped on budget negotiations by legislative Republicans, Jerry Brown has belatedly taken our earlier advice and is going on the road to campaign on behalf of his balanced plan to ease the deficit. Given the above, don’t be surprised to see him strike a populist tone, ala his “We the People” winter soldier 1992 campaign for president.

It’s worth recalling that shortly after the 1900 election, in which Robert La Follette was elected governor of Wisconsin, our hero Lincoln Steffens, the native San Franciscan who had become America’s greatest muckraking journalist, visited the “little giant” to write about what he expected to be a corrupt, demagogic, socialist, dictatorial boss, as he had been portrayed by the Establishment Republicans of the day.

After spending some time in Milwaukee and Madison, however, Steffens came to a very different conclusion:

La Follette from the beginning has asked, not the bosses, but the people for what he wanted, and after 1894 he simply broadened his field and redoubled his efforts. He circularized the state, he made speeches every chance he got, and if the test of demagogy is the tone and style of a man’s speeches, La Follette is the opposite of a demagogue.

Capable of fierce invective, his oratory is impersonal; passionate and emotional himself, his speeches are temperate. Some of them are so loaded with facts and such closely knit arguments that they demand careful reading, and their effect is traced to his delivery, which is forceful, emphatic, and fascinating.

As a political matter, it’s time for Jerry Brown to reach for his inner La Follette and start sounding some good, old fashioned, Wisconsin style populism. Instead of going after the railroads, as La Follete did, however, Brown should aim at the ultra-wealthy, the oil companies and other greedy corporate interests who have a) allowed the California Republican Party to gridlock the budget process and b) fought to keep special corporate loopholes, including outrageously low property tax rates from Prop. 13.

Sic temper tyrannis.

Know Nothings and the Death of Political Compromise

Monday, February 28th, 2011

President Ronald Reagan often compared leaders of the Soviet Union to the movie producers against whom he once bargained as president of the Screen Actors Guild. That early experience, Reagan told serial biographer Lou Cannon, was where he “learned to negotiate.”

“The purpose of a negotiation,” Reagan added, “is to get an agreement.”

What a quaint notion.

The conversation, related by Cannon during a forum sponsored by UC Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project last week, illuminates a fundamental difference in the Manichaeistic politics of millennial conservative leaders, who endlessly exalted the former president during recent celebrations of his centennial, and the real-life record of Reagan himself.

From his days as California’s governor, when he backed what was then the largest tax increase in state history as part of a bipartisan budget agreement, to the world-changing agreements on nuclear arms reduction he forged with Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan managed to maintain his commitment to his  conservative principles while finding ways to cut acceptable deals with Democrats in the Legislature and the Congress.

His approach contrasts with the current crop of ideologues, from Washington to Wisconsin and Sacramento, who sneer at the concept of compromise and dismiss the idea of negotiation, the twin foundations of governance that have long made representative democracy work.

“While Reagan tried to stuff everything he heard or read into the view of the world he had brought with him to Washington, he appreciated the value of compromise and negotiation,” Cannon wrote in “President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime,” his seminal biography.

“And on nearly all issues, Reagan was simultaneously an ideologue and a pragmatist. He complained to aides that true believers on the Republican right…preferred to ‘go off the cliff with all flags flying,’ rather than take half a loaf and come back for more, as Reagan believed liberals had been doing since the days of the New Deal.”

The Wisconsin con: Compare this attitude to that of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who’s become an instant hero to the mossback crowd with his political jihad against the right of public employees to engage in collective bargaining. In a taped conversation with a person he believed to be his right-wing patron David Koch (who was actually an alternative newspaper editor who punked the governor and his staff), Walker offered a candid look at his crude and autocratic theory idea of governing.

At one point, for example, he expressed contempt for the moderate Democratic leader of the Wisconsin senate, who has reached out to Walker in an attempt to settle the partisan deadlock over unions, saying the senator is “pretty reasonable, but he’s not one of us…He’s just trying to get something done. . . .He’s just a pragmatist.” Perish the thought.

“I don’t budge,” Walker then told the liberal journalist posing as Koch; he added, in what he believed was a private conversation, that while he might publicly pretend to be open to compromise discussions with Democrats, he would do so only as a way to con them: “I’m not negotiating,” he said.

A Capitol caucus of sheep: These rabid sentiments echo in Sacramento, where 30 Republican legislators last week announced a so-called “Taxpayers Caucus.” At a time when even Republican-tilted business organizations in the state back Jerry Brown’s deficit plan to allow voters to decide whether to extend $12 billion in temporary higher taxes and fees, membership in this Know Nothing caucus requires a blood oath to obstruct all bids to put the measure on the ballot.

It is instructive that the leader of this cadre is right-wing senator Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark.

Running in one of the few competitive districts in the state, Strickland in 2008 defeated Hannah Beth Jackson, an extremely liberal former Assembly member, by exactly 857 votes out of more 415,000 cast; rather than moderating his personal ideology to reflect the broad range of views held by his constituents, however, Landslide Tony chooses to grovel at the feet of Grover Norquist, the Washington-based anti-government extremist who threatens with retribution any Republican who votes to put Brown’s tax plan before voters.

While Strickland and his reckless brethren try to gussy up their stance as a matter of conservative principle, it rests instead on a set of intellectually dishonest and purely partisan canards and deceits.

Decrying Brown’s budget plan, GOP legislators refuse to put forth one of their own, placing partisan gamesmanship ahead of governance in the full knowledge that attaching numbers and detail to their worn-out rhetoric would prove the absurdity of their call for an all-cuts budget.

Rejecting reality, the poseurs pretend that the $85 billion budget is filled with vast amounts of wasteful discretionary spending, knowing that the state’s money overwhelmingly goes to K-12 schools, higher education and health programs, expenditures that enjoy widespread public support and which they lack the courage to openly and specifically oppose.

Putting ideology over rational debate, they fear California’s voters, mindful that an election testing the popularity of their no-taxes-ever policies may  reveal the emptiness of their politics. Chronicler John Diaz offers a trenchant summary of their puerility:

The governor, who relishes intellectual interchange, confronted Republicans last week in a highly unusual appearance before a budget conference committee. As is often the case with Brown, he mixed humor and in-your-face persuasion in searching for common ground with his adversaries.

“Pledges are interesting, they make good theater,” Brown told legislators. “But the fact is we have to have a plan, we need a solution, and for those who say they don’t want to vote, then why are you here?”

Good question: Why are they here, collecting their nearly six-figure salaries plus per diem, if they consider the state’s predicament the other party’s problem and none of their concern?

The great exception, again: In a recent national poll, the Pew Research Center reported results that at first glance seem to give an edge to kneejerk hardliners. By 49-42%, the findings showed, Americans favor “political leaders who stick to their position without compromise” over those “who make compromises with someone they disagree with.”

But in this matter, as in many others, California goes its own way, as gauged by a Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll taken during last fall’s campaign for governor. As we reported then, the survey:

…offers a glimmer of hope for California, finding that voters by a 2-1 margin say they’d prefer a governor “who can work effectively with others across party lines” to one who “is single-minded and will fight for what he or she thinks is correct.”

Democrats, moderates and liberals are most in favor of a governor who works with the opposition, but even Republicans and conservatives would rather have a governor who can work effectively across party lines.

The problem in Sacramento, however, has not been finding a governor who will work across party lines; the problem is finding enough legislators who will work with the governor.

How Brown is like Reagan: At a time when Brown is offering to compromise with Republicans on big issues they purport to care about, from pension reform to business regulation and a state spending cap, it defies common sense for the GOP to turn away from Reagan-style negotiated agreements. Cannon again:

Reagan did not fit the neat ideological stereotype that was presented in alternative forms by movement conservatives and liberal activists…

“He liked to see the people around him work towards an acceptable compromise, said White House cabinet secretary Craig Fuller. “Both words are important. Acceptable in a sense that it met his criteria, narrow as they might be. Compromise in that nobody got exactly what they wanted, but nobody lost.”

Like Reagan, Brown is at heart a traditionalist, embracing the old-school belief that politics is the art of the possible, fueled by negotiations in the service of finding agreement. That is why Brown keeps expecting Republicans to want to negotiate for things they want in exchange for things he wants. But the vast majority of the GOP minority doesn’t want to negotiate, because they don’t want an agreement.

Brown’s focused and patient efforts to craft a budget deal belie the  decades-old rap on him as too heedless and flaky for the painstakingly hard work of governing. He can only hope, however, that amid all the posing, grandstanding and strutting in the Republican caucus, there are at least a couple of grown-ups with the backbone to stand up and help him do the job.

Recommended reading:

Timesman Frank Rich offers a national perspective on the rejection of compromise and negotiation.

Dana Milbank of the Washpost looks more deeply at the Khaddafi-like views of Scott Walker. 

Dan Morain has an excellent take on the goofball Taxpayers Caucus.

Steve Harmon exposes the urban legend of Republicans being politically destroyed for backing tax increases.

Starbuck vs. The Empress; Oligarchs On Wisconsin

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

There are any number of garden-variety, Beltway sages and seers ready and willing (if not able) to opine  on the 2012 presidential campaign — but  only Calbuzz offers prognostication on what concerns our readers most: the 2018 Democratic nomination race for  governor.

Sticking to their previous prognosis that a second-term Governor Gandalf will still be doing pull-ups at 80 (as well as their prediction that California Republicans by then will be scarcer than snowy plovers), our Department of Logarithmic Forecasting and Necromantic Foreboding confirms that the  intraparty gubernatorial brawl between Attorney General Kamala Harris and Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom will be the key race to watch that year.

“We can predict a Harris-Newsom contest with a 98.6% level of confidence,” said our public opinion research chief, Marc DiCassare. “We further forecast that the state deficit at that point will be $4.65 trillion.”

Today, Calbuzz presents the first in an occasional series of special reports updating the race between Lieutenant Starbuck and the Empress of River City. At a time when the electorate is  beginning to form its crucial first impression, we examine how they are introducing themselves to Californians, based mostly on a hard-hitting analysis of the constant stream of press releases churned out by their taxpayer-financed flacks.

January 18:

Harris: Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Announces Settlement on Comcast- NBC Merger with Protections for Consumers, Competition and Innovation

“Settlement gives California authority to provide oversight on $30 billion telecommunications joint venture.”

Newsom:Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom Launches Statewide Discussion on California’s Higher Education System

“Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom today announced the launch of a statewide higher education listening tour and an online campaign that will engage Californians in a public dialogue, seeking their feedback and suggestions on issues relating to the state’s higher education system.”

February 2 – 3

Harris:Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Establishes California Foreclosure Relief Fund with $6.5 Million Settlement from Former Countrywide Financial Executives

LOS ANGELES – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced a $6.5 million settlement of a predatory lending case against Angelo Mozilo and David Sambol, former officers of Countrywide Financial Corporation. Attorney General Harris announced the settlement money will be used to establish an innovative statewide California Foreclosure Crisis Relief Fund to combat the effects of California’s high rates of foreclosure and mortgage delinquency.”

Newsom:Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom Issues Statement on Lunar New Year

Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom issued the following statement today regarding Lunar New Year:

‘To everyone across California and the world who is celebrating the arrival of the Lunar New Year today, Jennifer and I want to extend our best wishes for a prosperous and healthy Year of the Rabbit.’”

Feb. 14-16

Harris:Harris: Suspects Arrested in Murder-for-Hire Plot Commissioned by Mexican Drug Cartel

PALMDALE – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris announced the arrest today of three suspects in a foiled murder-for-hire plot commissioned by a Tijuana drug cartel.”

Newsom: Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom Sends Letter to Joint Legislative Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture in Support of the Marine Life Protection Act.”

February 21-22

Harris:Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Supports Port of Los Angeles Program to Reduce Air Pollution and Cancer Risk

LOS ANGELES – Seeking environmental justice for all Californians, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case in support of efforts by the Port of Los Angeles to reduce air pollution through its Clean Trucks program.”

Newsom: “Apple dish: A spy in Manhattan tells us he ran across Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and wife Jennifer Siebel Newsom last weekend shopping for ties in the men’s department at the swank Bergdorf Goodman store.

Newsom’s office confirms the couple did take a “private trip” back East last week for the screening of Jennifer’s new documentary, “Miss Representation.” They also attended a showing of new designers at New York’s semiannual Fashion Week.” (h/t Matier and Ross).

Astute analysis: At this point, it’s not really a fair fight.

Not only does the AG have, you know, an actual job, but her public story is largely being told by the wily James A. Finefrock III, chief flack for the Department of Justice and a battle-hardened veteran of the throwback Chron-Ex War of Words; Starbuck’s pub shop meanwhile thinks it’s a cool idea to e-blast a press release wishing everyone Gung Hay Fat Choy.

(Calbuzz training tip for the young ‘uns:  carefully study this video of your guy’s famous interview with our old friend Hank Plante, then make Gavin start doing everything exactly the opposite).

Round 1 bottom line: Harris +4.

On Wisconsin: There are exactly two words to describe the sickening spectacle of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s vicious move against  public employees in the Cheesehead State: Union Busting.

Walker is one of the favorite, lickspittle running dogs of the Koch Brothers, the greedhead polluters and social Darwinists who are the most visible players in the ultra-rich, right-wing effort to make oligarchy the law of the land in the U.S.

Not content that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans have grabbed nearly 25% of its wealth, thanks to decades of tax cuts for the wealthy and increasingly profitable banks and global corporations, the Kochs and their cadre now aggressively blame middle class workers for the Wall Street-triggered recession and, in the process, are pushing to destroy the last vestiges of trade unionism and all that it implies, as Paul Krugman notes:

In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.

You don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years — which it has — that’s to an important extent due to the decline of private-sector unions.

And now Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to get rid of public-sector unions, too.

More recommended reading: Gene Robinson and Ezra Klein in the Washpost.

Polling footnote: Rasmussen’s at it again, loading up its polling to support the Republican position on the debate over collective bargaining by public employees. Best evidence from impartial and also from Democratic connected pollsters finds that about six in 10 voters in Wisconsin and throughout the country reject the drive to do away with this fundamental labor right.

The Case for Why Redevelopment Must Go

Monday, February 21st, 2011

To hear mayors, council members and bureaucrats from throughout California screech and squeal about Gov. Jerry Brown’s call to shut down redevelopment agencies in favor of schools, the elderly and disabled, you’d think Krusty had proposed bulldozing Main Street.

As John Shirey, executive director of the California Redevelopment Association, put it the other day:  “I must be clear: we are stridently (sic) opposed to the governor’s proposal to abolish redevelopment and our singular goal is to defeat this proposal that will destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in economic activity.”

Strident, indeed. Hysterical, overwrought and hyperbolic, too. Seldom have we witnessed such widespread, collective urban self-centeredness coupled with apparent disregard for the social fabric.

There’s no way to know for sure, but it appears redevelopment agencies have already done what they can to hoard their loot by slapping together and hastily approving projects that would consume the same $1.7 billion in property taxes that Brown’s budget would use to keep from having to make further cutbacks to schools and social services as the state struggles with a $27 billion deficit.

San Diego officials are cooking up a plan to sequester $4 billion for a Charger’s football stadium and Los Angeles is trying to lock up $1 billion and other panicky RDAs are scheming to do the same.

Their bet is that Brown won’t sue them to recover those funds (even if the agencies are on shaky legal ground) because he won’t want all of those mayors and city officials opposing a June ballot measure to approve his budget by extending $12 billion in taxes and fees adopted two years ago.

How that will play out politically remains to be seen. But we don’t have to wait to understand the debate.

Needs in conflict: As long-ago urban affairs reporters, Calbuzz saw the powers of redevelopment used positively, to help revitalize urban areas in desperate need of infusions of investment. So we get that there are good arguments for the continuation of redevelopment, which are being blasted out to media and policy makers by the coalition to “Stop the State’s Redevelopment Proposal” (although we do wonder how much redevelopment money they’re spending on lobbying).

But California is facing a budget crisis of historic proportions that at least two and possibly three previous governors and their concurrent legislatures refused to own. And Brown has concluded that the interests of schools, widows and the disabled should have first call on funds that – according to the best, most objective studies – do little to expand California’s collective economic health when they are funneled into redevelopment agencies.

He’s right.

Redevelopment law allows cities (and counties, but they use it less) to declare a geographic area “blighted” and in need to revitalization. The property taxes in that redevelopment area are frozen and any new property taxes generated above that base may be used to purchase land, build streets and sewers and subsidize development in the project area.

The tax increment above the frozen base can be guaranteed as a source of funds to pay interest on bonds sold on the open market. This is called tax increment financing and it is a hugely powerful tool for urban investment because of its ability to leverage vastly more money at one time than is generated by the flow of property taxes annually.

There are some 400 active redevelopment agencies throughout California diverting more than $5 billion a year away from schools, counties and special districts and into the coffers of those agencies. The economic theory that argues for the process echoes Reaganesque trickle-down: by generating construction jobs, sales taxes and other activity in the redevelopment area, the rising tide is said to lift all boats and the region around the project area is expected to benefit. Like giving tax breaks to the wealthy is supposed to help the middle class.

Spinners for the RDAs argue that redevelopment activities support 304,000 jobs annually, including 170,600 construction jobs; contribute over $40 billion annually to California’s economy in the generation of goods and services, and generate more than $2 billion in state and local taxes in a typical year.

Moreover, since the law requires 20% of the tax increment to be dedicated for low- and moderate-income housing, the RDAs argue that eliminating redevelopment will significantly undermine efforts to provide homes for those who otherwise cannot afford it.

A close look at the numbers: But the most thorough and academically sound study of redevelopment we’re aware of, by Michael Dardia of the Public Policy Institute of California, found in 1998:

After correcting for local real estate trends, the author finds that redevelopment projects do not increase property values by enough to account for the tax increment revenues they receive. Overall, the agencies stimulated enough growth to cover just above half of those tax revenues. The rest resulted from local trends and would have gone to other jurisdictions in the absence of redevelopment.

A study by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office recently concluded as much and more.

While redevelopment leads to economic development within project areas, there is no reliable evidence that it attracts businesses to the state or increases overall regional economic development. Instead, the limited academic literature on this topic finds that—viewed from the perspective of an entire city or region—the effect of this program on property values is minimal. That is, redevelopment may cause some geographic shifts in economic development, but does not increase the overall amount of economic activity in a region. [emphasis added]

The independent research we reviewed found little evidence that redevelopment increases jobs. That is—similar to the analyses of property values—the research typically finds that any employment gains in the project areas are offset by losses in other parts of the region. We note that one study, commissioned by the California Redevelopment Association, vastly overstates the employment effects of redevelopment areas.

Redevelopment agencies receive over $5 billion of tax increment revenues annually. Lacking any reliable evidence that the agencies’ activities increase statewide tax revenues, we assume that a substantial portion of these revenues would have been generated anyway elsewhere in the region or state.

For example, a redevelopment agency might attract to a project area businesses that previously were located in other California cities, or that were planning to expand elsewhere in the region. In either of these cases, property taxes paid in the project area would increase, but there would be no change in statewide property tax revenues.

To the extent that a redevelopment agency receives property tax revenues without generating an overall increase in taxes paid in the state, the agency reduces revenues that otherwise would be available for local agencies to spend on non-redevelopment programs, including law enforcement, fire protection, road maintenance, libraries, and parks. [emphasis added]

The bottom line: In other words, despite the good arguments that RDAs make about the enormously positive local impacts of redevelopment – San Jose’s downtown and its northern industrial area are excellent examples – the evidence suggests that there’s a huge cost to the state (which has to back-fill funds that otherwise would have gone to schools) and little benefit or a substantial cost to counties and special districts.

We’re not even getting to other issues, like the fact that the only “blight” a lot of redevelopment areas had before they were made projects was pear blight, and the fact that there’s virtually no oversight of how redevelopment funds are spent (and millions is spent outside the law’s intent  to subsidize flagging city budgets and improve stable neighborhoods). That’s just piling on.

Gov. Brown’s budget would ensure that RDAs will receive enough money to cover the debt service on bonds they have already issued  (although the structure of the agencies that will make those payments still must be worked out).

But in an era when California is faced with draconian cutbacks to higher education, schools, parks and public safety, the diversion of property taxes to redevelopment agencies is a luxury the state can no longer afford.