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Posts Tagged ‘Bob Hertzberg’



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.

Cal Forward: We ‘Make No Change’ in Sinclair

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

mckernhertzLast week, Calbuzz stirred up a hornet’s nest by reporting that one of  California Forward’s proposed constitutional initiatives would effectively overturn the Legislature’s ability to raise fees with a majority vote as granted by the courts in the Sinclair Paint case. In doing so, we cited Section 7 of one of their two proposed measures. It amends Section 3 of Article XIII A of California’s Constitution to specify that a two-thirds vote of the Legislature would be required to replace, with a fee, any “revenue…that was generated by a tax” the previous year. Cal Forward squawked about our piece, so  we offered them a chance to explain why our analysis was wrong. Here’s their response which simply asserts they’re making “no change.” But their argument begs the question: If it’s true that the measure would “make no change” in Sinclair, why is Cal Forward seeking to, uh, change it? We stand by our analysis.

By Thomas V. McKernan and Robert M. Hertzberg
Special to Calbuzz

In the hyper-partisan world of California politics, folks aren’t quite sure what to make of California Forward and our plan to reform state government.

Critics on the left object that our plan doesn’t make it easier to raise taxes.  Critics on the right complain that it won’t let a minority of the state’s lawmakers continue to hold up the state budget.

They’re both right – but both are also missing something important about this effort: Our plan doesn’t lend itself to the typical scorecard that attempts to tally winners and losers on one side or the other.

Why? Because its fundamental orientation comes from neither the left nor the right. It doesn’t seek to tilt the playing field in either direction. It is instead, quite simply, a plan to make California’s government work again.

Take for example, the partisan wrangling over fees. As Calbuzz noted last week about the Sinclair Paint court decision, the Legislature needs only a simple majority to impose fees when a nexus exists between the regulatory program being imposed and the payer of the fee.

Conservatives have long viewed this authority as an end-run around the two-thirds majority vote requirement for raising taxes. These concerns were heightened late last year when Democratic lawmakers attempted to impose a multi-billion dollar fee that would have replaced the state’s current gas tax, and simultaneously raised other taxes, all by majority vote.

After much debate, the leadership of California Forward agreed its reform initiatives plan should make no change to the Legislature’s authority under Sinclair Paint.

Instead, the plan requires a two-thirds vote only on a fee that replaces revenue previously generated by a tax.  The good folks here at Calbuzz read this provision differently than the bipartisan legal team that helped California Forward craft our proposals. No surprise there.

But there’s also no question about our intent, which was to raise the vote requirement only in those rare instances where lawmakers impose a new fee to replace an existing tax forestalling the kind of “triple flip” that was attempted last year.

Those who expect our reform initiatives to mark just one more round in the ongoing partisan battle royale are likely to be disappointed.

That’s no accident. The members of California Forward’s bipartisan Leadership Council believe strongly that the problems facing our state won’t be solved by politics as usual, where the parties and the special interests square off against each other, dig in their heels and get nothing done.

You don’t have to be a policy expert to know that one of the biggest problems we face is California’s inability to approve a sensible state budget on time. Our first proposal, the Best Practices Budget Accountability Act, makes some practical, common-sense changes to end budget gridlock by taking sound practices from other states and applying them to California. Among them:

– Pay-As-You-Go – Requiring leaders to make hard choices by identifying right from the start how any new program would be paid for.

– Reduce Inefficiency and Waste – Requiring the Governor and Legislature to set clear goals for every program, measure its effectiveness, and fix or cut what doesn’t work.

– Pay Down Debt – Setting aside funds from occasional spikes in revenues to pay off debt.

– Long-term Planning – Requiring leaders to think ahead by creating two-year budgets and long-term revenue and spending forecasts.

– Majority Vote Budgets – to keep a small minority of politicians from holding up the budget for the entire state, but requiring a two-thirds majority for any tax increase.

– No Budget, No Paycheck – Requiring all legislators to forfeit their salary, travel and living expenses whenever they miss the budget deadline.

A second measure, the Community Funding Protection and Accountability Act, shifts power away from Sacramento and gives more responsibility to local government. It protects local tax dollars that belong to counties, cities and schools from being redirected to balance the state budget, and gives local officials new incentives to work together, eliminate overlapping programs and become more efficient.

The stakes in this debate may not be partisan, but we believe they’re high enough.

We all take pride in the fact that California has always led the way – in technology, education and quality of life.

But year after year of structural budget deficits, accounting gimmickry and a lack of clear priorities has shaken our confidence in ourselves and threatened our standing in the world. Our role as a national leader is in jeopardy.

We don’t need another partisan cat fight. We need a plan that gets California moving again so California can lead again — and that’s what California Forward is bringing to the table.

Robert M. Hertzberg and Thomas McKernan are co-chairs of California Forward, a nonpartisan reform group supported by contributions from California foundations. Their web site is www.caforward.org.

Back-Room Deal: Cal Forward’s Debate Over Biz Fees

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Bob_HertzbergLurking in the preliminary reform proposals put forth by California Forward is a little-noticed item that would limit the Legislature’s ability to raise revenue through “mitigation fees” on business.

The reform group is quietly planning a sit-down to search for a compromise over the politically controversial idea in the next week or so. Whether it’s a deal breaker for  CF’s  agenda  remains to be seen.

“I don’t know yet,” says Bob Hertzberg, the former Assembly Speaker who is co-chairman of the goo-goo outfit backed by some of the state’s biggest foundations.“It’s a dynamic process. Seems to me it’s pretty important.”

sinclairpaintWhat it’s all about is what’s known among tax weed whackers as “Sinclair” – referring to Sinclair Paint vs. Board of Equalization, 15 Cal.4th at 881 – a 1997 California Supreme Court decision that said the provisions of Prop. 13 do not prevent the Legislature from imposing – by a simple majority vote – certain fees on polluters or producers of contaminating products to help mitigate environmental impacts.

Calbuzz has no particular nose for the legal biz (despite the parade of process servers banging on our door).  But we can smell a potential political deal — and this has that distinctive aroma. The working papers that members of the CF Leadership Council reviewed at their last meeting included this language:

“As a condition for lowering the vote threshold for enacting a budget to a simple majority, the ability to raise revenue through ‘mitigation’ fees should be limited to prevent lawmakers from significantly increasing fee-based revenue.”

Sounds kinda like a quid pro quo to us. And although, as the CF papers note, the Legislature has not since used the authority implied in Sinclair to try to raise taxes masqueraded as fees,  “it would be simple to add a fee to alcoholic beverages, petroleum products and anything else that carries a nexus to a public problem,” according to the CF working papers.

So some of the business representatives on CF want to cut the Dems off at Sinclair Pass – by limiting what’s a fee and what’s a tax – or by requiring a two-thirds vote to increase fees, just like what’s required now to increase taxes. The group has tested that last idea in polling, we’ve learned.

“There will be language limiting what can be passed as fees,” said Ryan Rauzon, spokesman for CF.

But Chairman Bob insists it’ would be a mistake to focus only on Sinclair as the key to business support for CF reforms. The only way some of the conservatives and business people on CF would “even consider” allowing 50% to pass the budget is if there’s a whole panoply of budget reforms – pay-as-you-go provisions, controls on one-time expenditures, two-year budgeting,  performance reviews, sunset provisions AND limits on what can pass with 50% as a “fee,” he said.

But will liberals – on CF and in the Legislature – agree to circumscribe their current authority to impost fees with a majority vote? Will they agree that there has to be a “clear nexus” between charges allocated to a polluter or manufacturer of polluty stuff?

Hard to imagine why they’d give up their political edge on this one, when there are some conservatives (Tom McClintock, for example) who support passing a budget with a majority vote even without a deal on fees.

We’ll know more in another week or so after the enviros on the committee and some of the bizpeople meet to see if there can agree on language codifying Sinclair.

Although the matter carries us deep into the policy weeds, it represents one of the fundamental political tensions underlying CF’s attempt to build consensus on a reform agenda: resolving the inherent conflict between conservative, pro-market business interests and liberal, pro-regulation types.

Fishwrap Friday: Goo-Goos Gone Wild (Not)

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Will It Be California Forward or Backward? California Forward, the good government group with name-brand backing and top-drawer credentials, will be meeting in Sacramento next week to decide whether to become irrelevant.

Okay, that’s not exactly on the agenda Wednesday. But as the Bay Area Ccafwd_logo1ouncil aggressively forges ahead toward a constitutional convention, its weak brother reform group is moving closer to beside-the-point status — despite backing from the California Endowment, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

The bi-partisan group, headed by former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, and Southern California Automobile Association executive Thomas McKernan, has a whole bunch of proposals for Kumbaya stuff like better representation, smarter budgeting and fiscal management.

All of which boil down to: Managing the status quo.

Unless the group resolves next week to take a clear and strong stand on something controversial – say, undoing the two-thirds vote requirement to pass a state budget — the consensus-obsessed California Forward might as well rename itself California Backward.

It’s ironic. The guy who had been heading up the group was former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, until he got called on by President Obama to go to DC to run the CIA. And the group’s roster remains impressive: after Hertzberg and McKernan, it’s got Bob Balgenorth, President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, AFL-CIO; Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Chief Executive Officer, Green For All; Bill Hauck, President, California Business Roundtable; Antonia Hernández, President and CEO of the California Community Foundation; Fred Keeley, Treasurer, Santa Cruz County; Stewart Kwoh, President and Executive Director, Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California; Donna Lucas, Founder, Lucas Public Affairs Group; Sunne Wright McPeak, President and Chief Executive Officer, California Emerging Technology Fund; Bruce McPherson, Former California Secretary of State; Chuck Poochigian, Former State Senator and Assemblymember; Cruz Reynoso, Former Associate Justice, California Supreme Court and the Third District Court of Appeal; Constance Rice, Co-Director, Advancement Project and Gene Voiland, Principal, Voiland Enterprises LLC.

But by dithering and doddering about whether to take clear stands on big issues, California Forward risks squandering its stature and taking a permanent back seat to the Bay Area Council on the government reform front . . .

Inmates Push for Asylum Management: Having the Legislature seize control of the University of California from the Board of Regents “is like having the management of GM take over Microsoft.”

That was the best line making the rounds Thursday, one day after Senator Leland Yee trumpeted a whacky proposal for a constitutional amendment to exchange UC’s 141-year old practice of independent governance for an exciting new future hunkered down in the Capitol muck of petty politics.

“It’s ridiculous, silly stuff,” Board of Regents Chairman Dick Blum told Calbuzz. “The people in Sacramento are going to tell us how to run the UC?”

In an interview, Blum vigorously defended the Regents’ management, contrasting the system’s balanced budget with the state’s $25 billion deficit and its AAA bond rating with the state’s, um, ZZZ rank. He also noted UC’s ability to attract top academic and administrative talent, portraying the regents’ hiring of President Mark Yudof a year ago as a milestone in improving the system’s management. Yudof is a nationally recognized leader of the accountability movement, which stresses the use of measurable results systems for universities: “You won’t find a better, proven manager of a hugely complex, public higher education institution anywhere.”

Yee and his allies have attacked the recent approval of mid-six figure salaries for campus chancellors as just the latest outrage of out-of-control executive compensation at UC. Blum said that the average income for the top executives of the system’s 10 campuses are “35-to-40 percent below market” and that the biggest problem for the $18-billion UC is that the state keeps cutting its share of the overall budget, which now amounts to less than $3 billion.

“There is such a thing as the marketplace, there is such a thing as reality,” Blum told us.

Yee’s chief of staff, Adam Keigwin, said the senator is not seeking “day to day management” of the UC system, just more “oversight” that would give the Legislature greater authority over what he described as abuses involving pay for top university officials. Which sounds kinda like a distinction without a difference . . .

The Meg and John Show: Having captured a smashing 37 percent of the vote in California last November, Arizona Senator John McCain will give Republican wannabe governor Meg Whitman some tips on running strong in the Golden State today.

Her Megness is scheduled to appear with Joe the Plumber’s best friend at a Town Hall meeting in Orange County, followed by a “private event” (i.e. fundraiser) in Fresno, according to her campaign. For media mavens desperately seeking a rare opportunity to pose a question to the elusive eMeg, she’ll have a press avail at 2:50 pm (and that’s not 2:51 p.m., either, mister!) in the Executive Room of the Piccadilly Inn. The release on the event says it’s for “Credentialed Media Only” and that part is in BOLD CAPS, so don’t even try sneaking in if you’re some kind of low-rent blogger or something…Wait a minute, credentialed by whom? . . .

Offshore Plan Sinking Fast: Look for a whole lotta pushback on Arnold’s controversial plan to raise revenue by drilling for oil offshore of Santa Barbara, when the State Lands Commission meets Monday in Santa Monica. It’s the first meeting of the group since Governor Deltoids announced the proposal, which would end run a commission vote turning down the project last January . . .

Today’s Sign the End of Civilization is Near: Four states now prohibit drivers from smiling for the photos on their licenses, according to a USA Today report. Arkansas, Indiana, Nevada and Virginia all require you to wipe that grin off your face because it messes with their high-tech, face-recognition software. Bring on the Vulcans! . . .

Spell Check: Congratulations to Kavya Shivashankar, 13, of Olathe, Kansas, who won the National Spelling Bee Thursday by correctly spelling “laodicean” which means lukewarm or indifferent in religion or politics. Pronounced “lay-ah-di-see-an,” this is NOT what makes a good Calbuzzer.

What Now, California?

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

brokengovernment1The skunking of all five special election budget measures backed by Governor Arnold and the Can’t Shoot Straight Legislature was a clear signal that voters are way beyond fed up with half-measures, marginal fixes and smoke and mirrors in Sacramento.

Like a winless team trotting out a five-lateral trick play in the final seconds of the last game of the season, Schwarzenegger and the Legislature tried to pull a fast one, hoping to avoid facing the hard reality that it’s time for fundamental political change in California.

“The public is making a statement, loud and clear, that they expect action,” said Jim Wunderman, CEO of the Bay Area Council. “The seriousness of the problem has reached a crescendo.”

Executives of the council today are scheduled to roll out the most serious call for sweeping political reform in California since Hiram Johnson – an ambitious plan for an historic constitutional convention to overhaul the fiscal, management and electoral structures and operations of a government that spends $144 billion a year, chronically fails to pass a budget and has plunged the state into a thick muck of debt it will take decades to clean up.

With recession sapping the economic strength of the state, and voters holding record-low opinions of their state leaders, the time is ripe for this kind of quantum change. In parallel with the Bay Area Council, the good government group California Forward has launched its own agenda of political reform, while partisans and policy wonks alike prepare to fight for initiatives on reforms like open primary elections and dumping the two-thirds requirements for passing budgets and taxes.

California’s challenge is deceptively simple to envision but horrifically complex to accomplish: restoring democracy where institutional chaos now reigns.

Since the 1978 passage of Proposition 13, when Sacramento took on the task of managing the impact of property tax cuts in cities, counties and special districts across the state, the on-the-fly reorganization of political and financial relations between the Capitol and its provinces, coupled with a decades-long binge of budgeting by ballot box, has steadily evolved into a Byzantine patchwork of stunted and often self-canceling imperatives and ideologies.

By now, democracy — in the sense of a government by, of and for the people — has become so completely distorted, perverted and corrupted in California that tinkering, however well-intentioned, is not enough. It’s not about “blowing up boxes,” as Arnold famously, and demagogically, promised to do. It’s about dismantling and rebuilding democratic government based on three key values: accountability, trust and modern, measurable performance of the people and programs funded by taxpayers.

None of this is entirely new, of course. As with most things about California, the writer Carey McWilliams got it right — in 1949 — when he offered this assessment in “California: The Great Exception.”

“California, the giant adolescent, has been outgrowing its governmental clothes now, for a hundred years. The first state constitution was itself an improvisation; and from that time to the present, governmental services have lagged far behind population growth. Other states have gone through this phase too, but California has never emerged from it. It is this fact which underlies the notorious lack of social and political equilibrium in California.”

But in the past 60 years, things have gotten worse. The system today is constricted, subverted and hamstrung by special-interest ballot propositions, two-thirds vote requirements, gerrymandering, term limits and raging rivers of free-flowing political cash. The governor and Legislature have been circumscribed and neutered.

California Forward, a civic improvement coalition created by California Common Cause, Center for Governmental Studies, New California Network and The Commonwealth Club of California’s Voices of Reform Project, is advocating short-term fixes for the budget and is considering long-term reforms as well.

Short term, they’re pushing for managing the spikes in state revenues, a pay-as-you-go requirement, results-based budgeting, a two-year budget and other reforms. As a bipartisan group, they have not yet been able to agree on whether to push to reduce the two-thirds requirement for passing the budget and/or raising revenues.

But California Forward co-chairman Bob Hertzberg, a former Democratic Speaker of the Assembly, personally believes the most important reform would be to return power to local governments – where accountability is most immediate — and give them the power to raise funds by majority vote.

“The key to restoring democracy in California is bringing government closer to the people,” he said. “People should be getting what they’re paying for and paying for what they want.”

The scale at which state government is trying to operate – by funding education, health care, public safety and the like for 38 million people – is simply too large. The unintended consequences of Proposition 13 – which shifted money and power to Sacramento – must be undone, he argues.

Specific solutions aside for now, fixing the fetid mess in Sacramento will require the commitment, not just of politicians who see the writing on the wall, but also of the mainstream media, which has nurtured widespread ignorance about the business of state politics and government by systematically ignoring it: Not a single TV station from a major California city has a bureau there.*

Most of all, it will require the involvement of taxpaying citizens, who must bear responsibility for choices that have yielded harmful, if unintended, political consequences.

“We need a citizen-induced fix,” as Wunderman puts it: “California government is not only broken, it has become destructive to our future.”

*CORRECTION: Nannette Miranda is the Capitol Correspondent for the ABC network-owned TV stations in California: KABC-TV Los Angeles, KGO-TV San Francisco, and KFSN-TV Fresno. She is technically and contractually a KABC-TV Los Angeles reporter. Calbuzz regrets the error.