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Posts Tagged ‘Cal Forward’



Cal Forward Fee Proposal Meets Our Hawaiian Eye

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

When last we checked on California Forward’s reform proposals we saw them drifting in some Legislative backwater. But friends tell us there may still be breath in some of the proposals and the one Calbuzz thinks is most likely to be a sleeper relates — you guessed it — to whether it takes a majority or two-thirds to approve of fees.

As we noted in our last look at this damn thing, SCA 19, Cal Forward’s omnibus reform bill,  includes a provision that says:

any bill that imposes a fee shall be passed by not less than two-thirds of all Members elected to each of the two houses of the Legislature if revenue from the fee would be used to fund a program, service, or activity that was previously funded by revenue from a tax that is repealed or reduced in the same fiscal year or in a prior fiscal year.”

Jim Mayer and Fred Silva of Cal Forward said this would apply only in some specific and rare cases and would not undercut the Legislature’s ability to raise fees in most cases by majority vote.  We said we thought the measure would affect the Legislature’s power on fees because (quoting us) “every program, service and activity is funded by ‘revenue from a tax,’ and so, any place where the Legislature wanted to subvent tax funds with fee funds would require a two-thirds vote.”

Comes now someone who, unlike Calbuzz, actually understands the budget — Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, who tells us: “The language is so broad that it appears to require a two-thirds vote to impose or increase a fee that goes to any program that receives support from the General Fund.

“That would include CalFire, community college fees, everything that receives even a dime of state general purpose funding, or a dime of revenue from a tax that has been cut at any time in the state’s history.”

Oops. Another reason — along with the elimination of the two-thirds vote on the budget (which we like, BTW) — that Cal Forward’s package of proposals is ready for the fork.

Now this: Check out CBP’s latest, a detailed report on who pays taxes in California, which sh.ould come in handy the next time some candidate starts claiming the state has the highest taxes in the nation

This just in: Our Honolulu Bureau’s Big Waves and Little Drink Umbrellas Desk reports that Aloha State airwaves are crackling with ads from candidates in a May 22 congressional race, which threatens to become the latest special election nightmare for Democrats and the White House.

With the Scott Brown special election stunner still top of mind, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s troops are facing the real possibility of losing their long-held grip on the state’s First District seat because of an all-party ballot, which makes the top vote-getter the new representative without a run-off, coupled with an all-politics-is-local internecine brawl between two Hawaii Democrats.

The scenario was set up when longtime Rep. Neil Abercrombie resigned in December to run for governor, to replace outgoing Republican Linda Lingle (who’s having big problems of her own ) amid a California-style budget mess. The Democratic Establishment, in the persons of U.S. Senators Daniels Akaka and Inouye, quickly lined up behind state senator Colleen Hanabusa, a reliable legislative hack who’s now running as a “partner” of President Obama, who won the district in his home state with 70 percent of the vote in 2008.

But Ed Case, a moderate and former Democrat House member, also jumped into the contest, raising the specter that Republican Charles Djou, a Honolulu city councilman, may split the seam and capture the seat amid the D’s feuding. Case is casting himself as an outsider by running against Washington insiders and, Mai Tai sources say, would run likely run stronger against Djou in a one-on-one matchup because of his appeal to independent voters.

But Case broke the play-nice rules of Hawaii politics by challenging Akaka in the 2006 Senate primary and payback is a bitch; the Asian-American Action Fund, strong backers of the two U.S. Senators, has warned off any national Dems of a mind to get behind Case by noting that 60 percent of the voters are of Asian descent, a not-so-subtle shot aimed at helping Hanabusa and dissing the white guy.

Gleeful Republicans meanwhile are nationalizing the race, and uniting behind Djou, a smart and boyish looking moderate with a nice-looking young  family who’s campaigning as a small-government entrepreneurial types. GOP presidential hopefuls Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney have both weighed in on the contest, contributing money to Djou and portraying him as a scourge of “Obamacare, a costly stimulus bill and cap and trade legislation.”

And Mahalo for that.

Keeley: California Forward Not Dead, Still Kicking

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

By Fred Keeley
Special to Calbuzz

I come to praise California Forward, not to bury it.

Actually, I have no real issue with Calbuzz’s micro-reporting on the narrow point of whether or not California Forward’s efforts to have the legislature and governor place a real budget process reform measure on the November ballot, will be successful.

I do have an issue with Calbuzz using that as the measure of California Forward’s overall effectiveness in the broader area of fixing California’s broken tools for governance in the 21st Century.

As many of your readers know, California Forward was founded a couple of years ago with the support of a hand-full of large California foundations who had grown exasperated by the rapid decline of California’s governance capacity.

Whether the issue was and is education, environmental protection, healthy economy, human services, or any of the other major issues facing our state, California seems to have become mostly incapable of making progress.

Obviously, there are exceptions, with the most notable being AB 32, the state’s landmark and comprehensive global climate change statute. For the most part, and regardless of the state’s economic condition, Sacramento has become a place where good ideas seem to go to die.

California Forward, a bi-partisan (or, some would argue, a non-partisan) organization came into existence to deeply examine what is broken in California’s systems of governance, and to build support for thoughtful, best-practices reforms. It has been known from the start that many of the solutions are likely to take a few years to achieve, while some may be able to be adopted more quickly.

In 2008, California Forward joined other “Goo Goos” such as the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and AARP, to sponsor the statewide ballot measure that took the decadal redistricting of legislative lines out of the hands of legislators, and put it in the hands of an independent commission.

That effort is underway now, and there are those who want to see it succeed, and others who are attempting to smother it in the crib. Regardless, it is one of the reforms that many who look at California’s governance tools believe needs exactly this reform.

For a couple of years, California Forward has worked both inside and outside Sacramento to develop a set of “best practices” reforms of California’s perennially late and “not worth waiting for” budget-making system. The California Forward package includes two-year budgeting, budgeting by objectives, mandatory oversight of the governor’s implementation of the budget by the legislature, and other items used by many, many states that are considered well managed.

The clear 600-pound gorilla in the budget reform room is the majority vote. California Forward is recommending that the existing two-thirds vote to adopt the budget be replaced by a simple majority vote provision in the state constitution. This would put California in the same place as 47 of the 50 states who have just such a provision. This change would NOT change the current requirement to obtain a 2/3rd’s vote to raise taxes.

Other issues on our agenda include term limit reform, initiative reform, and campaign financing. Each will take more time to develop into a broadly-supported reform.

I have read with interest your obituary of Repair California, the folks who wanted to get a Constitutional Convention to the ballot. I have also read your pieces on other budget reform efforts, such as that by Professor Lakoff at the University of California Berkeley.

I hasten to add that I respect both efforts, as it is critically important for as many voices and ideas as possible to be in the mix if ideas to fix California’s broken governance tools.

California Forward is, however, different. We are taking a multi-year, multi-subject approach to solving our vexing governance problems. We are very likely to have to take a few laps around many tracks to get all of this done, but we will get it done. California should accept nothing less.

To accomplish that, California Forward is undertaking an unprecedented civic engagement project. What I like to call the California Conversation. This project, which has been approved by California Forward’s board of directors and is deep into the design stage, is an attempt to have a conversation with literally millions of Californians regarding the state of governance in California, and what can be done to fix it.

This, too, is likely to take time to do it right — and to make changes that will provide lasting improvements.

Why Goo Goo Plans are Toast; Labor Runs Amok

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

We come to bury California Forward, not to praise it. The goo goo reform plan, now subsumed into SCA 19, contains a host of worthy measures affecting budgeting and spending. But it’s the much-needed centerpiece – reducing the two-thirds vote needed to approve the state budget – that is its undoing. For now.

Why? Because to put the measure on the ballot will itself require a two-thirds vote, which won’t happen because even if all the Democrats lined up together – and that’s not at all certain – the Republicans would kill it.

As His Royal Walters wrote last week: “Politically, the plan appears to be a nonstarter.”

Loyal Calbuzzers know that we have long argued that without a variety of reforms – including majority vote on the state budget — California will remain fundamentally ungovernable.

Sure, a governor and Legislature will play their roles, budgets will be passed, schools and prisons will operate, the state will function. But California will continue to float along like a raft on the ocean, not like a true ship of state being steered along a certain course.

Besides the majority-vote budget provision, the SCA 19 – at the request of California Forward – also includes a provision that says:

any bill that imposes a fee shall be passed by not less than two-thirds of all Members elected to each of the two houses of the Legislature if revenue from the fee would be used to fund a program, service, or activity that was previously funded by revenue from a tax that is repealed or reduced in the same fiscal year or in a prior fiscal year.”

Now, Jim Mayer and Fred Silva of Cal Forward – two really smart guys whose thinking we respect – say this is NOT an attack on the Sinclair Paint decision (which Calbuzz has covered exhaustively) that allows the Legislature to raise fees by majority vote as long as there is a “nexus” between the fee and the service it pays for.

They say it only would apply to a limited situation in which a fee was proposed to replace a specific excise tax used to fund a specific program, service or activity. The measure was inserted, Mayer said, “in order to build some support for majority vote from business groups who would otherwise kill the bill.”

Which kinda underscores our point:  If it doesn’t affect Sinclair, why do it at all? Because, they say, some business interests are worried that the Legislature will try a massive bait-and-switch, swapping out tax-based revenues with majority-vote fees.

The way we read the measure, it does affect Sinclair since every program, service and activity is funded by “revenue from a tax,” and so, any place where the Legislature wanted to subvent tax funds with fee funds would require a two-thirds vote – which under Sinclair only requires a majority. But we’re not what you might call your “tax experts.”

Anyway, even if the liberals go along – and if just a few of them read this like we do, that’s not likely – the Republicans are not likely to give away their one-third-vote leverage. Which is why we say you can stick a fork in Cal Forward’s proposal.

Back Away From the IPhone!

Back in January, Calbuzz was first to break the news that three longtime Democrats from a new Silicon Valley firm were rolling out “a product that – for better or worse — promises to cut dramatically the cost of gathering signatures for ballot initiatives by using social networking and touch-screen technology.”

Verafirma Inc.’s Democracy Project, founded by Jude Barry, Michael Marubio and Steve Churchwell, we reported, makes it possible for activists to use email, Facebook and other social networking venues to distribute ballot initiative language and arguments, and to collect and verify signatures from users who have an iPhone, Droid or other new generation touch-screen device.

So when we heard about Barry, a Calbuzz contributor, getting blacklisted by Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, we thought it was just a case of union protectionism run amok.

The ostensible reason for placing Barry and his firm, Catapult Strategies, on the  “do not patronize” list was that Verafirma is selling its signature-gathering technology to the folks trying to qualify a ballot measure for “paycheck protection” — labor’s most-hated proposal which would ban use of union dues for political purposes.

This didn’t make any sense. Verafirma is licensing use of a technology that anybody can use. It’s as if they’d come up with a pedestrian GPS system and Republican precinct walkers wanted to use it. It’s like selling electronic clipboards and pens. The technology is neutral. It’s like blacklisting an iPod dealer because right-wingers are buying and using his product.

But then we read Internal Affairs in the Mercury News and nosed around a bit more and it all came clear: Pulaski was doing the dirty work for Cindy Chavez, who heads the South Bay Labor Council and who is supporting Forrest Williams for county supervisor. Barry is working for Teresa Alvarado, seeking that same seat on the county board.

Chavez told the Mercury News she didn’t draft the Pulaski letter, although she knew it was in the works. And she took a whack at Barry for allowing “a company of his to support taking the right away from working men and women to speak politically.”

Calbuzz has no candidate in the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors race. We just think Barry  — who worked for Ted Kennedy and Howard Dean, ferchristsake — is getting rat-fucked. Sure paycheck protection is anti-union. And one of Barry’s defenses — that it wasn’t his personal account at Verafirma — is specious.

But none of that should matter: he’s done nothing to challenge labor’s right to organize or influence politics. This stinks.

FPPC Lets Newsom Double Dip: Calbuzz called attention to a loophole in the law governing contributions a while back but the FPPC has decided that you can run for one office, max out to the limit, drop from that race and enter another and max out again from the same donors. This lets Gavin Newsom, now a candidate for gov lite, go back to all those donors who gave him $25,900 when he was a candidate for governor. Whatever.

California Reform Movement 2010: R.I.P.

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

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

Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fairness, indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or not.

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.