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Posts Tagged ‘Fred Keeley’



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.

Swap Meet: Keeley Blows Whistle on Parsky

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch.

billwatkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Weekend Swap Meet: Taxes, Death & Sarah Palin

Saturday, August 1st, 2009

carbontaxA bump for Keeley: One largely overlooked finding in news coverage of this week’s much-discussed PPIC poll was evidence of strong statewide support for a pollution tax on carbon-based fuels.

As a political matter, the finding is significant because the California Commission on the 21st Century Economy – aka the Parsky Commission - is considering such a levy as part of a package of liberal proposals, as the group works towards a formal recommendation for reforming state tax policy.

In the poll, 56 percent of those surveyed said they support a carbon tax, with 35 percent opposed. Democrats – 73-to-20 percent – and independents – 52-to-39 percent – both back the idea, while Republicans oppose it 60-to-33 percent.

The carbon tax question was one in a series that PPIC asked to test public attitudes about global warming. Six in 10 Californians believe that the effects of global warming have already begun, while 75 percent say immediate steps are needed to counter its effects.

The poll-takers also asked whether people favor a “cap and trade” system of regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Although Californians also favor such a plan, they do with only a plurality of 49-to-40 percent, with both Democrats and independents backing it by smaller margins than the carbon tax; Republicans oppose it, but like it slightly more than the carbon tax.

fred keeley_0102A tax on carbon-based fuels is one element of a plan for overhauling the state’s tax system that has been presented to the Parsky Commission by Santa Cruz County Treasurer Fred Keeley, a former Assemblyman, who leads the commission’s liberal faction. Keeley’s proposal calls for the “pollution tax” to move inversely with the price of crude oil, in order to put a floor under the price of gasoline.

“As proposed, the fuel tax will help to stabilize state revenues and reduce volatility by providing a steady source of revenue,” Keeley said in a presentation to fellow commissioners. “By supporting the clean energy and transportation industry, which many investors view as the next growth industry, this proposed tax reform will advance California’s role as a leader in the clean energy sector.”

(Memo to Fred: Hey, clean out your cell phone voice mail, man – how are we supposed to get a fresh quote?)

milton-friedman

Shock doctrine: threat or menace? Calbuzz bets that Tom Campbell, the Dudley Do-Right of  California politics, is the only candidate in America to issue a press release in which he gets all misty on the occasion of the, uh, third anniversary of the death of Milton Friedman.

“This Friday would have been Milton Friedman’s 97th birthday,” Campbell announced to the state’s political press corps, many of whose members, remarkably, might have remained otherwise oblivious to the occasion (we name no names). “He passed away in November, 2006, vibrant and insightful to the very end of his life.”

Ah, Milton, we hardly know ye’.

Nothing if not terminally earnest, the Republican wannabe’ governor recounted his long, personal history with the hard line conservative economist, who served as Campbell’s faculty adviser at the University of Chicago, before finally getting around to the political pandering: “On his birthday, it is an appropriate moment…to take a warning from his life’s work about current attempts to inject government regulation more and more into our country’s economy.”

Indeed.

Coincidentally, a very different view of the late Professor Friedman was propounded yesterday by state labor leader Willie Pelote over at California Progress Report.

“…economic shock therapy is based on the theories of University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman, who strongly believed that governments should play no role in the economic sphere other than to protect the rights of property owners…(S)ocieties in which these policies have been enacted are generally characterized by increased poverty, an ever widening gap between rich and poor, and a widespread host of social and economic problems most commonly associated with Third World countries.”

Boy, we just can’t wait for that constitutional convention to Bring Us All Together.

SarahPalinWavingGoodbyePalin Redux: As Politico was reporting Friday that Sarah Palin has decided to stiff  the Simi Valley Republican Women by backing out of her previously announced speech at the Reagan Library (Palin let them know via Facebook), Calbuzz was still trying to get our heads around the erstwhile Alaska’s governor farewell address.

To us, she mostly sounded like your teenager, who wrecks the family car, then insists you should loan it to her again because if she thought she was going to wreck twice, would she even ask?

“It is because I love Alaska this much, sir, that I feel it is my duty to avoid the unproductive, typical, politics-as-usual, lame-duck session in one’s last year in office. How does that benefit you? With this decision now, I will be able to fight even harder for you, for what is right and for truth.”

What…evvverrr…

Why Arnold’s “Legacy” Claim is a Fraud

Monday, July 27th, 2009

arnoldcigarThe day before the Legislature passed the third patchwork version of California’s budget in 10 months, Gov. Schwarzenegger took to “Flashreport,” the state’s leading conservative web site, to claim “a huge win.”

“(T)he biggest winner to emerge from our negotiations is California,” the governor bragged, “our state’s legacy, its priorities, and its budget stability.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong!!

Schwarzenegger’s triumphalist braying was little more than a one-step-ahead-of-the-posse exercise in spin control, a pathetically transparent bid to establish a positive narrative for the budget disaster over which he’s presided, in hopes that voters and his suck-up pals in the national media will buy his story without bothering to check it out.

(NOTE TO NATIONAL POLITICAL WRITERS: Schwarzenegger did NOT solve or stabilize California’s budget. Despite his assertion to the contrary, his budget – passed in February and now revised twice – actually RAISED TAXES by $12.5 BILLION. With the latest revision, he threw off enough ballast to keep his hot air balloon afloat but in no particular direction.)

As Fred Keeley, the elected treasurer of Santa Cruz County, put it:

“The governor set the standard when he said, at the start of the process, that this needs to be a complete solution. And then he violated his own standard by signing a budget which doesn’t solve the problem this year or next year and in fact, according to the Legislative Analyst and the Department of Finance, is going to create a multi-billion-dollar deficit next year.”

Keeley knows wherearnoldbuckof he speaks. He served on the Assembly Budget Committee for six years, was asked by former Gov. Gray Davis to be Finance Director and is a Senate appointee to the Governor’s 21st Century Commission on the Economy.

In truth, Arnold’s entire tenure has been one continuous failure of leadership. This is just the latest chapter.

From his first days in office (when he sowed the seeds of today’s never-ending fiscal crisis by his irresponsible cut in the vehicle license fee) to his ill-considered $15 billion borrowing bond (which helped make interest payments the fastest growing item in the budget) and his current shameful spending plan (which gives the University of California a major push into mediocrity while continuing the slow death of K-12 education and punishing the aged, blind and disabled), he has been little more than a narcissistic, tone-deaf poseur, surrounded by sycophants and devoid of principle or conviction.

At a time when the state’s economy is hemorrhaging, its schools failing and roads crumbling, Schwarzenegger has been utterly ineffective in explaining to Californians the reasons behind the problems we face, and even less so in proposing innovative solutions to any of them. His little touchdown dance about the current budget belies the painful truth that this is nothing but a stop-gap maneuver designed to escape the embarrassment of issuing IOUs and con the credit markets into a few months of cash to ease the state’s borrowing jones.

Schwarzenegger’s soaring claims about the wonders worked by his budget fail on three grounds:

1. It’s a short term fix. Amid all the high-fives and chest bumps in the governor’s circle, it’s important to recall that the latest budget plan comes just five months after the last one, which came only five months before the previous. In other words, California has had three budgets in less than a year and, given current revenue trends, it’s all but certain that Arnold and the gang will be back in the fall for yet another round of all-nighters. Filled with gimmicks, borrowing and Grand Theft from schools and local government, the “huge win” for California being trumpeted by Schwarzenegger is nothing but more of the same old same old.

2. It does nothing to address the state’s dysfunction. As Calbuzz has reported the ongoing budget mess is a symptom of a far more fundamental disorder – a state of permanent ideological gridlock shaped by term limits, gerrymandering and three decades worth of wrong-headed initiatives. The latest “drama” over the budget is just another re-run of Groundhog Day, and it will keep re-playing and replaying until the pols in the Capitol acknowledge and accept the need for fundamental reforms, and find the cojones and the political skill to sell them to their constituents across the state.

3. It will probably make things worse. While it is true that the state for years has had a structural deficit, caused by the governor and the Legislature’s effort to defy the laws of arithmetic, it is also true that the huge magnitude of the current deficit is overwhelmingly caused by the current recession, which slashed state revenues by nearly one-third in one year, reducing tax collections to the level of a decade ago. The bursting of the real estate bubble, and the structural decline of the economy that has followed it has put the entire state economy into treacherous territory that may yet turn into a full-blown depression.

Under these conditions, there’s a strong argument to be made that wholesale cuts that the budget delivers will make the recession more punishing: as layoffs of public employee push the unemployment rate higher, furloughed state workers spend less, as all the programs set up to help with those who fall on hard economic times are cut back at the very moment they’re needed most.

As Calbuzz reported about the latest forecast by California economist Bill Watkins: “California’s budget issues are likely to be made worse by continuing economic decline. Perversely, the budget then negatively feeds back into the economy. The problem is not likely to see relief, at least in terms of increased revenues, before late 2011.”