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Liveblogging the Debate: Meg Attacks, Jerry Defends

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

In a well-argued and classic ideological debate for governor, Republican Meg Whitman Tuesday night aggressively attacked Democrat Jerry Brown as a tool of public employee unions who will do nothing to change the status quo in Sacramento while he repeatedly portrayed her as an ill-prepared Schwarzenegger clone with policies designed to serve only the rich.

“I don’t think you can find two more different candidates,” Whitman told reporters moments after the event at UC Davis ended, summing up the sharp contrasts between her and Brown on major issues, especially tax policy, illegal immigration and their ability to work effectively as governor to balance competing interests.

“I think it was a very exciting exchange,” Brown said after the debate. “I think the views and major differences were very well projected and I think people are in a little better position to make a judgment.”

Although the candidates for governor were closely matched, Whitman kept Brown on defense throughout much of the one-hour event at UC Davis, repeating the attack lines from her commercials. Brown, however, was more natural, funny and unrehearsed, as he reached to make a more personal connection with voters who might be just tuning into the race.

“I care a great deal about public service,” Brown said in his best riff. “I think it’s honorable. And I’ve lived in this state all my life. I love it and I voted here all my life. God willing, I’ll spend the rest of my life and die in this state. I love it.

Polished, if somewhat nervous, eMeg was consistently on message and solid in discussing policy as she kept up a steady stream of sharp criticism against Brown’s record on taxes and spending during his first turn as governor, and his performance on schools and crime while mayor of Oakland. Time and again she hit him over the strong financial backing he has from labor, playing on public anger against government and pessimism about the direction the state is headed.

Whitman’s best line, after noting that Brown and the labor unions have been joined at the hip for decades: “Putting Jerry Brown in charge of negotiating with the labor unions around pensions, around how many people we have in the government is like putting Count Dracula in charge of the blood bank.”

Feisty, funny and self-deprecating about his age, Brown used  rhetorical jujitsu to turn some of Whitman’s attacks back on her, painting her corporate experience as too limited and too shallow to stand up to the pressures of being governor. He not only compared the business executive rationale for her candidacy to Schwarzenegger’s, but also linked her both to the Wall Street meltdown and to George Bush supply side policies in Washington, saying her call for a capital gains tax cut would “benefit millionaires and billionaires” including her. “Unions, yeah, they have their problems, but what about business over there?”

Besides taxes, the clearest difference between the two came on illegal immigration, with Brown saying he would support a “path to citizenship” for the millions of undocumented workers in California and Whitman saying she would oppose it.

Asked how voters could be sure he wouldn’t run for president again like he did the last time he was elected governor, Brown replied: “Age. Hell, if I was younger you know I’d be running again. But I’d say at 74, whatever it’s going to be in a couple of years, I’m ready. One more thing, I now have a wife. And you know, I come home at night. I don’t try to close down the bars of Sacramento like I used to do when I was governor of California.”

Whitman made a strong defense of the $119 million of her own funds she has invested in the campaign.  “I’m up against some very significant forces,” she said. “In the last five years, public employee unions and unions throughout California have spent over $300 million on politics in California. So I’m up against a pretty big set of entrenched interests. But you know what? I think Californians are really smart. I don’t think you can buy elections. I think Californians are too smart.”

Bottom line: an exciting and entertaining event that will not change the dynamic of the race.

Live blog begins here.

4:15 pm The Calbuzz National Affairs Desk is spread coast-to-coast tonight, watching the Dustup in Davis from the Mondavi Center’s Jackson Hall on the UC Davis campus and from a secret livestream location on the Jersey Shore (where, in a separate campaign, the lines are crackling as voters demand The Situation not get dumped from “Dancing With the Stars”).

Before our vast team of reporters, editors, photographers and IT support settled in for the evening, however, we dropped by the Paul and Lydia Kalmanovitz Appellate Court to hear some friends and eggheads explain to us what to look for in tonight’s event.

Of course, we thought we had a pretty good handle on that when we told you what to look for this morning, but with FPPC Chairman Dan Schnur, SF Chronicle political whirligig Carla Marinucci and three chrome domes from the UCD faculty to inform us, we couldn’t resist.

Here’s what we learned: debates can matter, gotcha moments can be important, how a candidate carries him or herself can affect impressions, voters are angry, the people who will be most affected by the debate aren’t watching — they’ll hear about it on TV, radio, newspapers and the internets.

Stop the presses.

More importantly, it looks like the food at the Mondavi Center is not going to be as good as it was at St. Mary’s, where Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina went at it a few weeks ago. Cookies, jelly beans, bite-sized candy bars, coffee and water. Pretty basic. But hey, as UC Davis’s Claudia Morain explained: “We’re a public university, not a private school.” Point taken.

4:30 pm The press center is now filling up with ink-stained wretches and wretchettes from all the major MSMs and minor ones too, while Whitman’s Sarah Pompei and Brown’s Sterling Clifford schmooze reporters.

This just in — Mitchel Benson, the Assistant Vice Chancellor for University Communications and Baking at UC Davis just dropped off a plate of lemon bars, thereby pushing the food measure beyond St. Mary’s. Also, now, soft drinks! Way to go Mitch.

6 pm : It’s on: Nice quick cuts dramatic open from KCRA.

Jerry entered wearing dark suit, Meg in dark suit with fuschia top underneath, they meet in the middle of the stage and shake hands, like it’s some kind of duel, which actually it is.

Question 1 from SacBee Amy Chance: Is Sacto ungovernable?

eMeg is just delighted to be here. She wants to get Californians back to work. Enacting targeted tax cuts, streamline regs, econ development plan, blah, blah…

(Meg’s eyebags darker and larger than usual – staying up late cramming for debate?)

Amy sez: Yeah, but what about my question?

Brown puts both hands up. “I do know something about budgets.” Budget a “key characteristic of how screwed up things are” – Duh…

Says he’ll start earlier on the budget, a point that eMeg just picked his pocket on…”Transparent, exhaustive process.”

Start with gov office, legislature budget, then the agencies…”We can cut…they’re still fooling around with a lot of fat up there.”

Meg says the only way he’ll bring people together is by bringing special interests and unions  into the same room. Says unions will be there to collect IOUs.

Jerry counter-punches by noting Meg’s tax cut would benefit “millionaires and billionaires like Ms. Whitman.” Says she’d take from education to line the pockets of the rich.

Q2: Death penalty cases take too long?

Jerry reprises his personal opposition but says he will continue to do everything to implement the law.

“I’d rather have a society where we didn’t have to have the death penalty but we have it so we have to make it work.”

Meg : I will be a tough on crime governor no doubt about it.  Says this is a big contrast between her and Brown who, she says, has not been tough on crime for 40 years. Brings up Rose Bird – does anyone remember who she is?

Starts talking about something called the Criminal Justice League getting stiffed by Brown. Is Superman a member of that?

Brown slightly defensive on response. Strange answer on appointing judges by comparing himself to Dwight Eisenhower.

Meg: “Well, the record in Oakland is actually not very good” with weirdo laugh. Claims Brown has “had a change of heart.”

Q3 from Marianne Russ on job creation.

Meg repeats shtick on cutting business taxes, cutting red tape. Says other states are poaching all our jobs and that she was with Texas Governor Rick Perry who told her he comes on “hunting trips” to California looking for businesses.

Brown: Meg’s plan is taken from “the George Bush playbook.” He won’t give a $5 billion tax break to myself himself, much less to the “millionaires and the billionaires.”  He wants to create green jobs and clean energy, and oppose Prop 23 – cutaway shows grinning and looking a little like a bobblehead.

Meg has good eye contact with the camera though.

Amy Chance asks about pensions and why Jerry would reform the system if he’s benefiting from it  me.

Jerry makes night’s first funny. Says he’s worked 40 years for $78K, and if he’s elected won’t take a pension until he’s 76 and if reelected won’t take it until he’s 80: “I’m the best pension buy California has seen.”

How about you Meg – how can you negotiate if you know nothing about government?

Says she doesn’t matter because she owns nothing to unions. Doesn’t answer the question of how she could deal with the unions in favor of usual talking points. Says he has “a spine of steel” and will go to the ballot for pension reform.

Very energetic Brown says Meg is pot calling kettle black. How can she complain about union contributions when she has spent so much and has huge contributions from fat cats who will benefit from her proposal to cut capital gains?

Meg asked about lousy voting record. Briefly repeats by rote her apology and says “If I could change history I would” then immediately moves back to talking points about getting California moving again and creating jobs.

Q pivot to Jerry: You ran for president constantly when governor last time – what’s going to stop you this time?

“Age…one more thing – I now have a wife, I’m not trying to close down the bars of Sacramento.”

Rubs his head and says, “Don’t worry about that” running for president.

Meg rebuttal: Jerry Brown has had “no success improving Sacramento for the better.” Rips Brown record both in Sacramento and Oakland.

Jerry annoyed. It would take me too long to answer all of it but big surplus “didn’t come from the tooth fairy – I created the damn thing.”

Q: Will you roll back spending cuts for higher ed systems?

Brown can’t promise to do it with a $19 billion deficit and can’t even promise to freeze even though he loves UC.

How about you Meg ?

Says she’s going to find $1 billion in new money to give UC by reforming pensions and welfare programs. She thinks higher ed system is “a gem.”

“We’ve got to put Californians back to work” she says for at least for the fourth or fifth time.

She’s going to take “managerial expertise” to Sacramento.

Yeah swell says Marianne but what about my question about holding the line on fee increases?

I’d leave it to the chancellors.

Good question by Amy: How can voters trust you when you distort the truth in your ads?

Meg: I don’t accept the premise of your question. Defends the Clinton/CNN ad and says she “stands by it”. (Someone checking into campaign first time has no idea what she’s talking about). Good close about need to change status quo.

Amy asks Jerry if he’s proud of his Pinocchio ad?

He says it’s “a helluva ad” and that “Pinocchio is standing by” to make Meg’s nose grow for the stuff she’s saying tonight.

Follow-up – Meg what do you think about Jerry saying he likes his ad?

She goes right back to Clinton ad and says Brown opposed Prop. 13. Very good answer about lack of accountability and tut-tuts Brown for letting down parents and kids in Oakland after promising to be “education mayor”.

Jerry jumps in, says yes he did oppose Prop. 13 but Howard Jarvis voted for him and said that Brown made it work. Strong answer.

What about immigration?

Brown supports a “path to citizenship” and “secure the borders.” As AG says he works with ICE on fingerprint program to make sure to deport illegals who break the law.

Workplace inspections part of the solution? Yes, but feds have to do it.

How about you Meg?

I would not support a path to legalization. Workplace inspections. Eliminate sanctuary cities: “The worst, of course, is San Francisco.”

“I’m been very balanced and very fair about this” said she would have opposed Prop. 187, (had she lived here and, perhaps, if she would have voted in any case). Opposes Arizona law.

“Illegal immigration is just that, illegal and we have to stop the magnet” – somewhere out there Steve Poizner is hocking up choking on his beer.

Big difference on path to citizenship.

Q: Aren’t you trying to buy the election?

Says she has to spend this much because unions spent a total of $300 billion over five years. This will give me independence. If you want someone who will just go along, then I’m not your candidate. Casting Jerry as status quo.

Changes in campaign finance laws? “Not the first thing I would tackle.” Ha!

Q to J: How will you be independent given support of unions? There isn’t anybody cheaper: “I was legendary for my frugality.”

“Unions yeah they have their problem – but what about business over here?”

Trying to tie Meg to Wall Street, talking speaking up for the working class – “people who clean bed pans, our police, our fire…I do cherish and appreciate the work they do…We’ve tried this business of the business person coming in with a spine of steel.”

Brown: “The Chamber of the Commerce has a secret slush fund that they use to attack me.” Calls on Meg to make them disclose. Meg looks disapproving with a major smirk.

Meg: “Putting Jerry Brown in charge of (state government) “is like putting Count Dracula in charge of the blood bank.” Good line that Murphy surely told her she had to get in. Now she’s going to convene a statewide grand jury.

Brown response says “I know how to stand up against people and I know how to work with people.”

“I’ve got, at my age, the independence” to do the job.

Amy on water: Will you support Peripheral Canal?

Brown: I’ll support whatever works. Notes he sponsored last PC plan. His basic idea is that if you use the water, you have to pay for it.

Meg: “Turning our backs on water is turning our backs on jobs.” Sound bites: cheaper by the dozen.

She was for Arnold’s water bond plan that got bumped from the ballot. We have a humanitarian crisis in the Central Valley.

Final statements:

Meg: Changes her money line (“I refuse to let California to fail”) to “I refuse to believe this state, our beautiful state, cannot be better than it is. ”

She believes in the power of money many.

Brown thought long and hard about running. It’s a hard job, it’s not for someone who comes from private sector and has just run a business – it’s harder and more complicated and you don’t have all the power.

“Know-how and experience.”

“My values are different in important ways” – repeats his refusal to support tax cut for millionaires, billionaires.

Final word gets to Prop. 23 – should not suspend AB 32.

Red-Blue Clash Emerges in 21st Century Commission

Monday, July 13th, 2009

fred keeley_0102The Commission on the 21st Century Economy, headed by Schwarzenegger pal and Republican bigwig Gerald Parsky, has been developing a plan to overhaul California’s tax system that includes flattening personal income tax rates and broadening the sales tax, as loyal Calbuzz readers know.

Instead of achieving the consensus sought by Parsky,  however, the commission faces an ideological (and factual) conflict at its meeting in San Francisco on Thursday, as liberal members are now proposing an alternative plan. Their draft proposal, among other things, rejects as too regressive a flat income tax system, and also suggests amendments to Proposition 13.

The commission’s Blue Wing (as in blue state/red state) is questioning underlying assumptions of the Red Wing flat-taxers, like: 1) Is California actually unfriendly to business? 2) Are jobs and businesses actually fleeing California? 3) Does improving competitiveness demand elimination of the progressive tax system and the sales tax?

The introduction of the Blue Plan has already raised partisan political hackles between appointees of the Republican governor and those of Democratic legislative leaders.

Former GOP Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle, in a letter obtained by Calbuzz, accused former Democratic Assemblyman Fred Keeley, one of the leaders of the liberal wing of  “crafting a plan in private” and end running commission procedures with “an 11th hour presentation.”

“Why shouldn’t every commissioner gather their respective philosophical mates and assemble and submit competing plans in the weeks and even the months ahead,” Pringle said.

But Keeley, now the Treasurer of Santa Cruz County, insisted he has honored commission procedures, and has been raising similar issues in meetings since March.

boskinThe conservative Red Wing, led by Parsky and Michael Boskin of Stanford, previously had hoped that their plan was on track for recommendations to flatten and simplify the income tax, eliminate the business tax and create a net receipts tax, like a European value added tax, to replace the sales tax.

But after the elements of that idea – which became known as the Red Plan — were well-publicized and thoroughly examined by the commission’s staff, the liberal wing on the commission, led by Keeley and Christopher Edley, dean of the Boalt Hall School of Law, came forth with an alternate Blue Plan.

Still in draft form, their plan would:
– Require that all state revenues that are 5% or higher than Department of Finance estimates be placed in a rainy day reserve fund.
– Make no change to personal income taxes, but reallocate capital gains tax revenue, with one-third going to the General Fund; one-third to debt and retirement fund payments; and one-third to the reserve fund
– Reduce the sales tax by 2% and expand it to cover, not just goods, but also a wide variety of services.
– Reduce the rate of the corporations tax, but broaden its base by restricting deductions on business losses and rolling back tax breaks for companies that operate outside California
– Subject the controversial business net receipts, or value-added, tax to further study.
– Adopt a pollution surtax on carbon-based fuels
– Amend Prop. 13 elements of the California Constitution to allow local governments (cities and counties) to increase existing local sales tax by up to 1.50% (or any .25% fraction thereof) by a majority vote of its electorate, instead of the currently required two-thirds,.
– Amend Prop. 13 to change the non-residential property tax rate from 1% to 1.50%, effective upon change of ownership, essentially establishing a “split roll” assessment system.

The Blues also would require display of all tax expenditures – special tax breaks, credits, deductions and exemptions – in the governor’s budget, and require them to sunset in no more than five years.

At this Thursday’s meeting at UCSF, the Blue Wing will ask that their proposals be given the same thorough analytical treatment that the Red Wing proposals have received and then be considered at the July 22nd meeting at UCLA.

The Blue Wing rebellion was first reported by Dan Walters of the Sac B-, who suggested the commission is headed for deadlock. That’s certainly possible, given the stark differences in world view commissioners have, but Keeley, for one, isn’t so sure.

He believes the commission can come up with a compromise, Purple Plan that combines elements of the two approaches.

It wouldn’t include a flat tax on income, but it might mitigate some of the brackets and could easily address capital gains. And while it might not replace the sales tax with a net receipts tax (which Michigan has had trouble predicting), it might lower the sales tax rate and broaden its application to services, as many other states have done.

“It depends how deeply people want to hold onto their ideology versus producing a game-changing product,” Keeley said.

Why State Budget Cuts Always Screw Poor People

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

michaelcgenestCalbuzz sat in on a conference call with state Finance Director Mike Genest on Friday, in which he detailed the latest $3 billion of cuts Governor Arnold is proposing to close the Deficit That Ate Sacramento.

We’ll leave it to the indefatigable Weed Eaters of the Capitol press corps to explain the full, acronym-laden complexities of the newest whacks (bottom line: a 5% pay cut for 200K+ state employees, $680 million more from schools — total cut now = $6B — and a new $1.3 billion in misery for poor kids and folks who are old, sick or both).

The most salient, big picture point, however, came in Genest’s clear and direct response to a great question by Judy Lin of the AP, who asked why it was that all the pain of budget cuts seems to fall on the poor. Said Genest:

“If you look at what the government does, the government doesn’t provide services to rich people. We don’t provide many services even to the middle class. . .”

Amid the constant and confusing flurry of numbers in the ever worsening budget mess – this was the third revision in nine days of the budget plan approved three months ago — Genest reminded everyone of a few, basic facts that often get lost in the daily dizzying reports about California’s fiscal meltdown.

1. “The budget” that’s now being cut, re-cut and re-re-cut is the state’s General Fund. Financed by income, sales and other general taxes, it represents only about 70% of California’s total budget. The other 30% includes stuff like the DMV, CalTrans and various bond funds and is financed by earmarked money, or user fees like gas taxes or license registrations, and is doing fine.

2. The bulk of the General Fund budget for the current fiscal year, which totaled just over $100B when it was approved last September, pays for three big items in particular: public schools, health programs, and welfare benefits for the poor, aged, disabled and infirm.

3. That $100 billion has now been reduced, in real dollars, by 11 percent since September; with the latest reductions announced yesterday, it will be cut another $8 billion for the fiscal year that begins July 1, leaving $83.5 billion in general fund spending.

“You have to cut,” Genest said, “where the money is.”

FYI: That’s Willie Sutton, who, when asked why he robbed banks, famously said (or didn’t really), “Because that’s where the money is.”

Uberhead: Party Hearty, Donkeys!

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

LIVE BLOG FROM SACRAMENTO:

Gets applause when he notes that back in the ’70s, California spent 3% of its general fund on prisons and 17% on schools but today it’s even . . .says CA has to invest in kids . . .

More Jerry: Extols his own record on clean energy . . . says they made fun of him as Moonbeam but 30 years later this is the national paradigm . . . We stand on the shoulders of those who’ve gone before . . . (Does this mean Jerry’s standing on his own shoulders? How’s that work? A yoga thing?) . . . He has no text or talking points, so he makes it up as he goes along . . .

Jerry Brown being introduced . . . Bruce Springsteen’s “We All Have a Dream” . . . difficult at conventions, he says, to speak the “truth to power” . . . not engaged in the campaign process yet . . . decries that White House authorized torture . . . Thank God our president has brought out into the full light of day the horror of torture under George Bush . . . talks about what he’s done as attorney general . . . OMG he’s leading a teach-in on the collapse of the banking system . . . casting himself as the populist (as opposed to the latte-sipping Newsom) . . . tough on white-collar criminals who exploit blue-collar workers in the underground economy . . .

Don’t know why, but the speaking order has been shuffled and Jerry Brown has yet to make it to the podium. Boxer delays her press avail so’s not to step on Jerry . . .

More Boxer: To the surprise of no one, she formally announces she’s running for re-election next year. Take that, Carly Fiorina . . . As a postscript, Babs announces a new line of Boxer merchandise, including bibs for babies and scarves for dogs (Barkers for Boxer) . . .The speech is better than Dianne Feinstein’s (who must be helping Tony V solve the LA budget troubles) . . .

Boxer demonstration to the tune of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” . . . lots of bass beat . . . Boxer thanks incoming CDP Chairman John Burton for teaching her to be polite, diplomatic and reserved . . . Biggest applause so far in praising Barack Obama: “Our pro-choice president has reversed the international gag rule that stopped family planning dollars from going overseas.” . . .

No media avail. Says Newsom Guru Garry South: “Our speech speaks for itself.” . . .

Besides his shots at Brown, Newsom also directly took on his biggest leftover political liability: the “whether they like it or not” gay marriage clip used so effectively by supporters of Prop. 8 last fall: He said he enjoyed being introduced by outgoing party chair Art Torres “a whole lot more than the introduction I got in a few of those TV ads last fall. Well, whether they like it or not – my name’s Gavin Newsom, and I’m here to get things started.”

More Newsom: So far, his speech is better than LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s . . . (Here’s the opening shot at Jerry Brown) Will we offer the voters of California a stroll down memory lane, or a sprint into the future? . . . Will we choose the past — or will be embrace the future? . . . We’re not a state of memories, we’re a state of dreams. . . . We are not content to relive history. We are going to keep making it. . . .

Flack Peter Ragone hands out an actual speech text for SF Mayor Gavin Newsom . . . big cheers with Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” playing . . . Newsom: This state is ready for a new direction . . . We need to stop talking about universal health care and start providing it in this state . . . the old ways of doing business just don’t cut it in this tough new world . . . Gives rosy description of health care and schools in San Francisco, but we’re wondering will it all hold up to scrutiny in the heat of the campaign . . .

Treasurer Bill Lockyer has taken the podium and turned the decibel level down considerably, using a buttery late-night FM voice to deliver a Top 10 list of movie remakes, spinning off various disasters that have struck the economy in the last year; nice premise but the execution is too clever by half. Best joke: mug shot of Bernie Madoff used in remake of Spielberg film: “Swindler’s List” . . .

Bob Mulholland, political director for the state party, drops by the skybox to ask: “In five years, what will be around – the Chronicle or Calbuzz?” Ace Chron writer Carla Marinucci blanches…

John Garamendi spontaneous floor demonstration to the tune of “We Are Family” gets tepid response . . . For some mysterious reason, Garamendi is yelling really, really loudly and apparently believes he’s speaking to the 1968 convention in Chicago. Modulate, man . . . something in his vision about “algae and waste products” and methane collectors . . . still yelling . . . quoting FDR now (twice) . . .

Chris Finnie, the Boulder Creek Dem activist who is challenging Lord John Burton for party chair, tells us people have come up to her seeking so many flyers she’s been almost wiped out of her cache . . .

Dr. Hackenflack’s crack political team is settled into the Calbuzz Sky Box at the California Democratic Party convention, not listening to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who is warm-up speaker for Gov Lite John Garamendi . . .