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Posts Tagged ‘New America Foundation’



OK Meg and Steve: Let’s Analyze California, Inc.

Friday, February 26th, 2010

By Mark Paul
Special to Calbuzz

Meg Whitman says she wants to run California state government like a business.

Given all we’ve learned in the past decade about business — Enron, IndyMac, Bernie Madoff, Wall Street — some people hear that as a threat. I prefer to be hopeful. Long mired in consultant-speak and ideology, California government and politics could use a dose of the practices by which the best businesses thrive — open-eyed realism about a firm’s strengths and weaknesses; rigorous analysis; strategic thinking.

That hope withered the other day when I heard one of Whitman’s recent radio ads. “We know spending has been out of control in Sacramento,” she crooned from the speakers. Et tu, Meg? Say it ain’t so.

The only people who “know” state spending is “out of control” don’t know what they’re talking about. According to the latest budget estimates, the state will spend less this year than it did in 2005, when there were two million fewer people in California. And as this chart shows, when measured as a share of California ’s personal income, state spending is at the lowest level in a generation. If it’s smaller government you want, California has already got it, the smallest since Ronald Reagan’s final years in Sacramento .

When they say what they’ll do about “out of control” spending, Whitman and Steve Poizner, her rival for the Republican nomination for governor, point quickly to how many people work for the state. Here, too, they have flunked their business due diligence.

Yes, more people work for the state today than a generation ago. As this chart shows, their number has almost doubled in the last 35 years. But so has California ’s population. If state government employment were increasing faster than state population, you’d be worried. In this chart, you can see the opposite is true. The number of state employees per 1,000 Californians has declined since the mid-1970s.

And there’s more to the story. Not everybody counted in the tally of state employees cited by Whitman and others is a state worker in the usual understanding of that term.  More than 120,000 of them work for the University of California and California State University , public institutions that get some of their money from the state but control their own hiring.

The University of California , in particular, is a collection of many businesses, involving everything from undergraduate teaching to research institutes to hospital medical centers to nuclear weapons laboratories.

Most of the revenue for UC comes from sources other than the state budget — research grants, student fees, patient reimbursements for medical care, management fees, gifts. That explains how the university added nearly 25,000 people to its “state employee” headcount over the past decade even though it today receives less direct support from the state than it did in 2001.

It’s nonsensical to count all those new UC employees, who get paid from sources other than the state, as evidence of “out of control” spending in Sacramento . But that’s the horse Whitman is riding.

When you take all the university employees out of the mix, and look only at state civil servants — the blue line in this chart—there’s been almost no change over a generation. But the story doesn’t end there.

As everybody knows, California over the past three decades has locked up a lot more criminals, in the process quadrupling the number of people working in corrections. Corrections employees now make up a third of the state workforce, and an even larger share of workers paid from the deficit-ridden general fund.

In this chart, the green line shows that, when university and corrections employees are taken out of the mix (and they make up half the total), what people think of as the state “bureaucracy” has shrunk dramatically relative to California ’s population. In fact, since 2001, the number of non-college, non-corrections state workers has barely increased — even as the number of Californians has grown by the equivalent of the state of Louisiana .

That’s why, if you examine California state government as a business, one of the first things you are likely to notice is how few people it employs compared to others in its “industry.” Over that past decade, California has ranked between 46th and 50th among the states in the annual federal listing comparing state workforces to  population; its state workforce is about 25 percent smaller than the national average.

And if you think about it, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Since 1967, every California state budget has been proposed — and later subjected to line-item veto — as by a fiscally conservative governor: Reagan, Brown, Deukmejian, Wilson, Davis, and Schwarzenegger, skinflints every one of them. If you believe California is out of line in how many people it employs in state government, you haven’t been paying attention.

Control the size of the state workforce? Sorry, Meg and Steve. Been there, done that.

Mark Paul, senior scholar and deputy director of the California program at the New America Foundation, is co-author, with Joe Mathews, of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How It Can Be Fixed (UC Press, forthcoming).

Press Clips: Reporting the Good, the Bad and da Ugly

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

megcarlyCalbuzz is happy to see the “national media” weigh in on California politics, and we’re always pleased to chat with our colleagues from DC and NYC when they’re gathering string and trying to figure out the lay of the land. But when they screw it up – especially after they’ve spoken with us – we find it annoying.

Thus it was with the Wall Street Journal’s  “California GOP Pins Hopes on Ex-CEOs” — which was thrown together mid-week, on-the-fly and then, we’re told, slashed before making print.

By writing that “many in the party are pegging their hopes on two former corporate chief executives: Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina,” reporter Jim Carlton gave the WSJ headline writers free rein to suggest Meg and Carly are the great hopes for the future of the California GOP. This is exactly the story eMeg and Hurricane Carly wanted to spin and — in our humble opinion — puts the cart way before the horse. Maybe that’s the story Carlton’s editors wanted, but we’re not convinced that it reflects what we sometimes refer to as “actual reality.”

What’s the evidence, for example, for the assertion that “The star power of both CEOs is likely to give them some momentum.”? Clearly the WSJ didn’t check the clips for the March Field Poll in which 17% of Republicans had a favorable view of Whitman, 11% unfavorable and 72% no opinion. Fiorina’s standing was 24% favorable, 17% unfavorable and 59% no opinion — also among Republicans. That’s not momentum or star power. To suggest otherwise is to swallow the swill peddled by Whitman and Fiorina spinners.

And here’s a neat writing trick: the piece posed “political observers” who say Meg and Carly’s business credentials could be helpful to them (on one side) versus (on the other side) “Democratic strategists” who say they come from a reviled class of CEOs. That’s a loaded match-up — positing neutral observers against partisans.

Especially since at least one neutral “political observer” the WSJ talked to (we name no names) made the point that being a business leader in this economic and political climate is a tremendous deficit for any candidate, Republican or Democrat. Also, eMeg and Hurricane Carly are from the same party as the governor whose approval rating is about 30% at a time when about 80% of voters say the state is on the wrong track.

And what, exactly, did this add to the conversation that it would qualify as a kicker quote?
“Whoever our candidates are,” says Mike Villines, former Republican leader in the Democrat-dominated state Assembly, “the key for Republicans in the state is definitely focused on winning.”

Why does any of this matter? Because unless reporters get it right, their clips create a body of “information” upon which more stories are built, getting it more and more wrong. There is no big flashing red light that pops up when the next reporter from out of town does a Google search on the California governor’s race. Up pops the WSJ story, with all its misstatements and misjudgments. This in turn can affect fundraising and momentum in the race itself. Thus, the spin works even if it doesn’t reflect “actual reality.” And this pisses off Calbuzz.

Late breaking P.S. (8:53 a.m.) The Journal this morning published this correction of the Carlton piece:  “Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard Co. chairman and chief executive who is exploring a run for the U.S. Senate in California, is pro-life on the abortion issue. A Saturday U.S. News article misstated her position as pro-choice.”

Back on the home front: Debra Saunders, our old pal who spins her own view at the Chron, would normally lean toward eMeg and Hurricane Carly, but you gotta give her big credit for taking them to task for being lousy citizens in her piece asking:  ”How do you run for California’s top political offices when you often have failed to vote yourself and have no political experience?”

conrad

He really IS a twit: Sam Stein and Ryan Grin have a first-rate takedown on Kent Conrad, Calbuzz’s least favorite U.S. Senator and the guy whose winning total in his last re-election wouldn’t be enough to get a seat on the L.A. Community College Board.

While Conrad loves to portray himself as some kind of deficit hawk hero on government spending, the Huffbloggers nail him for 1) opposing fiercely Obama’s bid to cut $10 billion in wasteful agriculture subsidies whose beneficiaries include constituents of Conrad’s, who get paid for not growing crops and; 2) enjoying nearly two million other reasons to fight against a public option and on behalf of private insurers to keep the health care status quo:

“Beyond ideology or pragmatism, however, the North Dakota Democrat has a pocketful of other reasons to oppose a public option. Despite being from a state where campaigns cost a relative pittance, Conrad has found himself the recipient of largess from a host of private actors with interests in the health care debate. Over the course of his career he has received more than $828,000 from insurance companies, $610,000 from health professionals, and $255,000 from pharmaceutical and health product companies, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.”

This is the guy who is one-sixth of the Senate Finance Committee that’s holding health care reform hostage. Hailing from such politically important places as North Dakota, Montana and Maine, the six-pack deciding the future of America’s medical treatment collectively represent 2.77 percent of the U.S.population. Sheesh.

Prince Gavigavinmicrophonen gets good ink: It was a good media week for wannabe governor Gavin Newsom, who got a whole bushel of huzzahs from a trio of UC Berkeley eggheads, who’ve studied San Francisco’s universal health care program and gave it high marks in a NYT op-ed.

While it’s always nice to have the chrome domes on your side, we expect Newsom and chief henchman Garry South were even more thrilled at the major props thrown his way on health care by our blogging colleagues at the AFL-CIO.

On the other hand, those polls by Jim Moore and David Binder, reported in the Chronicle, where Newsom is losing within San Francisco to Crusty the General Jerry Brown: OY! At least former SF Mayor Dianne Feinstein had a base in her home town when she set out to win the Democratic nomination for governor back in 1990.

Big picture guy: Nice work by New America Foundation scholar and sometime Calbuzzer Mark Paul, who has a first-rate, big picture takeout on the collapse of California in the new issue of The American Interest. Paul covers a lot of familiar ground with clarity and punch, and adds an intriguing new element to the debate about the awful woes of the Golden State:

omarlittle

“California is no longer a state of arrival. Population growth by natural increase now outpaces migration by three to one. Californians, especially the native born and the young, are less likely to migrate than the residents of all but three other states. By the time today’s California youth reach middle age, native-born Californians will make up the state’s majority for the first time in its history…Middle Americans who once thought of ‘California’ as a byword for ‘opportunity’ now see it as a signal of dysfunction.”

As the late great Omar Devone Little would say, “In-deed.”

Hold the parade: While Laura Ling and Euna Lee have been celebrated in the U.S. as journalistic heroes since their release from North Korea, there’s a group of human rights advocates, bloggers and Christian pastors in South Korea who aren’t exactly feeling the same way.

The Times reports that a number of human rights and religious workers trying to help North Korean refugees, the story Ling and Lee were trying to cover when they were arrested, say the pair “needlessly endangered the very people they tried to cover, North Korean refugees and the activists who help them.”

South Korean blogger Joo Sung-ha, a North Korean defector who works in Seoul as a newspaper  reporter,  “berated the American reporters, urging them to ‘shed their martyrdom image.’ In a separate interview, Mr. Joo said he was also ‘disgusted’ by the way ‘some American media are giving them some kind of hero’s welcome home.’”

Since their return,” he added, ‘they haven’t said a peep about the fate of the people they have endangered, though unintentionally.’” So much for happy endings.

Swap Meet: Oil & Con Con Meet Gambling Cowboys

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

namlogoNew push for Con Con: Latest player to jump into the battle for a state constitutional convention is the New America Foundation, the influential non-partisan. D.C.-based think tank, which maintains a formidable intellectual presence in California.

The foundation, which is home to big brain journalists including Calbuzz contributor Mark Paul and Blockbuster Democracy blogger Joe Matthews, is sponsoring two community forums in Southern California over the weekend. On Friday, they also released a new research report recommending that convention delegates be average folks, rather than the collection of hacks, flacks and usual suspects who are no doubt lying in wait to hijack the process.

Author Steven Hill based the conclusion on evidence gleaned from case studies of the “deliberative democracy” movement, a host of ordinary people political groups that tackled projects ranging from the rebuild of the World Trade Center to the economy of Northeast Ohio and post-Katrina reconstruction in New Orleans:

“Some have wondered if average people are capable of the kind of in-depth understanding of complex issues that will be necessary for redesigning California. But the truth is, average Californians are the only ones who can lead our state out of the quagmire of special interests and partisanship that currently is paralyzing it. That’s because average Californians bring a special quality that too many incumbents and the political class in general do not have: a pragmatic desire to solve the state’s problems, regardless of ideology, partisanship or career self-interest…

“Participants often demonstrate a ready willingness to mix and match elements from differing political approaches – market-based, public sector, ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’– as long as the result is a solution that will work for themselves and their communities.”

oil_platformOn-again off-again on-again off-again oil project on-again: Enviros around the state are scrambling yet again to block the controversial PXP oil drilling project off the Santa Barbara coast (a Calbuzz debate on the issue is here and here ), amid reports that approval for the offshore plan is part of a proposed framework in the closed door, Big Five budget negotiations.

“We heard it’s back in the budget and the governor is lobbying very aggressively for it,” said one key player in the long-running fight over the project. “They would put (the project) into a trailer bill.”

If approved, the PXP project would be penciled in for producing $1.8 billion in royalties over the next 14 years, including $100 million in the current fiscal year; foes of the plan, which was defeated earlier by the State Lands Commission but resurrected by Schwarzenegger in the budget fight, bitterly complain that California could reap much more – $2-4 billion annually – and with less risk to the environment, by enacting an oil severance tax on existing production.

California currently is the only one of 22 oil producing states that does not have such a tax., according to a drill down piece by LAT business columnist Michael Hiltzik who went deep into the weeds on the issue.

Environmental groups “started (Thursday) sending dozens of alerts to tens of thousands of coastal activists letting people know that Schwarzenegger’s Vampire was up and stumbling around yet again,” one coastal advocate told Calbuzz. “How many times do you have to kill something, anyway?”

Fox100

What happens in Vegas: Over at Fox and Hounds Daily our friend Joel Fox is trumpeting an editorial in the Las Vegas Review Journal that fiercely attacks suggestions the Prop. 13 be amended, and assails California for having high taxes and too much regulation of business.

As California teeters, Democrats are left to contemplate how this living laboratory of liberalism — with its smothering taxes, intrusive regulatory apparatus, generous social services and well-fed, heavily unionized public sector — could now find itself on the brink of collapse.

Rather than conclude the obvious — that decade after decade of high-tax, anti-business, anti-growth policymaking designed to sate an ever-expanding state is ultimately unsustainable — a handful of liberals have found their culprit: Proposition 13, a measure limiting property taxes passed by voters in 1978.

Not surprisingly, neither the editorialist nor Fox mentioned that Nevada closed its own multi-billion dollar deficit this year by raising taxes, that the state’s unemployment rate is higher than California’s or that the Silver State was ranked the #2 most dysfunctional government in the nation.

To his credit, Fox did acknowledge that “one of the reasons I’m reprinting the editorial here (is) because it quotes me.”

Golden Lone Star State: Perhaps the biggest humiliation for California to date is a takeout in The Economist that compares the Golden State unfavorably to Texas, ferhevvinsake. Noting that Chief Executive magazine has ranked California “the very worst state to do business,” compared to the top-of-list rating of Texas, the piece concludes that “Mr. Schwarzenegger’s lazy governorship could come to be seen not as the great missed opportunity but as the spur for reform.”

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