Quantcast

Posts Tagged ‘tax policy’



Calbuzz Must-Read: Mathews-Paul Reform Opus

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

We finally set aside a few hours to sit down with “California Crackup,” the Joe Mathews-Mark Paul collaboration that closely analyzes the state’s political dysfunction, and it was time well spent: they’ve written a terrific book.

Cataloging the multiple, inter-locking political elements that caused the collapse of governance in California, the two veteran political writers draw these pieces together into a lucid framework that offers not only a clear diagnosis, but also a serious prescription for what ails the not-so-Golden State.

The clarity of their writing and the cogency of their argument put to shame the content of the current campaign for governor.

The contrast between their comprehensive, in-depth and detailed take on the state’s fractured political system with the worn-out platitudes mouthed by Republican nominee Meg Whitman and the vapid avoidances of Democrat Jerry Brown underscores the superficiality and lack of substance in the politics of California in 2010.

The civic moment is defined by more than bad news. What makes this moment seem different – makes it feel like what Californians call “earthquake weather” – is that California seems unable to talk about the crisis in a way that gets to the bottom of things and points to a better day…At the heart of the civic moment is the fear that California lacks even a language, and an understanding, equal to its calamity.

What Mathews and Paul attempt in “California Crackup” is to provide such a language, an effort in which they largely succeed.

Starting with an insightful sketch of early state history that shapes and drives their narrative,  they make all that follows – the corporate abuse of the ballot initiative system, the unintended consequences and anti-democratic impacts of Proposition 13, the dominance of Sacramento by lobbyists and special interests, the over-reaching of public employee unions, for starters – seem like inevitable developments that year after year have steadily sucked all accountability and integrity out of the system.

The whole system must be rethought with an eye to the sheer scale of California, a place grown too large and too various to be successfully governed from the top. Democracy and accountability would be the buzzwords. Windows must be opened so Californians can see in, peer out, and keep an eye on each other. This will require a Great Unwinding of old rules.

By setting forth an inarguable set of facts and a vocabulary for analyzing them, Mathews and Paul produce a potential shared agenda for change in California that seeks to include those provincial stakeholders — voters, consumers and taxpayers – who were long ago abandoned by the Capitol insider culture of corrupt deal making and fix-is-in demagoguery.

Skimming the cream. The three things we found most interesting:

1-Past is prologue: If you don’t have time to read the whole book (c’mon, it’s only about 200 pages) at least pick it up the next time you’re browsing and take a few minutes to read Chapter 2, which presents an intriguing look at the political stumbles, historical accidents and random influences  (California’s first constitution was overwhelmingly approved without being read, as the delegates were determined to go home before lunch) on which our current political structure rests.

First came the hastily scribbled original constitution, drafted at a rogue gathering convened by the military on behalf of a state the U.S. government had failed to recognize. Second were the three decades of failed attempts to put meat on the bones of that first constitution, culminating in the 1878-79 convention, perhaps the greatest civic disaster in the history of a state with a talent for disaster. Third were the sixty years of amendments, more than three hundred of them, nearly all aimed at remedying the consequences, intended and not, of the 1879 disaster. After a break for the Second World War, fourth came the attempt to edit out the worst of those amendments and turn California’s amateur government into a professional one. California is now in its fifth wave, a breaker that took off in the 1970s and still has not crested: a tsunami of ballot initiatives that, in the name of putting the fear of public anger in California’s professional politicians, threatens the whole enterprise.

2-Jerry’s role: Mathews and Paul draw a portrait of the young Governor  Jerry Brown during the crucial years just before, during and after the passage of Prop. 13, when a statewide crisis of homeowners being strangled by ever-escalating property tax bills was met with inaction, if not indifference by pols in Sacramento, which is anything but flattering:

Two things stood in the way of action. One was a governor more interested in big ideas and the grand sweep of technology and history than in the boring details of tax policy or the grunt work of passing legislation. Brown didn’t want to squander the whole surplus on helping homeowners. “The single biggest difficulty we had was the Department of Finance said ‘you can’t commit more than $300 or $400 million to property tax relief,’” remembers State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, then a member of the Assembly. “It was such a small amount that you really couldn’t provide significant enough relief for people to really think it mattered.” Brown had his own priorities – cutting the tax on business inventories and shooting California’s very own communications satellite into space. A large surplus, at a time when New York City was broke, could be held up in his impending reelection campaign as evidence of his tightfistedness (Brown now maintains that he was holding on to the surplus because he anticipated an economic downturn).

3-Solutions. The boyz get into some neck-deep, weed whacking wonkery in the second half of the book, when they offer up a menu of major reform proposals for starting to fix the broken political system.

Putting aside the question of whether actually offering actual solutions for problems is a gross violation of the Political Writers’ Code of Chronic Carping, the Mathews-Paul  disquisition on such poli sci matters as proportional representation, unicameral legislatures and instant runoff voting is both refreshing and consequential in its presentation to the reader of two key insights: a) things don’t have to be this way forever – our current system of elections and governance is not only not written in stone, it’s in many ways an exception to best practices elsewhere in the country and the world; b) changing the system in a substantive way requires much bigger ideas than the kind of nibbling-around-the-margins notions offered by California Forward and other small bore reformers.

The state’s current stalemate, while a formidable obstacle, is no more formidable than that faced by those who framed the state’s constitution in the 19th century, or than that confronted by the Progressives a century ago, when they elected a governor in the face of opposition from both parties and the railroad. And the changes we propose are far less radical than the Progressives’ push for direct democracy, which represented a sharp break with American history and its Madisonian system of divided government, checks and balances, and suspicion of government.

The fall of 2011 will mark the centennial of the 1911 special election in which the Progressives remade the state government’s operating system. It is long past time for an update.

Nice work, guys. Calbuzz sez: check it out.

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.

Myth: High Taxes Drive Rich People Out of California

Saturday, July 11th, 2009

richie rich 3California’s progressive personal income tax system, including a 10.3% rate for millionaires, is not responsible for driving wealthy people out of California, according to a new analysis of census data by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Taking on a key Republican talking point in the state’s raging battle over the budget and taxation, PPIC economist Jed Kolko examined domestic migration patterns in and out of California and other states, with a variety of tax levels, and concluded that “income taxes aren’t driving the highest income households” from the state.

Kolko found that while wealthy households – the top fifth in the state – are leaving California, they are doing so at a much lower rate than poor households – the bottom fifth.

“If high income taxes were chasing away rich Californians, high-income households would be more likely than low-income households to move to states without income taxes—but they aren’t. How come? States without income taxes are cheaper than California in other ways—housing costs, for example—that matter to all types of households, not only to those with the highest incomes. In other words, California does lose people to lower-tax states—but not just because of income taxes.”

The study is politically significant at a time when there is intensive debate over the impact of tax policy on the collapsing state budget. It also comes as the California Commission on the 21st Century, which is charged with recommending changes to the tax code to make the state more competitive, is wrapping up its work, with conservative and liberal members divided over the effect the current progressive income tax system. Check Calbuzz on Monday for more on that.

You can see the complete PPIC report here.

– By Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine