Archive for 2009

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.”

Fishwrap Friday: Goo-Goos Gone Wild (Not)

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Will It Be California Forward or Backward? California Forward, the good government group with name-brand backing and top-drawer credentials, will be meeting in Sacramento next week to decide whether to become irrelevant.

Okay, that’s not exactly on the agenda Wednesday. But as the Bay Area Ccafwd_logo1ouncil aggressively forges ahead toward a constitutional convention, its weak brother reform group is moving closer to beside-the-point status — despite backing from the California Endowment, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

The bi-partisan group, headed by former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, and Southern California Automobile Association executive Thomas McKernan, has a whole bunch of proposals for Kumbaya stuff like better representation, smarter budgeting and fiscal management.

All of which boil down to: Managing the status quo.

Unless the group resolves next week to take a clear and strong stand on something controversial – say, undoing the two-thirds vote requirement to pass a state budget — the consensus-obsessed California Forward might as well rename itself California Backward.

It’s ironic. The guy who had been heading up the group was former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, until he got called on by President Obama to go to DC to run the CIA. And the group’s roster remains impressive: after Hertzberg and McKernan, it’s got Bob Balgenorth, President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, AFL-CIO; Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Chief Executive Officer, Green For All; Bill Hauck, President, California Business Roundtable; Antonia Hernández, President and CEO of the California Community Foundation; Fred Keeley, Treasurer, Santa Cruz County; Stewart Kwoh, President and Executive Director, Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California; Donna Lucas, Founder, Lucas Public Affairs Group; Sunne Wright McPeak, President and Chief Executive Officer, California Emerging Technology Fund; Bruce McPherson, Former California Secretary of State; Chuck Poochigian, Former State Senator and Assemblymember; Cruz Reynoso, Former Associate Justice, California Supreme Court and the Third District Court of Appeal; Constance Rice, Co-Director, Advancement Project and Gene Voiland, Principal, Voiland Enterprises LLC.

But by dithering and doddering about whether to take clear stands on big issues, California Forward risks squandering its stature and taking a permanent back seat to the Bay Area Council on the government reform front . . .

Inmates Push for Asylum Management: Having the Legislature seize control of the University of California from the Board of Regents “is like having the management of GM take over Microsoft.”

That was the best line making the rounds Thursday, one day after Senator Leland Yee trumpeted a whacky proposal for a constitutional amendment to exchange UC’s 141-year old practice of independent governance for an exciting new future hunkered down in the Capitol muck of petty politics.

“It’s ridiculous, silly stuff,” Board of Regents Chairman Dick Blum told Calbuzz. “The people in Sacramento are going to tell us how to run the UC?”

In an interview, Blum vigorously defended the Regents’ management, contrasting the system’s balanced budget with the state’s $25 billion deficit and its AAA bond rating with the state’s, um, ZZZ rank. He also noted UC’s ability to attract top academic and administrative talent, portraying the regents’ hiring of President Mark Yudof a year ago as a milestone in improving the system’s management. Yudof is a nationally recognized leader of the accountability movement, which stresses the use of measurable results systems for universities: “You won’t find a better, proven manager of a hugely complex, public higher education institution anywhere.”

Yee and his allies have attacked the recent approval of mid-six figure salaries for campus chancellors as just the latest outrage of out-of-control executive compensation at UC. Blum said that the average income for the top executives of the system’s 10 campuses are “35-to-40 percent below market” and that the biggest problem for the $18-billion UC is that the state keeps cutting its share of the overall budget, which now amounts to less than $3 billion.

“There is such a thing as the marketplace, there is such a thing as reality,” Blum told us.

Yee’s chief of staff, Adam Keigwin, said the senator is not seeking “day to day management” of the UC system, just more “oversight” that would give the Legislature greater authority over what he described as abuses involving pay for top university officials. Which sounds kinda like a distinction without a difference . . .

The Meg and John Show: Having captured a smashing 37 percent of the vote in California last November, Arizona Senator John McCain will give Republican wannabe governor Meg Whitman some tips on running strong in the Golden State today.

Her Megness is scheduled to appear with Joe the Plumber’s best friend at a Town Hall meeting in Orange County, followed by a “private event” (i.e. fundraiser) in Fresno, according to her campaign. For media mavens desperately seeking a rare opportunity to pose a question to the elusive eMeg, she’ll have a press avail at 2:50 pm (and that’s not 2:51 p.m., either, mister!) in the Executive Room of the Piccadilly Inn. The release on the event says it’s for “Credentialed Media Only” and that part is in BOLD CAPS, so don’t even try sneaking in if you’re some kind of low-rent blogger or something…Wait a minute, credentialed by whom? . . .

Offshore Plan Sinking Fast: Look for a whole lotta pushback on Arnold’s controversial plan to raise revenue by drilling for oil offshore of Santa Barbara, when the State Lands Commission meets Monday in Santa Monica. It’s the first meeting of the group since Governor Deltoids announced the proposal, which would end run a commission vote turning down the project last January . . .

Today’s Sign the End of Civilization is Near: Four states now prohibit drivers from smiling for the photos on their licenses, according to a USA Today report. Arkansas, Indiana, Nevada and Virginia all require you to wipe that grin off your face because it messes with their high-tech, face-recognition software. Bring on the Vulcans! . . .

Spell Check: Congratulations to Kavya Shivashankar, 13, of Olathe, Kansas, who won the National Spelling Bee Thursday by correctly spelling “laodicean” which means lukewarm or indifferent in religion or politics. Pronounced “lay-ah-di-see-an,” this is NOT what makes a good Calbuzzer.

GOP Media Guru: Reeps Should Salute Sotomayor

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

sippledon1Don Sipple, a savvy Republican filmmaker, was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s media consultant in the 2003 recall campaign for governor. In 1994, he created the controversial “They Keep Coming” anti-immigration television ad for Pete Wilson’s re-election campaign for governor.

By Don Sipple
Special to Calbuzz

Among the self evident truths we are dealing with this week is the fact that Judge Sonia Sotomayor will be confirmed and elevated to Justice of the United States Supreme Court and the national GOP is still in the wilderness after two successive drubbings at the polls.

In nominating Sotomayor, President Obama has once again exhibited his gift for deft political maneuvering while Congressional Republicans continue to demonstrate why they are not only tone deaf, but have a death wish to boot.

soniasotomayorIn spite of representing a border state and being a co-sponsor of immigration reform legislation, Sen. John McCain garnered only 31 % of Latino voters in 2008. Women gave him just 43% of their votes. It’s difficult to see how the GOP benefits — even in the slightest — by opposing Judge Sotomayor. Instead they should celebrate her, praise Ms. Sotomayor’s personal narrative and move to have her confirmed by acclamation.

What the national GOP must learn is that while it is the duty of the opposition party to oppose, they must do so selectively and choose wisely the ground on which to attack.

But instead of picking their spots with a strategic purpose in mind, the GOP substitutes tactics for strategy and carps about everything. They have yet to land a blow on the new president.

Republicans need to understand that this is 2009. The world has changed, the electorate has changed and attitudes have changed. In the minds of voters, posturing and posing is no substitute for problem solving. And voters are well aware that there are plenty of problems begging for solutions.

Fifteen years ago, the costs of providing services to California’s then 2.5 million illegal immigrants was putting pressure on the state’s treasury, already reeling from declining revenues due to a deep recession. Thus a legitimate public policy debate ensued regarding the federal government’s failure to secure the border and to reimburse California and other states for costs borne by those states.

Certainly there were political risks in engaging on this issue back then. But Gov. Pete Wilson was re-elected comfortably in 1994, receiving 38% of Latino votes, even though today those who rewrite history believe his leadership on the issue of illegal immigration was a death knell to Republicans among Latino voters in California.

When there is an honest pubic policy disagreement, intelligently debated, it is unlikely there will be lasting political damage. Recently, the subject of drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants has stirred passions on both sides, but to my knowledge it has not caused a wholesale revolt among Latino voters. In fact, during the recall election of 2003, public polling showed over 60% of Latino voters in California opposed to drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants.

Republicans need to recognize and respect the rise of Latinos as a potent political force in the nation and several fast-growing states. By nominating Sonia Sotomayor to the highest court in the land, President Obama has made her a symbol of Hispanic pride and culture.

The GOP would be wise to salute her instead of sliming her.

Bad Idea of the Week: Let Legislature Govern UC

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

lelandyeeAmid the endless stream of doltish notions spewing forth from Sacramento, Democratic State Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco has come up with one so imbecilic it takes your breath away.

With Yee and his legislative colleagues flopping and floundering in a pool of red ink $25 billion deep, he’s decided now’s just the right time to bring the Capitol’s special brand of management magic to bear on the University of California.

Yee — whose biggest contribution to date to the cause of higher education has been railing against the “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” video game — has now proposed a constitutional amendment to end the system of independent governance of the UC system, putting the 10 campuses in the grubby hands of the Legislature.

He’s rounded up a batch of second-rate hacks to join him in this crackpot crusade, including L.A. Democrat Anthony Portantino – a graduate of mighty Albright College whose greatest lifetime achievement was serving as Production Director for NBC’s “Grizzly Adams”; Brian Nestande — a Riverside County Rep who coasted into politics on his daddy’s coattails and made his bones helping to elect political giants like Michael Huffington and the late Sonny Bono; and Roy Ashburn, the Bakersfield GOPer who’s one step ahead of the posse seeking to recall him from office.

Huffing and puffing to the Chron, Yee accused the Regents of acting “absolutely above the law” for constitutionally operating outside the reach of a Legislature that’s pushed the state to the brink of bankruptcy. (As for being “above the law,” recall that the most famous campaign photo of Yee is his booking mugshot, taken when he was busted on a shoplifting beef in Hilo, Hawaii back in the day. But we digress).

Calbuzz stipulates that the UC Board of Regents isn’t perfect – far from it. Most recently, the administrative salary and perk scandals (unearthed by Calbuzzer Tanya Schevitz when she worked for the Chronicle) were dreadful, indeed. But the Regents, under the leadership of chairman Dick Blum, chief consort to Senator Difi, acted decisively in dumping former president Robert Dynes and bringing in Mark Yudof.

Let’s face it: the list of things that actually work well in state government would fit into a match box, with room left over to play the Cal-Stanford game. UC, with its well-earned global reputation and its still-affordable world class education for California public school kids, is at the top of that short list.

The idea of trading the Regents, who are insulated from retail politics – by design of the framers of the state constitution since 1868 – for the nitwits, narcissists and sharkskin suits that populate the Legislature in the era of term limits is enough to make the Cal bear barf.

We’re just sayin’.

What Gay Marriage Ruling Means for Gov’s Race

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Further, We Look at Sotomayor and The GOP React

Attorney General Jerry Brown summed up most succinctly the impact of the California Supreme Court’s decision upholding the Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage in California.jerry_brown

“The courts have basically put the ball in the political arena and that’s where it’s going to be decided,” said the AG, whose office had fecklessly argued the case against the voter-approved constitutional amendment before the Supremes.

Swift reaction to the decision, both from the pro-gay marriage forces and from the potential candidates for governor, underscored Brown’s point: the contentious issue –- which pretty much splits California voters down the middle — will be an indelible part of the 2010 election season.

Supporters of gay marriage already announced plans for a 2010 initiative to reinstate the constitutional right of same sex couples to wed (although cooler political heads suggest that 2012 would be strategically smarter). Click Click

With Democrats mostly favoring same sex marriage and Republicans generally opposed, a ballot fight amid the governor’s race would energize activists on both sides, boosting turn-out and locking contenders into positions guaranteed to alienate half the electorate.

Although not a surprise, Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision sprang open the gate on Prop. 8 as a major issue shaping the governor’s race as a red state-blue state contest inside California.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom immediately declared “it’s our job to make sure history moves faster towards equality here in California,” taking to the mighty Huffington Post to blog a call to arms for a gay initiative.

While Prince Gavin clearly views himself as a man of history, for triggering the gay marriage debate by authorizing same sex weddings in San Francisco in 2004, he didn’t mention how he personally galvanized the Yes-on-8 campaign with his smug and smart-ass “whether you like it or not” comment when gay marriage was briefly legal last spring.

Brown, running hard against Newsom to capture the gay marriage primary, also promised to support a measure to ensure that same sex couples have the right to wed.

Ever the consummate political creature, he said he isn’t sure whether the strongest play would be in 2010 or 2012, when presidential year turnout for Obama’s re-election might better boost chances of passage.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa pronounced himself “confident that this state will have a change of heart, will reiterate its broader commitment to justice for every citizen, and will overturn this unjust ban at the ballot box.”

Stirring rhetoric, Tony V, but are you talking as a mayor or a candidate for governor?

On the Republican side, pro-gay rights law school Prof Tom Campbell said he personally believes “gay Californians should have the same rights as straight Californians, including the right to marry.” But, he quickly added, acknowledging the obvious, “The people of California have the right to amend their own Constitution. Whether or not we agree with the policy behind any particular provision, there should be no doubt that ultimate sovereignty rests with the people.”

Talk about your profiles in courage.

Insurance commissioner Steve Poizner – who took NO public position on Proposition 8 that Calbuzz could find before last November’s vote (this SacBee piece seems to confirm that) – suddenly found the cojones to oppose gay marriage.

“The California Supreme Court took the appropriate action today in upholding the will of the people by affirming Proposition 8. The people of California have spoken. They voted decisively that marriage should remain between a man and a woman,” Poizner declared. “That is also my personal view.”

Who knew?

Surely not former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who opposed gay marriage by supporting Proposition 8 and who suggested – inexplicably — that Tuesday’s decision ranked right up there with Brown vs. Board of Education or Marbury vs. Madison.

“I believe the California State Supreme Court made the right decision. Last November, the people of California passed Proposition 8, and today the Court upheld their decision,” she said. “This simple yet powerful fact is the foundation of our democracy. Regardless of one’s position on the measure, this ruling gives people confidence that their vote matters and can make a difference.”

Mush, eMeg, mush!

Obama’s Pick for Supreme Court Confronts Reeps With a Problem

As if the state needs more political polarization, President Obama’s nomination of a Latina judge to the U.S. Supreme Court reminds us that Californians know the political impacts when Republicans, rightly or wrongly, are perceived as lining up against the interests of Latinos.

Former Gov. Pete Wilson may only have been opposed to illegal immigration in 1994. But with his ominous and iconic “They Keep Coming” ad, which showed Mexicans sneaking across the border, added to his aggressive push to restrict the rights of immigrants in Proposition 187, he became known on the streets of Mexico City and East LA alike as “hijo de puta.”

To say that the GOP ever since has been poisoned in California is gross understatement: The question now is whether Republicans – by vocally opposing Judge Sonia Sotomayor – want to do for themselves in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Florida, what Wilson et. al. did for their party in California?

Initial responses appear to answer in the affirmative. Here’s the text of an ad produced by the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network, referring to an affirmative action case out of New Haven:

“Sonia Sotomayor, who didn’t give a fair shake in court to firefighters deprived promotions on account of race. Every American understands the sacrifices firefighters make. But on Sotomayor’s court, the content of your character is not as important as the color of your skin.”

This approach, according to some current and former Republican strategists, is totallyfriggininsane.

Republican strategists say the GOP needs 35-40% of Latino voters to be competitive nationally. And here’s what Sotomayor looks like to many of those voters, for whom her biography is a source of pride.

Child of parents born in Puerto Rico… Grew up speaking mostly Spanish… Raised in a public housing project in the South Bronx in the shadow of Yankee Stadium… Father died when she was 9… Graduated summa cum laude in 1976 from Princeton after winning a scholarship to the school… Earned her law degree from Yale in 1979, where she edited the Law Review… New York District Attorney’s office in the early 1980s…Currently serves on the Second Circuit in New York and was appointed to that position by Bill Clinton. BUT she was appointed to her first federal court appointment by President George H.W. Bush (link to NBC’s First Read)

Calbuzz asked USC’s Dan Schnur, one of the smartest guys in the room – and a former Pete Wilson communications director – how the Republicans can oppose Sotomayor without further alienating Hispanics and falling into the Prop. 187 trap:

“They can’t,” said Schnur, now director of the Jesse M, Unruh Institute of Politics. “There’s no way to oppose Sotomayor on the merits without it being portrayed to Hispanic-American voters that it’s a matter of race,” he said.

Matt Dowd, another very smart Republican with experience in California (having helped elect Gov. Arnold) told the New York Times the Republicans can’t even be seen as threatening Judge Sotomayor.

“Because you’ll have a bunch of white males who lead the Judiciary Committee leading the charge, taking on a Hispanic women and everybody from this day forward is going to know she’s totally qualified,” he said. “It’s a bad visual. It’s bad symbolism for the Republicans.”