Archive for 2009

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

Fishwrap: Jerry Flip Flop and Flip Out; See Carly Run

Friday, July 10th, 2009

EGBrown1EGBrown Flip Floppery: Calbuzz notes with distaste Jerry Brown’s weasley response to Insurance Commish Steve Poizner’s demand that Brown return $52,500 in campaign contributions he had received from an investment firm and relatives of two California businessmen he is investigating in a public pension fund corruption probe.

We scoffed last month when the insurance commissioner called on the AG to give back the money. “What’s the problem?” we asked.

Brown had taken $48,000 in contributions from relatives of Sacramento lobbyist Darius Anderson and another $4,500 from a company run by LA fundraiser Daniel Weinstein, according to the Sacramento Bee. Later, it became known that New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo was investigating Anderson’s Gold Bridge Capital and Weinstein’s Wetherly Capital for their roles in helping money management firms secure multimillion-dollar investments from public pension funds in several states.

Since Brown was just doing his job, why in the world should he have to give the money back, we wondered. The AG himself called the demand from Poizner “the silliest thing I’ve heard of.”

But on Wednesday, we learned from Peter Hecht in the Sacramento B- that Brown is giving the money back “so that the contributions would not distract from the work of the attorney general’s office,” according to  Rubeena Singh, treasurer of Jerry Brown 2010.

Which sounded to Calbuzz like Brown was weasling.

So of course Poizner jumped in and claimed victory with a press release declaring: “In Case You Missed It: Jerry Brown Returns Campaign Contributions After Pressure From Steve Poizner”

We tracked down Brown on vacation at the Russian River but he wouldn’t explain himself beyond the Singh statement. “This is not a court of law here. We’re just trying to be practical,” he said.

So apparently Brown had an epiphany and decided that returning the contributions would cause him less political grief than keeping them. What a shichen chit move. Is he now going to go through every campaign contribution he’s ever received and return the money from anyone who might “distract from the work of the attorney general’s office?”

We bet that’s a long list that some op researcher will serve up on a silver platter.

jerry_brownPaddle to the left, paddle to the right: Shortly after talking to Calbuzz, General Jerry took another break from vacation to pick a politically intriguing fight with Peter Schrag over at California Progress Report.

Schrag, former longtime pundit for the B-, had posted a CPR piece attacking Mark Leubovich and his Sunday New York Times takeout on California’s governor’s race, as a once-over lightly gloss job overly focused on personalities and not enough on policy substance and ordinary people afflicted by the budget mess.

Along the way, Schrag took some j’accuse shots at Brown, pointing the finger at his sophomoric style during his first reign as governor as being partly responsible for the passage of Prop. 13 and all that has followed.  Schrag wrote:

“And while Jerry Brown, in his prior tenure as governor was indeed labeled “Governor Moonbeam” (by a Chicago columnist) for his space proposals, as Leibovich says, the label applied much more broadly to his inattention to the daily duties of his office and, most particularly to his dithering while the forces that produced Proposition 13 began to roll.

“Brown later acknowledged that he didn’t have the attention span to focus on the property tax reforms that were then so urgently needed to avert the revolt of 1978. But to this day, almost no one has said much of Brown’s role in creating the anti-government climate and resentments that helped fuel the Proposition 13 drive.

“It was Brown, echoing much of the 1970s counter-culture, who, as much as anyone, was poor-mouthing the schools and universities as failing their students and who threatened to cut their funding if they didn’t shape up. It is Brown who spent most of his political career savaging politics and politicians, even as he ran for yet another office. Now this is the guy who wants to be governor again…”

Whereupon Brown leaped from his Russian River mud bath to post a riposte taking sharp and serious issue with Schrag’s analysis, memory and motivations, if not his ancestry:

“Mr. Schrag’s latest screed is a good example of why politics in Sacramento is so dis-functional…In recent years, Schrag has become increasingly bitter…That’s very sad because he once was an open-minded person with real insight into the predicaments of modern society. Finally, his memory is not serving him well regarding Proposition 13 and the factors that constituted the ethos of that period. In fact, there was a long and hard fought battle to get property tax relief that got all the way to the state Senate but foundered just short of the necessary two thirds vote…”

Ad hominems aside, the exchange carries significance for the 2010 race because it marks the start of what is likely to be an extended struggle to frame and define Brown’s role and responsibility in the lead-up, passage and aftermath of Prop. 13.

At a time when California teeters on the abyss of financial failure, and when reformers across the state are urging amendment of Prop. 13 as a crucial first-step for fixing the broken machinery of government, Brown’s blog-burst demonstrates both his extreme sensitivity on the subject, and his determination to shape the historic narrative.

Our own, occasionally fallible, off-the-top recollections lean towards Schrag’s version of history, but it’s an extremely important subject for another day that deserves a full airing of the Calbuzz Dustbin of History files.

For now, we’ll offer one scene from June 29, 1978; three weeks after Prop. 13 passed, Gov. Brown faced an angry crowd of state employees, demonstrating in Capitol Park in support of a pay raise – opposed by Brown – notwithstanding  billions in local government tax cuts the governor and legislative leaders were seeking to backfill through bail-out legislation.

As loud cries of “Bullshit!” repeatedly interrupted his speech, Brown said that “100,000 citizens of our state are facing layoffs” by cities, counties and special districts in the wake of Prop. 13.

To a roar of disapproval for Brown, one heckler shouted: “Whose fault is that?!”


But which one gets to drive? Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is quietly stepping up preparations to enter the Republican primary race for the right to face off against Senator Barbara Boxer next year, says a dispatch from ace L.A. Timesman Michael Finnegan, who reports Fiorina is winning her battle against cancer and spending her days phoning up key GOPers to enlist their support.

A Fiorina candidacy raises the astonishing scenario that she and Meg Whitman, who both served as surrogates for John McCain last year, could give California Republicans the chance to make party history by putting forth two legitimate, high-profile women candidates for statewide office in the same election, should eMeg triumph in her nomination bid for governor.

Shades of 1992, when Democrats Boxer and Dianne Feinstein both won election to the Senate in what the late, great political reporter Susan Yoachum dubbed the “Thelma and Louise campaign.” Who says the Republicans aren’t cutting edge?

dr-hackenflackPaging Dr. Hackenflack:

Dear Dr. H,
Re: Your web site’s recent attack on the Chronicle. I  understand that you think the paper’s giving the San Francisco mayor a free pass on his record, but I thought saying that Gavin Newsom is “peddling swill” was an overly personal, over-the-top attack. What gives?
E.J. South, Garry, Ind.

Clearly you’ve never heard of the legendary Chronicle editor Scott Newhall; in the future, please do not read Calbuzz unless you’re wearing your Dr. Hackenflack Decoder Ring.

— By Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine

The First Real People to Lobby DiFi on Health Care

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

barneyBy Cliff Barney
Special to Calbuzz

Five of us rolled up I-280 in a little PT Cruiser, en route to lobby Sen. Dianne Feinstein on behalf of a public option in the new health care bill.

A few days earlier, Feinstein had said on CNN she was dubious about Obama’s health plan – which includes a public option, a kind of Medicare for anyone – because it looked too expensive and the president didn’t seem to have the votes for it. Loyal Democratic activists, we were upset at the senator’s remarks, and wanted some indication that Democrats – all of them – are willing to fight for a meaningful health care bill.

feinsteinThe notion of taking our complaints to Feinstein, whom we know carries a lot of weight among centrist Democrats, was Harvey Dosik’s idea: “Call her up,” Harvey suggested. “Let’s go visit her next time she’s in town.”

Dosik is a Santa Cruz businessman with a knack for political fund-raising; last year he bundled, almost dollar by dollar, $35,000 from local sources, sending it to Obama and to three Democratic U.S. Senate candidates in close races (all of whom won). For our lobbying venture, he also recruited Chris Finnie, live-wire member of the California Democratic Central Committee and recent candidate for party chair; with our wives, Morgan English and Carolyn McCall, we set to schedule a meeting with the senator.

We didn’t get one, of course, since however loyal and active, we remain five bozos from the Santa Cruz mountains and beaches. But we did connect with Feinstein’s San Francisco office and arranged an interview with her staff.

So one recent morning, we sat in an elegant conference room on the twenty-fourth floor of One Post Street talking with Christine Epres, a local representative who described herself as part of “the eyes and ears of the Senator,” and said she was ready to listen.

To our astonishment, she told us were the first citizen group that had visited the office to talk about the health bill.

We began to make our case. Chris Finnie fired an opening salvo by sliding across the table a stack of 156 sheets bearing the names of more than 42,000 Feinstein constituents who supported a public option in the health plan. They had been collected by Democracy for America, the organization founded by Howard Dean to promote his 50-state strategy for grassroots democracy.

I cited Wall Street Journal/NBC and New York Times/CBS polls that showed more than 70 percent of citizens supporting a public option in the health bill. Harvey zeroed in on the cost of profit to health care purchasers – it is “overhead between me and my doctor,” he said. Morgan urged Estes to relay the strong message that private insurance was not doing the job. Carolyn called Feinstein’s vote for or against the public option as important as her vote to support the Iraq war, a vote Feinstein has since said she regrets. The implication was that we hoped the senator didn’t blow it this time, too.

Estes acknowledged that the senator had not yet announced a position on the Obama health plan. In fact, her only public statement on the public option (or what seems to be a public option, though it’s hard to tell from the text) had been a masterpiece of balance; she supported, she said “moving toward either a non-profit model of medical insurance or to one where premium costs can be controlled, either through competition in a public or cooperative model or through a regulated authority.”

“We want her to take a position,” Harvey told Estes, adding that we feared the Senate would water down the public option into locally based insurance cooperatives that would not be able to bargain powerfully because they would be too small.

The meeting lasted at least an hour; Estes took notes and was responsive to our point of view. In the end, we asked her what we could do that had the best chance of reaching the Senator’s ear.

“You know,” she said, “the best thing would be to send us stories about the difficulties people have with private insurance.”

Sometimes we don’t hear what is said to us the first time, or even the first few times. Earlier, we’d been dismayed when the Obamista at Organization for America, the president’s national grassroots operation, had advised rounding up individual tales of woe about the inefficiencies and even cruelties of private insurance, the better to win the hearts of Republicans and sway doubtful Democrats. It didn’t seem like a great strategy, although for weeks the group had been posting examples at http://stories.barackobama.com/healthcare.

Now we were getting the same advice from a completely different quarter. Perhaps it’s time to listen. Sen. Feinstein is famously fond of real-life anecdotes that illustrate a political position. So we, the first citizen group in the Bay Area to lobby her on public option, suggest we give her what she asks for.

Carolyn had a scary story of her own, and immediately sent it, along with nearly a thousand other stories from the same zip code in OFA’s database, to:

Christine Epres
Office of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein
One Post Street
San Francisco CA 94104
415-393-0710 (fax)

Perhaps these and others can express people’s needs in a way that resonates in Congress.

Calbuzz Rants: Snowbilly Logic and Chronicle Watch

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

palinwaveSympathy for the devil: The enterprising Chris Cillizza at the WashPo’s The Fix reports on a new Gallup Poll that finds a “Palin Sympathy Effect” wherein 53% of respondents say coverage of Palin has been “unfairly negative.”

Calbuzz is not among them.

In fact, we think Eugene Robinson of the WashPo cut right to the bone when he said “All of us who ever took Sarah Palin seriously — or pretended to take her seriously — should be deeply ashamed.”

The latest evidence, in addition to her Snowbilly stream-of-unconsciousness press conference resignation was her comment in an interview with ABC News in which she explains why the frivolous complaints that are driving her out of office in Alaska wouldn’t hurt her in Washington.

“I think on a national level, your Department of Law there in the White House would look at some of the things that we’ve been charged with and automatically throw them out,” she said.

Suddenly, it hit us that we’ve misdiagnosed the tundra bunny governor. Her problem is that living so long in Alaska, all she sees is the trees. She can’t see the forest. So instead of seeing the Department of Justice, she sees the Department of Law. Which, of course, there isn’t one of.

Along with your Department of Law, surely Palin would be studying up on your Department of Order. (Fred Thompson quit, but maybe Sam Waterston still works there,right?) And there’s your Department of Concrete (which oversees roads, houses, swimming pools and the like), the Department of Germs, the Department of Rocks and that old retro favorite, the War Department.

ancientpressWhy newspapers are doomed, Chapter 876: Our friend Marcia Meier took the occasion of the passing of the King of Pop to once again set forth the clear and compelling case for why newspaper editors should stop making themselves look silly with big banner headlines proclaiming “News” the morning after everybody knows what happened.

Meier’s Huffpost blog hit a special chord coming the day after the Chronicle took to the streets to shout to the heavens that they’ve improved the look of their newspaper by shifting to new printing presses. Really? What’s next? Color TV? Phones you can carry around with you? Indoor plumbing?

Mother Jones has a lovely little take down on the Chronicle’s sadly funny claim that “a new era gets rolling” because they’ve found a way to put ink on dead trees with decent color registration.

And speaking of the Chron . . .  chronbanner

Great newspaper lets mayor peddle swill

What’s not working: The San Francisco Chronicle is letting the city’s mayor get away with trumpeting alleged accomplishments without lifting a finger to fact-check his claims.

Ever since he started running for governor, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has traveled up and down the state, telling voters everywhere he goes that as the city’s mayor he has led the way in solving a series of intractable social and economic problems, a splendid performance he says makes him the best-qualified candidate to lead California.

From universal health insurance to financial aid for schools, from balanced budgets to economic development and job creation, from homelessness to immigration, to hear him tell it, there’s seemingly no area of public policy where the Superman Mayor has not made San Francisco a veritable paradise on earth.

Maybe all this is 100% accurate. We have no bloody idea. Because throughout the months of civic-self promotion, Calbuzz has been waiting and waiting and waiting for the mayor’s hometown newspaper to help California’s voters –- and its press corps -– make an informed judgment of how Newsom’s extravagant claims stack up against the true facts. And waiting . . .

For years the mighty Chron trumpeted, as a model of service journalism, its “Chronicle Watch,” in which reporters would chase down tips about small-bore community problems –- from dirty swimming pools to missing stop signs –- publish the name of the no-account bureaucrat responsible for the outrage and keep a running score of how long it took to fix things.

Today Calbuzz begins its own “ChronicleWatch” on the Chronicle’s failure to hold their mayor politically accountable. We’ll stay on the story and let you know when they fix the problem.

How long it’s been broken: Since April 21, when Newsom announced his candidacy.

Who’s responsible: Executive Vice President & Editor Ward Bushee

Note to the Silicon Valley paper of record, the  Sans Jose Mercury New: We’re eagerly awaiting those bleeding-edge storiMN_Logo4ies on Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner that will give us some clues about their management skills, temperament, vision, political views (who was it who reported that Meg just recently registered Republican?)  and anything else that will shed light on whether candidates in your back yard are qualified to be governor.  Could be a “MercWatch” on the horizon, too.

Jacko Hug: Post Facto Praise for a Great Entertainer

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

jacksondanceEven Calbuzz was moved when 11-year-old Paris Katherine Jackson took the microphone to tell the world that Michael had been a wonderful father and that she loved him dearly, which you can watch here on TMZ.

That was the emotional high point of the MJ Tribute, for sure. The political high points were two: the Rev. Al Sharpton’s observation that Jackson was instrumental in breaking the color barrier and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s insistence on the presumption of innocence.

Sharpton’s great line: “He put on one glove, pulled his pants up and broke down the color curtain.”

The Rev was suggesting that even before Oprah, Tiger Woods and Barack Obama, Michael Jackson was an international crossover phenom of great significance, linking nationalities, ethnic groups and cultures through his extraordinary musical talent.

And then, turning to the MJ’s kids, Sharpton said,  “There wasn’t nothing strange about your daddy. It was strange what he had to deal with.”

That’s not true, of course. There was a lot strange about Michael Jackson. But it was a nice thing to say to his kids. And it’s also clear that to huge numbers of people around the world — and especially in the black community — Jackson’s life is an inspiration and his music is iconic. Whether he is, as Berry Gordy pronounced him, “the greatest entertainer of all time,”  is a judgment for the history books – not mere political hacks. But it’s certainly arguable.

The other political moment of note: the defiant (and way too long) speech from Rep. Lee of Texas, taking aim at her colleague Rep. Peter King of New York, who had called Jacko a “pervert,” “child molester,” and “pedophile.” Lee sharply noted that under the U.S. Constitution one is considered innocent until proven guilty (which Jackson was not) and she presented a resolution from Congress memorializing MJ as a great entertainer.

Why it matters? Because it is further evidence that having one black family living in public housing in Washington has not eradicated the racial divide in America. The black community’s spontaneous rally in defense of Michael Jackson against presumptions – expressed mostly by white politicians, commentators and comedians (with some notable exceptions like Chris Rock)  — that Jackson was an unconvicted pederast, is just another measure of the divide.

When you get Queen Latifa, Mariah Carey, Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Jennifer Hudson, Berry Gordy, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Bernice King, Martin Luther King III and Usher singing praises to the life of one man, it’s clear that those who would argue otherwise are wading into racially-charged territory.

Skunk Note: Over at Fox News, Geraldo Rivera had a few choice words for many of the geraldocelebrities at the Staples Center:

“The vast majority of the people in that hall,” Geraldo said, “and certainly ninety nine percent of the celebrities who have come to this memorial did not stand anywhere near Michael Jackson during the years he was accused of those horrible crimes, and they didn’t say, ‘We believe him innocent, they didn’t say let the case go where it may, let the facts prove innocence or guilt.’ They just disappeared, and now they have resurfaced to celebrate his life.”