Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

October 27, 2011
Obama administration approves California Medi-Cal cuts

Gov. Jerry Brown scored a budget win Thursday as the Obama administration approved a major share of Medi-Cal cuts that health care providers and patient advocates said would cut off medical access to the state's most vulnerable residents.

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will allow the state to cut reimbursement rates by 10 percent this fiscal year for a variety of Medi-Cal providers, including physicians, pharmacists and optometrists. The state Department of Health Care Services says it will not cut rates paid to pediatricians or home health providers.

California Medical Association CEO Dustin Corcoran said Thursday his group will file suit asking the court to immediately block this latest round of Medi-Cal cuts.

The state expects to save a significant part of the projected $623 million associated with the rate cut, though it may fall short due to excluding some services.

October 27, 2011
Jerry Brown wants voters to approve his pension overhaul plan

Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled a 12-point public pension reform plan this morning that would ask voters to increase the age at which future state and local government employees could retire with full benefits and place them in riskier retirement plans than current workers.

Speaking to reporters this morning, Brown said he wants all of his proposals to go before voters on the November 2012 ballot.

"It saves a lot of money," Brown said. "This program is a very decisive step forward...We'll have to contend with unfunded liabilities as we move forward."

The plan would also impact current and future workers by mandating employers and employees equally share the cost of pension contributions. Currently, most employers pick up the majority or all of those costs.

Reaction to Brown's plan came swiftly.

Convincing the Democratic-controlled Legislature to place his package on the ballot is a substantial hurdle, Brown acknowledged.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Brown's plan is a "provocative" one on which he would keep an open mind.

"The abuses that a small number of people take advantage of absolutely must be resolved," Steinberg said in a statement. "But we can't forget that the vast majority of public sector employees are middle class workers and their average pensions are far from exorbitant....

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez said his members would "carefully consider" the proposal, but did he not embrace its contents. "I believe the governor is working hard to solve California's long term fiscal challenges, and the Assembly will work with him to bring stability to our pension system in a manner that does right by taxpayers and public servants alike," he said in a statement.

California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro called the proposals a "small step in the right direction," in a press statement and criticized Brown for deferring most of the savings for many years, since the provisions with the biggest cost impacts won't be felt for years, since they apply only to future employees.

"California can't wait 500 years for a solution," Del Beccaro said.

California Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Allan Zaremberg had a different take.
"We commend the Governor for a bold and substantive proposal that addresses California's unsustainable state and local pensions and retiree health care costs," Zaremberg said. "The Legislature should embrace this common sense plan."

October 27, 2011
California GOP disclosed donors late, Common Cause says

California Common Cause said today that it has filed a complaint with the state's watchdog agency alleging the state GOP violated disclosure laws in connection with a referendum drive to kill the state's newly drawn Senate districts.

The California Republican Party has made numerous contributions, totaling $936,000, to the referendum drive since late September, state records show. The goal is to qualify a ballot measure aimed at overturning Senate maps created by a state citizens commission.

Common Cause contends that the state GOP failed to comply with laws requiring it to disclose within 10 days the source of money used to make contributions of $5,000 or more to the referendum effort -- or to any state ballot measure.

The party ultimately made the public disclosures -- Tuesday it itemized $1.86 million in donations received. But state records suggest the paperwork for roughly $800,000 of that amount was tardy by days or weeks.

"This is a major party that understands disclosure laws, so the way we look at it, they're either purposely doing this or they have really sloppy bookkeeping," said Phillip Ung of Common Cause. "We think it's more the former than the latter."

Mark Standriff, state GOP spokesman, said the party moved quickly to make the required disclosures once it realized its contributions to the referendum drive triggered a 10-day window for reporting.

"It's very common for major political committees to file amendments on very complex reporting regulations on a regular basis," Standriff said. "In fact, what this frivolous complaint by Common Cause brings to light is the fact that, if anything, they should be commending us for being transparent and proactive. ... It's always our intent to be fully compliant."

Common Cause released a copy of its allegations and documentation to the media. Spokeswoman Tara Stock confirmed this afternoon that the Fair Political Practices Commission had received the complaint and would have two weeks to respond to it.

In a related matter, Common Cause said it filed a complaint with the FPPC alleging that the Republican-backed coalition leading the referendum drive -- Fairness & Accountability in Redistricting -- is legally required to identify itself with a name or phrase that discloses donors of $50,000 or more.

Standriff and Dave Gilliard, a political strategist leading FAIR, declined comment today on Common Cause's allegation.

Editor's note, 4:50 p.m.: This post was updated to reflect that the FPPC confirmed receiving the complaint.

October 27, 2011
GOP fights Senate maps on a new front -- federal government

A Republican-backed coalition that failed to persuade the California Supreme Court to kill the state's newly drawn Senate maps is now asking the federal government to reject the lines as a dilution of Latino voting power.

Fairness & Accountability in Redistricting - leaders of a separate referendum drive against the state Senate maps -- has filed arguments with the U.S. Department of Justice challenging the legality of the new boundary lines, attorney Charles H. Bell Jr. said.

Stan Forbes, chairman of the state's 14-member California Citizens Commission, countered today that he is confident the Senate districts will be given thumbs-up by federal officials.

"We were very careful in meeting (requirements), we were very careful in creating the districts, and everything we did was vetted by our Voting Rights Act attorneys," Forbes said.

Republican officials have expressed concern since their adoption in August that the new Senate districts favor Democrats and could give that party a two-thirds majority in the upper house, the margin needed to raise taxes or fees.

The federal government is required to monitor redistricting in four California counties -- Yuba, Monterey, Kings and Merced -- to ensure that minority voting power be preserved.

The 11-page challenge filed by Bell notes that redistricting lowered from six to five the number of Senate districts in which Latinos comprise 50 percent or more of the voting age population.

October 27, 2011
Labor balks at Jerry Brown's pension plan

Less than 24 hours after Gov. Jerry Brown briefed labor leaders on the major pension changes he will propose this morning, labor interests that helped elect the Democratic governor suggested he is in for a fight.

"The governor has indicated that labor will not like many of his proposals," Dave Low, chairman of the union coalition Californians for Retirement Security, said in a prepared statement. "He is right."

Low said many of Brown's proposals would circumvent collective bargaining, a cause Brown championed when he was governor before, from 1975 to 1983.

At a press conference this morning, Brown will propose a higher retirement age and less-generous pension benefits for newly-hired state employees. He will also propose prohibiting the purchase of additional retirement service credit, or "airtime."

"Unions across California have negotiated major retirement concessions, including increased payments by employees and two-tier benefits," Low said. "These concessions have already saved the state, cities, counties and other entities hundreds of millions of dollars. We are strongly opposed to imposing additional retirement rollbacks without bargaining."

October 27, 2011
AM Alert: Capitol hopefuls get schooled in leadership

The candidates are coming. Well, a few dozen of them.

The Leadership California Institute is running a one-day conference at Sacramento's Citizens Hotel offering "Lessons in Leadership" to Democrats and Republicans who hope to be next year's first-term legislators.

The event is drawing some big-name speakers from the Capitol crowd, among them former Assembly Speakers Willie Brown, Bob Hertzberg and Curt Pringle, as well as former Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte.

As of Wednesday, the conference website listed 40 candidates expected to attend. Seventy percent are Democrats, and 30 percent are Republicans.

Meanwhile, three women's groups are hosting "Women's Dialogue: New Lines, New Opportunities" tonight on what the newly drawn political districts and the top-two primary system could mean for women running in the 2012 elections.


Capitol Alert Staff

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers California politics and edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. Twitter: @capitolalert

Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee.

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. Twitter: @ccadelago

Micaela Massimino Micaela Massimino edits Capitol Alert.

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. Twitter: @davidsiders

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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