Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

October 31, 2011
California high-speed rail could cost $98.5 billion

By David Siders

Building California's high speed rail project could cost $98.5 billion over 20 years, more than twice what was previously thought, according to a draft copy of a business plan obtained late Monday by The Bee.

The amount is still far less than the cost of expanding airport and highway systems to accommodate the state's growing population, the California High-Speed Rail Authority said in the report. Even with conservative ridership and cost estimates, it said, the system will operate at a profit.

In the plan, the authority recommits to starting construction in the Central Valley, a source of controversy because it is far from California's population centers. The authority would start construction a year from now on the project's first segment, from Bakersfield to near Chowchilla.

It would push completion of the full, San Francisco-to-Los Angeles area line back to 2033.

October 31, 2011
High-speed rail costs expected to more than double

California's high speed rail project, if built, will cost $98 billion, more than twice as much as previously thought, according to a report obtained by The Bee.

The plan, to be released publicly tomorrow, comes at a critical time for the project, whose management and cost have come under heavy criticism since voters approved $9 billion in rail bonds in 2008.

The report argues that the higher cost is still less than it might cost to build airports, freeways or other infrastructure to accommodate the state's growing population.

The new business plan follows by two months Gov. Jerry Brown's suggestion he could help authority officials "get their act together," and the document represents his administration's influence on the project.

Return to Capitol Alert this evening for more details.

By David Siders

October 31, 2011
California colleges want more students to finish what they start

Leaders of California's community college system are touring the state asking for feedback on a set of recommendations they believe will help more students complete their studies and land a job.

Sounds simple enough, but some of the suggestions are likely to stir opposition from various corners of the education environment -- there are some ideas faculty will likely balk at, and other ideas students are sure not to like.

The draft report by the "Student Success Task Force" calls for refocusing the state's 112 community colleges to emphasize goal completion, rather than the historic priority on open access to all. It includes 23 recommendations. Among them:

  • Create a statewide assessment system so that students can take classes at different community colleges without taking a placement test at each campus.

  • Require students to declare a program of study early in their academic career; create an online advising system that helps students keep track of progress toward their goals

  • Adopt course-registration priorities that are the same statewide so that students who are new to the college can sign up early on.

  • Cut off fee waivers to students who are persistently failing or dropping courses.

"We think with these kinds of policies we're going to say to some people: 'Get serious,'" Chancellor Jack Scott told The Bee's editorial board on Monday. "'Don't just be a professional student, dabbling in a whole lot of things.'"

College officials are holding public meetings to take feedback on the report -- in Fresno on Wednesday, in Orange County on Saturday and in Oakland on Nov. 16. You can see more about those meetings and links to the report here.

Community college leaders are supposed to finalize their recommendations in January, when they will also develop a package of bills intended to implement some of the changes.

October 31, 2011
California state and local governments spent $350 billion in 2009

California's state and local governments spent well over $300 billion in 2009, accounting for nearly a fifth of the state's economy, according to a very detailed new report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

A Census Bureau spreadsheet reveals not only the gross amounts of revenue and spending, but details about how the money was collected and where it was spent.

Overall state and local revenues were $317.6 billion during the year, with the federal government supplying $66.7 billion or just over a fifth of the total. The remaining $251 billion was almost exactly divided between the state and local governments, with property, income and sales taxes contributing the bulk of the total, which also included fees on users of services, retirement fund contributions and other miscellaneous sources.

Total state and local spending was listed at $430.1 billion, but that included duplications from intergovernmental transfers. Net spending was closer to $350 billion, including about $47 billion in public works, much of which was financed from bonds.

October 31, 2011
Two longtime California Legislative Counsel attorneys retiring

The Legislature is losing two of its longest serving attorneys to retirement.

Daniel Weitzman and Richard Weisberg are both leaving California's Office of Legislative Counsel this week after more than three decades on the job.

Weitzman, a chief deputy legislative counsel, has worked in the department since 1976, specializing in state and local government and tax issues. Weisberg had recently led the division focused on housing and community development, land use, local government and state government. He started his career with the Legislative Counsel in 1980, after working for the Assembly Office of Research and the state auditor.

"They're both excellent attorneys and a real wealth of expertise," Chief Deputy Legislative Counsel Jeffrey DeLand said of his outgoing colleagues.

The Office of the Legislative Counsel represents and aids the state government in issues pertaining to the legislative process, including drafting bills, issuing legal opinions and representing the Assembly and Senate in litigation.

October 31, 2011
Supreme Court declines to hear farmers' challenge to delta smelt protections

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an ambitious challenge to Endangered Species Act protections for the delta smelt.

Acting without comment, the court rejected the petition filed on behalf of San Joaquin Valley farm companies including the Stewart & Jasper Orchards of Stanislaus County.

The court's decision leaves intact an earlier ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which had rejected the farmer's potentially far-reaching arguments. The farmers contended that the smelt was strictly an "intrastate" species, found only in California, and that therefore Congress lacked the authority to impose environmental restrictions.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit determined otherwise in its March ruling, concluding that the Endangered Species Act "bears a substantial relation" to interstate commerce and therefore fit within the constitutionally granted authority of Congress.

October 31, 2011
AM Alert: Halloween roundup with Operation Boo

It's Halloween, and Attorney General Kamala Harris is in San Francisco this morning at a presser talking up the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's roundup of transient sex offenders in advance of tonight's tricks and treats.

Corrections is running its 18th annual Operation Boo, subjecting sex offenders to curfews on the annual kids' night out. This year, for the first time, the department is targeting sex offenders without permanent addresses, as this Associated Press story points out.

Harris joins the department's Robert Ambroselli, who's the division director of adult parole operations, at the news conference, which starts at 11:30 a.m. at the San Francisco Parole Office. Click here to learn more about Operation Boo.

Speaking of Halloween, the U.S. Census Bureau is treating us to fun facts about the holiday.

No trick: California is a major pumpkin producer, but the state of Illinois is king of the gourds. The Golden State, however, is tops in both chocolate and cocoa manufacturers, as well as nonchocolate confectioners.

Americans' per capita consumption of candy last year? Almost 25 pounds for each and every one of us, according to the Census Bureau.

Each Snickers fun size candy bar weighs 15 grams, and there are about 453 grams in a pound. That means we're eating, on average, the equivalent of more than 750 of those little things a year...

STIMULUS FUNDS: The Senate Energy Committee, headed by Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles, is holding a followup oversight hearing on unspent federal stimulus funds. Listed participants include representatives of the California Energy Commission, the Department of Community Services and Development, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, the Department of General Services and others. The hearing starts at 10 a.m. in the Capitol's Room 3191.


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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