Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

December 13, 2011
California high-Speed Rail going without statewide PR contract

MERCED - Perhaps no project in California needs an image lift more than high-speed rail.

But after trying for five months to hire a public relations company to help with that effort, state rail officials elected Tuesday to go without, at least temporarily.

California High-Speed Rail Authority board members told staff in Merced to put on hold the authority's effort to replace its current, $9 million contract with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, which has been winding down since Ogilvy announced this summer it was quitting.

The authority plans to let the Ogilvy contract expire next week while rail officials consider handling public relations in-house.

The decision follows a report by The Bee this month that the rail authority, in addition to its payments to Ogilvy, was spending millions of dollars on regional, outreach-related sub-contracts embedded in engineering contracts. Last fiscal year, the authority spent $7.2 million on those outreach contracts, and it budgeted about $2.6 million for regional outreach this year.

Lance Simmens, the authority's deputy director for communications and public policy, said in a memorandum to authority board members that he is considering relying on those regional contractors for the authority's statewide outreach campaign, augmented by the addition of six to 10 in-house positions.

The development comes at a critical point for the state's nearly-$100 billion bid to build a high-speed rail system connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco. The project is heading into the New Year with diminished public support, and it remains unclear if the Legislature will approve funding next year.

December 13, 2011
Sandre Swanson to challenge Loni Hancock for state Senate

Looks like the same-party showdown brewing in the newly drawn 9th Senate District is on for 2012.

Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, confirmed today to the Oakland Tribune that he plans to run against incumbent Democratic Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, for the East Bay seat.

The Oakland Tribune reported this afternoon:

Swanson, D-Alameda, had said in late September he was seriously considering the run, right after state Senate Democratic leaders issued poll results showing Hancock, D-Berkeley, had a wide lead over him in a one-on-one matchup for the 9th District seat -- a clear shot across Swanson's bow.

"Senator Hancock for a number of years now has told me she wasn't going to run and was in fact going to support me," Swanson said Tuesday, indicating he was somewhat blindsided by her change of heart but has hardened his resolve. "Dec. 30 is the first day you can take out the official nominating papers to circulate among voters, and that's what I'm going to do, I intend to be first in line."

Hancock wasn't available for comment Tuesday, but her campaign consultant, Andrew Acosta, said Swanson is acting in nobody's best interests but his own.

"Six months ago, Sandre said that he wouldn't run against her, that he was opening a committee based on what the (redrawn district) maps were going to look like, basically shopping for a district, hoping there would be a district for him," Acosta said. "There wasn't, so now he's running against Senator Hancock ... who has a great progressive record of fighting for the things that people in that district care about."

Swanson's decision sets up a big June battle between the two liberal Democrats, both of whom have had labor backing in the past. But unlike in past elections, this primary fight one could extend to November. Under the top-two primary system, the two candidates who receive the most votes, regardless of political party affiliation, compete in the the general election.

Click here to read the full story.

December 13, 2011
Los Angeles schools to sue California over bus cut

California's largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, announced today it will file suit to block the state from eliminating $248 million in school bus funding.

Superintendent John Deasy said in a statement that his district is under a 1981 court order to run buses for 35,000 students in the wake of a desegregation case. The district must also provide transportation for 13,000 students with disabilities under state and federal laws.

Gov. Jerry Brown announced the bus cut as part of a $980 million package of cuts that triggered into effect once fiscal officials determined the state would fall $2.2 billion short in revenues this year. The governor acknowledged that K-12 districts are still required to bus some students but suggested they could still pay for buses by cutting elsewhere.

December 13, 2011
Darrell Steinberg wants digital library of free textbooks

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg announced today that he will push for legislation to create an online open source library to reduce the cost of course materials for college students across the state.

The Sacramento Democrat framed the proposed project as an effort to lower costs for students struggling to cope with higher fees and tuition rates at California's public colleges and universities.

"We know that the costs of higher education are skyrocketing. Fees have gone up significantly in recent years and we must do something about it," Steinberg said at a Tuesday press conference. "But too often overlooked are other costs that make higher education hard to afford."

Steinberg said the average student spends $1,300 a year on textbooks, a figure his staff said is based on projections the University of California, California State University and community college systems provide to students for budgeting purposes. Under his proposal, materials for 50 common lower division courses would be developed and posted online for free student access. Ordering a paper copy would cost $20, compared to the $200-plus price tag carried by some books.

Steinberg plans to seek $25 million to create his proposed Open Education Resources system, with some funding going towards soliciting course material contributions from academics, nonprofits, Silicon Valley developers and the book publishing industry to be shared freely within the system. A new council of faculty leaders from the California's public higher education system would be tasked with selecting the courses for the first round of open source textbook development and reviewing and approving the materials added to the library.

"There would be no mandate for faculty to use these books, but when given a more affordable, a possibly free option that does not sacrifice quality, they will do the right thing for students," he said.

December 13, 2011
Details of Jerry Brown's trigger cuts

Gov. Jerry Brown announced today that California will impose $980 million in mid-year trigger cuts to a variety of public programs. That comes after Brown's Department of Finance determined the state will fall $2.2 billion short of its optimistic summer revenue forecast.

For a more detailed explanation of how some cuts will be felt, check out our Monday story.

The official cuts list is as follows:

Effective Jan. 1, 2012:
-- Reduce vertical prosecution grants, which allow county prosecutors and investigators to remain involved as cases work through the judicial system. Savings: $14.6 million
-- Extend Medi-Cal cuts and copays to managed care plans. Savings: $8.6 million
-- Undefined cut to Department of Developmental Services. Savings: $100 million
-- Reduce In-Home Supportive Services hours by 20 percent, eliminate local anti-fraud funding. (A federal judge has temporarily blocked the service hours cut.) Assumed savings: $101.5 million
-- Undefined cut to Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Savings: $20 million
-- Reduction in state-subsidized child care. Savings: $23 million
-- Elimination of school bus service funding. (K-12 districts say this will likely result in cuts elsewhere so federally mandated bus services can continue.) Savings: $248 million
-- Eliminate state grants to local libraries. Savings: $15.9 million
-- Undefined cut to University of California. Savings: $100 million
-- Undefined cut to California State University. Savings: $100 million
-- Reduction to California Community Colleges. (Will result in $10/unit fee hike starting in the summer 2012 term.) Savings: $102 million
-- Charge counties $125,000 for housing juvenile offenders. Savings $67.7 million

Effective Feb. 1, 2012:
-- Cut general funding to K-12 schools. Savings: $79.6 million

December 13, 2011
Lungren seeks probe of SF's use of Hetch Hetchy water

BP hetch hetchy mountain.JPGRep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, is asking Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to investigate San Francisco's "water practices" as they relate to famed Hetch Hetchy reservoir.

In a three-page letter dated Dec. 7, Lungren asserts that San Francisco is violating federal law by failing to exhaust its local water sources before tapping the Tuolumne River. Lungren specifically cites an alleged failure by the city to take advantage of recycling, groundwater and rainwater harvesting. Lungren further asserts these failings, combined with the city's use of Tuolumne River water stored at Hetch Hetchy, violate the Raker Act, the 1913 law that authorized construction of the Hetch Hetchy water system.

Lungren has for several years talked up the idea of removing the reservoir and restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley as a part of Yosemite National Park. With the likes of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and former mayor, now Sen. Dianne Feinstein looking out for San Francisco's interests, this latest effort may not go far.

PHOTO CREDIT: Norman Rickson, a superintendent of maintenance and repair for Hetch Hetchy, makes his way by boat through the valley floor covered by water, on July 21, 2004. Sacramento Bee/Bryan Patrick

December 13, 2011
Jerry Brown's cuts to California schools less than feared

Gov. Jerry Brown will slash higher education, child care and school bus service, but he will largely spare K-12 classrooms from mid-year cuts under a revised budget forecast released today.

K-12 school districts were at risk of losing as much $1.5 billion - the equivalent of seven instructional days - under the budget Brown and lawmakers enacted earlier this year. But they will face a smaller $79.6 million reduction in general funding. That should avert massive reductions in the school calendar or other drastic measures for most districts.

"It turns out the cuts are far less than they would have been," Brown said.

Districts will still face a $248 million elimination of school bus funding, however. Jill Wynns, president of the California School Boards Association, said districts will cut somewhere other than buses because they are mandated by federal law to provide transportation for students with disabilities.

Colleges, child care, libraries, counties and disabled services will all face the knife as well. A full list is here.

Some cuts will be more immediate than others, based on how well positioned each program is to handle an immediate loss in funds.

University of California will absorb its $100 million cut by tapping reserves, and activists for disabled residents are challenging a $100 million cut to In-Home Supportive Services in court. But rural and low-income residents may lose free access to library services outside their home area, while some families could lose subsidized child care.

California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott said Tuesday he anticipates the latest cuts will lead to a $10 per unit hike from $36 to $46 starting with the summer 2012 term. That comes after a fall 2011 increase from $26 to $36. Scott believes the new fee hike will remain permanent given the state's ongoing budget problems.

All told, the state will impose trigger cuts of $980 million, less than half the amount the Legislative Analyst's Office predicted last month.

The Analyst's Office predicted that K-12 schools faced a $1.1 billion cut in classroom funding alone and the elimination of school bus money.

Brown's forecast is better than the Analyst's in part because the governor's Department of Finance had another month of data to review. Department of Finance Director Ana Matosantos said a variety of differences, from strong November sales taxes to higher revenues from millionaires, contributed to the difference in forecasts.

Updated at 2:15 p.m.

December 13, 2011
Cast your vote for the best Jerry Brown butterbeer caption

APTOPIX Universal Harry Pot-thumb-380x259-21926.jpgWhile a tall glass of butterbeer may not make Gov. Jerry Brown's budget woes disappear, the sight of the governor trying the treat conjured up many jokes in our readers' minds.

Lines referencing the 73-year-old governor's long political career and prediction for a 2012 ballot war were among the dozens of entries we received for our latest Capitol Alert Caption Contest.

For those too busy searching for the golden snitch to see last week's call for submissions, we asked readers to come up with a caption of this picture of the Democratic governor sipping a mug of butterbeer at a press conference announcing plans to build a Wizarding World of Harry Potter park in Los Angeles.

We've picked 10 submissions that had the power to make us laugh, but we'll leave it to you, fellow muggles, to choose the caption worthy of Capitol Alert's equivalent of the House Cup. In addition to the bragging rights, the winner takes home a $25 gift card to a local coffee shop.

Send your vote to by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, December 15. Please vote once and pick only one caption. Feel free to make the case for your favorite line in the comments forum below.

Here are the finalist entries"

1.) "I remember when we used Owls for interoffice memos."

2.) "Beerum omnium contra omnes" (Loosely translated: beer of all against all).

3.) "Release the hounds, Smithers"

4.) "I need an official taster. Where's Gavin?"

5.) "We'll drink beer, let them eat cake!"

6.) "I don't know what you guys think, but I think this smells a lot better than my budget!"

7.) "A toast to the Debt Eaters!"

8.) "Why is this Christmas beer from CCPOA warm and taste funny?"

9.) "Wow, this tastes good enough to tax!"

10.) "Was this Union Made?"

You can check out the original post announcing the contest at this link. Remember, send just one vote to Good luck to all the finalists!

PHOTO CREDIT: From left, Ron Meyer, President and COO of Universal Studios, Gov. Jerry Brown, and Barry Meyer, Chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. make a butterbeer toast as Universal Parks & Resorts as they announce that the Harry Potter attraction is coming to Universal Studios Hollywood in Universal City, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011. The attraction opened in Orlando, Fla. last summer. (AP Photo/Jason Redmond)

December 13, 2011
Assemblywoman Alyson Huber opts not to run for re-election

HUBER.JPGReversing course, Assemblywoman Alyson Huber announced today that she will not seek re-election in a neighboring Assembly district after all.

"I have decided not to run for re-election," Huber said in a post on the Twitter website today. "I feel this is the best decision for my children, my health and my current district."

Only one month ago, the 39-year-old Democrat had announced that she will move from her El Dorado Hills home to Rancho Cordova and run next year for a newly drawn seat extending south to the Wilton area.

Huber's current Assembly district had been redrawn by the state's redistricting commission to give Republicans a 20-percentage point advantage in voter registration and to include incumbent GOP Assemblywoman Beth Gaines of Roseville.

Huber also is wrestling with several personal problems, including a contentious divorce and a default on a million-dollar mortgage in El Dorado Hills.

Neither Huber nor her political consultant, Andrew Acosta, could be reached immediately for comment after the lawmaker's Twitter announcement.

December 13, 2011
AM Alert: Time to pull the California budget trigger

State Finance Director Ana Matosantos is expected to say today just how much in cuts will be triggered by California' failure to meet its optimistic budget projections.

Her announcement on the state's revenue forecast, in a briefing for credentialed news media, will be held at noon in Room 126 at the Capitol.

Any cuts will go into effect on January 1.

Gov. Jerry Brown does have some good news today from a new PPIC poll, which says 60 percent of likely voters like his plan to raise taxes to support schools and other state programs.

Brown has already opened a campaign committee and begun fundraising for the measure, which he hopes to qualify for the November 2012 ballot.

In case you're wondering, here's how the institute worded the question:

"Governor Brown has proposed a plan to help close the state's budget deficit over the next five years. The plan, which would be put before voters in November, would raise $7 billion annually through a temporary four-year half cent sales tax increase and a temporary five year income tax increase on those earning more than $250,000. Do you favor or oppose this proposal?"

Likely voters also favored aspects of Brown's public pension proposal, including increasing employee contributions.

In other pension news, the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research is releasing a series of reports this week on public pensions. Written by Stanford professor Joe Nation with help from California Common Sense researcher Evan Storms, today's report covers CalPERS, CalSTRS and the University of California Retirement Plan. Find it here.

On Wednesday, they'll report on the financial health of 63 local, or independent public pension systems. San Jose's two public pension systems will be the focus of Thursday's report.

California Common Sense will post interactive data visualizations illustrating the findings on its website.

Free college textbooks? Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg today will propose legislation that would set up an online library of textbooks used in common lower-division courses. He'll hold a press conference at 11 a.m. in Room 4203 at the Capitol. Watch live here.

CHILD CARE - Child care advocates will release the 2011 California Child Care Portfolio at a 10:30 a.m. press conference in Room 317. Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, chair of the Assembly's budget subcommittee on health and human services, will be among those present for the eighth annual release of the report, which looks statewide and county-by-county at child care supply, demand and costs.

2012 PENSION NEWS - Our companion blog, The State Worker, is gearing up for a year of pension-related news. Jon Ortiz is offering e-mail alerts on the topic and other subjects of interest to state employees. You can sign up here.

BLASTS FROM THE PAST - This week, Capitol Alert is featuring video clips from Gov. Jerry Brown's earlier days. Today's segment features former Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown discussing his son's "attitude toward human beings."

PLANNING AHEAD - Jerry Brown on Thursday will hold "The Governor's Conference on Extreme Climate Risks and California's Future" in San Francisco. The event, to be held at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, will include Nobel Prize winner Rajendra Pachauri. We're also hearing that another former governor might stop by.

December 13, 2011
Video archive: Jerry Brown's 'attitude towards human beings'

Remember when Gov. Jerry Brown made news at press conferences, not on Twitter?

Here is Brown, in this clip from KPIX-TV in San Francisco, announcing his candidacy for governor in 1974.

"Today, I'm announcing my candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor," he said. "It's a decision that I have arrived at after many months of reflection."

Later that year, Brown's father, former Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, gave KPIX-TV this assessment of his son's campaign:

"His speeches are better. His ability to handle a problem is better. His campaign is better," he said in this clip. "His speeches are better. His attitude towards human beings is better. I think that he's grown tremendously in a year. I think there was a little inferiority complex when he began. They all attacked him, I mean all four of those great Democratic candidates in the primaries. But after he overcame them he got that confidence, and now he's moving. And I really feel that he's the best thing I've seen in the political scene for the last four years."

The video clips are part of the San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive, a project of the J. Paul Leonard Library at San Francisco State University. Come back to Capitol Alert on Wednesday for more from the video archive, including clips from Brown's 1976 presidential campaign.


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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