Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

January 12, 2012
Berman-Sherman battle stirs embers of 1980 speakership fight

The political shootout of the year, at least in Southern California, is the duel between two veteran Democratic congressmen who were thrown into the same district by the independent redistricting commission, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman.

Their high-octane contest in the new 30th Congressional District has divided Los Angeles' Jewish and labor communities. As it turns out, it has also stirred the embers of a bitter, 32-year-old battle in the state Capitol over the speakership of the state Assembly.

In 1980, Berman, then a state assemblyman, tried to oust fellow Democrat Leo McCarthy, who had become speaker six years earlier. That led to a year-long conflict that eventually ended in a draw. Willie Brown -- whom McCarthy had defeated for speaker in 1974 -- succeeded his old rival, elected over Berman by McCarthy Democrats and Republicans.

January 12, 2012
California high-speed rail head Roelof van Ark resigns

LS VAN ARK 1.JPGRoelof van Ark, chief executive officer of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, announced this afternoon that he is quitting, the latest setback for the state's beleaguered campaign to build a nearly $100 billion rail network in California.

His resignation, announced at a board meeting in Los Angeles and effective in two months, comes at a critical point for the project, with rail officials bidding for Legislative approval to start construction in the Central Valley this fall. Public opinion about the project has fallen sharply, according to a recent Field Poll, and the Legislature is highly skeptical.

Minutes after van Ark's announcement, Tom Umberg announced that he is stepping down as chairman of the rail board, though he will remain a member of the board. Umberg is to be replaced next month by Dan Richard, an adviser Gov. Jerry Brown appointed to the board last year.

Brown, a Democrat, became a vocal supporter of the project last year and appointed two advisers, Richard and Mike Rossi, to the rail board. This month, Brown proposed folding the authority into a new state agency, the Transportation Agency, a measure rail officials support.

Van Ark was hired in 2010 and oversaw the authority's creation of an updated business plan that raised the estimated cost of the project to almost $100 billion over 20 years. Lawmakers said the plan was more credible than before, but many lawmakers remain critical of the project's management and cost.

Van Ark cited personal reasons for his resignation.

"I need to focus myself more on my family, and maybe some other interests," he told board members. He said he may continue on the project as a consultant.

Van Ark used his resignation announcement to reiterate his support of the rail authority's decision to start construction in the Central Valley, controversial because it is far from California's population centers. The administration signaled no change of course.

While Richard said he was "very skeptical of that notion" when he joined the board, he said, "I sit here today as somebody who's been fully convinced."

Van Ark told The Bee last year that he considered it a personal challenge to ensure implementation of the project.

"I really believe that California should have a system like this," he said. "This state is so well positioned for high-speed rail."

Editor's note: Updated at 3:05 p.m. to include comments from the meeting in Los Angeles.

PHOTO CREDIT: Roelof van Ark, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling

January 12, 2012
Welfare cut relies on shifting money to scholarships

One of the best examples of the complexity in California budgeting is how Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed saving $1 billion through deep welfare-to-work cuts.

The state cannot cut $1 billion of its own money on welfare, or else it would spend so little on the program that the federal government would take away federal funds. On paper, it looks like Brown would only cut $248 million in state welfare costs, even though $1 billion in welfare programs would be reduced.

To actually save the full $1 billion, the state needs to play the annual fund shift game. Brown's solution: Rather than use only state money to fund Cal Grants - college scholarship aid for the poor - California would use $736 million of federal funds that formerly went to welfare recipients.

California receives a $3.7 billion Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant from the federal government each year, which the state uses to help pay for welfare-to-work and other programs that help the poor. Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor suggested Wednesday that this block grant gives states more freedom than other federally funded programs like Medicaid.

In grappling with a deficit, the state is looking for all of the freedom it can get. So when budget writers find outside dollars that can be tapped for other purposes, they use it.

California would likely justify its federal low-income dollars for scholarships by saying that Cal Grants help poor students become employable and discourage them from starting families without financial means, thus keeping them out of the state's welfare-to-work program.

"It doesn't have to be spent on direct assistance," said Caroline Danielson, a policy fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California. "It can serve to help needy families reach self-sufficiency."

January 12, 2012
Education Week gives California a 'C' for its schools

California's 6 million-student public education system receives high marks for setting high academic standards but very low grades for meeting those standards and school finance in the latest national rankings by Education Week magazine.

Overall, the state receives a "C grade for its public schools with a mark of 76.1 on the 1-100 scale, slightly below the nation as a whole. For the fourth year in a row, Maryland's schools came out on top at 87.8 while South Dakota came in last with 68.1.

The magazine rates states' schools on six criteria - chances for successes, K-12 achievement, standards and assessments, teaching profession improvement, finance and preparing students for work or college. California received an "A" grade for standards and assessments, a "B" for preparing students, a "C" in chances for success, teaching profession improvement and finance, and a "D" in K-12 achievement.

School finance is the area that draws the most political attention, and in that, Education Week says California does well in equalizing support among schools, with a "B-plus," but is given an "F" for spending, reflecting the state's relatively low level of per-pupil support from state and local taxes.

The state's schools have lost billions of dollars in state aid due to chronic budget deficits and are likely to see more cuts this year, but Gov. Jerry Brown has also proposed an overhaul of how aid is allocated, eliminating many "categorical aid" programs and creating a simpler method that gives more aid to schools with poor and/or low-performing students.

January 12, 2012
California Rep. Jerry Lewis announces retirement

jerrylewis.JPGRep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, announced Thursday he will be retiring at the end of the current Congress.

Lewis, 77, has served in the House since 1979, making him one of California's most senior and highly placed lawmakers. He was the first Californian to chair the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and he has long prided himself on his ability to steer federal funds toward California.

"After months of consultation with loved ones and family, my wife Arlene and I have decided to retire from public life," Lewis said in a statement. "We are deeply grateful to so many who have provided their support over the years. I have worked hard to justify that support."

Lewis becomes the sixth California lawmaker to announce a stepping-down at the end of the 112th Congress.

PHOTO CAPTION: Representative Jerry Lewis

January 12, 2012
AM Alert: Finance's Matosantos talks budget with CalChamber

The state budget will be front and center today as Gov. Jerry Brown's finance director, Ana Matosantos, talks to members of the California Chamber of Commerce at its luncheon forum.

Over the holidays, Brown adviser Steve Glazer was tapped to advise CalChamber's political action committee on matters involving Democratic candidates in this year's elections, as The Bee's David Siders reported in this post. Republican strategist Rob Stutzman is the chamber's GOP adviser.

Speaking of elections, the California Redistricting Commission holds a teleconference this afternoon for a report on the state Supreme Court hearing earlier this week, which The Bee's Jim Sanders wrote about here, plus a status update on the ballot proposal to block its state Senate maps. You'll find the commission's agenda for today's meeting at this link.

The high court has said it will decide by the end of the month which maps the state should use in this year's elections. The secretary of state's office announced this week that a random check of petition signatures didn't hit the target needed to avoid a full check to see whether the proposal qualifies for the November ballot. Election officials now have until Feb. 24 to complete that full check.

Anybody who wants to run for state Senate, meanwhile, needs to formally file candidacy papers between Feb. 13 and March 9, according to the state's primary election calendar.

Click here for more information about the ballot measure, posted at the secretary of state's website.

BROADBAND COUNCIL: Members of the California Broadband Council meet with the Federal Communications Commission's chief counsel and members of the state's Public Utilities Commission about expanding broadband access to all areas of the state. The council, set up by a bill authored by Sen. Alex Padilla, is charged with eliminating the state's so-called "digital divide." The roundtable starts at 2:30 p.m. in the Capitol's Room 112 and will be streamed live on CalChannel at this link.

CAKE AND CANDLES: Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, turns 52 today.


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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