Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

March 5, 2012
Update: Capitol cops arrest 68

California Highway Patrol officers have cleared the Capitol building of Occupy protesters and students, tallying a total of 72 arrests for the day.

The bulk of those taken into custody -- 68 -- were arrested tonight on trespassing charges for refusing to leave the building after it closed at 6 p.m, Four others were arrested earlier, three for causing a disturbance and one for possessing a switchblade, authorities said.

March 5, 2012
Jerry Brown calls massive protest sign of broader frustration

As hundreds of students continued to protest cuts to higher education at the state Capitol this afternoon, Gov. Jerry Brown said in a prepared statement that the students reflect the frustration of millions of Californians.

About 350 of the thousands of demonstrators who descended on the Capitol this morning remain inside the building. About 200 protesters gained entry to the Capitol rotunda before California Highway Patrol officers blocked entrances to the area, leaving others to shout from the hallways.

"The students today are reflecting the frustrations of millions of Californians who have seen their public schools and universities eroded year after year," the Democratic governor said in a prepared statement. "That's why it's imperative that we get more tax revenue this November."

Brown is behind a November ballot initiative to raise the state sales tax and income taxes on California's highest earners, one of three competing initiatives.

Many of the protesters at the Capitol today are affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the protest inside the Capitol adopted a familiar tone. It was only after lengthy discussion that the protesters decided how many demands to make - one to five - and started considering what those demands should be.

"There are a lot of things I'd like to see changed," said Ruthe Offill, a senior at University of California, Merced.

The size of the crowd, alone, she said, was inspiring.

"Just seeing so many people standing up," Offill said, "that's at least a step in the right direction."

When asked why it had blocked protesters at the rotunda entrances, the CHP said it would comment later.

March 5, 2012
VIDEO: Protesters 'occupy' the California Capitol rotunda

A late morning march and rally to call attention to cuts to higher education has transformed into an effort to "Occupy" the state Capitol.

Several hundred demonstrators are gathered in the rotunda and hallways of the Capitol as they sort out what demands they plan to seek as part of their protest.

ReFund California, a coalition backing a proposed tax hike on Californians making more than $1 million to fund education and other state services, had previously announced plans to Occupy the Capitol following a rally sponsored by the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, California State Student Association and the University of California Student Association.

Video by The Bee's David Siders.

March 5, 2012
New website makes tracking California legislation easier

Who says things never get better in the Capitol?

One thing just did - the ability to track legislation as it moves through the legislative process, thanks to a newly revised website maintained by the Legislature's legal bureau.

The new site, among other things, makes it easier to see how proposed legislation would change current law, improves search capabilities and bill-tracking subscriptions, and, for the first time, allows the public to search California laws and tie them to legislative measures. The latter function was previously only available to those in the Capitol or from private vendors who charged fees.

March 5, 2012
Thousands rally for higher education funding at Capitol

RP PROTEST SIGNS.JPGRP PROTEST MARCH TO CAPITOL.JPGSeveral thousand protesters descended on the state Capitol Monday to protest the rising cost of higher education and call on lawmakers to increase funding for California's public colleges and universities.

Speakers at a rally on the west steps of the Capitol blasted the budget cuts to higher education and the cost of tuition and fees at campuses throughout the state, framing access to a degree as a right that should be extended to students of all socioeconomic standings.

"Regardless of our backgrounds, we all have been wounded by these cuts," said Sydney Fang, a student senator at UC Berkeley. "Today we stand in solidarity as students, as workers and as community members because we have had enough. We have had enough. UC regents have not heard our voices and it is time for our legislators to stand with us."

Top Democratic leaders from both houses, who negotiated and voted for the cuts in recent years, spoke at the rally, which was organized by Student Senate for California Community Colleges, California State Student Association and the University of California Student Association. A group called REFUND California that supports funding schools and universities with a proposed income tax hike on Californians making more than $1 million dollars a year was also present at the rally and march and planned to "Occupy" the Capitol later in the afternoon.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez thanked attendees for coming to the Capitol to send legislators a message that they must "keep the promise of an accessible, affordable higher education for everybody in the state of California at our community colleges, our UCs and our CSUs."

"California is watching you and the people of our state agree with you," the Los Angeles Democrat said. "We need to fund higher education. We need to commit ourselves to future generations and by being here you're sending a powerful message."

The remarks from both Pérez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg drew chants of "Show us! Show us!" from the crowd.

"Show us? We have to show you. You're right," Steinberg said.

He told the crowd, which at times broke into chants of "you'll hear us out or we'll vote you out," that he understood their anger.

"You have the right to be mad," Steinberg said. "Too many people are getting big tax breaks while the cost of higher education for you is going up."

The Sacramento Democrat pledged to put more money into higher education with a majority-vote budget as soon as possible. Both he and Perez touted the speaker's legislation to eliminate a corporate tax break to raise money for tuition relief and Steinberg's own bills aimed at lowering the cost of college textbooks.

Photos of the rally at the state Capitol by Randy Pench /

March 5, 2012
Democrats in the murky middle of university funding politics

College students and activists are rallying today in Sacramento to protest state budget cuts in higher education. They will be joined at one Capitol rally by Democratic legislative leaders who negotiated budgets that included those cuts in recent years.

It's one example of the murky budget politics surrounding higher education.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez say they would have preferred not to have cut higher education. But as state tax revenues dropped and Republicans rejected tax hikes, they looked for anything and everything to slash. University funding is an easy target because it lacks the constitutional, federal and court protections that other areas have, while they have a revenue stream in the form of tuition.

Without those education cuts, Democrats would have had to cut deeper in social services and health care, budget areas that Democrats rallied for and protected just last week.

Since 2007-08, the state has slashed its support of the University of California by 21 percent and California State University by 26 percent, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office. To make up for those dollars, universities have shifted costs to middle-class students through tuition hikes on top of program cuts.

Protesters and Democratic leaders agree on the general solution: higher taxes. But there is disagreement over which taxes.

Some student leaders are calling for the tax hike on millionaires backed by the California Federation of Teachers. That plan would devote about $300 million to $500 million annually each to the CSU and UC systems. The group "ReFund California," which includes campus leaders, says the measure also would "make Wall Street the 1% pay to solve the economic crisis they created."

But Steinberg has called on CFT to drop its measure in favor of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to raise taxes on wealthy earners (starting at $250,000 for single filers) and sales. Meanwhile, Pérez has called for a change in corporate tax calculations that could raise $1 billion annually from large, out-of-state companies to reduce tuition for UC and CSU students.

The problem for Steinberg and Pérez, as for Brown, is that they need to balance the overall state budget. If the CFT plan passes instead of Brown's, there's no guarantee that Democratic leaders wouldn't just reduce general fund budget spending for UC and CSU by the amount the CFT plan raises, resulting in no net increase for those programs.

March 5, 2012
George Plescia's candidacy puts San Diego Senate District in play

Capitol oddsmakers have assumed for months that the 39th Senate District, which covers the urban center of San Diego County, would be easy pickings for Democrats in this year's election.

Maybe not.

The district's once overwhelming Democratic registration margin has narrowed to under eight percentage points since it was redrawn by the new independent redistricting commission. And last week, the assumed Democratic candidate, Assemblyman Marty Block, acquired a potentially serious Republican opponent, former Assemblyman George Plescia, declared his candidacy.

Prior to redistricting, Democratic Sen. Christine Kehoe enjoyed a 15-point registration gap but the commission expanded it into more conservative suburban neighborhoods.She's now vacating the seat due to term limits.

One hallmark of the district is it's very large contingent of independent voters. Democrats now have 37.8 percent of its voters, Republicans have 30.4 percent and independents are now 26.7 percent.

Thus, the election could easily hinge on how independents lean, and in Plescia, Republicans have a candidate with a centrist image - so much so, in fact, that he was ousted as GOP leader of the Assembly in 2006 for not being confrontational enough with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was feuding with GOP conservatives over taxes.

Schwarzenegger later appointed Plescia to the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board.

The assumption that the 39th Senate District was safe for Democrats has figured in the calculations of whether they could pick up two seats in this year's election and achieve the holy grail of a two-thirds supermajority in the 40-member house.

When Republican Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Thousand Oaks, opted to run for Congress rather than vie with Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, in the reconstituted 27th Senate District, it appeared that Democrats had a lock on 27 seats. But Plescia's candidacy now creates a shadow of doubt.

March 5, 2012
Video: Protestors begin march on California Capitol

Higher education groups kicked off a day of action at the state Capitol this morning with a march from Sacramento's Southside Park the to the Capitol steps.

Thousands chanted "students united, we'll never be divided" and waved signs that urge "students before banks" and "fund my future."

The "Fund our Future" rally, which was organized by the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, California State Student Association and the University of California Student Association, plans to call on lawmakers to increase funding for higher education. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Speaker John A. Pérez, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, are among the speakers scheduled to address the group on the West Steps of the Capitol.

Organizers of the rally estimated that the crowd of students and higher education supporters would reach 10,000.

While a coalition called REFUND California held a press call to voice support the California Teachers Federation's "millionaire's tax" ballot proposal, a spokesman for the "Fund our Future" rally said the organizers of that march are "not taking any specific policy positions right now" on the competing tax measures.

"This rally is not focused on that issue," UCSA communications director Darius Kemp said. "It's focused on making government properly fund higher education."

Still, the UCSA President Claudia Magana joined REFUND organizers, who plan to rally near the Capitol later this afternoon, on their morning call.

"Students have had enough. We've been having pay increases every year, budget cuts," she said. "We're paying more and getting less."

She said her association has endorsed the millionaire's tax because "it taxes the folks that can afford to give back and need to give back" to raise more money for higher education.


Groups joust over Capitol rally role

California college students protest education cuts

March 5, 2012
AM Alert: 'Occupy the Capitol!' heading to Sacramento

Sacramento officials and police are gearing up for crowds today in downtown Sacramento, with participants of one rally expected to lobby California legislators and organizers of another urging participants to "Occupy the Capitol!"

Thousands of college and university students and others are expected to march at 10 a.m. from Southside Park to rally at 11 a.m. on the west steps to demand that lawmakers increase funding for higher education.

Listed speakers at the morning rally include several elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, as well as the presidents of the Student Senate of California Community Colleges, the California State Student Association and the University of California Student Association.

Joining the march and that rally are ReFund California, which is backing the so-called "millionaires tax" ballot measure pushed by the California Federation of Teachers, and UAW Local 2865, which represents UC student workers. They're headed to Sacramento "to occupy the Capitol," an event flyer says.

The ReFund California coalition is also planning a "General Assembly and Nonviolent Direct Action Training to Occupy the Capitol!" at 3:30 p.m., followed by its own rally at 5:30 p.m. on the north steps, the flyer says, adding, "How long we stay will be up to you."

We'll post coverage of the events at as they happen. Students, teachers and Occupy activists held protests last Thursday across the state in advance of today's rally, as the Associated Press reported last week.

Inside the Capitol, meanwhile, the Assembly is set to convene at noon, and the Senate at 12:30 p.m. Two Assembly committees are also meeting today.

STATE PARKS: So much was happening late last week that we're only now catching up to the Legislative Analyst's Office's report, "Strategies to Maintain California's Park System," which recommends transferring ownership of some parks to local governments, allowing private companies to run some parks, increasing user fees and charging entrance fees rather than parking fees. Read the full report at this link.


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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