Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

March 6, 2012
Anti-tax groups put brakes on California spending cap initiative

Fiscal conservatives seeking a constitutional cap on state spending suggested Tuesday they likely will wait until 2014.

Proponents have been concerned that the state spending cap would be buried on the November ballot with tax initiatives and a proposal to limit union dues collection, said Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

The California Taxpayers Association, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and Small Business Action Committee want to reset the state's spending limit at the 2010-11 level. They would cap spending growth based on a formula tied to population and cost-of-living increases. The measure was cleared for circulation on Feb. 8, but proponents have yet to gather signatures.

Waiting until 2014 could be a blow for the California Republican Party. Chairman Tom Del Beccaro in recent weeks has touted the spending cap initiative as central to motivating GOP voters to polls in November and winning targeted legislative races.

"There was no question we had the resources to qualify," Coupal said. "The issue was whether the business community was having second thoughts about whether we'd have the resources to run a credible campaign. I think they looked at the political landscape much like we did and saw some of the tax measures on the ballot and some of the proposals in the Legislature and felt like the timing was not right for spending cap."

March 6, 2012
'Occupy' protester arrested for throwing flower petals in Capitol

A 21-year-old woman who participated in Monday's "Occupy" of the state Capitol was arrested for the second time in two days after she returned to the rotunda and allegedly began throwing flower petals over a second-story balcony, according to a California Highway Patrol spokesman.

Anneliese Harlander was one of 68 people cited and released Monday night as they occupied the Capitol rotunda past closing to protest cuts to higher education.

CHP Captain Andy Menard said the UC Santa Cruz college student was one of about five or six individuals who tried to re-enter the Capitol building just before noon today with sleeping bags and pillows. The individuals were cleared to enter the building without their sleeping gear, which was detected during a security screening.

Menard said Harlander's actions soon caught the attention of officers in the rotunda area.

"She went up to the second floor of the rotunda and started chanting and dancing around the balcony, throwing scraps of paper and flower petals down onto the first floor," Menard said.

Menard said Harlander allegedly initially fled the scene, but was arrested without incident on suspicion of littering and demonstrating without a permit. She was transported to county jail.

"We cited and released her last night and it didn't work so the likelihood of her coming back and doing it again was pretty high," he said.

In all, 74 people were arrested during yesterday's rally, march and sit-in at the Capitol. Officials had previously pegged the number at 72, but Menard said two additional arrests were made yesterday evening on the south side of the building. One person was allegedly in possession of a billy club and the other was demonstrating without a permit, he said.

March 6, 2012
Analyst says Brown's unemployment insurance plan falls short

The Legislature's budget analyst says that lawmakers should postpone action on Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to make changes in the state Unemployment Insurance Fund until "a long-term solvency plan" is formulated.

With double-digit unemployment, California has been running multi-billion-dollar deficits in the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), which is financed by payroll taxes on employers, and has borrowed $10 billion from the federal government to keep state payments flowing. The state is responsible for the first 26 weeks of benefits while the federal government pays for up to 73 more weeks.

Interest payments on the federal loan, more than $300 million, must be paid this year, and the state is borrowing money from the Disability Insurance Fund, which is paid by a tax on workers, to cover the interest. Brown proposes to continue that borrowing next year, but also to raise payroll taxes on employers to pick up the interest costs and tighten eligibility for unemployment benefits. The federal government, meanwhile, will also increase those taxes to repay its UIF loans if the state does not act.

In a new report,

"We recognize that, in light of uncertainty regarding federal UI reforms and the recovery of California's labor market, the Legislature may wish to take a wait-and-see approach during 2012 and delay enactment of a long-term solvency plan until next year," the LAO report says. "Enactment of a long-term plan will likely necessitate significant legislative deliberation and compromise among the various stakeholders of the UI system. For this reason, if the Legislature elects to delay addressing UI fund insolvency, we think that is would be premature to enact the governor's proposed employer surcharge and monetary eligibility changes."

The LAO says that to make the UIF solvent, the Legislature would probably have to boost payroll taxes and reduce eligibility for benefits further - tough issues with the economy still struggling.

March 6, 2012
Sen. Sharon Runner released from hospital after lung transplant

Sen. Sharon Runner is being released from the hospital less than two weeks after receiving a new set of lungs.

Runner's office announced on Feb. 24 that the Lancaster Republican had received a double lung transplant and was recovering at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Runner, who was elected to the Senate in a 2011 special election, has suffered for years from a rare autoimmune condition called limited scleroderma.

While Runner said at the time of her campaign that her condition had improved, infections related to the disease landed her back on the transplant list and prevented her from returning to the Capitol this year.

In addition to praising the work of her doctors and surgeons, Runner thanked the family of her anonymous organ donor in a statement released by her office.

March 6, 2012
Jack Scott to retire as California community college chancellor

20110401_ha_higher_ed6837_jack_scott.JPGJack Scott, California's community college chancellor for the past three years, announced Tuesday that he will retire on Sept. 1.

Scott, a former communtiy college administrator and Democratic state legislator, revealed his retirement plans to the system's statewide board of trustees and said he and his wife, Lacreta, "plan to return to our home in the Pasadena-area. We will enjoy travel and visiting with family and friends."

Scott, 78, said he will do some consulting, but "mainly, retirement will be a time to take it easy after a 58-year career."

Scott, who had been president of Pasadena City College, won an Assembly seat in 1996 and moved to the Senate for two terms in 2000.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jack Scott, chancellor of California Community Colleges, talks about the effects of budget cuts on students during a higher ed advocacy day in the state Capitol on Tuesday, April 5, 2011. Hector Amezcua / Sacramento Bee

March 6, 2012
Schools chief Tom Torlakson backs Brown tax plan - and his rivals

Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of schools, took a stand Tuesday on the three-way political wrestling match over asking voters to raise taxes - sort of.

Gov. Jerry Brown has a proposal to raise income and sales taxes, and is trying to persuade sponsors of two other November ballot measures to benefit schools, a so-called "millionaires' tax" and a broader income tax hike, to drop their campaigns. He says that if all three are on the ballot, voter confusion could sink all of them.

Torlakson told an Assembly budget subcommittee that he sees "the success of governor's November revenue initiative as a vital and essential step...and I urge you to build your budget accordingly."

But under questioning from legislators, Torlakson conceded that education advocacy groups are "all over the map" on which tax plan to support and added, "I personally support all three."

While Torlakson urged lawmakers to build a budget based on Brown's tax increase, and endorsed portions of Brown's proposed overhaul of the state's school finance system, he was skeptical about the governor's plans to also change testing and other academic accountability systems. And he was sharply critical of Brown's plans to overhaul child care.

Finally, Torlakson said it would be "both unfair and harmful" to force schools to take the brunt of spending cuts should voters reject Brown's tax plan, as the governor proposes.

March 6, 2012
Gov. Jerry Brown tax hike campaign reports $631k in donations

Gov. Jerry Brown has reported another $631,000 in contributions to a campaign committee formed to support his proposed tax initiative, bringing his fundraising total so far to $3.4 million.

More than half of the contributions to Brown's committee reported in the Tuesday morning campaign filing came from pipe trades' and plumbers' unions. The committee, "Californians to Protect Schools, Universities, and Public Safety," also reported a $100,000 donation from the Pechanga Band of Mission Indians.

The Democratic governor is gathering voter signatures to qualify his tax initiative for the November ballot. His proposal, one of three competing measures in circulation, would temporarily increase income taxes on Californians making $250,000 a year and enact a half percent hike in the state sales tax. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimated that the proposal would raise roughly $5 billion a year to help close the state's budget gap.

Brown's supporters must collect 807,615 valid voter signatures in the coming months to make it on this year's ballot.

Brown also reported $45,000 in contributions to his 2014 re-election committee today. The Washington, D.C.-based Entertainment Software Association gave him $25,000 and software company Intuit wrote a $20,000 check.

March 6, 2012
Cruz Bustamante won't run for Congress in the Central Valley

BB CRUZ INTERVIEW 031.JPGFormer Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante has decided not to run for Congress in a competitive Central Valley seat, according to The Fresno Bee.

The Elk Grove Democrat, who represented the Fresno area in the state Legislature, was weighing a run for the newly drawn 21st Congressional District. Democrats have been searching for a strong candidate to run against GOP Assemblyman David Valadao in the vacant seat since their top recruit, Democratic Sen. Michael Rubio, dropped out due to family concerns.

Bustamante also cited ""family considerations" in an email announcing his decisions to supporters Sunday night.

The Fresno Bee's John Ellis reports:

In an interview, Bustamante said he "found out in this process that there still is fire, and I don't think that it is over."

He said his short-term plan is to return to Elk Grove and then scout out "where to go and where to potentially run for office next.

The full Fresno Bee piece is posted here.

PHOTO CREDIT: Cruz Bustamante, 2006. Brian Baer/The Sacramento Bee

March 6, 2012
California taxpayers' median income dropped a bit in 2010

The median income of Californians who filed state income tax returns for 2010 declined slightly, the Franchise Tax Board reported Tuesday, but it went up for those filing joint returns.

The median income on 2010 returns was $33,933, down 0.4 percent from 2009, but on joint returns it was $65,772, up 1.1 percent.

Median income is the point at which half of the reported income is above and half is below and it differs from average income,

Californians filed 15.5 million state tax returns for 2010 with $1.1 trillion in adjusted gross income, up 0.2 percent from 2009.

As usual, San Francisco Bay Area counties had the highest incomes, with Marin County on top with a a $114,060 median income for joint filers, an increase of 5.2 percent from 2009, followed by San Mateo, Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties.

Just over a quarter of the tax returns came from Los Angeles County, but its median incomes of $29,779 for all returns and $57,010 for joint filers were well below the state as a whole - ranking 38th and 27th respectively.

Sierra County had the largest percentage gain in median income, 4.5 percent, but for joint returns, Mono County led at 6.4 percent.

March 6, 2012
AM Alert: Richard Pan rolls some sushi; Newt Gingrich counts on California

Today's Super Tuesday contests won't settle the GOP presidential nomination, yet it's too soon to assume California's June 5 primary will play a role in the outcome.

But depending on how delegates distribute after today's 10 primaries or caucuses, Steve Frank, a senior California adviser to Newt Gingrich, says his candidate will make a major play for delegates in the state.

"If the delegates are as split as they appear to be, California will matter," Frank said. He said the former speaker told him in a meeting two and a half weeks ago that he'll stay in the race through Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry has endorsed him, and California.

"He made it clear to us that he's staying in through Texas and California because he's convinced those are going to be game-changers," Frank said.

Conservative blogger Jon Fleischman isn't as certain that anyone besides Romney has a chance. Once a Perry supporter, he's still in "the angry stage" that he can't find a candidate he loves.

"At some point, you shift from angry to resigned. And once you are resigned, you vote for Romney," he said.

If you're interested in playing ahead, use our "predict the vote" feature to project how electoral votes will land in the general election. You can see maps depicting how the states lined up four years ago and in 2004 as a starting point for your predictions.

The Rice Commission promotes its product today with its 11th annual Legislative Sushi Battle, a competition for what it calls the coveted Samurai Sword. The program begins at 12:30 p.m. at the Sheraton Grand Sacramento, with sushi-making set to begin in earnest at about 1:15 p.m.

This year's contenders include California Resources Secretary John Laird and Sacramento Assemblyman Richard Pan. Attendees will dine on kalua pork and Spam musubi.

The group also plans to present its Circle of Life Award to the Natural Resources Conservation Service for its efforts on the state Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative Pilot Program in California.

PEPPER SPRAY - Cruz Reynoso's probe of the Nov. 18 incident at UC Davis in which campus police used pepper spray on protesting students was scheduled for release today - but now has been postponed. A task force headed by the former state Supreme Court justice was asked to make recommendations on handling protests to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi. But the report has been delayed pending legal action by the union for campus officers, who want to prevent it from being made public.

DATING SAFETY - Violence in teen dating is the subject of a 10 a.m. press conference on the west steps of the state Capitol, where advocates will push for a bill by Assemblyman Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens. Lara's AB 1880 aims to put dating abuse policies into school safety plans at middle schools and high schools.

AG COUNCIL - Board of Equalization member George Runner will be at the Estancia La Jolla Hotel and Spa today to address the annual meeting of the Agricultural Council of California. His topic: "Will California Ever Be Business-Friendly Again?" If the answer is no, let's hope all involved at least get a good massage.


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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