Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

April 25, 2012
California voters narrowly support Jerry Brown's tax measure

California voters are inclined to support Gov. Jerry Brown's sales and income tax increase, but by a less than overwhelming margin, a new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California has found.

The PPIC poll of likely voters found 54 percent in favor of Brown's tax measure, for which signatures are now being gathered, and 39 percent opposed. The poll also indicated that a rival measure sponsored by civil rights attorney Molly Munger and the state PTA to raise income taxes on most taxpayers for schools faces an uphill struggle.

Brown has attempted to persuade Munger to drop her initiative, but she's poured millions of dollars into signature-gathering and is likely to turn in signatures soon.

Brown has portrayed his measure as one that would save schools from massive cuts, building on an assumption -- confirmed by the PPIC poll -- that K-12 education is the most popular area of the state budget. But Munger contends that Brown's measure would actually give schools little or no new money.

Overall, the poll found, voters are more than willing to tax high-income Californians, as Brown's measure would do. The poll didn't ask about Munger's plan specifically, but showed nearly three-fifths of voters opposed to raising income taxes on most taxpayers for schools, which her measure would do. They also oppose the sales tax component of Brown's proposal, a quarter-cent increase. That opposition drags down overall support for the governor's approach.

The PPIC poll also found that Brown's approval rating among all adults is 43 percent and among likely voters 47 percent, but support for his handling of public education - -the broad subject of PPIC's polling -- drew approval at just half of those levels. In fact just 23 percent of likely voters like his education policies.

However, Brown is doing much better than the Legislature, which gained the approval of just 15 percent of likely voters in the PPIC poll.

April 25, 2012
Analyst predicts state budget gap "a few billion dollars" worse

With state revenues slowing to a trickle as the end of April draws near, the state's top fiscal analyst said late Wednesday that California could be "a few billion dollars" shy of Gov. Jerry Brown's budget projections through June 2013.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office said total personal income tax collections would likely be more than $2 billion below Brown's expectation of $9.4 billion for the month. Because the state was already running behind, it would mean PIT revenues would be $3 billion shy for the fiscal year compared to Brown's updated January projections.

Corporate taxes are also likely to trail Brown's forecast by about $450 million for the fiscal year so far, according to LAO.

Unless sales taxes are robust, that means the state would be about $3.5 billion behind for this fiscal year, and likely a "few billion dollars" through the budget cycle that ends in June 2013, the Analyst's Office estimates.

Brown pegged the state's deficit at $9.2 billion through that month, and he suggested last week that the problem might be $1 billion or $2 billion worse than previously stated.

April 25, 2012
Fred Karger returns to California for final leg of his campaign

Shirtless young men and bikini-clad young women toss Frisbees and footballs, workout and frolic on the beach in a new television spot soon hitting Southern California airwaves.

The tanned and toned beach-goers aren't promoting a new brand of suntan lotion or the latest rum drink.

They're backing Republican presidential candidate Fred Karger.

"I wanted to make it fun and sexy," Karger said outside the Capitol as he swung through Wednesday to tout the new spot, which he launched online ahead of his upcoming cable buy, and kick off the final leg of his campaign.

The Web version of "Sexy Frisbee," which ends with two men sharing a kiss, has already caused a bit of a stir for Karger's shoestring campaign. The 60-second version, posted below, had been flagged as inappropriate and taken off YouTube by late last night. It "magically reappeared" this morning after he shot off complaints to YouTube and parent company Google.

"A little racy, but nothing compared to 'Baywatch,' " he acknowledged of the ad's content.

But Karger, who is the only openly gay candidate in the GOP contest, thinks the spot will strike a chord with young Republicans, his target demographic for California's June 5 primary. He says he got a good response from other videos featuring his campaign's signature swag, including a spoof of the 2010 "Demon Sheep" video called "Demon Frisbee."

"One of my great appeals has really been to younger people," he said. "They don't care about the gay thing. They're much more interested in jobs and education reform, foreign policy, so it messages to them."

While his chance of winning the state slim to none, the moderate Republican said he wants to serve as a "voice of opposition" to expected Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

"There are many people that are unhappy with his far-rightward move, with the far-rightward move of the Republican Party, that want a reasonable, moderate Republican who's looking to the future," he said.

Karger said he plans to spend the coming weeks touring the state in a decked-out luxury van (a full bus is out of his budget), conducting precinct walks complete with bagpipe music and speaking to "anybody who will have me." He's focusing on turning out GOP voters in heavily Democratic congressional districts in hopes of picking up some delegates to use as leverage to secure a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

"If I can get three delegates, or six or nine, I could be more of a force or factor in the Tampa convention," he said.

April 25, 2012
Lawmakers reject whistleblower protections

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino has struck out in his push for legislation to protect Capitol whistleblowers.

For the second time this year, a whistleblower bill proposed by Portantino has been killed by an Assembly committee.

The latest defeat occurred this week in the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which rejected Portantino's Assembly Bill 2256 by a vote of 3 yes, 7 no, with most Democrats voting against the measure.

Current California law protects most state employees for whistleblowing -- including executive branch employees, California State University workers, and legislative appointees to boards and commissions.

AB 2256 would have expanded the list to include current and former legislative employees.

"I'm highly disappointed," Portantino, D-La Cañada-Flintridge, said after his bill died. "I think it begs the question, 'What is the agency hiding?'"

The judiciary committee's analysis of AB 2256 noted numerous questions, however, including the possibility that large numbers of anonymous complaints could be filed and that some could be politically motivated.

AB 2256 went further than Portantino's previous whistleblower proposal by imposing on legislative staff an "affirmative duty to disclose or report improper governmental activity," the analysis said.

"This provision has no known precedent in California law, and the bill does not state how this apparently novel duty would be carried out in light of the amorphous and arguably subjective nature of 'improper governmental activity,'" the analysis said.

AB 2256 would have authorized the Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate complaints or refer them to the attorney general, district attorneys, or the Assembly or Senate Rules Committees for consideration.

The FPPC opposed AB 2256, saying it is concerned about any legislation that would expand its duties but not its budget.

Portantino's previous whistleblower bill, Assembly Bill 1378, was derailed in January by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

April 25, 2012
Judge affirms his ruling for Legislature in budget pay dispute

In a win for lawmakers, Sacramento Superior Court Judge David I. Brown affirmed his decision today that Controller John Chiang cannot unilaterally block their pay if they submit a budget they consider balanced.

Attorneys for the Legislature and Chiang battled in an hour-long hearing that at one point had the controller's attorney suggesting lawmakers could just write a flimsy state budget on a ham sandwich wrapper and send it to the governor to get their pay.

Most of the hearing featured verbal sparring between Brown and deputy attorney general Ross Moody, who represented the controller. Chiang did not say Wednesday whether he would appeal.

Democratic legislative leaders who sued Chiang contend the controller illegally took control of the budget process when he found their budget out of balance and blocked their pay for 12 days last June.

During the hearing, one of the Legislature's attorneys, Fredric D. Woocher, said of Chiang, "When did he essentially get to appoint himself king?"

Judge Brown was sympathetic. He told Chiang's side, "If your position is correct, nobody is going to want to run for governor anymore. The big race in California is going to be for controller because the controller is going to be the person. He or she will be the top power in the state."

April 25, 2012
Jerry Brown tells state agencies to reduce emissions, water use

Gov. Jerry Brown ordered state agencies today to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption by at least 20 percent by 2020, formalizing longstanding goals.

"We must lead by example," the Democratic governor said in a written statement announcing his executive order. "Greening the state's buildings will shrink our environmental footprint and save taxpayers millions of dollars."

The order also requires new state buildings and major renovations of old ones larger than 10,000 square feet to meet certain green-building standards. It requires that, where economically feasible, those buildings include green power generators such as solar panels.

Brown touted the order as a measure to reduce state spending. Reducing state energy purchases by 20 percent could eventually save $45 million annually, his office said.

April 25, 2012
Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board may change, but how?

A state Senate committee voted Wednesday to change how members of the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board are paid -- but nobody, including the author of the bill, knows what that change will be.

The seven-member board -- appointed by the governor and legislative leaders -- hear appeals when applications for unemployment insurance are denied. Those appointees are often legislators who have been forced out of office by term limits.

Two former Assembly members, Republican Bonnie Garcia and Democrat Alberto Torrico, are serving on the board now. Former Republican Sen. Roy Ashburn announced recently that he would resign to run for the Kern County Board of Supervisors.

Sen. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, introduced Senate Bill 1263 to abolish the board members' $79,122 salaries.

Vargas cited the public perception that board appointments are rewards for "termed-out lawmakers" and noted that members of other state boards with equal or more important duties, such as the Coastal Commission, receive only token per diem payments and expenses.

However, it appeared that members of the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee were not willing to abolish the board's salaries. So Vargas agreed to make some still-unwritten changes in the measure as it moves further through the legislative process to mollify opponents. The precise nature of those amendments are to be worked out privately, and they may -- or may not -- bar ex-legislators from serving on the board.

With that pledge, the committee voted to keep SB 1263 alive.

April 25, 2012
Darrell Steinberg: Pay ruling a 'victory' for separation of powers

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said today that it would be "a victory for upholding the separation of powers" if a Sacramento judge finalizes his decision favoring lawmakers over Controller John Chiang in their budget-related pay dispute.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge David I. Brown issued a tentative ruling Tuesday siding with legislative leaders who said Chiang cannot block their pay on the basis of how he interprets their budget. The Democratic controller last year withheld 12 days' worth of pay and expense money by relying a new on-time budget requirement in Proposition 25 and a constitutional requirement requiring their budget to be balanced.

Brown will hear oral arguments today at 2 p.m. before issuing a final ruling.

Steinberg said he was "obviously pleased" with Brown's tentative ruling, which attacked several of Chiang's arguments. The Senate leader acknowledged that he and lawmakers would "take a hit" from the public for suing the controller, but he said, "There is a big difference between how people might feel about this in the present, and what this means for upholding the separation of powers in the long run."

April 25, 2012
California more Ozzie and Harriet than Kardashian

Nelson Ozzie 016.JPGCalifornia has a global reputation for an anything-goes lifestyle - fueled, perhaps, by the lavishly publicized antics of Hollywood's glitterati.

A new Census Bureau report indicates, however, that Ozzie and Harriet may be more accurate exemplars of Californians' lifestyles than the Kardashians.

The report analyzes the composition of American households from 2010 census data, finding - not surprisingly - a trend toward more nontraditional living arrangements.

Those would include more singles, more single-parent households and more interracial and interethnic couples - the latter growing by 28 percent between 2000 and 2010.

The data show, however, that 49.4 percent of California households are old-fashioned husband-and-wife types, and that's one percentage point higher than the national average of 48.4 percent. And those California couples are more likely than those in other states to have children at home.

April 25, 2012
Live chat: Election 2012 Q&A with Republican, Democratic party officials

April 25, 2012
Roger Hernandez driving drunk when arrested, lab results conclude

Laboratory test results have concluded that Assemblyman Roger Hernandez was legally drunk when arrested last month in Concord, prompting an apology from the West Covina Democrat.

Hernandez's blood-alcohol level was 0.08 percent at the time of his test, police said in a written statement. His case will be turned over to the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office for review.

Hernandez, in a written statement, apologized for any embarrassment he may have caused others and characterized the test results as a "huge wake-up call for me." He expressed hope that others can learn from the incident that it is dangerous to consume any amount of alcohol before driving.

"I may have made a poor judgment thinking that I was sober enough to drive after a couple of drinks over the course of an evening," Hernandez said. "Had I thought I was mentally or physically impaired to drive, I would not have gone behind the wheel of a car."

Hernandez did not specifically address the blood-level finding, saying simply, "I look forward to fully looking into the specifics of the test for more information."

California law deems motorists with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher to be driving under the influence of alcohol.

"Any time we send (a case) to the DA's office, we're recommending prosecution," Concord Police Chief Guy Swanger said.

Hernandez, D-West Covina, was stopped by officers in the parking lot of the Crowne Plaza Hotel about 2 a.m. on a weekday, March 27. He was accompanied by a 29-year-old woman and his Toyota Camry had been spotted weaving inside a lane on Concord Avenue, officers said.

The first-term legislator denied that his car -- one of the Assembly's pool vehicles -- had been weaving or that he was impaired at the time.

Two days after his arrest, Hernandez said that he had consumed "two, maybe three glasses of wine over the course of a period longer than four hours after dinner."

Swanger said the blood-alcohol test was administered about an hour after Hernandez was taken into custody. Officers detected the smell of alcohol in his car when it was stopped, police reports noted.

Hernandez's blood sample was not tested for drugs because there was no indication during field observations that drugs might be involved, Swanger said.

* Updated at 2:45 p.m. to add comments from Concord Police Chief Guy Swanger. Updated at 5:05 p.m. to add comments from Roger Hernandez.

April 25, 2012
Dan Walters Daily: Prognosticating California's population

VIDEO: Dan Walters says California may not be growing as fast as we thought.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

Read Dan Walters' columns here.

April 25, 2012
AM Alert: GOP presidential hopeful Fred Karger in Sacramento

VIDEO: Dan Walters, in today's video report, says that if California grows more slowly than originally thought, that could change everything.

Sacramento hears from one of the Republican presidential candidates this afternoon: Californian Fred Karger. The long-shot hopeful, who's had a "Fred Who?" thing going, is officially launching his California primary campaign on the Capitol's south steps at 2 p.m.

The only openly gay candidate in the GOP presidential primary, Karger edged out Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann in New Hampshire and racked up 1,700 votes in Puerto Rico. His California campaign has launched a video ad called "Sexy Frisbee," which features scantily clad men and women throwing plastic discs around on a beach.

Spoiler alert: A couple of guys kiss at the end. The campaign says it will start airing a 30-second version Thursday in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties.

Under the dome, an Assembly panel hears from the state parks director, Ruth Coleman, about park closures while representatives of the Legislative Analyst's Office offer recommendations on how to avoid closing them.

The hearing will also feature testimony from Natural Resources Secretary John Laird on reorganization within the agency, as well as an update from Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols on the cap-and-trade program. The meeting runs from 9 to 11:30 a.m. in the Capitol's Room 447. Click here to read the agenda.

On the Senate side, the Rules Committee considers gubernatorial appointments, with Fred Klass, director of the Department of General Services, Ken Pimlott, director of CalFire, and Tonya Hoover, state fire marshal, required to appear. That hearing starts at 1:30 p.m. in Room 113.

Those are by no means the only committee hearings. The list is long. Other Assembly budget subcommittees, for instance, will consider proposals for agencies ranging from the California Highway Patrol to the board of the California Community Colleges as well as the Department of Public Health. Check out the Senate's daily file here, and the Assembly's here.

LIVE CHAT: Got a question about this year's primary and general elections? Tom Del Beccaro, chairman of the California Republican Party, and Shawnda Westly, executive director of the California Democratic Party, are joining The Bee's live chat today. Watch the chat and ask questions from noon to 1 p.m. at Torey Van Oot will moderate.

DENIM DAY: The California Coalition Against Sexual Assault marks its annual Denim Day California, an annual event sparked by an Italian Supreme Court decision to overturn a rape conviction based on the woman's tight jeans. The event starts at 10 a.m. on the Capitol's west steps. The cause has bipartisan appeal. Listed participants include Republican Sen. Doug LaMalfa and Democratic Sen. Leland Yee, as well as Democratic Assembly members Bonnie Lowenthal, Roger Dickinson, V. Manuel Pérez, Bob Wieckowski and Das Williams, and Republican Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian.

LOBBY DAY: The American Heart Association meets at 10 a.m. under the tent on the north lawn to talk up Assembly Bill 1731 on infant screenings for heart defects, as well as Proposition 29's tobacco tax campaign. Listed speakers include Democratic Assemblymen Marty Block and Bill Monning.

CAKE AND CANDLES: Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin, turns 54 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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