Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

January 14, 2013
Mark Nechodom, fracking regulator, confirmed in CA Senate

The Senate unanimously confirmed Mark Nechodom's appointment to head the Department of Conservation on Monday, with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg pronouncing himself satisfied with Nechodom's commitment to managing hydraulic fracturing.

"...Assessing the qualifications as well as the direction of the director of this department, I am satisfied. I think he'll make a fine director," Steinberg said.

Nechodom had faced stiff questioning over his department's role in crafting regulations governing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, an energy extraction process that involves blasting a mix of water, sand and chemicals into the ground.

Critics worry that fracking could endanger public health by compromising drinking water supplies, and Steinberg last week sought an assurance from Nechodom that the need to safeguard public safety would trump energy companies' desire to keep secret the identity of the chemicals they use.

January 14, 2013
State fiscal analyst says California budget 'roughly in balance'

Though the state still faces financial risks ahead, California's spending and revenues are "roughly in balance," the state's top fiscal analyst confirmed Monday in a new review of Gov. Jerry Brown's budget.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office in November had forecast a $1.9 billion deficit, while Brown said Thursday that the imbalance had been wiped out. The Analyst's Office said the governor had assumed about $1 billion more in tax revenue between July 2011 and June 2014, as well as $1 billion more from eliminating redevelopment agencies and new clean energy revenues.

Brown also assumed the state would repay $500 million less back to state special funds and assumes nearly $700 million from health-related taxes on managed care plans and hospitals to help build a $1 billion reserve.

January 14, 2013
Former state legislator, wine lobbyist Paul Lunardi dies at 91

Paul Lunardi , a former Democratic legislator who represented the wine industry in the Capitol for two decades, died Friday. He was 91.

The lifelong Roseville resident started his career in public service on the Roseville City Council in 1950, becoming the city's youngest mayor several years later. He won a seat in the state Assembly in 1958 and served three terms before being elected to the state Senate in a 1963 special election. He stepped down in 1966 because of redistricting, according to an obituary prepared by his family.

While in the Legislature, Lunardi's key accomplishments included fighting to keep part of the route linking Truckee and Lake Tahoe's North Shore open year-round, providing a boost to the ski and tourism industries, and authoring legislation to create the Lake Tahoe Joint Study Commission.

The Roseville Democrat went on to act as a legislative advocate for the Wine Institute, a position he held for two decades. He continued to represent other groups in the Capitol until 1994.

He is survived by children Nancy Lunardi, Carol Kennedy, Janet Bedrosian, and Richard Kennedy,11 grandchildren, 13 great grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.

January 14, 2013
Jim Brulte confirms bid for California Republican Party chair

Jim Brulte is making it official: The former Senate Republican leader said this afternoon that he is a candidate for chairman of the California Republican Party, a position he is widely expected to win.

Brulte told The Bee he will announce his candidacy tonight at a gathering of Republicans in San Diego. Following the announcement, Brulte will meet with a series of Republican groups throughout the state ahead of an election at the state party's spring convention in March in Sacramento.

January 14, 2013
Public health will be main fracking consideration says conservation department nominee

Ensuring public safety will be the Department of Conservation's main imperative as it moves to regulate the disputed extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, director Mark Nechodom said in a letter to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg on Friday.

Nechodom faced a barrage of questions about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Rules Committee last week. California is still in the early stages of regulating fracking, and several senators criticized the department's draft regulations as weak and vague.

Before the committee voted unanimously to advance Nechodom's nomination, Steinberg extracted a promise that Nechodom would put his commitment to public health in writing. The letter makes good on that promise, stating that "protection of public health and safety in all aspects of oil and gas production is the Department's paramount concern."

January 14, 2013
Watch: Kevin Yamamura, lawmakers talk budget

The release last week of Gov. Jerry Brown's 2013-2014 budget proposal has kept reporters busy, particularly Capitol Alert's resident budget expert, Kevin Yamamura.

In the video below, Kevin hosts a California Connections discussion analyzing whether this budget marks California moving beyond the era of gaping budget deficits. He is joined by Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff; Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, who sits on the Budget and Fiscal Review Committee, and H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for California's Department of Finance.

January 14, 2013
Study says more than third of California cigarettes are smuggled

More than a third of the cigarettes that are smoked in California have been smuggled from other jurisdictions, according to an updated study by the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

The conservative think tank said that California's illegal cigarette rate, 36.08 percent in 2011, was slightly lower than the 36.29 percent rate calculated in 2009 and ranked it seventh highest in the nation, down from fifth highest in 2009.

The Mackinac study cited a strong correlation between "buttlegging" rates and the level of cigarette taxation. It said New York had the highest rate of smuggled cigarette use 60.4 percent, as well as the highest cigarette tax, $4.35 per pack statewide and an additional $1.50 in New York City.

Meanwhile, it rated New Hampshire as being the biggest exporter of cigarettes to other states because its tax is lower than those of most surrounding states. For every 100 packs of cigarettes smoked in New Hampshire, 27 were taken elsewhere.

January 14, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: California rethinks school finance

As Gov. Jerry Brown prepares to tackle the "big mess" of school funding, he's "trying to rationalize an irrational system," Dan says.

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

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

January 14, 2013
AM Alert: Legislators head back to Sacramento

VIDEO: Dan Walters expects "a whole lot of fighting" over Gov. Jerry Brown's attempt to overhaul California's system of school funding.

Both houses of the Legislature have floor sessions today, the Assembly at noon and the Senate at 2 p.m.

The Senate will take up the nomination of Mark Nechodom, the Department of Conservation director who faced stiff questioning last Wednesday over his department's role in regulating "fracking."

Other Brown appointees on the Senate agenda include Kimiko Burton, who was named to the State Personnel Board last February, and Mark Ghilarducci, named California's secretary of emergency management last March.

Burton is the daughter of former Senate President Pro Tem John Burton. The state Democratic Party chairman attended her hearing in the Senate Rules Committee last week.

As for the week ahead, expect more discussion of the new weighted formula for school funding Brown has proposed. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have tentatively backed the idea without getting into details. If you want to read up on the subject, you'll find the "K-12 Education" section of Brown's budget summary at this link.

Happy birthday to Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, who is 56 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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