Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

April 10, 2013
Jerry Brown tells Chinese media he works to 'cleanse the Augean stables'

IMG_1177.JPGBEIJING - Gov. Jerry Brown met the Chinese media Wednesday, and his fondness for Greek mythology and for prickling the press appeared to have survived the flight from California intact.

At a news conference at the Hunan Hotel in Beijing, the Democratic governor compared his work in California to that of cleaning stables full of dung.

"I'm going to go home from China with renewed zest to, if I could use a classical allusion, cleanse the Augean stables," Brown said. "That's Hercules. Of course it's not a very good idea because no matter how much he cleaned it, it got dirty again."

Brown was accompanied by an interpreter, and his characteristically meandering answers and questioning of reporters did her no favors. One of Brown's advisers suggested at one point that the interpreter stand closer to Brown so he could see her and remember to pause.

April 10, 2013
FPPC solidifies stance on campaign finance bills

ravel.jpgThe California Fair Political Practices Commission on Wednesday morning formally backed several bills aimed at strengthening the state's campaign finance rules.

Members of the political watchdog examined proposals before the Legislature to change the scope of the Political Reform Act of 1974, which is the source of the commission's authority.

The panel voted unanimously to sponsor Senate Bill 27, by Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, to require more disclosure in certain situations from donors who make contributions intended to influence California politics.

The bill is an attempt to expose to sunlight the increasingly murky world of political spending, where out-of-state organizations have poured money into California through intermediary entities, concealing the original source of the funds. One notorious example involved an Arizona-based nonprofit called Americans for Responsible Leadership, which deployed $11 million during the last election cycle in an effort to defeat some key Democratic initiatives.

Also receiving unanimous votes for sponsorship were Assembly Bill 552 and Assembly Bill 1090, by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino and Assembly Bill 914, by Assemblyman Richard Gordon, D-Menlo Park.

AB 552 would fortify FPPC's enforcement authority by giving it more power to collect unpaid fines and penalties. AB 914 would have the FPPC develop a new disclosure form to track the money certain politically active nonprofits take in and spend, and AB 1090 would crack down on conflicts of interest.

The FPPC also voted 5-0 to support Gordon's Assembly Bill 800 and Assembly Bill 45, by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento. Supporting is not as strong an endorsement as sponsoring.

All of the bills require a two-thirds vote for passage.

PHOTO CREDIT: Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, testifies at a hearing in Sacramento, on Dec. 8, 2011. Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press file.

April 10, 2013
Jerry Brown touts major Chinese investment in Oakland project

IMG_1173.JPGBEIJING - A Chinese investment group said Wednesday it will finance the majority of a $1.5 billion mixed-use development project in Oakland, an unusually large investment by a Chinese company in California, especially in real estate.

The agreement was finalized ahead of Gov. Jerry Brown's week-long trade mission to China, and he used it to promote foreign investment in the Golden State. It was also a personal victory of sorts for Brown, who was mayor of Oakland when the project - the subject of litigation in recent years - was first approved by city officials in 2006.

"We're going to announce a major investment by China ... in where else than Oakland, of course," Brown said at a reception at the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

The investment by China-based Zarsion Holdings Group Co., Ltd., is estimated to be worth more than $1 billion over eight to 10 years. That is compared to a total of $1.3 billion in investment deals from China that California did from 2000 to 2011, according to an October report for the Asia Society by the research firm Rhodium Group.

April 10, 2013
Jerry Brown on the clock in China, signing MOUs

IMG_1156.JPGBEIJING - Of all the things the Chinese government appears to take seriously, one of the most innocuous is the memorandum of understanding, known in city halls and state houses in the United States as the lowly MOU.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the first of a series of non-binding agreements he is expected to make with Chinese commerce officials while on a week-long trade mission. They pledged to establish a "Chinese Provinces and US California Joint Working Group on Trade and Investment Cooperation."

According to the agreement, "The two parties will set up an annual meeting mechanism in the forms of video conference or meeting in person."

For the detail-oriented, the agreement provides that "the time of each meeting will be decided by the two parties through consultation."

On Wednesday, the time was determined by China's commerce minister, Gao Hucheng. He met with Brown about 8 a.m. at the Ministry of Commerce before the MOU was signed that afternoon.

"First of all, I'd like to offer you my apologies for the fact that I had to move this meeting to 8 o'clock," the busy commerce minister said through an interpreter, "considering that you might still suffer from jet lag from the United States."

Sitting across from Gao in a conference room, Brown suggested he didn't mind.

"Thank you for receiving me at 8 o'clock," Brown said. "We have a saying that the early bird gets the worm."

The two men exchanged hopeful remarks about their partnership before the clock again was on Gao's mind.

"In the interest of time," he said, he had to go.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown and first lady Anne Gust Brown meet with China's commerce minister, Gao Hucheng, in Beijing on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. David Siders / Sacramento Bee

April 10, 2013
Steinberg: 2013 isn't the year for changing Proposition 13

DSteinbergJPG.JPGThose worried that legislative Democrats will use their supermajority power to make changes to Proposition 13 can breathe a sigh of relief -- for now, at least.

Some Democrats, emboldened by a two-thirds control that allows them to approve taxes or put measures on the ballot without GOP votes, have introduced legislation this year targeting different aspects of the landmark tax changes approved by voters in 1978.

But Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told reporters today that 2013 is not the time to tinker with Proposition 13, which is often referred to as the "third rail" of California politics because of the perceived political risk of changing the law.

The Sacramento Democrat said lawmakers should instead make 2013 "a year of producing in a whole host of areas unrelated to taxes," including tightening gun control laws, working to implement the state insurance marketplace created by the federal health care law and passing major education policy changes.

Steinberg said, however, that he is open to some of the proposed changes down the road, including proposals that would change vote requirements for local tax measures. Even if the Legislature acted this year, any constitutional amendments approved by the Legislature wouldn't be able to go to the voters until 2014.

"The question of lowering voter thresholds for the specific taxes on the local level, which is really the beginning of that conversation ... definitely should be had and probably will be had at some point in this two-year session," Steinberg said. "But let's have 2013 be a year where we are focused on bread and butter."

Click here to read a list of related bills that have been introduced in the current legislative session.

PHOTO CREDIT: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, during the first day of session at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

April 10, 2013
Bill targeting Boy Scouts' nonprofit status clears committee

LS_MUSIC_FESTIVAL11.JPGCalifornia Boy Scout troops that ban openly gay members could lose their nonprofit tax status under legislation that advanced in the state Senate today.

Senate Bill 323, by Democratic Sen. Ricardo Lara, would repeal the state tax-exempt status of any youth organization that discriminates based on gender identity, sexual orientation or religious affiliation.

Lara said the bill is intended to "make sure all our youth get to participate in our youth programs."

The legislation comes amid increased public pressure for the Boy Scouts of America to change its blanket ban on openly gay troops. A former president said the organization has been reviewing that policy in an ongoing effort to stay relevant with families, but opposes the legislation because of the potential financial impact on troops across the state.

"You're talking about taxing revenue that is very important, especially to the local scouts," Rick Cronk, a former president of the Boy Scouts of America, told the committee.

Critics also raised concerns about the constitutionality of the legislation, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming the private organization's right to make membership decisions, and safety issues they said could arise when straight and gay scouts and leaders go on camping trips or other outings.

Still, supporters said the change, which would not impact churches that charter scout troops, would send an important message about equality.

"(Senate Bill 323 will) let the scouts and other groups know that at least in the state of California, we will not support any organization that thinks it can get away with discrimination" said Ryan Andersen, who has become an advocate for lifting the policy int the wake of his gay son's experience with the Boy Scouts.

The bill cleared the Senate Governance and Finance Committee on a party-line vote of 5-2. It will now be scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

PHOTO: Members of the Boy Scouts of America march in a parade at the Sacramento Music Festival in Old Sacramento in May 2012. Lezlie Sterling / Sacramento Bee file.

April 10, 2013
California's per capita spending on health care relatively low

Prescription_Drugs.jpgCalifornia may have high housing, fuel and electric power prices, but Californians' spending on health care is below the national average, according to a new data compilation by the Wall Street Journal.

California was spending $6,258 per resident on health care - doctors, hospitals, prescription drugs - in 2009, the latest year for which complete data were available, the Wall Street Journal study found.

That was about $600 less than the national average, with spending ranging from a high of $10,349 in Washington, D.C., to a low of $5,031 in Utah.

Overall, the data indicated that California was spending about $225 billion on health care from private and public funds in 2009, more than 10 percent of the state's economy and the largest single sector of its economy.

The number has grown since and is likely to jump sharply once billions of additional dollars begin flowing into the state's health sector from the federal Affordable Care Act. It will provide coverage to at least half of the state's estimated 7 million medically uninsured residents, much of it coming from the federal government but some from individuals and private employers.

The Wall Street Journal said that California's per capita spending on hospitals, the biggest single chunk of health care expense, was particularly low in 2009 - $2,077 or sixth lowest among the states. Its spending on prescription drugs was also among the nation's lowest, as was its level of obesity, at 23.8 percent of the adult population.

PHOTO CREDIT: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press file

April 10, 2013
In China, Jerry Brown laments California's red tape

IMG_1181.JPGBEIJING - Gov. Jerry Brown was participating in a luncheon discussion hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing on Wednesday when a businessman asked about the rules and regulations businesses encounter in foreign trade.

"What would you say to those people who say, 'Oh, it's just too difficult, too much red tape, don't understand the foreign culture, you know, protectionist feelings and things like that," Chris Davies, of HSBC bank, asked the Democratic governor.

"Where?" Brown said. "In China or in California?"

The audience laughed.

"We've got more damn laws than you can think of," Brown said, lamenting litigation and other obstacles to business in California.

He said there are "endless ideas" about how to add more rules and regulations but that part of his job is "to find a way to cut through that."

"To the extent you have any red tape, there's no one more anxious to reduce it," Brown said.

At a news conference earlier Wednesday, Brown marveled at the amount of construction China has managed in the past several years.

The governor was asked if that didn't have something to do with China's one-party rule.

"While we don't have one-party rule in California, at least we have a diminished opposition," Brown said of California, where Democrats now hold supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature. "And hopefully that will bode well."

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at a news conference in Beijing on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

April 10, 2013
With Jerry Brown in China, it helps to 'know all the gates'

IMG_1162.JPGBEIJING - The longest way to cross the street in China, it would seem, is in a car full of reporters bound for government talks.

A van arranged by Gov. Jerry Brown's administration to ferry journalists on Wednesday to the Ministry of Commerce, directly across the street from the Grand Hyatt Beijing, left the hotel about 7:45 a.m., snaked around several back streets and, upon arriving at the destination, was halted at the gate.

There the van sat while Brown's office tried first to get the license plate cleared, and then - through Chinese-speaking reporters inside the van - to direct the driver to another entrance. Brown, on a week-long trade mission to China, was about to meet with the country's commerce minister, Gao Hucheng.

Eventually the driver pulled around, just in time to see Brown's motorcade arrive.
"China is very complicated," one of the local reporters said. "You have to know all the gates."

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown meets with China's commerce minister, Gao Hucheng, in Beijing on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/ David Siders

April 10, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: High school graduation rates raise questions

Despite good news about California's rising high school graduation rates, Dan says that huge differences between school districts suggest that ethnicity and poverty don't hold the key to understanding why those differences exist.

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

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

April 10, 2013
AM Alert: Bipartisan group pushing to undo Medi-Cal cuts

AOC_Medi-Cal_024a.JPGLawmakers from both parties are joining a press conference this morning to back Assembly Bill 900, by Democrat Luis Alejo of Watsonville, which would undo Medi-Cal cuts to hospital-based skilled nursing services.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway of Tulare, Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, and Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, are also expected to attend the event, which starts at 10 a.m. in the Capitol's room 317.

VIDEO: Encouraging data about high school graduation rates also contains some puzzling discrepancies, Dan Walters says.

Online privacy: Attorney General Kamala Harris is speaking at a symposium on consumer privacy and app development, exploring safeguards for personal information collected online and via mobile apps. Her talk starts at 9:15 a.m. at the Runway SF in San Francisco, 1355 Market St.


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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