Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

August 5, 2013
Ratings agency cites California's spending restraint, upgrades credit

budgetsign.jpgFitch Ratings upgraded California's general obligation bond rating from A-minus to A on Monday, citing restrained spending in recent budget cycles and a reduction in budgetary debt.

Fitch's action follows a similar upgrade by the ratings house Standard & Poor's earlier this year.

"The upgrade is based on institutionalized changes to fiscal management in recent years, which combined with the ongoing economic and revenue recovery have enabled the state to materially improve its overall fiscal standing," Fitch said in a statement. "Notable progress includes timely, more structurally sound budgets, spending restraint, and sizable reductions in budgetary debt."

Fitch cheered deep spending cuts in recent budgets and "a restrained approach to restoring past cuts." However, the agency said California remains vulnerable to swings in personal income tax revenue and a lack of reserves.

August 5, 2013
Prisons chief outlines response to court-ordered reductions

By Brad Branan

California will rely on county jails, community correctional facilities and out-of-state prisons to reduce its prison population by nearly 10,000 inmates by the end of the year, the state's corrections secretary said Monday.

Jeffrey Beard outlined the planned response during a meeting with The Bee's Editorial Board three days after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Gov. Jerry Brown's request to delay a federal court order to reduce prison crowding by December. The reduction is necessary to improve substandard health care in the prisons, the courts have ruled.

How much the state will use each reduction option depends in part on how the three-judge panel overseeing the case responds to questions from the state, Beard said. The Brown administration needs to know if it can appropriate funding without legislative approval to pay for increased incarceration costs, he said.

August 5, 2013
Jerry Brown's intervention to avert BART strike has decades-old precedent

brownsigns.jpgIt's been more than a decade since a governor stepped in to avert a Bay Area Rapid Transit District strike, but the law giving the governor authority to do so was once used with some regularity, and Gov. Jerry Brown invoked it in a less-publicized, non-BART action just last year.

Finding that a BART strike would "significantly disrupt public transportation services and will endanger the public's health, safety, and welfare," Brown late Sunday appointed a board to investigate a labor dispute between BART management and employees. State law prohibits a strike or lockout while the board prepares a report to submit to Brown within seven days.

Brown's action, just hours before a potential strike, came as BART and union officials continued talks over the weekend in a labor dispute that produced one strike already, for 4 ½ days in early July.

In a letter to BART and union officials Sunday night, Brown said, "For the sake of the people of the Bay Area, I urge - in the strongest terms possible - the parties to meet quickly and as long as necessary to get this dispute resolved."

Brown did not suggest any action beyond the seven-day investigation and report deadline. However, state law allows the governor after receiving such a report to ask the state attorney general to petition a court to prevent a strike or lockout for 60 days.

According to the governor's office, cooling-off periods to help resolve BART contract disputes were sought by Govs. George Deukmejian in 1988, Pete Wilson in 1991, 1994 and 1997, and Gray Davis in 2001.

August 5, 2013
Business uses digital media, but not in its California campaigns

Big money ballot measure campaigns in California spend the vast preponderance of their money on fairly traditional forms of voter outreach, such as television and radio ads and direct mail, but that will have to change as voters' habits evolve, a new study suggests.

The statistical study of how business-backed ballot measure campaigns spend their funds - contrasting with how commercial business now operates - was produced by Forward Observer, a Sacramento-based political consulting firm headed by Joe Rodota, a one-time top aide to Republican Govs. Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as the Reagan White House.

It analyzed five 2012 business-supported ballot measure campaigns and found that they spent 78.5 percent of their funds on traditional media, and another 12.5 percent on direct mail appeals, with the remaining 9 percent distributed among consultants' fees, polling, legal services and miscellaneous costs.

Less than 1 percent was spent on digital messages, even though voters increasingly rely on the Internet and social media for news and discussion about political issues, even though business is increasingly oriented toward digital commerce and even though business groups provided much of the money spent by the ballot measure campaigns.

August 5, 2013
Pérez talks transgender rights bill, San Diego mayor controversy

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez said Monday he is optimistic that Gov. Jerry Brown will sign a transgender access bill as he fielded questions about the legislative agenda for the remainder of session.

The bill, AB 1266 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, would allow transgender students to use the facilities and join the teams aligned with their gender identity.

How important is AB 1266? Pérez addresses that here:

Pérez also offered his take on sexual harassment allegations against San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, saying his fellow Democrat is now "incapacitated."

"For the life of me, I can't figure out why the mayor has not stepped down," he said.

Pérez said he doesn't believe a recall is the best option:

August 5, 2013
Legislative analyst charts decline of California sales tax revenue

Dramatic changes in Californians' consumer spending have sharply eroded the sales tax as a source of state revenue, a new report by the Legislature's budget analyst concludes.

Spending on taxable goods such as cars and clothes hit a high point of 53 percent of personal income in 1979 and has been declining ever since to 33 percent currently, Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor's report found.

The relative decline of taxable sales has been only partially offset by increases in the sales tax rate, so it has been supplanted as the state's largest revenue source by the personal income tax, which now generates nearly twice as much revenue.

August 5, 2013
President Obama headed to California for Leno appearance


For a president sometimes faulted for his frosty relation with the media, Barack Obama has a decent - and growing - track record with talk show hosts.

The president will make his latest foray into late-night TV land when he arrives in Burbank on Tuesday to tape a spot on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The interview will air on Tuesday night's show.

In his advanced-hours television time thus far, the president has shown a certain affinity for Leno. He has appeared on the show five times already, three while serving as president.

David Letterman, by contrast, has hosted the president seven times, including two while Obama was the nation's chief executive. Jimmy Fallon has traded quips with the president once, during which Obama hoisted a microphone to "slow-jam the news." Jimmy Kimmel got then-candidate Obama via satellite back in 2008.

Flame-headed fan favorite Conan O'Brien has not had the pleasure since taking over at TBS, although he and Obama shared a spotlight when O'Brien cracked jokes at the most recent White House Correspondent's Dinner.

Obama has been broadcast on The Daily Show, the liberal Comedy Central touchstone, six times, two of those as president. He has also put in multiple appearances on The View, prompting criticisms that he prefers the softball questions inherent to the gentler conversing-on-a-couch format to tougher forms of media scrutiny.

The president has also faced flak -- including from The Bee's editorial board - for flying over the sprawling majority of California during his sojourns here.

PHOTO: President Barack Obama waves to the media as he walks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington after returning on Marine One from Camp David, Md., where he spent his birthday Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013. Associated Press/Jacquelyn Martin.

August 5, 2013
AM Alert: California Assembly returns from recess

20130124_HA_BROWN0118.JPGThey're back!

Well, not all of them. School's still out for the Senate, with members of the upper house returning next week.

But Assembly members are back in Sacramento today, and things kick off with a morning press availability by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles -- we'll give you the skinny. Session convenes at noon.

VIDEO: With lawmakers come back to work, Dan Walters takes a look at what remains to be done -- including some big-ticket items.

TRUTH IN LABELING: Voters rejected Proposition 37, which would have required labeling of genetically modified products, but California still has rules governing which products can be marketed as "organic." The Select Committee on Sustainable and Organic Agriculture will examine the effectiveness of those guidelines at a 3 p.m. hearing in the Capitol's room 126.

TRANSGENDER TASKS: A bill that would allow students to use the facilities and join the teams aligned with their gender identities is bound for Gov. Jerry Brown's desk, giving the governor just over a week (as of today) to consider the pros and cons -- the latter including opponents' arguments that Assembly Bill 1266 could allow biologically male students to join women's teams and upend athletic records.

The California State Athletic Commission considers a similar topic at a meeting in Los Angeles today. Its agenda includes a proposed policy for licensing transgendered athletes. From 10 a.m. at the Junipero Serra Building in L.A.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, who turns 61 today.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown delivers his State of the State speech in Assembly chambers on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

August 5, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: 'Welcome to the circus'

With the Assembly back in session this week and the Senate to follow, bills will start coming out of the woodwork, Dan says.

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

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.


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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