Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

October 2, 2013
Never mind: California health exchange didn't overstate first-day activity

RB Covered California 3.JPG

Covered California now says a spokesman erred when he told the Los Angeles Times today that the agency overstated its online activity.

Communications Director Oscar Hidalgo said his deputy Dana Howard was confused about the exchange's web analytics when he blamed internal miscommunication for inflating the number of page views by nearly tenfold.

Late Wednesday, Hidalgo told The Bee the agency received about 514,000 unique visitors who reviewed more than 5 million pages on Tuesday. He said the state agency was proud of its first-day activity and never intended to mislead.

"That's the last thing I want," Hidalgo said. "I think the 514,000 is an incredible number."

The exchange received 7,143 applications for insurance and 19,000 calls into its service centers on opening day. Still, the website remained sluggish.

The enrollment function was taken offline at 9 p.m. Tuesday and restored about 7 a.m. Wednesday for unspecified optimization.

Enrollment was again suspended between 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. to address issues relating to the loading of health plan products, spokeswoman Anne Gonzales said earlier Wednesday.

"Since then, it's been up and running and working well. We will continue to make improvements along the way," Gonzales said.

Customers reporting their experiences online continued to point out sluggish performance, albeit with some improvements. Estimated wait times for the state agency's toll-free phone line dropped from highs of 30 minutes to 10 minutes when a reporter called Tuesday.

John Thomas Flynn, the state's first chief information officer under Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, has been monitoring the health insurance exchange website since its launch.

Flynn said he again tried to enroll, to no avail, and ended up having a less satisfying experience than Tuesday. Among the biggest challenges was the system freezing during several attempts to enter information, he said.

"I am going to keep trying. I am interested in this thing. I want to see it work," he said.

Enrollment operators take phone calls during the launch of Covered California in Rancho Cordova on Tuesday. Randall Benton/The Sacramento Bee

Editor's note, 7:06 p.m.: This post was changed significantly from its original version.

October 2, 2013
California says backlog of jobless benefits nearly cleared

unemploymentdelay.jpgThe Employment Development Department said it will finish Wednesday clearing a backlog of unemployment claims that delayed jobless benefits for thousands of unemployed Californians.

The department said in a statement that "final work on some more complex case work being finished today will mark completion" of the backlog.

The announcement comes after the Brown administration last week week ordered EDD to begin paying backlogged claims for continued benefits before determining if claims are eligible for payment.

EDD, which is upgrading its 30-year-old unemployment insurance processing system, estimated about 148,000 Californians had checks delayed at some point by a computer problem that started over the Labor Day weekend.

Some claimants as recently as Tuesday afternoon said they had yet to be paid.

"I go to the bank every day and slide that little card in hoping to see some numbers there," said Dini Freeman, 69, an unemployed medical billing specialist who lives in Novato.

PHOTO: Binders full of job resources at the Employment Development Department office in Sacramento on Thursday February 14, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

October 2, 2013
Jerry Brown the critic: Pathetic TV and Anderson Cooper 'beating his chest'

brownjanbudget.jpgGov. Jerry Brown does not watch a lot of TV. But he said he turned on the news last night to check on the mood in Washington over the government shutdown.

He flipped to CNN and public television. His wife, Anne Gust Brown, couldn't stand it, he said. She walked away.

Brown kept watching, but he was not impressed.

"There's so much noise, so much imagery, so much razzle-dazzle," he said. "I couldn't believe the amount of ads. It's about this, it's about that."

He said, "It was painful just watching that news."

Brown said he turned the TV off after 30 minutes, but it left him wondering how people follow the goings-on of government, not only politicians in Washington but his own administration.

"Is it interesting?" he said. "Or is it just another one of these frizzle frazzles that I saw last night, jumping from Anderson Cooper, you know, beating his chest ... it just all seemed pathetic to me."

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at a news conference at the Capitol on Jan. 10, 2013. Randall Benton / Sacramento Bee

October 2, 2013
Jerry Brown signs school testing reprieve

RP_School_TEST_SCORES_JENNIFER.JPGGov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Wednesday suspending mandatory school testing for a year as the state transitions to new curriculum standards and computer-based assessments.

The Democratic governor pushed for the bill before its passage in the Legislature, despite a threat by the Obama administration to withhold federal funds.

Assembly Bill 484, by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, suspends K-12 standardized testing requirements for the school year now underway and the public posting of that data for potentially two years.

Proponents of the bill said it would spare students and educators from "double-testing" students during a period of transition. Opponents said it could potentially put schools out of compliance with No Child Left Behind.

Following a private event, Brown announced the bill signing on Twitter:

PHOTO: A California Middle School teacher helps a student with a district test during class in Sacramento on Dec. 5, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

October 2, 2013
California's debt service level drops below projections

lockyer.jpgFour years ago, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer projected that servicing California's bonded indebtedness would approach 10 percent of the state's general fund revenues by 2014 and suggested that the state needed a master plan to prioritize its borrowing.

Since then, Lockyer says in his latest "debt affordability report," improving state finances, lower interest rates and tight management of new borrowing have reduced debt service to under 8 percent.

"In the market," Lockyer said, "the state's general obligation bonds have become more competitive with higher-rated bonds, and investors have reduced the interest-rate premium they demand to buy our bonds.

"At the same time, the state refinanced billions of dollars of bonds at lower interest rates and reduced taxpayers' debt service payments by hundreds of millions of dollars. In part because of these steps, debt service now consumes less of the state budget. The 2009 DAR projected debt service payments would equal 9.8 percent of general fund revenues in 2013-14. This report estimates that ratio will be 7.7 percent."

As of June 30, the state had $86.28 billion in general obligation and lease-revenue bonds supported by the general fund outstanding, plus another $36.54 billion authorized by the Legislature and/or voters but not yet issued.

In relative terms, California is a high-debt state, the report reveals. Among the 10 most populous states, California ranks second only to New York in debt compared to personal income (5.8 percent), debt per capita ($2,565) and debt compared to total economic output (4.98 percent). Texas is the lowest-debt state among the 10.

The state plans to issue $12.5 billion in new general obligation and lease-revenue bonds during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 fiscal years, including some of the $9.95 billion in bonds authorized for a bullet train system. Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators are also trying to write a new water bond issue for the 2014 ballot to replace an $11.1 billion measure now scheduled for a vote. The new water bond, if successful, is likely to be much smaller.

PHOTO: State Treasurer Bill Lockyer speaks at the Sacramento Press Club luncheon on June 21, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench.

October 2, 2013
Jerry Brown calls Washington gridlock dangerous, 'really sick'

brownmics.jpgOne day after blaming "extreme radicals" for the federal government shutdown, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday called the situation in Washington "dangerous" and "sick."

"I think what's going on in Washington is really sick," Brown said in an interview. "And more than that, it's dangerous. It holds out the specter that America could sink into ungovernability. And when you're a superpower, a nuclear power, a power that people look to for stability, that is very dangerous."

The Democratic governor of the nation's most populous state has a relatively advantageous perch from which to view Washington. He is in the majority party in Sacramento, a place of near one-party rule.

House Republicans have demanded major changes in the federal health-care overhaul in a dispute over government spending, a demand President Barack Obama has rejected.

"The games they're playing really conjure up very dangerous possibilities," Brown said. "So I would hope that the Republicans of California take a look at what they're doing in Washington and do something very, very different."

He said, "If they're going to try to, you know, follow the troglodyte position, I think that would be very ill-advised."

"Troglodyte," Brown said. "It's primitives who lived in caves."

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown talks to members of the press on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

October 2, 2013
Jerry Brown seeking 'real world feel' of government

RB_Jerry_Brown_Budget.JPGGov. Jerry Brown has by all accounts been more attentive to matters of state than he was three decades ago, when he was governor before and ran twice for president.

But the 75-year-old, third term governor lamented Wednesday that demands of the job have kept him from understanding state operations as deeply as he would like. Among other responsibilities, he said in an interview, are "these damn bills," hundreds of which he must sign or veto by mid-month.

When he is finished, he said, he wants to spend more time visiting state prisons and studying schools, water, highways and parks.

"I want to visit more prisons," he said. "I want to understand the highway system. I want to understand this water system better."

Brown said "the governor is the leader of all that, but most of the time you're doing something else. You're reacting to new desires, called bills, you're responding to contributors or you're raising money, or you're trying to make news."

The Democratic governor said of his own time in office, "I'm working pretty darn hard, and yet I can't spend a lot of time on getting into the intricacies of government. So that, over the next year, that's something that interests me, to try to understand ... to get a real world feel of what's under my responsibility, and I don't think many governors have ever done that."

Brown said doing so will allow him to "think and imagine and come up with things."

PHOTO: California Gov. Jerry Brown explains his budget proposal at the California state Capitol in Sacramento on Jan. 10, 2013.

October 2, 2013
Republican lawmaker says colleagues should enroll in health exchange

Nestande.JPGSaying if it's good enough for the people it should be sufficient for the California Legislature, Assemblyman Brian Nestande plans to introduce legislation that shifts all lawmakers to the state's version of the new federal health care law.

Nestande, R-Palm Desert, says lawmakers who want to continue to receive state benefits should be forced to enroll in Covered California, which began processing applications Tuesday in advance of the Affordable Care Act taking effect Jan. 1.

"The idea is we should go into the exchange, we should be dealing with the exchange, because this is a big change," Nestande said. "I think there is going to be a number of unintended consequences that come up in this process that are going to have be dealt with.

"We should be experiencing those difficulties just like individuals that are, by law, mandated to go purchase health care."

Nestande, who is seeking the congressional seat held by freshman Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert, said he opposes the federal health care law.

October 2, 2013
AM Alert: How to get Californians to buy into health exchange?

RBCoveredCalifornia2.JPGSome technical hiccups and a partially shuttered federal government notwithstanding, Tuesday saw the launch of California's federally driven health insurance exchange. Now begins the crucial task of getting the uninsured to actually obtain coverage via Covered California.

We've written a lot about the different strategies for getting people on board, including buttonholing them at ballparks, clinics and church functions. Today the California Primary Care Association is hosting an event at the Sheraton Grand on J Street in Sacramento to bring together a constellation of health care organizations with a stake in the matter.

Speakers will include Carmela Castellano-Garcia, president and CEO of the California Primary Care Association; Peter V. Lee, executive director of Covered California; John F. Moroney, a regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and Daniel Zingale, who leads the Health California team for the California Endowment.

VIDEO: Millions of Californians will soon be guinea pigs in a grand public policy experiment, Dan Walters says.

October 2, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: California could make, break health care law

The ultimate success or failure of President Barack Obama's massive health care overhaul could hinge largely on the Golden State's participation, 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

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. Twitter: @DanielSnowSmith

Jim Miller Jim Miller covers California policy and politics and edits Capitol Alert. Twitter: @jimmiller2

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. Twitter: @davidsiders

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. Twitter: @ccadelago

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. Twitter: @capitolalert

Koseff Alexei Koseff edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. Twitter: @akoseff

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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