Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

January 22, 2014
California Legislature launches a Jewish caucus


A group of California lawmakers have banded together to form a new legislative caucus focused on issues they believe matter to the Jewish community.

The Legislative Jewish Caucus will also form a political action committee to raise money to support Israel-friendly candidates, said Sen. Marty Block, the San Diego Democrat who chairs the new group.

"This isn't a religious based organization. We see this as an ethnic organization," he said.

"My guess is very few of the members would define themselves as being terribly religious, but we all consider ourselves to be part of the Jewish people."

The Jewish caucus includes five Senators and four Assembly members who identify themselves as Jewish, as well as a handful of other lawmakers who are not Jewish but want to participate, Block said. All participants so far have been Democrats, but Block said the group would welcome Republicans.

The Legislature has several caucuses organized around various identities, including race, sexuality and geography. The Jewish caucus will work to fight discrimination against all minorities, Block said, partly based on religious beliefs that favor equality, "but also out of a personal concern that if folks are treated unequally, Jews will be among those who are treated unequally."

January 22, 2014
California Senate to hold off confirming forestry board appointees


Concerned that officials are leaving millions of fire-prevention dollars unspent, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Wednesday that he will put off a Senate vote to confirm two appointees of Gov. Jerry Brown to the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The Senate Rules Committee recommended the confirmations of forestry board members of Stuart L. Farber, Jr. of Redding and and Mary E. Rickert of Fall Rivers Mill. Brown appointed both in March 2013.

Steinberg, though, said the full Senate will not consider the appointments until the Brown administration provides more information about how it proposes to spend the money generated by a $150 fee on properties in 31 million acres of state responsibility area. The fee will raise an estimated $76 million in 2013-14, according to Brown's budget plan this month.

"I just don't want money sitting there when there's a lot of prevention to be had," said Steinberg, the chairman of the rules panel, pointing to the drought and worsening wildfire danger.

Governor's appointees must be confirmed within one year. Farber's 365th day is March 19 and Rickert's is March 20.

The fire-prevention fee has been controversial since it was included in the 2011-12 budget. Opponents have gone to court to overturn the charge, which they call an illegal tax.

"Are we going to be able to quantify what we get out of it?" state Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, who voted against the legislation creating the fee in 2011, asked Wednesday. "How are we going to find out if this is helping or if this is hurting?"

PHOTO: California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection crews work to contain a wildfire that burned several acres of dense brush and threatened homes in Pollock Pines in Thursday May 15, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

January 22, 2014
California chief justice says courts need more money


By Richard Chang

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye today said Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget shortchanges the judicial branch.

During a visit to The Sacramento Bee's Editorial Board, the top judge noted that $266.5 million is required to maintain current court service levels. Brown's budget proposal, however, provides only an additional $100 million in General Fund support for the court system.

Without more money, Cantil-Sakauye said, courts across the state will be forced to make drastic cutbacks, including layoffs, court closures and furloughs.

"All these programs are all good and well...but they're unenforceable unless there's a justice system," Cantil-Sakauye said.

She pointed out that cuts during the recession have hampered the courts' ability to efficiently handle cases. "Prior to the state's fiscal free fall, we were functioning well in my view," she said.

PHOTO: California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye answers questions from The Bee's Editorial Board at the offices of The Sacramento Bee in Sacramento on Wednesday, January 22, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

January 22, 2014
Jerry Brown deals Sutter Brown cards to push California message

Browncard.jpgBy Ben Mullin

Gov. Jerry Brown had an unlikely ace up his sleeve while attempting to woo reporters during his State of the State address today: Sutter Brown.

The 10-year-old Pembroke Welsh corgi appeared on several playing cards given out to members of the media before the governor began his annual speech to the Legislature, drawing mixed reactions.

The playing cards, which appeared in a variety of suits, each featured dog-related aphorisms regarding prudent spending, accompanied by a picture of Sutter Brown's face. The reverse side showed a year-to-year bar graph of California's budget with the heading "huge deficits follow balanced budgets."

"A prudent corgi knows to nibble at his kibble," read one card, which featured a picture of the dog wearing a blue and gold crown. "Save some biscuits for a rainy day," read another.

Senator Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, seized the opportunity to promote upcoming legislation, tweeting,

After reporters asked via Twitter how the governor's office intended to pay for the cards, the governor's press office responded in a tweet, saying that Brown and his wife will foot the bill:

"No state funds were spent on printing playing cards #GoFish," the tweet read.

January 22, 2014
Toni Atkins will be next California Assembly speaker


Emerging from a closed-door meeting of Assembly Democrats, Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, said his caucus unanimously supports making Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, the next Speaker.

The announcement ends months of speculation about who would take over the leadership post once Pérez leaves office at the end of 2014. Pérez emphasized the fact that not a single member of the 55-member Democratic caucus dissented from the selection of Atkins.

"It was unanimous going into the room, it was unanimous coming out of the room," Pérez said. "There was absolute unanimity about peoples' support and excitement about having Ms. Atkins as the next speaker.

A formal vote will come some time in the spring, Pérez said. The timeline for Atkins formally taking over has not been fixed.

"It's the work of transition that will dictate the timeline," Pérez said. "It is not an insignificant institution."

The selection of Atkins marks a few milestones: it is the first time an openly gay woman will lead either chamber of the California Legislature. Atkins will also be the first lawmaker from San Diego to helm the Assembly.

With Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, set to take over as Senate president pro tem later this year, California is also on the verge of a situation with scant precedent: having both legislative leaders hail from Southern California.

While lawmakers have historically chosen a northerner to lead one house and a southern lawmaker the other, Pérez dismissed the appearance of a tradition as "an artificial construct." Atkins said the district she represents will have little bearing on how she manages the caucus.

"We are Californians first," Atkins said. "I've had good conversations with my colleagues, and we are consistently unified that we are all doing the work of California," she added.

A Virginia native whose vowels still bear the slight twang of her upbringing, Atkins served on the San Diego City Council and as interim mayor before winning election to the Legislature in 2010.

Atkins said her priorities this year, including during budget negotiations, will not differ from the framework already set forth by Assembly Democrats.

"I think our caucus agenda has been set," she said.

PHOTO: Speaker John A. Pérez, and Assemblywoman Toni Atkins discuss Atkins becoming the next speaker in the State Capitol building in Sacramento, Calif. on January 22, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Jeremy B. White.

January 22, 2014
Republicans criticize Jerry Brown for leaving poverty rate out of State of the State

kashkarisits.jpgTwo Republicans bidding to unseat Gov. Jerry Brown this year criticized the Democratic governor Wednesday for failing to mention California's nation-high poverty rate in his State of the State address.

"Governor Brown may claim a California comeback, but the truth is that he has forgotten the millions of California families who are struggling," Neel Kashkari, who announced his candidacy Tuesday, said in a prepared statement.

The former U.S. Treasury Department official said it is "outrageous" that Brown did not address poverty.

The only other Republican actively campaigning against Brown, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, was similarly critical.

He said in a prepared statement that the Democratic governor "has repeatedly failed to address how he intends to get the state back to work and return prosperity to California."

Brown, who has raised millions of dollars for a likely re-election bid this year, made passing reference to "struggling families" near the end of his annual address, but he largely avoided the issue.

Republicans have criticized Brown on the economy since the U.S. Census Bureau reported last fall that 23.8 percent of Californians live in poverty under a calculation that includes the cost of liming.

Brown told National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" last year that the poverty rate is "the flip side of California's incredible attractiveness and prosperity," as many immigrants to the state are unskilled.

PHOTO: Neel Kashkari speaks at an interview with The Associated Press in Sacramento on Dec. 4, 2013. AP Photo/ Rich Pedroncelli

January 22, 2014
Read Jerry Brown's State of the State speech, as delivered

Thumbnail image for bown_sots14_delivered_resized.jpg
Gov. Jerry Brown spoke for about 17 minutes during Wednesday's State of the State speech — an address that would have been even shorter but for several diversions Brown made from his prepared text.

Here is Brown's address, as delivered, as well as a word cloud showing which words the Democratic governor used the most.

"Thank you. It seems like people are kind of excited. And so am I. I did come here to speak to all of you in 1975, a long time ago. Some of you may have forgotten or probably weren't born then. I came here in 1959 for the first time in my (inaudible) garb as a Jesuit seminarian, my Roman collar, my little black suit, I sat right down there and looked up at my father give his first state of the state back in 1959. Lieutenant governor, I appreciate change but I also value continuity. I used to say take the ins and throw them out and take the outs and throw them in. I don't say that anymore. My message is, there is no substitute for experience.

"Anyway, here I am. I am here today to report on the state of our state, choosing to ignore those who say that Article 5 of our Constitution, which requires the governor to report to the Legislature, is outdated; that you can't report on the condition of our state from Sacramento because California is too spread out and too diverse. It occurred to me that these critics - who have long recited our state's decline - perhaps have nothing to say in the face of California's comeback - except, "please, don't report it." Well, I'm going to report it, and what a comeback it is: A million new jobs since 2010, a budgetary surplus in the the billions -- but don't spend it, that's the point -- and a minimum wage rising to $10 an hour.

January 22, 2014
Rapid Response: Gov. Jerry Brown's State of the State address

Here are some reactions to Gov. Jerry Brown's State of the State address.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari

Governor Brown may claim a California comeback, but the truth is that he has forgotten the millions of California families who are struggling. 24 percent of our fellow Californians live in poverty. Yet how many times did the Governor mention poverty in his 17-minute address? Not once. That is outrageous.

The state of the state is devastating for millions of Californians. Our schools are ranked 46th in the nation. Nearly 18 percent of Californians are out of work or stuck in part-time jobs. People don't want welfare. They want good jobs. Yet instead of doing the hard work of fixing these problems, Governor Brown is focused on touting record-high spending and building a crazy train that the state doesn't want and can't afford.

Let there be no doubt: The status quo is unacceptable and we can't let Governor Brown get away with it.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego

The Governor did a great job of reporting what we've done to improve the state's fiscal situation and telling us about the work that lies ahead. But I'm hoping that now we will create a greater vision for California in terms of and dealing with issues of poverty, educational achievement and creating opportunity for everyone.

We all agree that we've got to create more jobs, but we also have to create the capacity in individuals to be ready for those jobs. We can talk about the greatness of California - and it is a great state, no question, with Silicon Valley, our high tech industry and research institutions. But are average Californians ready to work in these industries? Probably not. We will need to focus on preparing our kids for these jobs now

I agree that it's important to give school districts flexibility, but we also have to focus on accountability. What happens when a school doesn't succeed? What happens when a school board doesn't properly use the funding? We need to make sure that funds specifically set aside for improving the academic performance of disadvantaged students are actually spent on closing the Achievement Gap.

January 22, 2014
Jerry Brown lauds California's 'comeback,' urges caution in State of the State speech

Brownframe1.jpgGov. Jerry Brown said today that California is continuing its "comeback," with a budget surplus and an improving economy, but he urged the Legislature to restrain spending.

"This year, Californians have a lot to be proud of," Brown told a joint session of the Legislature in his State of the State address. "For a decade, budget instability was the order of the day. ... But three years later, here we are, with state spending and revenues solidly balanced, and more to come."

However, Brown said the state budget is based on fluctuating revenue, and long-term liabilities are high. As he did in his State of the State speech a year ago, Brown offered the cautionary, biblical account of Joseph and the Pharaoh's dream of seven cows.

"Boom and bust is our lot and we must follow the ancient advice, recounted in the Book of Genesis, that Joseph gave to the Pharaoh," Brown said. "Put away your surplus during the years of great plenty so you will be ready for the lean years which are sure to follow."

The 17-minute speech was the final State of the State address of Brown's third term. The 75-year-old Democrat is widely expected to seek re-election, and the speech served to preview his campaign.

Brown has made construction of a $68 billion high-speed rail system a priority of his administration, despite fierce opposition from Republicans. Brown is also seeking to push forward his $25 billion plan to build two tunnels to divert water around the Delta to the south.

A drought emergency Brown announced last week has only heightened controversy around that plan.

Brown said that "among all our uncertainties, weather is one of the most basic. We can't control it. We can only live with it, and now we have to live with a very serious drought of uncertain duration."

He said, "We need everyone in every part of the state to conserve water," and he called for "further progress" on his tunnels plan.

January 22, 2014
Chat live: Dan Walters hosts State of the State Q&A

Join Bee columnist Dan Walters for Q&A and a discussion of the governor's State of the State speech.


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January 22, 2014
AM Alert: Jerry Brown lays out 2014 priorities in State of the State address

State_of_the_State_2013.JPGAnother week, another big speech from Gov. Jerry Brown: With the announcement of his budget proposal and the declaration of a drought emergency out of the way, Brown now turns his attention to the annual State of the State address, in which the governor has an opportunity to make the case for his 2014 policy agenda.

The speech, which takes place in the Assembly Chambers of the Capitol at 9 a.m., could end up touching upon many of the same topics as last year. The controversial high-speed rail and Delta water tunnel projects, both of which Brown voiced support for in his 2013 address and repeatedly since, remain in development limbo. The "philosophy of loyalty" developed by Josiah Royce, a Grass Valley-born thinker in the 1800s, may also make an appearance.

At 8:30 a.m., Capitol Alert will launch its live blog, including Twitter feeds, reaction and streaming video of the speech. Columnist Dan Walters will host a live chat starting at 11:45 a.m. Come to for all the coverage.

VIDEO: With little chance to win the California governorship, Republican candidates are battling for the future of the state party, Dan Walters says.

REGENTS ROUNDUP: As part of the bimonthly University of California Board of Regents meeting, which kicks off today in San Francisco, the leaders of the state's three higher education branches will gather to discuss the future of California's Master Plan for Higher Education. The document, adopted in 1960, lays out the role of each system in serving the state's students. UC President Janet Napolitano, California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White and California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris plan to share with the UC Regents how they are collaborating to strengthen the Master Plan. The discussion is the fourth and final item on the agenda for the meeting's 1 p.m. session, which will be webcast live.

MAYOR MAYHEM: Sacramento will be filled with more politicians than usual this week as local representatives from across the state descend upon the Sheraton Grand on J Street for the League of California Cities' New Mayors and Council Members Academy. The three-day conference, beginning today at 8 a.m. and continuing through Friday, trains newly-elected and veteran officials on the legal and practical framework in which a city operates.

INSIDER OF THE WEEK: Who will be the latest politician skewered on the pen of cartoonist Jack Ohman? Find a new portrait every Sunday on the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app. You can sign up here.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown, center, delivers his State of the State speech to California legislators in the Assembly chambers at the Capitol on Jan. 24, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

January 22, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Republican gubernatorial battle is internal

Tim_Donnelly.JPGWith Gov. Jerry Brown practically unbeatable, Neel Kashkari and Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, are really running to determine the future of California's Republican party, Dan says.

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

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, announces he's running for California Governor, in Baldwin Park, Calif., on Nov. 5, 2013. The Associated Press/Nick Ut


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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