Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

January 31, 2014
Tim Donnelly holds about $54,000 to take on Jerry Brown

donnellypodium.jpgTim Donnelly raised less than $300,000 for his gubernatorial campaign in the second half of last year, leaving him with only $54,299 in cash on hand by the end of December, he reported Friday.

The Twin Peaks assemblyman is one of two Republicans bidding to unseat Gov. Jerry Brown this year. The Democratic governor reported earlier Friday that he had increased his war chest to about $17 million by the end of December.

Donnelly raised $291,063 and spent $286,069 from July 1 to Dec. 31, 2013. His contributions for the full year totaled $374,213. The Legislature's most outspoken gun rights and anti-illegal immigration advocate struggled to raise major contributions, relying on scores of individual donations of several hundred dollars or less.

Brown, a Democrat, has not yet said if he will seek re-election, but he is widely expected to run. The other Republican running, former U.S. Treasury Department official Neel Kashkari, did not start fundraising until earlier this month, when he announced his candidacy. His first financial filing is not expected until later in February.

Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, who dropped out of the race in January, raised $203,550 in the second half of the year and spent $181,274. He had an ending cash balance of $22,727 on Dec. 31.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, speaks in Baldwin Park Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. Associated Press/Nick Ut

January 31, 2014
Days before death, Pete Seeger wrote California Voter Foundation head

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It's not every day you receive encouragement from the dead. But that's what Kim Alexander, president and founder of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation, found in her mailbox earlier this week.

Along with lovers of American folk music everywhere, Alexander spent much of Tuesday mourning the death of legend Pete Seeger. Then she opened her mailbox to find a letter postmarked Beacon, New York.

That was the first clue. Alexander looked inside the envelope to find a note signed "94-year-old Pete," accompanied by a drawing of a banjo, and realized what she was holding.

"It was such an unreal, magical experience," Alexander said. "It's turned what started out as a very sad event into reminding us that his memory is very much alive, and his music is very much alive for all of us."

Back in August, Alexander had written Seeger a letter seeking advice on nurturing her monthly acoustic Sacramento jam session, which has grown from five regulars to some 200 occasional participants. A self-described "jamvangelist," Alexander grew up with folk music regularly playing in her house, including Seeger's iconic tunes.

Alexander said she wrote the letter partially out of the sense that Seeger "would not be with us forever," but she did not necessarily expect a response. The letter she received on Tuesday was dated Saturday, two days before Seeger's death. He had responded to her by writing notes in the margin, advising her on how to attract more people to the jam group.

Since sharing the story on social media, Alexander said she has seen a voluminous outpouring of interest in the story. To her, that broad response is in keeping with Seeger's legacy, which extends beyond his role as an acclaimed songwriter and activist.

"Those are all deserving accolades and he was all of those things but he was first and foremost a song leader," Alexander said. "He was always encouraging everyone to sing along."

PHOTO: An image of the letter, with Seeger's handwriting visible in the margins, courtesy of Kim Alexander.

January 31, 2014
Neel Kashkari forgoes tax-cutting theme, embraces another

kashkarisits.jpgWhen Neel Kashkari told conservative talk radio listeners in Los Angeles this week that he would not immediately move to lower taxes on the wealthiest Californians, he suggested his campaign for governor will diverge from a tax-cutting theme Republicans have pressed hard in recent years.

The position is strategic, not ideological. Voters in this Democratic state overwhelmingly approved a tax increase in 2012, and Kashkari — outflanked by a more conservative candidate, Tim Donnelly, on the right — will likely need support from independent voters to advance from the June primary election to a runoff against Gov. Jerry Brown in the fall.

On the "John and Ken" show Thursday, Kashkari assured his hosts that he believes "our taxes are too high" and wants to "get everyone to the table" to discuss them. But he said, "I don't think, politically, that's where we start."

Instead, Kashkari is embracing another, equally reliable conservative stand-by. One week into his campaign, Kashkari — like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Meg Whitman before him — is going after budgetary waste.

"To me, I think it's critical that we start getting our money's worth for the taxes that we're collecting," Kashkari said. "We spend more than $40 billion a year on K-12, and only about half of that money is actually getting into the classroom. Half of it is being spent on administration and overhead and other things."

That should sound familiar. In the Republican gubernatorial primary four years ago, Steve Poizner promised to fix a public education system "that wastes a lot of money," while Whitman planned to devote more funds to classroom teaching and less to "bureaucracy." Whitman proposed eliminating "waste, fraud and abuse" statewide, as did Schwarzenegger, the last Republican to occupy the governor's office. Experts said the amount of fat in the budget was overstated, and seven years after he took office, Schwarzenegger left Sacramento with a deficit.

Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official, has not put a number on the overall budget savings he believes he could find. But education is a focus of his campaign, and on that subject Kashkari went to his radio interview prepared. The basis for Kashkari's claim that classrooms are being shortchanged is a 2011 study that found direct spending in California classrooms declined from 59 percent to less than 58 percent of total expenditures from 2003 to 2009, even as total education spending increased.

The report, by Pepperdine University, is questionable for what it counted as "direct classroom expenditures." It included teacher salaries and estimated benefits, textbooks and materials and supplies, but not the cost of library or cafeteria workers, busing and building maintenance.

The report, produced with funding from the conservative Small Business Action Committee, stirred controversy when it was released several years ago. Now the study - or some version of it - is likely to feature prominently in Kashkari's campaign. If he can persuade voters that education money could be redirected from the bureaucracy to classrooms, he could propose any number of programs without needing to identify additional funding.

Kashkari has not released any detailed policy proposals, but on Thursday he expressed interest in vocational training and a longer school year, and he praised ideas advocated by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Since leaving office, the former governor has been promoting his "Florida formula" for public education that includes assigning letter grades to schools while emphasizing vouchers, online instruction and reading tests that third graders must pass before being promoted.

Experts have debated the influence of these polices on student achievement in Florida, but Kashkari is inspired.

"They brought more choice to parents, they brought more power into parents, they provided more accountability," Kashkari said. "This is not rocket science."

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

January 31, 2014
Jerry Brown reports $17 million on hand for re-election

brownchamberbreakfast.jpgGov. Jerry Brown raised $7.1 million for his re-election campaign in the second half of last year, he reported Friday, increasing his total war chest to about $17 million by the end of December.

The Democratic governor has not yet said if he will seek re-election but is widely expected to run. He received major funding from labor unions and business interests, including oil and telecommunications companies.

Brown leads a small field of Republicans by a wide margin in early fundraising and polls.

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Brown reported spending only about $208,000 in campaign operations last year, with most of that amount coming in the last six months of the year. In addition to various office and fundraising expenses, Brown reported "bonus" payments of $25,000 each to Angie Tate, a Democratic fundraiser, and Edward Ruthrauff, who worked on Brown's 2010 campaign before coming into the administration to be Brown's director of constituent affairs.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, has until the end of the day to file his year-end financial statement. Neel Kahskari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official, did not start fundraising until earlier this month, when he announced his candidacy.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the California Chamber of Commerce's annual host breakfast in Sacramento on May 22, 2013. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

January 31, 2014
California schools have $37 billion in unissued bonds

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California's pot of school bond money may be empty, but school and community college districts have more than $37 billion in authorized — but unspent — school-construction bonds, according to a report by the state's debt commission.

Since November 2002, there have been 681 school and community college elections that yielded about $90.1 billion in voter-approved borrowing authority to build and modernize schools. Yet only about $52.6 billion of those bonds have actually been issued, according to the California Debt and Investment Advisory Commission report last week.

Voter-approved bond authority vs. issuance

Source: California Debt and Investment Advisory Commission

The report comes as several rounds of school bonds authorized by state voters — most recently in November 2006 — are nearly exhausted. Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, is working on legislation for a new state school bond in November, but no proposal has emerged.

Any plan for a new bond would have to win over Gov. Jerry Brown. In his proposed budget earlier this month, Brown voiced skepticism about local school projects relying on significant help from the state.

"Any future program should be designed to provide districts with the tools and resources to address their core facility gaps, but should also avoid an unsustainable reliance on state debt issuance that characterizes the current school facilities program," the budget summary reads.

The state board that distributes voter-approved school-construction money also has looked at the issue. A recent report called for major changes to the school facilities program, such as ending bond-funded purchases of portables and requiring districts to commit to spending to maintain new buildings.

In its report, the debt advisory commission said state law requires local school districts to have enough property tax revenue to make payments on the borrowing. But the recession likely upended that math and put a chill on bond sales.

"The data also reveals a marked jump in the percentage of the unissued authority post 2007," the report reads. "Falling property values, likely, could not support the increasing tax revenue that was required to service additional debt."

The property-tax outlook seems to be brightening. In its November fiscal outlook, the Legislative Analyst's Office projected that local property taxes would grow by about 7 percent a year.

In addition to the recession, another possible reason for locals' reticence to sell bonds was a lack of state matching funds, the report said.

PHOTO: Construction crews worked on the East Natomas Education Complex in March 2008. The complex features a new high school, a middle school, an aquatics center, and more. The Sacramento Bee/Autumn Cruz

January 31, 2014
California water deliveries dropped to zero

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State and federal water officials announced Friday that deliveries of state water to agricultural and municipal users south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which had been slashed to 5 percent earlier, will drop further to zero due to the state's severe drought.

It will be the first time that the state has taken such drastic action.

"There's not enough water to go around," state Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said at a news conference. He also said that releases from severely depleted state and federal reservoirs would be dropped to the minimum necessary to prevent salt water intrusion into the Delta.

The reduction is one of a series of steps that water authorities are taking to curtail use because the state is in the third and worst year of drought, despite a light rainstorm that hit the northern part of the state this week.

Agricultural production accounts for most of the state's water use and is expected to be hit the hardest by the reduction. Municipal users in Southern California will fare better because the Metropolitan Water District that serves the area has reported fairly heavy reserves.

PHOTO: Cattle hoof prints mark the dry reservoir bed that normally stretches to Ione road in the east at the Van Vleck Ranch at Wednesday January 22, 2014 in Sacramento County, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

January 31, 2014
Sen. Ted Lieu to challenge for Waxman's House seat

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State Sen. Ted Lieu confirmed Friday he will run to succeed veteran Rep. Henry Waxman, joining a field of potential successors that already includes former Los Angeles Controller Wendy Greuel.

Lieu, whose Senate territory encompasses more than 80 percent of the 33rd Congressional District, called Waxman "a living legend."

"I am running because I love America. But our nation can do better," said Lieu, D-Torrance, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves. "I have made the hard choices that helped turn California's budget deficit into a budget surplus; fought to protect our environment; co-authored legislation to divest California's pension funds from Iran's energy and nuclear industries; and authored landmark civil rights legislation. I will fight hard for my constituents in Congress as I have done in the state Senate."

33rd Congressional District

On Thursday, Waxman announced he would not seek a 21st term in the House of Representatives. Greuel followed hours later with a Twitter message saying she would "fight like Congressman Henry Waxman on issues important to our families."

Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, and Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, have yet to indicate whether they plan to run. Others weighing a candidacy are Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Secretary of State Debra Bowen, former Democratic lawmaker Betsy Butler and Sandra Fluke, the women's rights activist.

Lieu's announcement includes endorsements from a veritable who's-who of elected officials and community leaders from inside and outside the heavily Democratic Los Angeles County congressional district that stretches from Malibu to the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

His entry into the race could yield more jockeying and set off another round of legislative dominoes should Bloom or Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, challenge for the Senate seat Lieu must relinquish. He was set to term out in 2018.

PHOTO: State Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, during a hearing at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, May 8, 2012. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli.

January 31, 2014
Rod Wright introduces bill to convert some felonies to misdemeanors

wright.jpgTwo days after a jury found him guilty of eight felonies related to living outside the district he represents, Sen. Rod Wright introduced a bill that would allow people convicted of non-violent felonies to have their crimes converted to misdemeanors.

Wright did not attend the Senate's floor session Thursday, but legislative records show that on that day he introduced Senate Bill 929, which would grant new benefits to non-violent felons who are not sentenced to prison.

The bill says that a felony offense would be deemed a misdemeanor "if the court finds that certain circumstances apply, including that the defendant was not imprisoned in the state prison for the offense, the offense for which the defendant was convicted was not a serious or violent felony, as defined, the offense does not require registration as a sex offender, the defendant is not currently charged with and has not been convicted of an offense in the preceding 5 years, except as specified, and the defendant presents clear and convincing evidence that he or she has been rehabilitated."

While Wright has lost his chairmanship of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee, his Democratic colleagues have stopped short of asking him to leave office.

Yet it does not appear the felony-to-misdemeanor bill will advance. A spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said the legislation will not be referred out of the Senate Rules Committee.

"Putting the merits of the policy aside, it's the wrong author at the wrong time," said spokesman Rhys Williams.

Wright's office has not returned a call for comment.

A Los Angeles jury on Tuesday found Wright guilty on all eight felony counts he was charged with in a case that challenged whether he lived in the Inglewood home he claimed as his domicile when he ran for office in 2008. Prosecutors alleged Wright really lived in Baldwin Hills, a tonier area outside the district he represents.

Wright's sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 12. His lawyer has said he plans to appeal the case.

SB 929

Editor's note: This post was updated at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 31 to include comment from Steinberg's office and lack of comment from Wright's office.

PHOTO: Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, walks into the California Senate floor during the first day of session Jan. 6, 2014 in Sacramento. Hector Amezcua/Sacramento.

January 31, 2014
AM Alert: California campaign money count coming

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As evidenced by our recent report on Republicans fretting over their grim prospects in statewide races, the 2014 election is closer than you think. Soon, we'll see where the donation dollars fell in the latter half of 2013.

Today marks the campaign finance filing deadline for the second section of 2013, which means we'll see who gave what to whom between July and December. Contributions over $5,000 have to be reported more frequently, which allows us to feed you a steady diet of posts on contributions to the technically nonexistent re-election campaign of Gov. Jerry Brown, but the more comprehensive information that has to be in today will include smaller donations and help illustrate the state of Assembly and Senate races.

VIDEO: Car taxes again entered the political arena, a move Dan Walters says points to California's dire need for infrastructure dollars.

LEGALLY A LAWYER: The long odyssey of Sergio Garcia ends tomorrow. Despite passing California's bar exam, Garcia was prohibited from practicing law because he was brought to the country illegally as a child. A bill passed last year led the California Supreme Court to reverse its opposition, and Garcia will be formally sworn in on Saturday during a ceremony on the West steps.

POWER LUNCH: A pair of formidable Democratic women will be drumming up money in San Francisco today. First lady Michelle Obama and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, will be hosting a "women's lunch" for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, with the price of admission running from $500 for an individual to $32,500 for couples seeking deluxe VIP access.

FILM CREDITS: The push to sustain tax credits for movie production is rolling. The topic will be on the agenda at a California Film Commission board meeting in Los Angeles this afternoon, with Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-Los Angeles, expected to give an update on the legislative prospects.

PARENT TRIGGER: Speaking of the movies, those of you interested in education reform can check out a film screening today of "We the Parents," a documentary examining how parents in Compton invoked California's "parent trigger" law to take over a struggling school. The screening follows the Senate passing a resolution by Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, recognizing National School Choice Week in California. In room 3191 of the State Capitol at 11 a.m.

PHOTO: In this photo taken Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, a woman counts U.S. dollar banknotes at a currency exchange office in Istanbul, Turkey. The Associated Press/Emrah Gurel.

January 31, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: California falling behind in critical infrastructure

truck_driving.JPGThe state's beleaguered transportation system deserves more attention from the Legislature than the trivial issues they focus on day in and day out, 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: Drivers navigate their vehicles through blowing sand east of Owen's lake on Highway 136 near Lone Pine, Calif. on November 21, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench



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Capitol Alert Staff


Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. achance@sacbee.com. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee. smith@sacbee.com. Twitter: @DanielSnowSmith

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

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. dsiders@sacbee.com. Twitter: @davidsiders

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

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

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. jwhite@sacbee.com. Twitter: @capitolalert

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

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

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