Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

April 14, 2014
California bill would revamp tax checkoff program


Californians rushing to wrap up their taxes for 2013 can choose from 20 charitable causes to support on their state tax forms.

From sea otters to the California Senior Legislature, voluntary tax form contributions raised about $4.8 million in 2012. More than $102 million has been donated through the program since it began in 1982.

Yet getting on the tax form in the first place requires state legislation, which can cost thousands of dollars in lobbying expenses. Even then, causes and charities regularly drop off the tax form because they fail to meet the state's $250,000 threshold.

Pending legislation would revamp the progrm, with the goal of making it fairer and allowing more charities to tap into taxpayers' charitable impulses.

Senate Bill 1207 by state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, would require charitable organizations to meet certain standards before they could qualify for tax checkoffs. California Volunteers, a state office, would oversee the new program and, along with the Franchise Tax Board, work out its details by 2017, under the measure.

Wolk's bill passed the Wolk-led Senate Governance and Finance Committee last week with bipartisan support.

"We think we can do better and allow more access to the system," Wolk said. The California Association of Nonprofits is among the legislation's supporters.

The bill is opposed by the California Association of Food Banks and California Professional Firefighters. Both participate in efforts that receive money from existing tax checkoffs.

"The hard reality is, you know, the more that are on the list, the more the revenues are shared," said Christy Bouma, a lobbyist for the firefighters union.

Even as lawmakers consider Wolk's measure, there are proposals to increase the number of tax checkoffs for the 2014 tax year. The groups include Habit for Humanity (AB 1765), the Pet Adoption Cost Deduction Fund (AB 2326), and the California Sexual Violence Victim Services Fund (SB 782).

PHOTO: Relatives and friends leave flowers and make rubbings of firefighters' names at the California Firefighters Memorial in Sacramento in 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer

April 14, 2014
'Money just simply corrupts,' Leland Yee said weeks before arrest


In the weeks since the arrest of Sen. Leland Yee, two hard-to-reconcile versions of the San Francisco Democrat have emerged: Transparency advocate running for secretary of state versus the man who, according to an FBI affidavit, accepted campaign money in exchange for favors and a promise to set up an illegal gun deal.

An interview with Voice of OC, a non-profit investigative publication based in Orange County, illustrates the size of the gulf between Yee's pre-and-post-arrest image.

In an interview recorded in December, Yee decried the role money plays in politics and suggested public financing of campaigns as a potential cure. He also offered a theory about the psychology of corrupt politicians.

"I think there's that old adage about power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely -- it's just human nature," Yee said. "After a while you kind of feel that you deserve all the perks of office because you've suffered so much, you've given up so much."

If the FBI's allegations are true, Yee spoke those words after having accepted thousands in campaign money from an undercover agent, part of his strategy to retire his campaign debt from running for mayor of San Francisco and to buoy his secretary of state campaign.

You can watch Yee talk money and politics below:

PHOTO: California Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco leaves the San Francisco Federal Building, Wednesday, March 26, 2014, in San Francisco. The Associated Press/ Ben Margot.

April 14, 2014
Steinberg plan would dedicate California cap-and-trade dollars to housing, transit


In an effort to more closely manage how California spends revenue from its fledgling cap-and-trade program, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, on Monday unveiled a plan to dedicate ongoing money to affordable housing, mass transit and high-speed rail.

"National and international experts say that the climate problem grows worse, that we have no time to sit back and wait and think about an investment strategy year-to-year or just short-term. Now is the time to grab the moment and create these permanent sources," Steinberg said, adding that his plan would avoid an annual legislative fight over "who's in the front of the line, where is the need seemingly the greatest."

The proposal differs from Steinberg's previous proposal to change the state's system for curtailing carbon emissions. That plan, which the Democratic leader unveiled in February, would have imposed a gasoline tax rather than have industry purchase allowances for greenhouse gases emitted from "non-stationary fuels," a category that includes gas sold at the pump.

Now Steinberg has abandoned that change, shifting his attention from how California prices greenhouse gases to how the state allows levies on carbon emitters to be used. His new plan focuses on funding affordable housing, public transportation projects and the state's divisive high-speed rail project.

The gas tax plan was hit from the left and right. On Monday, by contrast, Steinberg spoke amid a phalanx of backers, including groups representing local government, (the League of California Cities) labor (the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California) and environmental (the Natural Resources Defense Council.)

"We stoked a debate a couple months ago, and a lot of consternation and controversy, and I understand it. But now many of us stand together," Steinberg said.

Under AB 32, the 2006 law that created California's cap-and-trade program, industry must purchase permits for generating the type of emissions blamed for global climate change. After six auctions, the program has generated $663 million for the state so far, according to the California Air Resources Board. Steinberg's office projects the permits could soon bring in $3 billion to $5 billion a year.

Current law dictates that the revenue will flow into a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. From there, entities like local governments and transit systems can apply for some of the proceeds by explaining how they will use the money to reduce overall emissions. One quarter of the money must go to disadvantaged communities, an acknowledgment that some of California's poorest places are choking on poor air quality.

Housing and public transportation sit at the center of Steinberg's proposal. Forty percent of the cap-and-trade revenue would go to affordable housing, including communities built around transit options; 30 percent would subsidize transit projects and 10 percent would fund basic transportation infrastructure like road and highway maintenance, with all three administered through competitive grants.

"Permanent sources of funding for mass transit and affordable housing are key if we are committed to long-term change," Steinberg said on Monday, noting that the two areas "face a catastrophic funding crisis in California" after years of cutbacks.

In addition to those outlays, $200 million a year would go to water efficiency projects, to fuel-related outlays that include rebates on monthly fuel bills, and to accommodating the use of electric vehicles.

California's proposed bullet train would get 20 percent of the money, channeled through a continuous appropriation that would not require year-to-year approval by the Legislature.

Already, Gov. Jerry Brown's has stirred controversy by proposing in his budget for this year spending $250 million from emissions permit sales to fund his financially precarious high-speed rail project, whose funding plan faces legal uncertainty. Some environmentalists have called high-speed rail an inappropriate use of the carbon auction funds.

But Steinberg's blueprint embraces high-speed rail as a tool for reducing emissions — provided, Steinberg said, it is one element of a larger strategy.

"I understand that high-speed rail is controversial," Steinberg said. "If it were the only thing that we were talking about or the only thing on the table I think that would be problematic. I think this is a better approach."

PHOTO: The union oil company refinery in Rodeo, Tuesday, December 17, 2002. The Sacramento Bee Michael A. Jones.

April 14, 2014
AM Alert: John Pérez trails in state controller's race

ha_perez_III.JPGCalifornia Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Board of Equalization member Betty Yee have been waging a tight primary battle in the state controller's race. At the California Democratic Party Convention last month, they split delegate votes almost evenly, with neither garnering enough support for the party nomination.

But the results from a new Field Poll indicate that Yee now holds an advantage over Pérez among likely voters in the June primary, 19 percent to 14 percent. Will Pérez's fundraising lead enable him to close that gap in the next two months and claim a spot in the top two runoff?

Both Yee and Pérez trail Republican candidate Ashley Swearengin, the mayor of Fresno, who leads the field with support from 28 percent of likely primary voters. Nearly 40 percent remain undecided, however, so the race is still very much up for grabs.

Reporter Christopher Cadelago has more in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

The next Field Poll covers Californians' assessment of the job performance of Congress. Subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app can read the story early, at 8 p.m.

CAP AND PIVOT: In February, State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg proposed a new carbon tax on fuel to replace a portion of the state's cap-and-trade program that he said would prove too unpredictable for consumers at the pump when it goes into effect next year. Steinberg is now backing away from that plan and will present a new investment strategy for California's cap-and-trade funds, 11 a.m. in Room 211 of the Capitol.

ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?: The California HealthCare Foundation sponsors a briefing on a new survey gauging user satisfaction after signing up for health insurance or Medi-Cal through Covered California, noon at the CSAC Conference Center on 11th Street.

LUNCHTIME TALK: The Delta Science Program hosts a seminar with Maggi Kelly, a professor of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley, to discuss the use of remote sensors to quantify productivity and potential storage of the wetlands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, noon at the Park Tower Building on 9th street.

NEW JOBS: KP Public Affairs welcomes two new lobbyists to its practice: Brian White, who has worked for BP America and the California Forestry Association, and Vanessa Cajina, previously a lobbyist for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

PHOTO: Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez speaks during a press conference on December, 11, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.


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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