Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

May 14, 2014
Steinberg pushes for more spending in budget negotiations


Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said Wednesday that Gov. Jerry Brown's revised state budget doesn't do enough to acknowledge the Californians who have been damaged by years of program cuts and suggested the state could divert more money to them by taking a different approach to setting aside money for the rainy-day fund.

The Sacramento Democrat said he will continue to push for expanding California's public preschool program as the Legislature negotiates the state budget with Brown in the coming weeks. He also called out funding for courts, universities and Medi-Cal reimbursement as areas he thinks are inadequate in the budget proposal Brown released Tuesday.

"We have more than lifted to meet the governor's agenda, and his top priority on this. It's time that he do a little lifting as well to help meet our priorities," Steinberg said to reporters.

"It's a two-way street."

Brown's budget sets aside $3.7 billion in reserves and debt payments, Steinberg said. But California could instead set aside $2.4 billion for those purposes, he said, by applying the formula laid out in the rainy-day fund agreement legislative leaders have negotiated with Brown. That approach, if it passes the Legislature, will go before voters this November.

"So when the question gets asked, 'Where are you going to find the money?' Here is a place to start," Steinberg said of the $1.3 billion difference.

Proposition 58, approved by voters in March 2004, requires an annual transfer of 3 percent of general fund revenue to the Budget Stabilization Account. The requirement has been suspended in all but one year, though.

Brown's budget sets aside 3 percent of revenue — half of the money would go to paying off debt-refinancing bonds approved along with Prop. 58 and the other half would be saved.

"What it appears the Pro Tem is suggesting is that instead of a 3 percent deposit, a deposit of 1.5 percent of general fund revenues be made into the Budget Stabilization Account," Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said. "The governor's budget — both in January and as revised in May — makes that 3 percent deposit as required by Proposition 58, and does not reflect a suspension of that transfer."

PHOTO: Senate leader Darrell Steinberg presents his idea for a rainy-day fund approach to reporters on May 14, 2014.

May 14, 2014
Jerry Brown seeks savings in community college transfers to UC

Brown_regents.JPGWith an eye on the state budget and student diversity, Gov. Jerry Brown suggested Wednesday that the University of California consider decreasing freshmen enrollment in favor of more community college transfers.

Speaking at the UC Board of Regents meeting in Sacramento, Brown said that raising the proportion of transfer students would be "a way to maintain a high degree of quality, increase diversity and lower our cost structure. That would be my value proposition."

His comments followed the presentation of a report recommending how UC could strengthen its transfer pathways, including aligning its majors with the Associate Degree for Transfer program being implemented between the community college system and the California State University system.

Brown theorized that having more students complete part of their educations in the lower-cost community colleges would save money for the state. He asked the regents to seriously "rethink through here what is the role of the freshman and sophomore year. Where should that take place?"

Brown added that expanding transfer enrollment should come in conjunction with outreach to a broader swath of community college students across the state. Currently, more than half of the approximately 15,000 students who transfer to UC every year come from fewer than a quarter of California's community colleges.

"To increase diversity is crucial," Brown said. "To make sure that lower-income families have their shot at UC and to really maximize that potential, the number of transfers must be increased."

Outside of the event, several dozen student protesters from Fossil Free UC called upon the regents to divest the university's endowment funds from coal, oil and natural gas companies.

"As an environmental movement, we have to call out institutional drivers of climate change," said UC Berkeley freshman Jake Soiffer, who helped organize the rally. "We can't just act individually."

"This is really the issue of our generation," he added.

During the public comment period that opened the board meeting, students asked the regents to look into divestment over the summer and hold in September. They urged UC to follow the example of universities like Stanford, which announced plans to divest from coal last week.

When the public comment period ended before all the speakers were able to address the board, the demonstrators began chanting until they were granted more time, drawing the ire of some of the regents.

Later in the meeting, Regent Norman Pattiz acknowledged the student's concerns, calling their request "valid."

"Although I think they have a little bit of work to do on their method of presentation," he said, "I don't think there is a bigger problem facing humanity than climate change."

"I would encourage us to find ways within the university community," he added, "to deal with these kind of problems, which are monumental in scope."

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown talks with UC President Mark Yudof during a UC regents' meeting on May 15, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

May 14, 2014
Jerry Brown signs law requiring political nonprofits identify donors


Nonprofit organizations that make political contributions in California will have to disclose more information about the source of their money under a law Gov. Jerry Brown signed Wednesday.

Senate Bill 27 was inspired by the 2012 ballot measure wars in California, when two out-of-state nonprofit groups poured $15 million into fighting Proposition 30 and supporting Proposition 32. Because of the groups' nonprofit status, they were not required to report where their donations originally came from, leading some to describe the contributions as "dark money."

The state's political watchdog went after the groups and secured a $1 million settlement last fall when the Arizona nonprofits acknowledged an error in campaign finance reporting. But requiring politically-active nonprofits to disclose their donors required a change of state law.

And that's where Sen. Lou Correa's SB 27 comes in. The bill by the Santa Ana Democrat requires nonprofit groups disclose the names of donors who give them $1,000 or more to spend on political activity in California, if the group makes contributions of more than $50,000 in a year, or $100,000 over four years. The disclosure requirement kicks in with donations made after July 1 of this year.

The bill was sponsored by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission and supported by many open-government groups, including the California Clean Money Campaign, California Common Cause, California Forward, California Voter Foundation, and the League of Women Voters of California. Supporters hope the bill will have a ripple effect nationwide.

"Governor Brown's signature of SB 27 marks a turning point in the fight to reveal secret funders of political campaigns. It starts to shed light on dark money in California and serves as an example for the entire nation," said a statement from Trent Lange, President of the California Clean Money Campaign. "We must strengthen disclosure laws even further, because voters deserve to know who's trying to influence their votes."

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, hugs Senator Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, as the Senates passes the California State budget plan. Photo taken Thursday Feb. 19, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer.

May 14, 2014
California plastic bag ban bill clears first committee


In its first test since a deal brought formerly opposed lawmakers on board, a bill banning single-use plastic bags in California passed the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday.

The Legislature has discarded the last few attempts to cut down on waste by banning single-use plastic bags. The most recent failure came last year on the Senate floor, where Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, was unable to muster enough votes as fellow Democrats balked.

Since then some of those Democrats have come around to support Padilla's new Senate Bill 270, encouraged by a deal offering $2 million to retrain displaced factory workers. Bag manufacturing plants are major employers in the districts of Sens. Kevin de León and Ricardo Lara, both of whom voted against last year's measure but are co-authors of the latest iteration.

"It is my strong belief that we can find a way to balance the health of our planet with the preservation of peoples' livelihoods," de León testified, adding that the bill "moves the economy forward into a green future."

Representatives of major corporations like RiteAid and Target lined up to voice support for the legislation. The California Grocers Association also backed the bill, saying a single statewide standard is preferable to a bewildering garden of different municipal ordinances. There are currently over 100. Padilla pointed to that proliferation as a sign the policy's time has come.

"Opponents of the bill have tried for years, successfully here in the Legislature, to block this bill, to block this proposal," Padilla said. "But what we have seen at a local level is success in advancing this concept."

The plastic bag industry has assailed the legislation and launched a campaign to kill it. A new industry-funded television ad airing starting today depicts the bill as a giveaway to grocers, who will pocket the ten cents consumers would need to pay for paper or reusable plastic bags.

"We see this revenue as serving no public purpose but going to the shareholders of these companies offering bags," said Paul Bauer, a Mercury Public Affairs lobbyist representing the American Progressive Bag Alliance.

Similar criticisms came from the paper bag industry. Kathy Lynch, a lobbyist for the American Forest and Paper Association, called the ten-cent minimum fee "excessive."

"The formula's been the same: Ban plastic, tax paper and leave the money at the retail level," Lynch said.

SB 270 heads next to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

PHOTO: Two clerks fill plastic bags with groceries at the Safeway store in midtown Sacramento on Monday, June 11, 2007. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.

May 14, 2014
Legislature may give tax relief for underwater mortgages


The Legislature may be breaking up a political logjam over tax relief for beleaguered homeowners who receive writeoffs from lenders for their underwater mortgages.

On Wednesday, the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, by a 5-0 vote, approved a newly amended bill, Assembly Bill 1393, to grant a retroactive income tax exemption for the 2013 tax year for home mortgage debt that is written off by lenders.

If the measure, by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, is signed into law, however, homeowners who were hit with state income tax levies on the writeoffs will have to file amended returns to gain the relief.

Moreover, the relief in Perea's bill is less generous than the exemption allowed under federal income tax law. There is an upper limit on the amount of the writeoff that can be exempted from taxes and it doesn't apply to mortgage debt that was incurred for non-housing reasons, such as the purchase of a car on a line of credit.

Complicating the matter further, some homeowners who saw the their mortgages written down by lenders did not report the reductions as income because of an Internal Revenue Service letter to California Sen. Barbara Boxer that concluded that it didn't have to be reported.

Last year, the Senate passed a bill granting tax relief for 2013, extending a previous measure that applied to 2012, but not before Senate leaders inserted an amendment that made its enactment contingent on approval of another bill dealing with low-income housing.

The maneuver was aimed at forcing the California Association of Realtors, which backed the tax relief measure but opposed the other bill, to change its position. The Realtors refused to budge and the stalemate left both measures hanging in the Assembly when the session ended.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Henry T. Perea D-Fresno, right, talks with Senator Lou Correa D-Santa Ana, left, as they prepare to talk at a water rally on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

May 14, 2014
Condoleezza Rice throws support behind Neel Kashkari

kashkaridam.jpgFormer U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has endorsed Neel Kashkari in California's gubernatorial race, the Kashkari campaign announced Wednesday.

The endorsement in the latest of series of high-profile endorsements for Kashkari, a moderate Republican who trails tea party favorite Tim Donnelly badly in public opinion polls. Former California Gov. Pete Wilson, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have all endorsed Kashkari.

Rice is beloved by California Republicans, many of whom have hoped for years that she would run for governor. Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official, has said he would not have entered the race if she were running.

Rice spoke at the California Republican Party convention outside San Francisco in March, urging delegates "to rebuild this party, to rebuild our nation, and to rebuild our world."

Rice, a professor at Stanford University, has repeatedly said she is not interested in running for elected office.

In the endorsement release from the campaign, she said Kashkari's "focus on uniting Californians around fiscally conservative economic principles is the right message to help us grow the Republican Party in California and across the nation."

PHOTO: Republican Neel Kashkari speaks with reporters at Oroville Dam on March 28, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

May 14, 2014
Campaign spending surges as unions weigh in for Torlakson, Pérez

Independent expenditures in California statewide and legislative races have more than doubled in the past week, with reported spending by dentists, teachers and dozens of other groups exceeding $11.4 million as of Tuesday evening. The total stood at about $5.5 million a week ago.

Click here for a searchable list of independent expenditures.

Almost half of the increase reflects a $2.7 million infusion into the race for state superintendent of public instruction by the California Teachers Association. With three weeks until the June 3 primary, a CTA committee supporting incumbent Tom Torlakson reported Tuesday spending $1.36 million on radio ads to support Torlakson and $1.36 million on ads opposing his main rival, Marshall Tuck.

In other statewide contests, the largest union representing state workers, SEIU Local 1000, reported spending $50,000 on radio ads to help former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez in his race for state controller.

And in legislative contests, the primary fight in the Sacramento-area 6th Senate District exceeds $479,000 in independent spending. All of the money is either in support of Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, or opposing his Democratic rival, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento. The district is one of seven where reported independent spending tops $400,000, including almost $2.8 million in the Bay Area's 16th Assembly District.

Independent spending on Pan's behalf is coming mostly from unions — the California Faculty Association and the California State Council Of Service Employees — and a group that includes doctors, dentists and Realtors.

The charts show the contests with the most independent expenditure activity as of Tuesday evening and the main sources of the money (hover over the charts for more information).

Type the name of a candidate, committee or contest into the filter box to find all reported independent expenditures.

PHOTO: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, urges legislators to support the tax extension proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown. on March 14, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

May 14, 2014
Kevin Johnson endorses Marshall Tuck for state schools chief

SteinbergJohnson2.JPGSacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who has spearheaded a series of education reform initiatives during his two terms in office, waded into the state superintendent of public instruction race Tuesday, backing upstart challenger Marshall Tuck.

Tuck, a former charter schools executive from Los Angeles and a political rookie, faces incumbent Tom Torlakson and Long Beach teacher Lydia Gutierrez for the nonpartisan post. He is running on a plan to jump start California's perennially low-ranking schools with proposals such as greater curriculum flexibility for local districts, a longer teacher tenure process and an increased role for parents in Sacramento's education policy-making.

"As Mayor, I know firsthand how important local control and parent involvement are for our schools," Johnson said in a statement. "Marshall has demonstrated through both his work opening new charter schools and turning around failing schools in some of LA's toughest neighborhoods that he has the vision and experience needed to bring major change to California public schools."

Tuck most recently served for six years as head of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit that took over 17 of the city's lowest-performing campuses beginning in 2008. The Partnership was a signature program of former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who endorsed Tuck last month.

Several of Tuck's proposals, particularly using student test scores in teacher evaluations and eliminating seniority-based layoffs, are strongly opposed by teachers but touted by education reformers like Johnson and his wife Michelle Rhee, a former chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools who now runs advocacy group StudentsFirst.

PHOTO: Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson clasps hands with California Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg in April following the announcement that the NBA would not allow the Kings to move to Seattle. The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer

May 14, 2014
AM Alert: UC regents, student protesters meet in Sacramento

UC_regents_meeting.JPGThe University of California regents make their annual trek to Sacramento for a two-day board meeting, starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Sacramento Convention Center. The event coincides with an advocacy day at the Capitol in which the regents and students will be lobbying for greater funding for the UC system.

On the agenda is the issue of community college transfers to UC campuses. As Gov. Jerry Brown has pushed the state's public universities to cut down on time to degree for students, UC has lagged behind on transfer initiatives compared to California State University, which has partnered with the California Community Colleges to implement an associate degree for transfer.

Outside the meeting, students will be staging a protest against UC's investment in fossil fuels, beginning at 8 a.m. Last week, Stanford University made international headlines by announcing that it would be divesting from its coal stocks, and the students are calling upon the UC regents to follow suit.

VIDEO: Gov. Brown engaged in some budget trash talk during his May Revision announcement, Dan Walters says.

PLASTIC BAG BAN: A controversial proposal to ban disposable plastic bags in California gets its first hearing today in the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, 11 a.m. in Room 447 of the Capitol. The legislation, which has drawn major opposition from plastic bag manufacturers, is one of Capitol Alert's Bills to Watch.

SEAWORLD IN SACTOWN: Last month, representatives from SeaWorld made their way up to Sacramento to oppose the groundswell of support for the "Blackfish bill," which would have banned the San Diego theme park's signature orca shows. With that legislation now dead for the year, SeaWorld makes a happier return to the Capitol for its annual advocacy day. The park will celebrate 50 years with an animal show, including penguins, lemurs, peregrine falcons and a kangaroo, on the north steps of the Capitol at 10 a.m.

FUN WITH SCIENCE: State Scientist Day brings scores of students between third and sixth grade to the west steps of the Capitol at 10 a.m. for hands-on exhibits including a mobile vet lab, live insects and an earthquake machine. Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, who will be honored by the California Association of Professional Scientists, participates in a "mad science experiment" at 10:30 a.m.

RAINY-DAY FUND: Gov. Brown finally got the rainy-day fund he's been wanting last week when he announced a deal with legislative leaders that could put a measure before voters on the November ballot. First, though, the bill has got to make it through both houses of the Legislature with two-thirds votes. It begins its journey in the Senate Budget Committee at 3:30 p.m. in Room 4203 of the Capitol.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to state Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Irvine, who turns 52 today.

PHOTO: Janet Napolitano speaks at a University of California Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco after being elected president of the UC system on July 18, 2013. The Associated Press/Eric Risberg

May 14, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Jerry Brown engages in budget trash talk

capital_gains.JPGGov. Jerry Brown took some oblique shots at his predecessors in his May Revision announcement, 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: Gov. Jerry Brown holds up poster boards with graphic information regarding revisions to his budget during a press conference at the state Capitol on May 13, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench


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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