Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

May 20, 2014
Grover Norquist calls John Burton's Reagan support 'childish'

Perry_Norquist.JPGAnti-tax activist Grover Norquist's plan to name 3,000 items after former President Ronald Reagan - including a mountain overlooking Las Vegas - drew a tongue-in-cheek endorsement from California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton.

Burton, a former state legislator, said in the open letter Monday that he remembers "fondly" when then-Gov. Reagan signed the largest tax increase in more than a century and approved a bill that "liberalized abortion," the Therapeutic Abortion Act.

"I think it's wonderful that you're willing to honor somebody who has such a liberal progressive record," Burton wrote to Norquist.

The president of Americans for Tax Reform wasn't amused, calling the letter "childish" and pointing to Reagan's role in ending the Cold War.

"How does he look Polish Americans in the eye and say that the legacy of Ronald Reagan was a tax increase in California or a vote on therapeutic abortions in California?" Norquist said.

In an interview with The Bee, he compared Burton's argument to "attacking Eisenhower for something he did when he was 40 and missing the Second World War."

He said Republicans were far more accepting of naming things after John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and suggested Democrats should be more open.

"It's a petty partisan jab at naming things after the greatest Californian in American history and one of the greatest presidents we've had who turned the economy around from a failure created by a House, Senate and president all from Mr. Burton's party," Norquist said.

This isn't the first time the two have sparred, with one notable exchange centering on Gov. Jerry Brown's successful push to raise taxes. Norquist said golf and cocaine would be "more constructive" ways to spend time than negotiating with Democrats.

"I have always considered golf a good walk spoiled," Burton responded. "As a recovering cocaine addict, I am surprised that anyone would think that it is at all constructive to spend one's free time using that drug."

"One would think that Mr. Norquist made this comment with a straw in his hand bending over a mirror full of white (powder)."

Norquist at the time shot back at California Democrats for their attention to him.

"Focus on cutting the spending, guys," he said.

PHOTO: Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, right, talks with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, left, before a panel discussion at the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference in National Harbor, Md. The Associated Press/Susan Walsh

May 20, 2014
Matsui: With barrier to levees removed, 'now we're ready to go'

For Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, Tuesday was a good day.

The House of Representatives, on a vote of 412-4, approved legislation to move an array of Sacramento-area flood control projects forward, concluding Matsui's nearly four-year quest for the bill.

Matsui said the vote removes a barrier to the completion of the Natomas Levee Improvement Project, a relief to 100,000 of her constituents "who have been waiting a very long time."

"We had to figure out a way, and we figured out a way," she said after the vote.

Last week, the House and Senate came to a final agreement on the Water Resources, Reform and Development Act. Both chambers passed their own versions of the legislation overwhelmingly last year in a rare show of bipartisanship.

But the final bill was delayed by the differences between the two sides: The Senate, controlled by Democrats, wanted to give the executive branch more authority to select water infrastructure projects. The Republican-majority House wanted to maintain Congress' traditional role in project selection.

The difficulty stemmed from the House Republicans' ban on earmarks, or funds set aside by lawmakers for their states or districts. Fiscal conservatives complained that water infrastructure and transportation bills had become bloated with expensive pet projects.

Ultimately, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., the heads of the two committees charged with the legislation worked out the differences.

"I think they did that quite well," Matsui said, praising her colleagues.

Congress last approved a water infrastructure bill in 2007 at a cost of $23 billion. The House, then controlled by Democrats, overrode a veto from President George W. Bush.

The current bill would cost about $12 billion over 10 years.

After the Senate votes on the bill this week, it will go to President Barack Obama for his signature.

Matsui said she expected the Natomas project to begin very soon.

"Fortunately, we're beyond this, and now we're ready to go," she said.

Watch Matsui's floor speech on the bill:

May 20, 2014
Women's caucus seeks more money for early education, child care


State-supported child care and education topped the list of budget priorities the California Legislative Women's Caucus laid out on Tuesday.

The emphasis on more programs for California's youngest residents offered the latest evidence that early education will be a priority for Democrats, and potentially a key sticking point as they try to break through Gov. Jerry Brown's reluctance to aggressively spend a budget surplus.

"As our economy rebounds, we cannot leave women and families behind," said Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach. "The evidence is clear. Access to quality early childhood education contributes to children's well-being, brain development and school readiness."

Those remarks echoed Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, focusing on universal pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds. The Democratic leader has made clear he believes investing more in early education programs is a crucial tool to bridge school achievement gaps.

Members of the women's caucus said they back Steinberg's proposal. But a letter they circulated to legislative leadership and the governor took aim more specifically at a range of state-sponsored childcare and preschool programs to support low-income Californians who are working or seeking employment, many of them single mothers.

"We've had conversations about pre-school, about transitional kindergarten," said Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton. "But when we look at the family in the holistic model we know it's those investments from the time they're born."

Among the budget spending they are urging: $300 million to fund 40,000 new early care slots to reverse recession-fueled cutbacks, increased reimbursement rates for providers and broader access to state preschool programs.

PHOTO: Members of the California Legislative Women's Caucus discuss their budget priorities at the State Capitol on May 20, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Jeremy B. White.

May 20, 2014
Joe Krovoza laments spending, ads in Yolo-Napa Assembly district

Krovoza.JPGIn the 1992 vice presidential debate, Admiral James Stockdale famously said he felt like he was watching a ping pong match between "expert professional politicians" Al Gore and Dan Quayle.

That sentiment, albeit on a considerably reduced scale, sums up a letter from Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza denouncing the "volley of negative attack ads" against a pair of fellow Democrats running to replace termed out Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis.

"There are plenty of policy decisions about which I disagree with my opponents, but the topics of these recent attacks are baseless and dishonest," Krovoza wrote in an open letter Monday about the string of independently funded hit pieces.

One of the misleading ads criticizes Davis Councilman Dan Wolk for joining with his colleagues to hike water rates without community input. There was ample participation in the process, according to local press reports.

Meantime, an attack on Napa County Supervisor Bill Dodd rips the official for signing off on board member pay raises. The boosts were reportedly mandated by county ordinance.

The slew of outside spending for and against Wolk, the son of Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, and Dodd, a former Republican, has made the race for the Yolo and Napa County-centered district among the most expensive in the election cycle.

Much of the independent support for Wolk (nearly $150,000 through May 14) has come from labor unions while roughly $150,000 opposing him was from a group funded by insurance companies. Unions spent more than $125,000 hitting Dodd and supporters including realtors, dentists, insurance agents and energy companies spent $200,000.

"I do see a dire need for campaign finance reform," wrote Krovoza, the odd man out in the spending spree. "But in the meantime, the best we can do as voters is to be politically engaged and not be duped by the lies coming from special interests on both sides of the political spectrum."

PHOTO: Joe Krovoza in 2010. Sacramento Bee File Photo.

May 20, 2014
Fiscal analyst says Jerry Brown overstating Medi-Cal costs

Brown_signing_bills.JPGWhen Gov. Jerry Brown was asked last week about the reliability of his revenue estimates, which came in higher than he initially projected, Brown responded that while revenue may be out-performing his expectations, costs have come in higher than expected, too.

"Expenditures meet the revenues almost precisely," he said.

But according to the Legislature's nonpartisan fiscal analyst, Brown not only continues to underestimate revenue, but may be overestimating costs, as well. The estimate is significant because it potentially puts hundreds of millions of dollars on the table as Brown negotiates a final budget with legislative Democrats and advocacy groups lobbying for increased spending.

After estimating Friday that state general fund revenue through next June will be $2.5 billion higher than Brown predicted in his revised budget plan last week, the Legislative Analyst's Office over the weekend said costs in one of the budget's major spending areas, Medi-Cal, appear to be too high.

At issue is the estimated per-enrollee cost for people signing up for Medi-Cal, the state's version of Medicaid. Brown has cautioned that the state faces about $1.2 billion in unanticipated costs from expanding Medi-Cal in the push to implement the federal health care overhaul.

But the LAO said the administration's projected per-enrollee costs appear to be too cautious. It said the administration may be over-estimating the cost by about $300 million through June 2015.

On Monday, administration officials told an Assembly budget subcommittee that Brown's Medi-Cal estimates are based on enrollment data that was not available when the initial budget proposal was released in January. The LAO said it would review additional information from the administration to provide a more precise estimate.

The committee held the matter open.

Gary Passmore, with the Congress of California Seniors, told the committee, "The budget estimates for Medi-Cal right now are not rock solid numbers. There are still some things in play, and we would urge you to give the state and advocates as much time as possible."

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown signs bills in Sacramento on March 24, 2011 as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco look on. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

May 20, 2014
AM Alert: California water board considers drought cutbacks

MC_DELTA_file.JPGFor the first time since the 1977 drought, California water officials are considering widespread curtailment of longstanding water rights because of a scarcity of supply. Over the next few weeks, the state is expected to begin issuing orders to many water agencies, farmers and other property owners to stop diverting water from streams and rivers.

During its bimonthly meeting today, 9 a.m. at the Cal/EPA Building on I Street, the State Water Resources Control Board will vote on an emergency regulation to curtail diversions on three Sacramento River tributaries important for fish passage if minimum flows are not met.

The discussion will continue tomorrow at 9 a.m. with a public workshop about proposed emergency regulations for cutbacks on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta Watershed, which is the largest in the state. Water rights are currently based on seniority, and "junior" rights holders -- mostly those who acquired water rights after 1914 -- are the first to be affected by curtailment. But the board is considering exceptions for fish and wildlife protection, as well as for public health and safety, which would allow municipalities to continue drawing some water after a curtailment order is issued.

VIDEO: California's growing battle between teachers unions and education activists has raised the stakes in this year's race for state schools chief, Dan Walters says.

BUDGE IT As budget negotiations enter their final weeks, Democratic members of the California Legislative Women's Caucus call for a greater priority on programs assisting women, families and children, 9:30 a.m. in Room 317 of the Capitol.

TENURE TRACK: A lawsuit winding its way through the California courts right now is challenging the state's teacher tenure laws, claiming they deny students the constitutional right to a quality education. What would happen if the plaintiffs prove victorious? The UC Berkeley School of Law hosts a discussion exploring the potential ramifications of the case, 11:45 a.m. at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street.

VROOM VROOM: As part of its lobby day, the Association of Global Automakers will display its newest eco-friendly models, including electric cars and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, outside Chops on 11th Street starting at 11:30 a.m. The party begins inside at 5 p.m. for legislators and their staff.

ON A DIME: Volunteers from the baby health organization March of Dimes gather in Room 100 of the Legislative Office Building at 9 a.m. to kick off their legislative advocacy day, which will urge for restoration of funding to the Black Infant Health Program. The organization will honor state Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, and hear from Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank.

TICKET TO RIDE: Participants in the Climate Ride, a four-day bicycling tour to benefit sustainability, active transportation and environmental nonprofits, cross the finish line at 3:30 p.m. at the south steps of the Capitol, where they'll hear from Assembly members Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, and Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.

PHOTO: Aerial view of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta on Nov. 11, 2008. The islands separated by the Franks Tract in the foreground, San Joaquin river in the middle and the Sacramento River in the background. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

May 20, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Schools chief race reflects education policy battles

rally_tom_torlakson_resize.JPGCalifornia's growing battle between teachers unions and education activists has raised the stakes in this year's race for state superintendent of public instruction, 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: 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


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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