Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

June 20, 2014
Sacramento group issues debate invitation to Jerry Brown, Neel Kashkari

BrownWhitman.JPGDebate season has arrived in the California governor's race, at least the initial courtship.

A Sacramento-based consortium, including The Sacramento Bee, on Friday invited Gov. Jerry Brown and his Republican opponent, Neel Kashkari, to debate this fall.

Besides The Bee, the sponsoring group includes KCRA, Capital Public Radio and California State University, Sacramento. The same media partners sponsored a debate between Brown, a Democrat, and Republican Meg Whitman in 2010 that drew an estimated two million viewers statewide. This year's debate would be held at Sacramento State's 330-seat Capistrano Hall.

Kashkari has called for a series of 10 debates, and accepted an early invitation from a television station in San Diego. On Friday, he accepted the invitation from the Sacramento group.

"As Neel said last week and Gov. Brown said four years ago, it is critical for voters to hear directly from both candidates about their plans to address the big challenges facing our state, including how they intend to create good jobs and improve our schools," Pat Melton, Kashkari's campaign manager, said in an email.

Brown, with sizeable advantages in fundraising and public opinion polls, has not said whether he will debate Kashkari. "We look forward to taking a look at it," campaign spokesman Dan Newman said Friday after receiving the invitation.

PHOTO: Jerry Brown shakes hands with Meg Whitman at the start of the California gubernatorial debate at UC Davis' Mondavi Center on Sept. 29, 2010 in Davis. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

June 20, 2014
Pay panel gives California officials 2 percent raise

Payraise.jpgGov. Jerry Brown, California lawmakers and other elected officials will be getting a two percent raise this year.

Pointing to California's firmer fiscal footing, a panel that sets salaries for elected officials on Friday voted 4-1 to enact a pay boost. The raise will add $1,906 to lawmakers' annual $95,291 salary, giving them a yearly pay of $97,197. The raise for Gov. Jerry Brown, who makes $173,987, will be $3,480, taking him to $177,467 a year. The raises take effect Dec. 1

Years of yawning budget deficits have given way to a surplus, allowing California to pass an on-time budget this year with minimal friction. Those sunnier circumstances framed the debate among members of the California Citizens Compensation Commission.

"It would be hard to argue, I believe, that the state is not better off financially today than it was a few years ago," said commissioner Scott Somers. "If they get tarred when times are tough," he added in reference to elected officials, "they ought to at least get some credit when things are improving."

California lawmakers are the best-compensated of any state legislators. They lead the field even though their pay was cut twice during the recession, reductions that the pay commission partially reversed last year with a five percent boost. The next-largest paychecks go to legislators in Pennsylvania, who made $83,801 in 2013.

Despite earning more than their counterparts in other states, Sacramento lawmakers earn less than city and county officials in California. Members of the Los Angeles and San Francisco city councils both draw larger paychecks than state legislators, as do county supervisors in 16 separate counties.

"I think that where (members of the Legislature) are compensated is low based on all the indices that staff provided us," commissioner Nancy Miller said.

Complicating comparisons to other states and cities is the fact that California lawmakers cannot draw pensions, a prohibition voters enacted along with term limits back in 1990.

"It is very difficult to compare apples to apples for our Assembly members and senators," Somers said.

State lawmakers in New York and Ohio, for instance - both states that, like California, have full-time legislatures - receive retirement benefits, although their base salaries are lower. Lawmakers in Texas, where the part-time Legislature meets every other year, earn $7,200 in salary but are eligible for retirement money.

The sole dissenting vote came from commissioner Anthony Barkett, who repeatedly expressed reservations about acting so soon after the state has climbed out of a devastating recession. He urged members to first consider the broader question of whether the pre-recession base pay rates are appropriate.

"We raised taxes - that's why we have the money to do we've done," Barkett said, referencing the temporary tax hike enacted via Proposition 30. "We just got through a huge recession and I need a little time to make sure the economy's real."

PHOTO: Scott Somers, left, and Nancy Miller are among the members of The California Citizens Compensation Commission who voted for a 2 percent pay raise for state elected officials, Friday, June 20, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling.

June 20, 2014
Jerry Brown signs $156.3 billion state budget

brownjanbudget.jpgGov. Jerry Brown signed the state budget Friday, one of the earliest signings in recent history, his office announced.

The Democratic governor announced a relatively small number of line item vetoes to the $156.3 billion spending plan, many of which his office described as technical. The total value of the appropriations Brown eliminated or reduced was expected to be minimal.

"This on-time budget provides for today and saves for the future," Brown, who traveled to San Diego to sign the budget document, said in a prepared statement. "We're paying off the state's credit card, saving for the next rainy day and fixing the broken teachers' retirement system."

The budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 is a compromise plan between Brown and Democratic lawmakers. It includes an expansion of child care and preschool for poor children and more money for high-speed rail, Medi-Cal and welfare-to-work. It also puts about $1.6 billion into a special rainy-day account.

For Brown, the budget represents a dramatic improvement from four years ago, when the state faced a deficit of more than $26 billion. The budget he signed that year, the first of his third term, reduced higher education and social services spending. In 2012 he signed a budget that relied on additional cuts and a multibillion-dollar tax increase.

With the economy improving and the passage of that tax measure, however, Brown's last two budget negotiations have proved relatively frictionless. Except for in 2009, when lawmakers enacted a budget in February that fell out of balance and had to be re-opened in May, the budget Brown signed Friday was the earliest on record going back nearly 30 years.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at a news conference at the California state Capitol in Sacramento on Jan. 10, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.

June 20, 2014
AM Alert: Jerry Brown signs budget in San Diego

budgetsign.jpgFive days after the Legislature eked out a budget deal just hours before its deadline, Gov. Jerry Brown will sign the spending plan this morning in San Diego.

An unexpected choice, perhaps, but it's the home of new Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, who will join Brown for the signing, 9:45 a.m. at the San Diego City Administration Building. State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, who all served on the Budget Conference Committee, will also be there.

This is the earliest a budget deal has been signed since at least 1977, reflecting the relatively peaceful nature of this year's process and illustrating how far things have come since just four years ago, when a partisan standoff amid the depths of the economic recession extended budget season until October.

The only questions that remain: What line items will Brown veto from the budget? And will he sign the 18 trailer bills, the implementing language of the spending, as well?

After the signing, Brown will head up to Los Angeles for a community celebration hosted by Sens. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, and the California Latino Legislative Caucus. The event, noon at the Pico House, recognizes Brown's support of legislation helping immigrants and workers, including a landmark bill allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.

VIDEO: The quirks of the top-two primary system have elevated Republicans in at least one Democratic-leaning district, Dan Walters says.

ON THE RADIO: In other gubernatorial news, Brown's Republican challenger, Neel Kashkari, will spend the afternoon as guest host on the popular conservative talk radio program The John and Ken Show. Kashkari will interview Republican politicians from across the state, including Ron Nehring, the candidate for lieutenant governor, as well as one Democrat: state superintendent of public instruction challenger Marshall Tuck. The show airs from 3 p.m.-7 p.m. on KFI 640 AM.

MAD MONEY: Do lawmakers deserve a pay raise after delivering an on-time budget? The California Citizens Compensation Commission will decide when it meets at 1 p.m. at Sacramento City Hall. With the state's financial outlook improving, the commission seemed open to raising salaries when it last met in March. California's legislators are the highest-paid in the nation, though their compensation remains below pre-recession levels. Last year, the commission approved a a five-percent boost to $95,291 annually, plus per diem.

MARCH FOR DEMOCRACY: A dozen activists with the group 99Rise have marched from Los Angeles to Sacramento over the past month to protest the "corrupting influence of big money in politics." They will arrive at the Capitol on Sunday at 2 p.m., where they will be joined by supporters, including Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, activist Dolores Huerta and recent Secretary of State candidate Derek Cressman, for a rally urging the Legislature to take action. The group also plans to stage a sit-in at the Capitol until lawmakers meet their demands, starting with the passage of several bills that would address the role of money in politics, such as SB 52, which would require political advertisements to display their largest funders.

LET IT GO: Members of the California Innocence Project, a program at the California Western School of Law aimed at overturning wrongful convictions, march from Raley Field to the west steps of the Capitol at noon asking Brown to grant clemency to 12 inmates across the state. Several past exonerees, including former NFL player Brian Banks, will also be in attendance.

GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY: Fresh off his unsuccessful bid for Secretary of State, Dan Schnur will join former state Sen. Sam Blakeslee at the Capitol to introduce a new tool designed to create searchable transcripts of legislative hearings using voice-to-text technology. The public are invited to test the online platform, created by the Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, 10:30 a.m. in Room 113 of the Capitol.

MOVIN' ON UP: Congratulations to Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, who will be promoted to the rank of Commander in the United States Navy Reserve during a noon ceremony at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme. Gorell joined the Navy Reserve in 1999 after completing law school and has served two tours of duty in Afghanistan, including from March 2011 until April 2012, during his first term in the Legislature.

CELEBRATIONS: It's a busy birthday weekend! Best wishes to Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, who is 63 today. An early happy birthday to a trio of Sunday celebrants: Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, turns 61, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, will be 54, and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is 81.


Lawmakers approve California budget with midnight deadline looming

California immigrant driver's licenses bring many questions

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown holds up a copy of the signed state budget at the Capitol on June 27, 2013, in Sacramento as Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, D-Los Angeles, left, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, center, and Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, right, celebrate in the background. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling

June 20, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Top-two primary brings political anomalies

voter.JPGThe quirks of the top-two primary system have elevated Republicans in at least one Democratic-leaning district, 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: Charles Rich, 61, of West Sacramento votes in a room at fire station #45 on Tuesday, June 3, 2014 in West Sacramento. 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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