Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

June 25, 2014
California taxi drivers push regulations for UberX, Lyft

taxi.jpgOne week after drivers for UberX and Lyft gathered at the Capitol opposing efforts to regulate ride-sharing companies, taxi drivers offered a counter-argument Wednesday. A swarm of cabbies drove their taxis around the Capitol, honking their horns and carrying signs that read: "Let's All Play By The Same Rules!"

Many cab drivers oppose Assembly Bill 2293, a measure by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, contending that it doesn't go far enough to strengthen insurance requirements for ride-sharing companies.

Beth Powder, a San Francisco taxi driver who helped organize the rally, said ride-sharing companies should, like cabs, be required to have around-the-clock commercial insurance for their drivers.

"It's not enough," Powder said of Bonilla's bill. "We have to strike a balance. But thus far it's completely unbalanced with people operating willy-nilly without any oversight."

To build support for AB 2293, Bonilla organized a separate press conference that included the family of Sophia Liu, a 6-year-old who was killed by an Uber driver in a San Francisco crosswalk on New Year's Eve. Liu's mother urged lawmakers to pass insurance requirements for ride-sharing ventures, saying the "company needs to be responsible for the harm" they cause.

Debate over the legislation, which cleared the Senate Insurance Committee on Wednesday, centers on how much commercial insurance the ride-sharing companies should be responsible for when their drivers are looking for prospective passengers.

Another regulatory proposal had called for full-time commercial insurance until its author, Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Burbank, removed the language during a hearing last week.

PHOTO: A taxi driver carries a sign during a demonstration calling on legislators to regulate UberX, Lyft and other ride-sharing companies. Daniel Rothberg/Sacramento Bee

VIDEO: Daniel Rothberg/Sacramento Bee

June 25, 2014
Agreement on California business property tax bill blows up


It wasn't exactly a chorus of Kumbaya, but a few weeks ago, two lobbyists who have battled each other for decades over property tax policy sat together at a legislative hearing to praise a compromise bill.

Lenny Goldberg, who represents the California Tax Reform Association, praised the bill, which would alter the circumstances under which commercial property could be reassessed for tax purposes, as a "step forward."

"I get a little nervous sitting here with Rex Hime," Goldberg told the Assembly committee considering Assembly Bill 2372, referring to the president of the California Business Properties Association. "He and I have been at it for many, many years." Hime nodded in agreement.

However, when the bill, having passed the Assembly, reached the Senate Governance and Finance Committee on Wednesday, Goldberg pulled his support, saying in a letter to the measure's author, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, that it "does not provide real reform" and would allow business owners to escape reassessment with "slightly more sophisticated steps."

Under current law, adopted after Proposition 13 passed in 1978, business property is reassessed only when it changes ownership in one transaction. Goldberg and other critics have argued that it allows business deals to be structured in ways that avoid reassessment, mostly by never having more than 50 percent to be changed in any one transaction.

AB 2372, hammered out in weeks of private negotiations, says that property can be revalued for taxation when 90 percent changes ownership in a three-year period. It's backed by many business organizations as a way of staving off a long-threatened ballot measure that would create a complete "split roll" that treats business and residential property differently for tax purposes.

"We supported it as a means of opening up the discussion which we have always sought," Goldberg said in an email after Wednesday's hearing and committee approval, "but not as meaningful reform.

"Our concern is that, like many bills in the legislature, it projects the image of reform, allowing business to say, 'we closed the loopholes,' rather than the substance, since it in effect grandfathers in the thousands of properties which have changed ownership without reassessment."

Goldberg complained in his letter to Ammiano that his bill's change should apply retroactively to previous transactions that met its qualifications for reassessment. He also complained about amendments on the Assembly floor made after the hearing at which he appeared with Hime.

Goldberg's pullback drives a wedge between him and Ammiano, who has also been a long-standing champion of changing tax assessments on business property. Whether the split is fatal will depend on what happens when the bill hits the Senate Appropriations Committee and, perhaps, the Senate floor.

Were it to fail in those two venues, back in the Assembly or at Gov. Jerry Brown's hands, the long-pending issue might, indeed, find its way onto the ballot in a split roll initiative.

In a related action, the Assembly Revenue and Tax Committee rejected another business property tax bill, one aimed at making it easier to impose higher parcel taxes on commercial property.

The measure, Senate Bill 1021, would allow local school districts to impose higher parcel taxes on business than it did on residential property. Under current law, parcel taxes must be equal amounts on each parcel regardless of size or value.

SB 1021, carried by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, won Senate approval but faced stiff opposition from the California Chamber of Commerce, which labeled it a "job killer," and other business groups, leading to rejection in the Assembly committee.

Wolk introduced the bill after a court ruled a differential parcel tax imposed by one school district to be illegal.

PHOTO: Lenny Goldberg is the executive director of the California Tax Reform Association. Photo courtesy of Lenny Goldberg

June 25, 2014
Bill again boosting California minimum wage fails


With multiple Democrats not voting, a California Assembly panel on Wednesday rejected a bill that would raise the state's minimum wage beyond the boost agreed to in 2013.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, repeated the arguments that last year drove lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown to approve a bill boosting California's minimum wage to $10 a hour by 2016.

Leno's Senate Bill 935 would build on that, pushing the baseline to $13 an hour in 2017 and then allowing the wage to rise along with the cost of living thereafter.

"If we don't support this bill the outstanding question remains: What are we as the state of California going to do about paying poverty wages?" said Leno, who has called last year's legislation inadequate. "The phenomenon of income inequality and wealth inequality only continues to grow."

Business groups warned that Leno's bill could unhinge a faltering economic recovery and asked lawmakers to wait for last year's legislation to take effect. The hike included in 2013's Assembly Bill 10 kicks in on July 1, raising the minimum wage from $8 to $9.

"It is too much, too soon given that AB 10 is just going into effect next week, and we should allow that bill to implement," said Jennifer Barrera, a lobbyist for the California Chamber of Commerce.

That argument resonated with some Democrats on the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee. Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, the author of last year's minimum wage hike, said Leno's bill would mean reneging on agreements Alejo had made with business interests to not include a cost-of-living adjustment.

"The ink hasn't even dried on AB 10," Alejo said. "You've got to keep your word."

One vote separated the bill from passage. The final tally was 3-2 ( it needed four votes to move on), with Alejo and Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, not voting.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 4:19 p.m. to include the vote total and the fact that the bill was in the Assembly.

PHOTO: Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco during session in the Senate chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

June 25, 2014
Jerry Brown signs teacher dismissal bill

brownoaklandport.jpgGov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation accelerating the teacher firing process in California, his office announced Wednesday.

Brown's action follows a Los Angeles Superior Court ruling this month declaring California's teacher dismissal rules unconstitutional, though the legislation's proponents began working on the issue before the ruling.

Assembly Bill 215, by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, attempts to limit the length of teacher dismissal appeals and contains an accelerated dismissal process for teachers accused of egregious offenses such as molesting children.

Brown signed the bill without comment. The Democratic governor vetoed a similar bill last year, writing in a veto message that he shared a "desire to streamline the teacher discipline process," but that the bill was an imperfect solution.

In a closely-watched decision earlier this month, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled that the state's rules for teacher tenure and dismissal deprive students of their constitutional right to a quality education, finding "no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently in California classrooms."

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at an event in Oakland on Nov. 1, 2013. Associated Press/Marcio Jose Sanchez

June 25, 2014
Governor's bond plan seeks tunnel neutrality


Water bond politics look poised to dominate the remainder of California's legislative session, with Senate leadership and Gov. Jerry Brown billions of dollars apart on the size of a revised water bond for the November 2014 ballot.

But they agree on one thing: the bond can't be about the tunnels.

Earlier this week, the Senate failed to pass a $10.5 billion water bond to replace the $11.1 billion offering approved in 2009 but postponed twice.

In meetings with legislative leaders yesterday, Brown put out his preferences: a bond worth around $6 billion, with about $2 billion for storage (both lower than the leading legislative proposals).

A draft of Brown's blueprint obtained by The Bee also suggests $1.5 billion for water supply and water reliability, encompassing areas like safe drinking water and groundwater cleanup; $1.5 billion for watershed protection; $500 million for flood control; and $500 million for the Delta.

Those numbers likely represent only starting points for negotiations. The document also states a general rule shared by Senate leaders: the bond must be "Bay Delta Conservation Plan neutral."

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, made the case Monday that any bond perceived to advance the conservation plan is destined to fail. The BDCP requires money to bolster the Delta's ecosystem, and opponents of a proposed pair of Delta tunnels fear that a bond with Delta habitat money would therefore help lay the groundwork for the massive tunnels.

Ensuring that there is not a connection between a bond and the BDCP would be in the governor's interest, since it could help prevent a water bond vote from becoming a referendum on the tunnels he strongly supports. Developments in recent days, though, suggest that as the Legislature debates a water bond, the BDCP will hover in the background.

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, watches as the votes are posted for a measure he supported that would overhaul an $11.1 billion water bond on the November ballot, at the Capitol in Sacramento Calif., Monday, June 23, 2014. Associated Press Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

June 25, 2014
Moody's raises California's bond credit rating

California Budget_signing_2014_resized.JPG

Moody's Investors Service, one of the nation's largest credit rating organizations, upgraded its rating of California's $86 billion in general obligation debt Wednesday, citing the state's "rapidly improving financial position."

The upgrade from A1 to Aa3 came just a few days after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a 2014-15 state budget whose revenues and outgo are balanced and includes a "rainy-day fund" that will, if approved by voters in November, absorb some excess revenues.

Moody's also cited the state's progress in reducing unfunded pension liabilities and its improving economy in its upgrade, but cautioned that the state's revenue structure remains volatile.

The firm also raised its ratings of other state and local debts in its report.

PHOTO: Looking on behind are, from left, state Sen. Ben Hueso, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. Associated Press Photo/Gregory Bull

June 25, 2014
California OES releases crude oil train data, but requests more

One trainload of Bakken crude oil passed through Sacramento in the first two weeks of June, according to a report shared with the Bee by the California Office of Emergency Services.

But agency spokesman Kelly Huston told the Bee that it doesn't consider the information useful for emergency responders because it's old information about what's already come through, not what's expected.

"The whole point of this is to help local first responders better prepare for this increase in crude oil shipments," he said. "We encourage anything that's going to improve that, including better disclosures."

The agency decided to make the information public on Wednesday following several other states that released similar information, including Washington, Illinois, Florida and Virginia.

The U.S. Department of Transportation ordered railroads last month to begin sharing basic information about large crude oil shipments with state and local officials.

The order followed a series of derailments across North America where fire departments were not told about the shipments and never had an opportunity to account for them in their response plans. Plus, federal regulators concluded that Bakken crude, extracted from hydraulic fracturing of shale rock, might be more flammable than conventional oil.

For weeks, the rail industry insisted that the officials keep the information only to those who "need to know." The reports were marked "confidential," "restricted" and "security sensitive" and some states, including California, initially respected the industry's wish.

But other states, and ultimately the federal government, concluded that the information was none of those things.

BNSF Railway, the largest hauler of crude oil by rail, sent OES two documents, one dated June 6 and the other June 13. They show the number of Bakken crude oil trains of 1 million gallons or more that traversed counties in the state every week.

The June 6 letter showed no shipments, while the June 13 letter showed one. Matching the counties with the rail lines, the train entered Northern California in Modoc County and followed BNSF's "Inside Gateway" line to the Feather River Canyon, where the train picked up the Union Pacific line that follows the river, eventually toward Sacramento.

It traveled through Sacramento County on its way to Contra Costa County. There, BNSF serves a Kinder Morgan crude by rail terminal in Richmond, according to a map available on the railroad's website.

The California Energy Commission estimates that the state could receive a quarter of its petroleum supply by train in a few years, and that could mean five or six trains a day, rather than just one every two weeks.

Union Pacific plans to haul two 50-car trains of crude oil a day from Roseville to the Valero refinery in Benicia, if a crude by rail terminal there is approved. The trains would pass through Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this entry misidentified the Northern California county where the BNSF crude oil train entered the state. It is Modoc, not Butte.

June 25, 2014
AM Alert: Shots fly at Capitol during national championship

shot_put_ring.JPGSurely more than a few angry citizens, and maybe even the occasional frustrated legislator, have wanted to throw something heavy at the state Capitol over the years. Now 37 world-class athletes will have the chance.

The west lawn of the Capitol plays host to the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships' opening shot put event today, where competitors will hurl the eight- and 16-pound balls from a raised shot circle toward the dome.

No worries, they'll fall well short hitting it. The event's shorter throws, which top out at about 75 feet, allow the event to be held in confined spaces – like an annual meet in Zurich that stages shot put in the city's train station.

"You couldn't be throwing the discus at the Capitol," said Bob Burns of the Sacramento Sports Commission, which organized the championship. "That wouldn't go well."

The free event, which also features a beer tent and other vendors, begins at 10 a.m. with the women's qualifying round. The men's qualifier follows at 11:30 a.m., then the top twelve athletes will advance to the finals, at 4:30 p.m. for the women and 6:15 p.m. for the men.

State Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, a former shot putter at Fresno State, will kick off the festivities by putting the ceremonial first shot.

VIDEO: The controversial high-speed rail project presents an opening for Neel Kashkari in the governor's race, Dan Walters says.

JERRY IN CHARGE: Despite maneuvering a top-two finish in the June primary, Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari remains largely unknown to voters, according to the latest Field Poll. He could struggle to mount a serious challenge in the November runoff, even as Gov. Jerry Brown's popularity slips, David Siders reports. You can read more in his story.

Here are the statistical tabulations, prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert, as well as the publicly released results from the poll.

RUBBER SOUL: He got a ban on barehanded contact with ready-to-eat foods passed last year, but now he's had a change of heart. Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, makes a final push for a bill that would repeal the law, which effectively requires chefs to wear rubber gloves, 11:15 a.m. at Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co. on S Street. Pan is pushing the Senate to vote on the bill on Thursday, so that the governor could sign it before the ban takes full effect on July 1.

BIO-NIC GOVERNOR: After signing the budget there last Friday, Brown is headed back to San Diego to speak at the 2014 BIO International Convention, a conference for the biotechnology industry. He is scheduled to deliver his remarks at noon at the San Diego Convention Center – the same time as a keynote speech from former First Lady Hillary Clinton, which could present a hard choice for attendees.

FOR THE VETS: Lawmakers will honor veterans from their districts during the 7th annual Veterans of the Year luncheon, noon at the Sacramento Convention Center. Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and Assembly members Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, and Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside, are slated to speak at the event, which is sponsored by the Assembly.

PHOTO: Construction workers put the finishing touches on a concrete shot put ring on the west side of the state Capitol on June 19, 2014. The ring will be used on opening day of the USA Track and Field Championships. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

June 25, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Kashkari's chances may hinge on high-speed rail

kashkarisits.jpgRepublican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari is trailing in the polls, but the controversial high-speed rail project presents an opening, 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: Neel Kashkari speaks at an interview with The Associated Press in Sacramento on Dec. 4, 2013. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli


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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