Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

April 2, 2014
Website allows tracking of Prop. 30 money to schools

PROP30.JPGProposition 30, enacted by voters in 2012 to temporarily raise sales taxes and income taxes on the wealthy, was touted by Gov. Jerry Brown and other proponents as an alternative to making billions of dollars in cuts to state school spending due to state budget deficits.

Since its enactment, state Controller John Chiang reported Wednesday, Proposition 30 has pumped about $13 billion into local school district coffers. Chiang unveiled a new website, entitled Track Prop. 30, that allows users to plug in their local school districts and see their total budgets and the portions being financed through Prop. 30.

As large as the $13 billion may be, it's still a relatively small portion of K-12 and community college finances, which approach $70 billion a year from all sources. The website reveals, for instance, that during the 2012-13 fiscal year, the latest for which complete data are available, Los Angeles Unified, the state's largest district, had $5.7 billion in revenues from all sources, but Proposition 30 provided just $659.4 million or 12 percent.

Proposition 30, which raised sales taxes fractionally and imposed surtaxes on high-income taxpayers, generates about $6 billion a year and by long-standing constitutional law, a large chunk of the revenue stream must go to schools.

The tax hikes will begin expiring in 2017-18, however, and whether - and how - their revenues to schools will be replaced is still uncertain. Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, has called for making the tax increases permanent, but that would take another ballot measure or two-thirds votes in both houses of the Legislature, plus Brown's signature.

PHOTO: Students, dignitaries and supporters cheer on Gov. Jerry Brown who holds up a campaign sign and encourages students to vote yes for Proposition 30 at Sacramento City College. Thursday, October 18, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

March 24, 2014
Big California ballot battle looms over malpractice limit

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Consumer Watchdog submitted more than 800,000 signatures Monday for a ballot measure that would modify the state's $250,000 cap on pain and suffering injuries in medical malpractice cases, touching off what promises to be a fierce battle with medical providers and their insurers.

The cap (known as MICRA) was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1975, during the first year of his first governorship, and has been the subject of political maneuvering ever since between the medical industry and Consumer Attorneys of California, whose members file and pursue personal injury cases.

Most recently, with signatures being collected for the measure, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has been trying to work out a legislative compromise on the long-burning issue, but that effort apparently failed. And once the 830,000 signatures were submitted, the measure, if qualified, could not be removed from the November ballot.

"My suggested compromise was to raise the MICRA cap on damages due to medical malpractice from $250,000 to $500,000," Steinberg said in a statement. "A cap of $500,000 is far below the rate of inflation since MICRA became law 39 years ago. That number is a reasonable compromise that fairly compensates injured patients without significant increases in medical costs.

"If one side says no, it's a terrible missed opportunity. An initiative battle is costly and uncertain, and will damage the reputation of two fine professions. This issue cries out for a legislative solution, and what I'm offering is a conservative increase that's fair to injured patients as well as the medical and legal communities."

Consumer Watchdog, a Southern California organization that has long been allied with the trial lawyers, submitted the petitions in Los Angeles and staged a news conference at which families of malpractice victims decried the limit. One was Robert Pack, a Bay Area businessman whose two children were run over and killed by a driver who had been overprescribed with drugs by doctors.

Pack, who is the out-front spokesman for the measure, said not only should the cap be lifted as a deterrent to malpractice but the proposal's other provisions, requiring drug testing of doctors and compelling them to check a registry of drug addicts to curb over-prescription of drugs, are needed to stop what was called a "patient safety crisis."

The medical and insurance industries have been gearing up to oppose the Consumer Watchdog-Pack measure and say they are ready to spend more than $30 million on a campaign against it. They contend that the cap has held down malpractice insurance rates, which also hold down medical costs, and that the drug-testing provisions of the measure are unneeded and mask a measure that would put more money in the pockets of lawyers.

Update: Amended at 11:50 to include Steinberg statement.

PHOTO: A West Sacramento billboard highlights the looming ballot fight to overturn the state law capping pain-and-suffering damages in medical negligence cases. Photo courtesy of Consumer Watchdog.

January 28, 2014
Backers put brakes on proposed California car-tax hike

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Proponents of a proposed ballot measure to more than double the vehicle-license fee to pay for road improvements have decided to drop efforts to put it on the November ballot.

The "California Road Repairs Act of 2014" would have phased in a 1 percent hike in the license fee -- the equivalent of property tax on a home -- to raise from $3 billion to $4 billion annually. The fee has been .65 percent of a vehicle's market value since the late 1990s, with a temporary increase to 1.15 percent from May 2009 through June 2011.

But Monday, Will Kempton, the executive director of Transportation California, said his group and the California Alliance for Jobs "have decided to put our initiative on hold."

"We'll continue to work with stakeholders, the Legislature, the administration and the public to identify and implement a solution to our transportation infrastructure problems," Kempton, a former Caltrans director, said in an e-mail.

The measure had been cleared earlier this month to begin collecting signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Kempton and other supporters point to a huge backlog of road improvement projects in California, with little new money to pay for them. Yet supporters also were well aware of the difficulty in getting the public to back an increase in the license fee, which has a prominent place in the mindset of the state's car-centric culture.

Past increases have not been popular. In mid-2003, then-Gov. Gray Davis raised the fee to 2 percent, what it had been before lawmakers began reducing it in the late 1990s. The increase contributed to his defeat in the recall election that October and the victory of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

PHOTO: Will Kempton, the then-director of the California Department of Transportation, testifies before the Assembly Transportation Committee in 2005. The Sacramento Bee/John Decker

December 17, 2013
Michelle Rhee's consultant introduces California ballot measure

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A ballot measure submitted by a political consultant for education advocate Michelle Rhee seeks to remove seniority as a factor when California school districts lay off teachers, requiring that they instead base decisions on performance ratings. Performance, under the proposal, would be determined in part based on student test scores.

Those policy proposals have been at the core of Rhee's advocacy efforts as head of StudentsFirst, a national group headquartered in Sacramento. Rhee, who is married to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, has said she established the group to try to counter the influence that teachers unions have in decisions about public education. Unions generally reject the idea that teachers should be rated based on their students' test scores, and prefer contracts that call for the most recently hired teachers to be the first let go during layoffs.

The California ballot initiative was submitted Monday by Matt David, a political consultant to StudentsFirst. David was communications director to Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and worked on the presidential campaigns of Republican Senator John McCain and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr.

David said he submitted the measure on his own behalf and that StudentsFirst has not yet endorsed it.

"I would hope to get their support on this, assuming the language isn't changed (by the attorney general)," David said. "But they haven't taken a position yet and I've advised other groups not to take a position until we get the language finalized."

StudentsFirst spokesman Francisco Castillo said the group has been in talks about advancing a ballot measure in California next year, but hasn't yet decided if this will be it.

"We're currently reviewing the language for this one, and we generally support the concepts behind it, but it's premature to say whether we will take a position on it right now," Castillo said.

The proposed initiative for California's 2014 ballot must receive a title and summary from the Attorney General's Office before proponents can begin gathering signatures from the public to qualify for the ballot.

The measure also would streamline the firing procedures for teachers convicted of sex crimes, setting up a possible conflict with another ballot measure recently proposed by an advocacy group called EdVoice, which generally shares StudentsFirst's anti-union approach to education.

StudentsFirst has been active in several states but has made little headway so far in California, where public employee unions hold big clout in the state Capitol. The organization recently hired labor lobbyist Jovan Agee, who previously represented the AFSCME union, to head up its California operation.

Students First pushed for a bill to add student test scores to teachers' performance evaluations earlier this year, but Senate Bill 441 died in its first committee.

The bill was carried by Sen. Ron Calderon, the Montebello Democrat whose office was raided this summer by the FBI. A sealed FBI affidavit made public by Al Jazeera America alleges Calderon accepted $88,000 in bribes from a hospital executive and an undercover agent posing as a movie studio owner.

In 2012, StudentsFirst pitched a bill in California that sought to remove seniority as a factor in teacher layoff procedures, instead basing layoffs largely on job performance, according to a confidential draft The Bee obtained last year. The bill also would have changed the teacher evaluation system so that at least half the ratings were based on student test scores.

Calderon's brother, Charles Calderon, who was an assemblyman at the time, said he was interested in introducing the bill, but ran out of time during the 2012 session.

StudentsFirst poured more than $1 million into legislative races in 2012, including support for Ian Calderon — the son of Charles Calderon and nephew of Ron Calderon — as well as Assembly candidates Cheryl Brown and Brian Johnson. All are Democrats who faced opponents backed by the California Teachers Association.

Ian Calderon and Brown won their races and now serve in the state Assembly.

Michelle Rhee at Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson's State of the City address in January 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Bryan Patrick

October 30, 2013
Hannah-Beth Jackson, advocates tout car sale ballot push

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Add buying a car to the growing list of consumer transactions California voters could be asked to regulate during the 2014 election.

In a Wednesday morning conference call, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and the president of proponent Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety announce the filing of a proposed ballot measure that would impose new restrictions on automotive sales.

Car sale safety has already been a focus for Jackson, who last session authored a stalled bill that would bar dealers from selling or leasing cars that have been targeted by safety recalls unless they've repaired the cars.

"We should be able to rely on these vehicles as being safe, particularly when they're purchased from a car dealer," Jackson said during Wednesday's call.

The proposed ballot initiative includes similar provisions on selling calls under safety recalls. It would also tighten the rules around car purchases, prohibiting dealers from charging markups on loans and from altering contracts after a sale has been made, and eliminate the New Motor Vehicle Board's ability to overrule California Department of Motor Vehicle decisions disciplining dealers for consumer fraud.

"We need the DMV to be the cop on the beat for us," Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, said on Wednesday.

Protections against identity theft also play a role, including language prohibiting dealerships from hiring employees with past convictions for identity theft or forgery.

"The auto dealers hold the keys to the kingdom when it comes to identity theft" given their access to rich troves of personal data, Beth Givens of the San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse said on the conference call.

Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety spent just over $65,000 on lobbying during the 2013 legislative session, according to filings with the California Secretary of State. Shahan said the organization has so far funded the polling and legal work surrounding the proposed initiative but is still recruiting potential funders for a signature-gathering campaign. Voicing support during the conference call was Boysen Anderson of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

PHOTO: New Honda automobiles are displayed at Mel Rapton Honda on December 10, 2012 in Sacramento, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.



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Capitol Alert Staff


Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. achance@sacbee.com. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee. smith@sacbee.com. Twitter: @DanielSnowSmith

Jim Miller Jim Miller covers California policy and politics and edits Capitol Alert. jmiller@sacbee.com. Twitter: @jimmiller2

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. dsiders@sacbee.com. Twitter: @davidsiders

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. ccadelago@sacbee.com. Twitter: @ccadelago

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. lrosenhall@sacbee.com. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. jwhite@sacbee.com. Twitter: @capitolalert

Koseff Alexei Koseff edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. akoseff@sacbee.com. Twitter: @akoseff

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. dwalters@sacbee.com. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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