Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

April 8, 2014
California fares poorly again in Pew report on election conduct

soswebsite.jpgCalifornia fares very poorly - once again - in a national analysis of states' administration of elections by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

With an average score of 54 percent on a series of performance indices, California ranked 49th among 50 states and the District of Columbia in the Pew report, which was released Tuesday.

The state's biggest downers in the Pew analysis were in high numbers of mail ballots not returned for counting and a voter-unfriendly website.

"California's overall score increased from 2008 to 2012 but at a rate below the national average," Pew said. "The state is one of six that were among the lowest performers in 2008, 2010 and 2012. It was one of only two states (with Vermont) that offered no voting information look-up tools on its state elections website in 2012."

"If someone went to the secretary of state's website in California, they can't find out where their polling place is, they can't find out what their voter registration status is," David Becker, Pew's director of election studies, said in a statement.

Although Secretary of State Debra Bowen touted her technology savvy when she sought the office eight years ago, her department's website has been prone to outages.

Shannan Velayas, a spokeswoman for Bowen, said the Pew report unfairly castigates California in several respects, such as its high level of unreturned mail ballots. She said while that may be true, "we have a safety net" of allowing mail ballot voters to cast provisional ballots in person. But Pew also criticizes the state for its high number of provisional ballots.

"A provisional ballot is not a bad thing," Velayas said, contending that the Pew analysis in effect hits the state twice for the same thing.

Editor's Note: Updated at 3:55 p.m. to add comments from Bowen's office.

PHOTO: A screenshot of the the California Secretary of State website.

April 8, 2014
California's tax collections jumped by $18.2 billion in 2013

PROP30.JPGCalifornia's tax revenues jumped by $18.2 billion in 2013, thanks to an improving economy and the impact of a temporary sales and income tax increase approved by voters, a new Census Bureau report shows.

All tax collections, including those for special purposes as well as the state general fund, increased from $115 billion in 2012 to $133.2 billion last year, with virtually of the increase generated by sales and income taxes. The general fund received about 75 percent of the taxes.

California's 15.6 percent increase was more than twice the 6.1 percent increase recorded by all states, the Census Bureau reported, Total state collections were $846.2 billion last year, with California's $133.2 billion being 15.7 percent of all state taxes, even though the state has just 12.2 percent of the nation's population.

The latter data bolster a new calculation by the Tax Foundation that Californians had the nation's fourth highest state and local tax burden in 2011, 11.4 percent of personal income.

Personal and corporate income taxes, the state's largest sources of revenue at $74.3 billion, jumped by $12 billion from 2012 while sales and other excise taxes, including fuel taxes, $48.1 billion last year, were up by nearly $7 billion. Personal income taxes alone totaled $66.8 billion while sales taxes alone were $33.9 billion.

In 2012, voters approved Proposition 30, which increased the state sales tax fractionally but sharply boosted income taxes on the state's most affluent families. It was estimated that those increases would add about $6 billion a year to the state's revenue stream but total revenues, including those from the tax hike, jumped by $18.2 billion, three times as much.

Editor's note: Calculation updated at 4:15 p.m.

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 in 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

April 7, 2014
California still holds 4th place in state-local tax burdens


Californians carried the nation's fourth highest state and local tax burden in 2011, the Tax Foundation says in a new report, largely because its personal incomes are markedly lower than those of other high-tax states.

The Washington-based Tax Foundation annually calculates state and local tax burdens as a percentage of personal incomes and California has traditionally been in the top tier. But the data are always several years old and 2011 was the last year before a temporary, voter-approved increase in sales and personal income taxes went into effect. Therefore, the 2012 rankings a year from now could push California higher.

For 2011, the Tax Foundation calculated that California's tax burden was 11.4 percent of its average per capita income of $45,354, or $5,136. New York was the highest at 12.6 percent, followed by New Jersey at 12.3 percent and Connecticut at 11.9 percent. Wyoming residents had the lowest tax burden, 6.9 percent, and the national average was 9.8 percent.

One reason for California's high rank was that while its per capita tax burden was, indeed, relatively high, its per capita personal income was only slightly above the national average of $42,473, while other high-tax states also had markedly higher incomes.

Connecticut had the highest per capita income at $60,287 while California's was 15th highest. Texas, with which California is often compared, had the nation's fourth lowest tax burden of 7.5 percent of personal income which, at $41,269 per capita, was 23rd highest.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have occupied the top three places for a number of years. California was fourth in 2010 and fifth in 2009.

The state's 2011 tax burden of 11.4 percent was slightly lower than 2010's percentage but has been fairly consistent for decades, ranging from a high of 12 percent in 1977 to a low of 10.4 percent in 2005.

In 2012, voters approved a fractional increase in the state sales tax and a sharp boost income taxes on the state's highest-income families, raising about $6 billion more a year temporarily to balance the state's budget.

With Californians' personal income totaling about $1.7 trillion a year and state and local taxes approximating $200 billion, that would add perhaps a third of a percentage point to the overall burden. And it means California could challenge Connecticut for third place — especially if a spate of recent local sales tax increases continues.

PHOTO: Yolanda Odell of Sacramento dances to get the attention of last minute tax filers on the corner of Truxel Road and W. El Camino Ave. for Liberty Tax Service in 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer

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
California highways a bit better, but may get worse


Pavement conditions on California's highways are among the worst in the nation, but the state transportation department says they've gotten a bit better in the last four years, thanks to spending $3.9 billion in state and federal funds.

About 16 percent of the state's 50,000 lane-miles of highway are considered to be in poor condition, but that's lower than in some recent years. The Federal Highway Administration has consistently placed California near the bottom in pavement conditions among the states, both for its highways and its local streets and roads.

However, the state Department of Transportation warns in a new report that the money is running out and the backlog of unmet maintenance needs is likely to grow.

"The 2013 Ten-Year Plan anticipates pavement needs to be $2.8 billion per year over the next decade, although only $685 million per year is available, i.e., only twenty-three cents of every dollar," the report warns. "Consequently, distressed lane miles could increase from 16 percent today to 34 percent in the next 10 years."

The report points out that California's highway system was largely built during a few decades after World War II, and therefore is aging rapidly as it's pounded by 35 million vehicles which pile up about 300 billion miles a year.

The surge in maintenance, reconstruction and replacement work in recent years was financed by a transportation bond issue and federal stimulus funds, both of which are running out.

Gov. Jerry Brown has said he doesn't believe that general obligation bonds should be used for roadwork and has diverted transportation revenues from gasoline taxes and other sources into repaying the bonds that were issued during predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger's governorship.

A coalition of transportation groups, pointing to the projection of unmet needs cited in the Caltrans report, has been searching for ways to increase revenues. Its initial proposal was for an increase in vehicle license fees, but that was abandoned. Other ideas have included raising gasoline taxes — although they are already the highest in the nation — or going to a mileage-based tax that would capture money from electric and hybrid vehicles.

PHOTO: Drivers navigate their vehicles through blowing sand east of Owen's lake on Highway 136 near Lone Pine, Calif. on Nov. 21, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

March 21, 2014
California's employment picture: Good news and bad news

jobless.JPGThe good news is that with a recent surge of employment, California has regained virtually all of the million-plus jobs it lost during what many call the Great Recession.

The Employment Development Department reported Friday that California's unemployment rate, which hit a high of 12.4 percent in 2010, dropped to 8 percent in February. California had added 336,000 non-agricultural jobs in the previous 12 months.

The bad news is that despite regaining those lost jobs, California still has one of the nation's highest jobless rates, surpassed by only a handful of other states, and it's still well above the national average of 6.7 percent.

How can that be?

It's because over more than seven years of economic decline and recovery, California's population has grown and therefore so has its potential workforce, and the unemployment rate is the percentage of the labor force that doesn't have jobs.

California's lowest unemployment rate in recent history was 4.8 percent for a few months in late 2006, when about 850,000 of the state's 17.8 million available workers were unemployed.

In the 7-1/2 years since then, California's labor force has grown by 800,000-plus to 18.6 million but the state has only 193,000 more people employed, leaving 640,000 more Californians without jobs than there were in 2006. Hence, with 1.5 million unemployed, the state has a much-higher unemployment rate now than it did then.

Two other factors also round out California's employment picture, and undercut somewhat the positive news of recent job gains.

One is labor force participation - the percentage of Californians of working age who either are working or seeking work. That's just 62.2 percent, the lowest rate in more than three decades, according to EDD. Were more Californians between the ages of 16 and 64 to join the labor force and seek work, the state's unemployment rate would be higher.

The second is what the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calls "U-6" - the percentage of the labor force that's not only unemployed, but involuntarily working part-time or "marginally attached" to the labor force. BLS calls it "labor underutilization."

For 2013, California had the nation's second highest U-6 rate, 17.3 percent. And in Los Angeles County, which has more than a quarter of the state's population, it was 19.8 percent.

PHOTO: A group meets during a workshop for unemployed people at a community center in Corona, Calif., Aug. 7, 2012. The New York Times/Monica Almeida

March 11, 2014
Californians' food assistance use doubled during recession


As recession gripped the state a half-decade ago, Californians receiving what used to be called food stamps more than doubled to more than four million, a legislative hearing was told Tuesday, but the state still has, relatively, a very low rate of utilization.

Californians' use of what is now called CalFresh may be the lowest in the nation, a report from the Legislature's budget analyst says.

The state's utilization rate of 57 percent of eligible low-income Californians was calculated by the federal government for 2011 and was tied with Wyoming for the lowest. The national average was 79 percent that year, indicating that were California to reach that level, another 1.4 million Californians would be receiving the electronic benefit cards that replaced food stamps and are used in grocery stores to purchase approved foods.

The report said that the food assistance program increased from two million persons in 2006-07 to more than four million in 2013-13 and showed an especially large jump — nearly 25 percent — in 2009-10, during the depths of the recession. While enrollment is still growing, the rate of increase has dropped to scarcely 5 percent a year as the economy has improved.

However, the report from Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor's office warned legislators that the federal data on utilization may be outdated and otherwise not a true picture of what's happening with the federally financed program in California, although it did not question that the state's use is below average.

The joint hearing by the Assembly and Senate human services committees was called to delve into ways to increase utilization. It heard from a variety of advocates for the poor, as well as state and local officials who administer the program.

PHOTO: Volunteers sort boxes of food at the Elk Grove Food Bank Services in Elk Grove on Feb. 20, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

March 6, 2014
California school spending goal would cost $36 billion more

schoolkids.JPGRepresentatives of the Education Coalition told a state Senate budget subcommittee Thursday that despite increases in school spending in the current state budget and promises of more in the next one, California still needs to spend much more money on education.

The Education Coalition, a consortium of unions, school boards and administrators, backed voter approval of Proposition 98, the state's school finance law, in 1988 and lobbies for higher school spending continuously.

How much more would be needed to meet its goal?

Steve Henderson of the California School Employees Association, representing the Ed Coalition, told the committee that its aim, implied in Proposition 98, is to raise spending to the per pupil average of the nation's 10 highest-spending states on education.

No number was mentioned, but Census Bureau data indicate that reaching that goal for six million K-12 students would cost about $36 billion more a year.

The latest data Census Bureau report on school spending is three years old, and pegs California's per pupil spending from all sources at $9,139 per pupil in 2011 and the national average at $10,560. Individual states ranged from a high of $19,076 in New York to $6,824 in Idaho.

The average for the 10 highest-spending states was $15,181, $6,042 above California, and raising it to that level would translate into $36.3 billion more a year. Since 2011, California has increased spending substantially - to at least $10,000 per pupil from all funds - but other states have done so as well, so the California's relative standing probably hasn't materially changed.

The Education Coalition cites Education Week magazine's rankings, which count only state and local funds and omit federal funds, that peg California's spending at $8,341 per pupil, $3,523 under the average of $11,864 for all states. Raising California school spending to that level would cost about $20 billion more a year.

PHOTO: At right, Maiya Miller, 8, hugs Principal Shana Henry on the first day of school at Pacific Elementary school in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, September 3, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

February 26, 2014
California has a quarter of foreign-born U.S. residents

Citizens.JPGCalifornia is home to a quarter of the nation's foreign-born residents and they also make up more than a quarter of California's 38 million residents, according to a new Census Bureau report.

Furthermore, the report reveals, nearly a quarter of the nation's noncitizens under 35 years old - 2.3 million persons - are found in California.

No other state comes even close to California's number of foreign-born residents, 10.2 million. The state with the next-largest number, New York, has 4.3 million.

The data come from surveys that the Census Bureau conducts between the decennial censuses.

PHOTO: New citizens are sworn-in during a special naturalization ceremony at Sacramento's Memorial Auditorium on Sept. 18, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

February 18, 2014
Both California parties losing ground among registered voters

pollingplace.JPGCalifornia's two major political parties are continuing to lose ground in voter registration as the ranks of independent voters continue to swell, a new report by the Secretary of State's office indicates.

The new report, required by law, deals with registration numbers as of Dec. 31 -- 154 days before the June primary election.

Democrats continue to have the highest proportion of the 17.7 million registered voters, 43.58 percent, but that's a more than a quarter-percentage point lower than it was a year ago and a full percentage point below what it was four years ago, 154 days before the 2010 primary.

Republicans, at 28.73 percent, are down slightly from 2013 and have dropped two percentage points from 2010.

Independents - known formally as "no party preference" - have picked up the major parties' losses, up nearly a full percentage point from 2010 at 20.9 percent. The smaller parties have also gained fractionally in the last four years.

Total voter registration has risen from 16.9 million to 17.7 million in the four-year period.

PHOTO: Voters cast ballots at the polling place in the Bible Baptist Church in El Dorado on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

February 5, 2014
Southern California leads in nation's domestic migration

trafficlosangeles.jpgCalifornia's population boomed in the two decades after World War II due to a high birthrate and massive migration from other states.

Population growth cooled off in the 1970s, then surged again in the 1980s with a wave of immigration from other nations, followed by a second baby boom among new immigrants.

More recently, the birthrate has been falling, foreign immigration has slowed to a trickle and the state loses more people to other states than it gains.

However, as a new Census Bureau report illustrates, the state - particularly Southern California - has been seeing a lot of movement, some to and from other states but also much within the state.

Between 2007 and 2011, as a severe recession hit California, Southern California counties were the nation's most active in terms of human movement.

The nearly 42,000 people who moved from Los Angeles County to adjacent San Bernardino County during the period was the largest county-to-county migration in the country. It was followed by the nearly 41,000 who moved from Los Angeles to Orange County and, interestingly, the more than 35,000 who moved to Los Angeles from Asia, the nearly 31,000 who moved from Orange to Los Angeles, and the more than 27,000 who moved from Los Angeles to Riverside County.

So the nation's five top relocations all involved Los Angeles County. Other Southern California population shifts are to be found in the nation's top 25, such as the nearly 20,000 who moved from Riverside to San Bernardino.

The report reveals that Los Angeles and San Diego counties were two of just five counties in the nation that lost population to at least 1,000 other counties. And it indicates that Southern California's shifts of population within the region were high at all income and education levels.

While Los Angeles was a net loser in the migration of residents to other nearby counties and other states, it was a net gainer in foreign immigration, particularly from Asia. It also attracted a high percentage of domestic and foreign migrants with advanced degrees, but was among the leaders in losing highly educated residents to other locales.

PHOTO: Rush-hour commuters line up on the 110 freeway, Dec. 14, 2000, in Los Angeles. Associated Press/Damian Dovarganes

February 3, 2014
California only mediocre in use of Internet

Google.JPGCalifornia, the birthplace of the personal computer, is only mediocre in its Internet use vis-à-vis other states, a new Census Bureau report reveals.

California's 35.9 million residents over the age of 3 are less likely to access the Internet from home or other locations than those in other states.

California's home access rate in 2012 was 68.5 percent, under the national average of 69.1 percent, while its non-home access rate, 73.5, is below the 74.7 percent national rate.

Only in a third category, living in a home with Internet access, does California's 81.3 percent surpass the national rate of 79.3 percent.

The Census Bureau survey found that Oregon had the highest percentage of residents with Internet access at home, 87.9 percent, while Mississippi was lowest at 64.8 percent.

California's relatively mediocre use of the Internet may reflect its racial and ethnic complexity and wide income disparities. The survey found that home Internet use was highest among Asians at 85 percent, followed by whites at 78.6 percent, with use by Latinos (64.5 percent) and blacks (61.9 percent) much lower.

Likewise, 91.7 percent of Americans with college degrees accessed the Internet from home, dropping down to as low as 39.3 percent of those with less than high school educations.

Therefore, states with large white majorities, such as Oregon, and/or relatively high levels of education had the highest rates of Internet access and use.

Educators have tabbed Internet access as a key ingredient in overcoming what they call the "achievement gap" between white and Asian students on one end and black and Latino youngsters on the other. Los Angeles Unified and some other school districts with high levels of non-white students are trying to overcome the Internet gap by issuing tablets to their students.

PHOTO: In this Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, file photo, Eric Schmidt, Google's chairman, speaks during a press conference in New York. Associated Press/Bebeto Matthews.

January 29, 2014
California sees sharp drop in school expulsions, suspensions

willful.JPGA campaign by civil rights groups and their political supporters to reduce suspensions and expulsion of public school students due to their disproportionate effect on black and Latino youngsters may be paying off.

The state Department of Education reported Thursday that there were sharp drops of both kinds of disciplinary actions during the 2012-13 school year - 14.1 percent in the former and 12.3 percent in the latter - from the previous year.

State schools chief Tom Torlakson hailed the trend, saying in a statement, "Educators across California work hard to keep students in school and learning. It can be a challenge to find the balance between maintaining a safe learning environment and giving young people the tools and opportunities they need to succeed. But we're working with schools and districts throughout the state to do exactly that."

While the declines were similar among all ethnic groups, black and Latino students still had suspension rates higher than their proportions of the state's six million K-12 students, while those of white and Asian students were lower.

Critics have said that school officials are too quick to rid themselves of troublesome students, often by citing "willful defiance" as the cause, and have pushed legislation to make such discipline more difficult. "Willful defiance" suspensions dropped 23.8 percent in 2012-13 while expulsions for that rationale declined by 18.6 percent.

Overall, suspensions decreased from 709,596 to 609,471 and expulsions from 9,758 to 8,562.

A bill making it more difficult to expel students for willful defiance, Assembly Bill 420, cleared the Assembly last year and is pending in the Senate. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed two bills on the topic in 2012.

PHOTO: Actors Marcenus Earl as Principal Burton, left, and Donald Calhoun as Thomas play out a scene from a production called, "Willfull" in a hearing room at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. The people in the play are students, community members and actors who are supposed to have had personal experience with harsh discipline. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

January 24, 2014
California's union membership dips to 16.4 percent of workers

union.JPGUnion membership declined in California last year, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says in a new report.

The drop was from 2.5 million in 2012 to 2.4 million in 2013 and from 17.2 percent of the state's 14-plus million public and private workers to 16.4 percent, the BLS said in a nationwide report on union representation.

Other data have shown that the bulk of California's union membership is among school system and state and local government workers.

Nationwide, union members remained static at 11.3 percent of all workers. New York has the highest level of union membership, 24.4 percent, while North Carolina has the lowest, 6.4 percent.

PHOTO: Dennis Maxey, center, a Transbay Terminal worker from Oakland, joins members of SEIU Local 1000, representing 95,000 state employees as they rally at the Capitol on Wednesday, July, 1, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

January 23, 2014
California low in education spending, high in welfare

kindergarten.JPGCalifornia spent a below-average proportion of its state budget on education in 2012, vis-à-vis other states, but had one of the nation's highest relative levels of welfare spending, according to a new Census Bureau report.

The report lists California's expenditures from all funds, including federal aid, at $215.1 billion in 2012 and says that the $72.7 billion it spent on education represented 33.8 percent of the total, two percentage points lower than the national average.

At the same time, however, California spent $69.1 billion on welfare, or 32.1 percent, well over the national average of 29.7 percent and 8th highest among the states.

To look at the data another way, California spent more on education than the entire budgets of all but three other states - New York, Texas and Florida - and its welfare spending was higher than total spending of all but four other states, those three plus Pennsylvania.

PHOTO: Kindergarten teacher Katherine Hoffmore, left, works on a bead project with McKayla Parker, 6, right, where they learn to repeat patterns at Greer Elementary School in Sacramento on Jan. 17, 2013.

January 10, 2014
California schools rank low - again - in Education Week report

Thumbnail image for HA_SCHOOL_BUS2565.JPG

California's public education system — not for the first time — has been given a low grade in Education Week's annual state-by-state evaluation of school finances, teacher preparedness, academic achievement and other benchmarks.

The magazine gives California a "D" with a cumulative score of 72.4 on a 100-point scale, 10th lowest among the states. Subpar financing — the lowest in the nation — and poor academic achievement weighed heavily on the state's evaluation.

But the data are not up-to-date, especially the financial data, and a $10 billion boost in state aid to schools proposed this week by Gov. Jerry Brown could improve its standing.

The Education Week finance information, published Friday, is three years old. It pegs per-pupil spending from state and local sources on California's six million students at $8,341 in 2011, a few hundred dollars less than what the state calculated because Education Week adjusts the number downward for California's relatively high cost of living.

That number is the lowest among the 50 states, about $3,500 under the national average of $11,864.

Brown's proposed 2014-15 budget would, he says, raise per-pupil spending to $9,194, but whether it would increase California's standing vis-à-vis other states depends on what they do this year as well.

Clearly, however, it would still leave California well below the national average, whatever it might be. Reaching the national average, California authorities have calculated, would cost at least $18 billion more a year.

California students' performance on achievement tests also drags down the state's standing vis-à-vis other states. It consistently ranks near the bottom in elementary and middle-school reading and mathematics tests and mediocre in high school graduation rates.

Brown, citing the particularly low achievement of poor and "English-learner" students, persuaded the Legislature last year to direct more state aid to districts with large numbers of those kids.

Massachusetts scored the highest in the Education Week evaluation with 91.4 while Nevada was lowest at 65.7.

PHOTO: Pleasant Grove High School students get off their bus on Friday, Feb. 20, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

January 9, 2014
Fun with numbers - details of Jerry Brown's proposed budget

Brownbudget.pngIt's time for some fun with numbers -- state budget numbers -- as found in the summary of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed 2014-15 budget:

-- Brown's proposed budget for 2014-15 is about 15 times as large as the first one he managed for the 1975-76 fiscal year.

-- The governor pegs the total 2014-15 budget of the general fund, special funds and bond funds at $154.9 billion, but the real number is well over $200 billion, when federal funds are included. That's the equivalent of more than 10 percent of California's entire economic output.

-- Most of the federal money underwrites health and welfare services and K-12 education. The "health and human services" budget, for instance, is $118 billion, but the state's general fund would contribute only $28.8 billion of that total, with most of the rest coming from the feds.

-- Spending on elementary and high schools would top $76 billion, with $45.3 billion from the general fund, another $16 billion from local property taxes and the final $15 billion mostly from the federal government. That translates into $12,833 for each of the state's six million K-12 students.

-- During the 2007-8 fiscal year, the state pumped $3.3 billion of general fund money into the University of California's $12 billion general purpose spending, but during 2014-15, the state's contribution would be $2.8 billion while revenue from tuition and student fees would have climbed from $6.6 billion in 2007-08 to $12.2 billion in 2014-15.

-- During that same period, the state's share of running the state university and college system would shrink less dramatically, from $3 billion to $2.5 billion while student fees would increase from $2.8 billion to $5.5 billion.

-- Although the state's prison population has dropped by about 30,000 inmates in recent years, thanks to pressure from federal judges about overcrowding, the state's spending on "corrections and rehabilitation" hasn't shrunk and, in fact, appears to have grown.

The 2014-15 budget pegs corrections at just under $12 billion, including sales taxes that the state gives counties to handle felons that have been diverted into local jails and supervision under "realignment." Spending on inmate health and dental care alone - another source of federal judicial pressure - has risen from an average of $7,580 per inmate in 2005-06 to a projected $18,415 in 2014-15.

-- During Brown's first stint as governor nearly four decades ago, the sales tax was the No. 1 generator of general fund revenues at 41 percent in 1975-76, with income taxes trailing at 34 percent. The 2014-15 budget projects income taxes to be almost 66 percent of the state's revenues and sales taxes just 23 percent.

--The proposed budget, if enacted, would spend the equivalent of 8.17 percent of Californians' personal incomes, by no means the highest level, but also not the lowest, since 1950, according to a chart in the budget.

The highest relative level of spending, 8.83 percent, occurred during the 1980-81 fiscal year, when Brown was serving his first stint as governor, and again in 2007-08 during Arnold Schwarzenegger's governorship. The lowest level, 4.62 percent, occurred in 1951-52, when Earl Warren was governor. Since 1975, the lowest has been 7.28 percent in 1983-84. the first budget for then-Gov. George Deukmejian.

Updated at 2:30 p.m. to include more historic data.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown presents his proposed budget at the state Capitol on Jan. 9, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Alexei Koseff

January 7, 2014
A shocker — San Francisco is No. 11 among gayest U.S. cities


Wouldn't San Francisco, which has had a thriving gay community for decades and where the same-sex marriage revolution began, automatically be considered the gayest city in America?

Well, The Advocate, a major gay publication, doesn't even put San Francisco in its top 10 gayest cities.

No. 1, The Advocate says, is Washington, D.C., and one has to go all the way down to 11th place to find San Francisco — nine places lower than No. 2 Pasadena, described by the publication as "a kind of bedroom community for gays who like to garden..."

In fact, San Francisco ranks behind No. 10 Arlington, Va., No. 9 Oakland, No. 8 Salt Lake City (a real shocker, given the prominence of the anti-gay marriage Mormon Church), No. 7 Madison, Wis., No. 6 St.Louis, No. 5 Atlanta, No. 4 Cambridge, Mass., and No. 3 Seattle. Long Beach is No. 14.

The Advocate's rankings are admittedly subjective, as it explains:

"It's not all piano bars, gender-specific music festivals, and giant disco houses (although we all love some of those things) that make these cities the gayest in America.

"You say you're shocked Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City aren't at the top of the list, this year and every year? What kind of fun would that be? (Spoiler alert: San Francisco comes in at No. 11.)

"This year's criteria, designed to uncover the hidden factors that give a city its queer cred, include points for a city's LGBT elected officials (and fractional points for the state's elected officials), points for the percentage of the population comprised by lesbian-coupled households, a point for a gay rodeo association, points for bars listed in Out magazine's 200 Best Bars list, a point per women's college, and points for concert performances by Mariah Carey, Pink, Lady Gaga, or the Jonas Brothers.

"The raw score is divided by the population to provide a ranking based on a per capita LGBT quotient."

Despite its relatively low ranking in the gayest city evaluation, The Advocate says of San Francisco:

"Calm down, San Francisco. Everyone knows you're still the gayest thing going. The beautiful, panoramic City by the Bay is home to both well-heeled queers and a vibrant counterculture (witness the uproar over the recently announced ban on public nudity).

"LGBT life here is not limited to the Castro neighborhood, though that's a tourist draw for good reason - it's a queer Disneyland. You'll find us in every neighborhood, and gay-owned and gay-popular bars, restaurants, and business are everywhere. San Francisco is home to more nightlife than you can shake a go-go boy at, as well as vibrant bear and trans communities."

PHOTO: A picture-perfect view of San Francisco, as seen from the Marin Headlands. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

January 7, 2014
Children Now faults California for well-being of its children

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California is doing a poor job of meeting the health, education and economic needs of its children, Children Now, an Oakland-based advocacy organization, says in its latest Children's Report Card.

The unmet needs for well-being are especially acute among the nearly half of California's children who live in low-income households, the organization's president, former Assemblyman Ted Lempert, said.

"The declining status of kids in California is the biggest threat to the health and economy of our state," Lempert said in a statement accompanying the report. "Californians across the board want to see children doing better and we need to hold the state's policymakers more accountable this year for making that happen."

The annual report covers 27 issues, giving the state a grade in each, noting where there has been progress and making recommendations for action. It praises, for example, the newly enacted overhaul of state school finance that directs more money to school districts with large numbers of poor and English-learner students, but says that overall financing of the state's schools remains about $3,500 per pupil below the national average.

All of the Children Now recommendations would cost substantial amounts of money. Just raising school spending to the national per-pupil average, for instance, would take another $21 billion a year. But the organization's report contends that spending the money would pay economic dividends for the state in the future.

PHOTO: Children participate in the 10 years-old and under race during the Superheroes 5K run on June 16, 2013 in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

December 30, 2013
Census Bureau, state agree on California's population growth


State demographers and the federal Census Bureau, who once had widely disparate views about California's population growth, appear to be in synch so far in this decade.

A couple of weeks ago, the state Department of Finance calculated that California's population reached 38.2 million on June 30, a gain of 332,000 residents. On Monday, the Census Bureau agreed that California had gained just over 332,000 during that same period, but pegged the total at a slightly higher 38.3 million.

The almost total agreement between the state's estimate and the Census Bureau report stands in sharp contrast to what happened in the previous decade.

Beginning with the 2000 census, the state calculated that California's population growth was much higher than what the Census Bureau figured and by the end of the decade, the difference between two was a million persons. The gap largely stemmed from differing views of how many people had migrated from California to other states.

The 2010 census settled the disagreement in the Census Bureau's favor and since then the state and federal estimates have been in tandem.

The Census bureau says that the nation's population rose by 2.25 million during the 20012-13 period, or 0.07 percent. California's population growth was slightly higher at 0.09 percent. The new California total, 38.3 million, is just over a million higher than the 2010 census found.

PHOTO: Melvin Griffin, 75, center, was hoping to find a job that would give him more hours then his part-time job at the Census Bureau. Sacramento's 16th Annual Career Expo at the Masonic Temple building, was Dec. 11, 2012 in Sacramento, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer

December 27, 2013
California once again the nation's top municipal bond issuer

market.jpgA multi-billion-dollar surge of bond issues by state and local governments is making California, once again, the nation's top issuer of municipal debt, the Bloomberg financial news service calculates.

Bloomberg said that California governments have issued $46.2 billion in new debt so far in 2013, a 13 percent increase from 2012, pushing the state ahead of New York for the first time since 2010. Bloomberg calculates that New York has sold $36.4 billion in municipal debt this year, down 18 percent from 2012.

The news service credits the state's improving economy and better fiscal health, especially at the state level, with sparking the uptick in new government debt.

"They've really gotten their fiscal house in order," Bloomberg quotes Peter Hayes, who heads municipal bonds at New York-based BlackRock Inc.. "Now that the economy is stronger, they feel more confident that strength is sustainable, and that gives them the confidence to borrow."

As the state's financial indices have improved, so have its credit ratings, and bond buyers have demanded as little as three-tenths of one percent in extra yield, the lowest margin in years.

The largest California bond sale this year was a $2.3 billion offering by the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Authority in Orange County, an operator of toll roads. The state, meanwhile, is planning to sell about $3 billion in new general obligation bonds by mid-year, plus another $7 billion in general obligation and lease-revenue bonds in the following fiscal year.

PHOTO: Trader Kevin Colter, left, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on June 28, 2013. Associated Press/Richard Drew

December 23, 2013
California has nation's largest Native American population

tribal.JPGThey may comprise less than 1 percent of California's 38 million residents, but the state — perhaps surprisingly to many — has the nation's largest population of Native Americans, a new Census Bureau report reveals.

The state-by-state and tribe-by-tribe reports list 352,427 American Indians and Alaskan Natives in California, and only Oklahoma's 313,305 approach California's numbers.

The reports also reveal that California's Native American population represents hundreds of specific tribes and sub-tribal groups, with tribes from Mexico, at 45,933, the largest single grouping, followed by Cherokees at 20,969. However, 126,425 Californians identified themselves as Native Americans in the 2010 census without designating a tribal affiliation.

PHOTO: Lois Edwards stands with demonstrators out front of an Enterprise Rancheria tribal meeting, Saturday, August 5, 2006 at Southside Community Center in Oroville, where the Enterprise Rancheria General Council met to vote on the citizenship of approximately 70 tribal members who were disenrolled in 2003. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling

December 18, 2013
Two Southern Cal cities chagrined about highly paid employees

chiang1.JPGOfficials in two Southern California cities were chagrined to be singled out this week as having the state's two highest paid municipal employees last year in an annual compilation by state Controller John Chiang - and are blaming a clerical error and one-time anomaly.

Buena Park was listed as No. 1 for paying its city manager $545,394, and a city councilwoman, Elizabeth Swift, contacted Capitol Alert with an explanation. She said the city manager was retiring after 32 years on the city's payroll and cashed out sick leave accumulated during that career, departing with a one-time payment of several hundred thousand dollars.

South Gate was listed as having the state's second highest paid city employee last year, a police sergeant reported as having received $486,044. But on Tuesday, the city informed the controller's office that the city erroneously listed a $33,399 one-time payment to the officer as $339,999 on the reporting form. The officer's total for the year was actually $180,044, acting personnel director Nellie Cobbs said.

The controller's office is changing the South Gate entry, but leaving the one for Buena Park intact.

PHOTO: State Controller John Chiang in 2011. The Sacramento Bee/John Chiang.

December 17, 2013
New Census Bureau tool makes access to detailed data easy


Want to know more about your state, your community or even your neighborhood?

There's an app for that — or more accurately, a new Census Bureau website that allows users to drill down into a wide variety of data from past decennial censuses, as well as more frequent, updated information from the American Community Survey.

It's called Census Explorer and is, the Census Bureau says, particularly useful in showing demographic and economic change over time, since data from past censuses are included, down to the level of individual census tracts, which are fundamentally neighborhoods.

PHOTO: A building under construction at the corner of Broadway and 35th Street in Sacramento's Oak Park neighborhood in November 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

December 16, 2013
New report gives access to California local government pay

20111102_ha_JOHN_CHIANG0365.JPGCalifornia's highest paid city employee last year was the city manager of Buena Park, who was paid $545,394 in 2012, according to the latest compilation of local salary data by state Controller John Chiang's office.

The second highest was a police sergeant in South Gate, $486,044.

But the highest paid county employee can top that. An orthopedic surgeon on contract to Kern County was being paid $1,040,651 last year. The 10 highest paid county employees in the survey were all physicians working in county-owned medical facilities.

Most of the highest paid listed on Chiang's ranking -- the city manager and police sergeant, for instance -- included vacation pay or other one-time payouts.

"Making compensation of public employees transparent provides taxpayers with the ability to be more informed and active in local government decisions," Chiang said in a statement. "I'm especially encouraged with the cooperation that cities and counties have provided in helping us make all government more accountable to Californians."

The newest report, which lists salaries by position and not by name, covers wage and benefit data for 637,435 positions local positions and more than $38.86 billion in wages paid in 2012.

PHOTO: Controller John Chiang in 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

December 16, 2013
California low in school spending, but high in teacher salaries

teacher1.JPGGenerally, the states that spend the most on their public schools also have the highest teacher salaries, but there's one notable exception - California - as newly compiled data reveal.

California's average teacher salary is the fifth highest in the nation this year, but its per-pupil spending is the 12th lowest - indicating that the state is committing an extraordinarily high proportion of each school dollar to those salaries and relatively little on administration and other school expenses.

California's estimated average teacher salary, $69,324, comes from the newly published Digest of Education Statistics, compiled by the federal government's National Center for Education Statistics.

Its 12th lowest level of per-pupil spending, $9,202, is found in the statistical report from the National Education Association for the 2012-13 school year. The national average is $11,068.

The states immediately above and below California in teacher salaries all spend much more on their schools, as measured by the average per pupil.

December 12, 2013
California's household incomes trail Washington's suburbs


California has local pockets of high wealth — Beverly Hills, Santa Barbara, Hillsborough, etc. — but none of its counties can compete with communities in the immediate vicinity of Washington, D.C., a new Census Bureau report indicates.

The bureau calculated that five counties or "county equivalents" in Northern Virginia had the nation's highest median household incomes in 2012, topped by $121,250 in Falls Church, Va.

Meanwhile, residents of Maryland, on the other side of Washington, had the highest median incomes of any state, $71,169. California, at $58,322, was higher than the national median of $51,371, but was 10th overall.

In terms of income, Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley, was California's most affluent county in 2012 with a median income of $91,195 while Trinity County, at $35,162, was the poorest.

PHOTO: Washington, DC. Fourth of July Fireworks on the Mall. U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument. Folio, Inc./Regis Lefebure

December 12, 2013
California's population up 332,000 to 38.2 million

ImmigrationProtests.jpgCalifornia's population growth, driven by a continued high production of babies, picked up a bit during the 12 months ending June 30, according to the latest estimate by the state Department of Finance.

The growth rate, .9 percent, was the highest since California was plunged into recession a half-decade ago. The state, according to state estimates, gained 332,000 persons during the 2012-13 period, and stood at 38.2 million.

While the 507,000 babies born in the state during the 12-month period were the major source of population growth, offset by 241,000 deaths, improving economic conditions also appeared to slow the outflow to other states and nations.

Net immigration, which had been negative, produced 66,000 new Californians during the period.

Alameda was the state's fastest growing county at 1.68 percent while tiny Sierra County lost nearly 2 percent of its population.

(Corrected at 1 p.m. to reflect that Sierra County lost nearly 2 percent of population.

PHOTO: People make their way north on Broadway Street during a march and rally for federal immigration reform and a protest against Arizona's controversial immigration law, in Los Angeles Saturday, May 1, 2010. (Associated Press/Jason Redmond

December 11, 2013
New report details high costs for renters in California


The Census Bureau reported recently that under an alternative method of calculating poverty, California has the highest rate in the nation, with nearly a quarter of its 38 million residents impoverished.

A big factor in that calculation is that living costs are higher in California than almost anywhere else in the nation and a big chunk of those costs is housing.

A new report from Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies confirms that, declaring that more than half of the state's renters devoted more than 30 percent of their household income to rent payments in 2011. California's rate, 56 percent, is higher than any other state except Florida.

The 31 percent of California renters who must shell out more than half of their income for housing is higher than all but two states, Florida and Michigan. And the median rent in California, $1,140 per month, is also among the highest.

The situation stems from sharply rising rents and stagnant incomes, the study found.

PHOTO: Tuscaro Apartments advertised a move-in special in 2009 and $250 bonuses for residents who referred new renters. The Sacramento Bee/Michael Allen Jones

November 25, 2013
California kids get early introductions to fast food meals

fastfood.JPGCalifornia's young children appear to be getting early introductions to the taste -- and perhaps the perils -- of fast food, according to a new study by UCLA's Center for Health Policy Research.

The study found that 60 percent of California's children between the ages of 2 and 5 had eaten fast food at least once in the previous week -- and it climbed to 70 percent among Latino children, the state's largest ethnic cohort.

"A weekly happy meal is an unhappy solution, especially for toddlers," Susan Holtby, the study's lead author," said in a statement accompanying release of the report. "Hard-working, busy parents need support to make healthy food selections for their kids."

The 60 percent figure is actually a few percentage points lower than a previous study covering 2007-09.

The results were taken from the California Health Interview Survey, aimed at examining the nutritional practices of children and their parents.

Among other findings:

  • Asian children eat the fewest fruits and vegetables of any ethnic group, with only 40 percent consuming at least five servings a day, the recommended level, well under the 57 percent recorded for all children.

  • Parents of children in the state's poorest families, those below 100 percent of the federal poverty level, are the least likely of all parents to say they have "a lot" of influence over their children's food intake.

  • Children who ate three or more fast food meals a week were "much more likely" to drink sugary sodas than children who ate less fast food.

The results, researchers said, indicate that targeted messages are needed to persuade parents both to exert more control over their children's diets and to make those diets healthier.

"Simple messages and programs can reinforce what every parent wants -- the good health of their children," Camille Maben, executive director of First 5 California, said in a statement. "This shows there is more work to be done to reach families with the critical education and support they need."

First 5 California commissioned the UCLA study.

PHOTO: A young girl on a scooter passes by three fast-food restaurants on Elk Grove Blvd. in Elk Grove on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

November 19, 2013
California has nation's second highest job distress rate


California may be recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression, and its official unemployment rate has dropped by a third, but by another federal measure of employment distress, the state is second only to Nevada.

The alternative number, known as U-6 in economic statistical circles, includes not only unemployment — the percentage of the labor force that's jobless — but "marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers."

In other words, it represents every worker whose aspirations are being thwarted by economic conditions.

By the U-6 measure, California's employment distress rate is 18.3 percent for the 12 months ending June 30, according to a new report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. California's rate is second only to Nevada's 19 percent and four percentage points higher than the national rate of 14.3 percent.

California's U-6 rate is also more than twice as high as the state's 9.1 percent rate calculated by the BLS for 2006, the last year before the housing bubble burst, plunging the state into recession.

North Dakota, which is experiencing an oil boom, has the lowest rate of 6.2 percent. Texas, with whom California is often compared, has a U-6 rate of 11.6 percent.

PHOTO: Binders full of resources at the Employment Development Department office in Sacramento on Thursday February 14, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

November 18, 2013
New California web tool allows sales tax rate searches

cashmachine_small.JPGCalifornia levies a statewide 7.5 percent tax on retail sales but local governments and other agencies can add surtaxes for various purposes. The overall rate reaches as high as 10 percent in some localities.

That means that the tax on an identical transaction can vary considerably, depending on where the money changes hands, but knowing what tax rate applies at which retail location has been almost impossible.

If it matters, however, a new interactive, on-line tool can tell the consumer what rate will apply.

The new Board of Equalization website allows the user to plug in an address and instantly learn the applicable rate. A purchase in downtown Sacramento, for example, would generate an 8.5 percent sales tax, but across the Sacramento River in West Sacramento it would be just 8 percent.

The highest rate of 10 percent is found in several small cities in Los Angeles County.

Board of Equalization member George Runner said he requested that the on-line tool be developed because even some retailers don't know what rates to charge because they change frequently.

PHOTO: Lead cashier Ashley De Antonio, left, and cashier Danielle Harvey practice at the cash register at the Sunflower Farmers Market in Sacramento on Friday, May 4, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

November 13, 2013
California property values took steepest dive in recession

home_values blog.jpgCalifornia's property values dropped far more than those in other states when the housing bubble burst and recession hit, but they remain among the nation's highest, according to a new Census Bureau report.

The report, based on data from the American Community Survey, says that the median value of residential property plunged from $461,400 in 2007-09 to $358,800 in 2010-12, a $102,600 decline that was approached only by the $99,400 drop in Nevada. The national decline was $17,300.

Despite the drop in California, the state's median home value is still the nation's third highest, behind only Hawaii's $503,100 and the District of Columbia's $436,000.

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau calculated that California's Silicon Valley — San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara — now has the highest median home value of any metropolitan area at $624,800, followed by the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont region's $568,900 and the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana area at $442,000.

However, the major California metropolitan regions also were among those with the steepest declines during the recession.

PHOTO: Homes were for sale on 11th Ave. in Land Park on May 10, 2011 in Sacramento, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

November 11, 2013
California's unemployment insurance deficit shrinking slowly

unemployed_blog.jpgAlthough California's once-dismal employment picture is slowly improving, the state's Unemployment Insurance Fund is not only plagued by digital glitches, but is still paying out more in benefits than employers are paying into the UIF in taxes, according to a new report from the state Department of Employment Development.

Some other revenue, including earnings on fund balances, are offsetting the shortfall, so the immense deficit in the UIF, $10.2 billion at the end of 2012, will decline fractionally to $9.7 billion by the end of this year, the EDD report predicts, then continue to decline as employment improves and insurance benefit payouts drop.

The UIF deficit has been covered by loans from the federal government, on which the state is now paying interest, and the feds have also boosted their share of employers' payroll taxes to begin repaying the debt.

The department predicts that the UIF deficit will shrink to $7 billion by the end of 2015 as unemployment drops from 1.9 million workers in 2012 to 1.3 million in 2015 and payouts decline from $6.6 billion in 2012 to $5.7 billion in 2015.

Employers paid $5.4 billion into the UIF in 2012 and that is expected to increase to $6.2 billion in 2015. Additionally, the boost in federal taxes to repay the debt is expected to surpass $600 million this year and $1 billion by 2015.

The UIF pays basic benefits to unemployed workers and benefit extensions have been financed by the federal government. But due to the state's improving job picture, the 100 percent federally financed extension, which paid out $7.2 billion to jobless Californians in 2012, and $4.6 billion this year, will end on Dec. 31.

Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed changes in the unemployment insurance program to improve its ability to cope with economic downturns, but the Legislature has so far refused to act.

PHOTO: Former and current high school students attend a junior college exploration workshop sponsored by the Greater Sacramento Urban League. One of every three new high school graduates not going to college in the Sacramento region couldn't find work last year, census figures showed. The high school classes of 2009 and 2010 were about 40 percent less likely to find jobs out of school than their counterparts from three years prior. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

November 8, 2013
California again scores low in nationwide academic tests


California again scored very low in the latest round of nationwide biennial testing of elementary students' reading and mathematics skills.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress tests were administered earlier this year to fourth and eighth graders and fewer than a third of California's students were rated as proficient in the two skills. Overall, the state ranked in the bottom 10 among the 50 states and the District of Columbia; its worst score was 47th in four grade reading, and its best was 42nd in eighth grade reading.

The brightest spot in the NAEP report on California is that it was one of only 13 states that saw gains in eighth grade reading scores.

While State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said the scores showed "that we are moving in the right direction," the continued low - and largely flat - performance of California students was another black eye for the state's largest-in-the-nation education system.

As with past state and federal tests, the newest NAEP results for California also showed a wide gap between the achievements of white and Asian youngsters and black and Latino students - a gap that Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature are addressing with a new way of distributing state aid.

Under the new system, school districts with high numbers of poor and/or English-learner students will receive extra money. The state is also at work implementing the Common Core curriculum, a multistate effort to raise academic achievement.

PHOTO: A second-grader reads her assignment in her English language learning class at Cordova Villa Elementary School on Monday, June 10, 2013 in Rancho Cordova, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench.

November 6, 2013
California still has highest poverty rate under new method

California still has - by a huge margin - the highest poverty rate of any state under an alternative Census Bureau calculation that includes the cost of living.

The Census Bureau report, issued Wednesday, says that nearly a quarter of California's 38 million residents live in poverty by the alternative method - almost 9 million - and the state's 23.8 percent rate is approached only by Washington, D.C.'s 22.7 percent.

Among other states, the second highest alternative poverty rate is found in Nevada at 19.8 percent while the lowest rates are found in Iowa (8.6 percent) and Wyoming (9.2 percent). Nationally, the alternative rate is 16 percent.

California's official poverty rate is 16.5 percent and while higher than the national official rate of 15.1 percent, it is surpassed by those of many other states.

The official rate is based on half-century-old criteria that have been criticized as being obsolete, leading the Census Bureau to develop the alternative method that uses broader indices, including the cost of living. The official rate assumes, in essence, that the cost of living is the same nationwide.

California scored the highest rate during the Census Bureau's first report on the alternative method and continues with that dubious title. A few weeks ago, the Public Policy Institute of California released a report using methodology similar to the Census Bureau's alternative and came up with similar results.

The official rate is used for a wide variety of federal and state programs. Were the alternative method to become the official one, there would be huge upheavals in those programs, possibly meaning a big jump in federal aid to California.

PHOTO: Kazoo Yang, 31, spent most of the day packing up her possessions as Sacramento police officers evict 150 homeless people from an illegal campground along the American River. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

October 21, 2013
Californians driving more, but using less fuel

California Clean Car Standards.JPGOver the last three decades -- roughly the period since Jerry Brown ended his first governorship -- California's population has increased by more than 50 percent and the amount of automotive travel has doubled.

California's 22 million drivers and 27.5 million cars and light trucks rack up more than 300 billion vehicle-miles of travel each year, which works out to an average of about 13,000 miles for each motorist.

Despite the sharp growth in both population and vehicular travel, however, gasoline consumption has increased only fractionally during that period, rising from about 12 billion gallons a year to 15 billion gallons or only about 25 percent more. And a new report from the state Board of Equalization points out that in recent years, consumption has actually been declining.

There was a sharp, 4.1 percent decline in 2008 as recession hit the state since then smaller declines have been recorded, including a drop of of 1.3 percent from 2011 to 2012.

Given the high level of vehicular travel, the years-long leveling off of fuel consumption and more recent declines have been attributed to much-improved mileage in newer cars. In 1983, cars commonly got only 15 miles to the gallon but today, 30 mpg is not uncommon and gasoline-electric hybrids can approach 100 mpg.

PHOTO: In this May 26, 2011, file photo, a motorcyclist rides between lanes as traffic backs up on U.S. Highway 101 before the start of the Memorial Day weekend in Mill Valley, Calif. Associated Press/Eric Risberg

October 16, 2013
Controller Chiang raps local governments for not filing reports


State Controller John Chiang sent letters Wednesday to nine cities and 117 special districts, chastising them for failing to file timely financial reports with his office as required by law.

Stockton, which has declared bankruptcy and is seeking voter approval of a sales tax increase next month, is one of the delinquent cities.

Chiang gave the tardy governments until Dec. 31 to file the documents his office uses to compile reports, including those on employee compensation, or face audits.

"Transparency in financial reporting - including public salaries - is necessary to protect communities against the misuse of taxpayer dollars and other abuses of public trust," Chiang said in a statement, citing financial scandals in Bell and other communities.

Besides Stockton, the cities receiving Chiang's letter are Beaumont, Firebaugh, Hercules, Imperial, La Habra, Lindsay, Taft and Westmorland. The special districts are scattered throughout the state, mostly in rural communities.

PHOTO: State Controller John Chiang at The Sacramento Bee's Capitol Bureau on November 2, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

October 9, 2013
Think-tank website compares schools in California, other states

LS_STAR_TESTS_1.JPGEver wonder how California's public schools compare to those of other states?

EdSource, an Oakland-based think tank devoted to California schools, has published an online "motion chart" that compares California's schools to those of other states, not only currently but how yearly comparisons have changed since 1970 with inflation adjustments for economic data.

The interactive website allows users to choose the states for comparison on 16 measures, including such overall factors as population and income, and specific school-related factors such as spending and national test scores. It also includes charts that merge factors, such as correlations between state spending on schools and test scores.

The charts, developed by Jeff Camp of the Full Circle Fund, reveal, among other things that California's spending on schools has decreased over time, both in comparison to other states and relative to such factors as personal income. In 1970, the state was spending 4.4 percent of its personal income on schools. By 2012, that had slipped to 3.2 percent, one of the lowest levels in the nation.

The charts also reveal that California teachers are among the nation's highest paid, while the state's student-teacher ratio is among the highest and its academic test scores are among the lowest.

PHOTO: Sacramento area second graders prepare for the annual state school exams on April 26, 2007. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling

October 2, 2013
California's debt service level drops below projections

lockyer.jpgFour years ago, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer projected that servicing California's bonded indebtedness would approach 10 percent of the state's general fund revenues by 2014 and suggested that the state needed a master plan to prioritize its borrowing.

Since then, Lockyer says in his latest "debt affordability report," improving state finances, lower interest rates and tight management of new borrowing have reduced debt service to under 8 percent.

"In the market," Lockyer said, "the state's general obligation bonds have become more competitive with higher-rated bonds, and investors have reduced the interest-rate premium they demand to buy our bonds.

"At the same time, the state refinanced billions of dollars of bonds at lower interest rates and reduced taxpayers' debt service payments by hundreds of millions of dollars. In part because of these steps, debt service now consumes less of the state budget. The 2009 DAR projected debt service payments would equal 9.8 percent of general fund revenues in 2013-14. This report estimates that ratio will be 7.7 percent."

As of June 30, the state had $86.28 billion in general obligation and lease-revenue bonds supported by the general fund outstanding, plus another $36.54 billion authorized by the Legislature and/or voters but not yet issued.

In relative terms, California is a high-debt state, the report reveals. Among the 10 most populous states, California ranks second only to New York in debt compared to personal income (5.8 percent), debt per capita ($2,565) and debt compared to total economic output (4.98 percent). Texas is the lowest-debt state among the 10.

The state plans to issue $12.5 billion in new general obligation and lease-revenue bonds during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 fiscal years, including some of the $9.95 billion in bonds authorized for a bullet train system. Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators are also trying to write a new water bond issue for the 2014 ballot to replace an $11.1 billion measure now scheduled for a vote. The new water bond, if successful, is likely to be much smaller.

PHOTO: State Treasurer Bill Lockyer speaks at the Sacramento Press Club luncheon on June 21, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench.

October 1, 2013
Would moving from California to another state save on taxes?

Alaska_PIPELINE_LEASE.jpgWhen California voters approved temporary sales and income tax increases last year, they rekindled a perennial debate over whether the state's tax burden has become high enough to persuade residents to move elsewhere.

There have been anecdotal accounts of Californians relocating elsewhere, or residents of other states turning down jobs in California because of its taxes, mostly involving highly paid professional athletes. But there are no hard data yet of significant trends in those directions.

A Texas-based conservative think tank, the National Center for Policy Analysis, has entered the debate by launching an interactive website that allows users to calculate the tax effects of moving from one state to another.

Users plug in their personal economic and other data to determine how much they would gain or lose. "The tax burden in a new state can make a huge difference in your retirement plans," NCPA fellow Pamela Villarreal said in a statement accompanying the announcement this week.

As a high-tax state - fifth in the nation in total state-local tax burden as a percentage personal income - California obviously doesn't fare well in the tax-effect comparisons.

The NCPA cites one hypothetical example of a 40-year-old man making $100,000 a year and moving from California to Alaska, saying "he will have an additional $4,213 a year to spend every year for the rest of his life."

The website does not calculate differences in cost of living.

PHOTO: The Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline snakes across the Alaska tundra under the Brooks Range about 150 miles from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, on Aug. 28, 2001. Associated Press/Al Grillo

September 30, 2013
Cal-Tax estimates California's state and local debt at $443 billion

HJA_7844.JPGGov. Jerry Brown has repeatedly pledged to tear down what he calls California's "wall of debt."

But Brown's definition of that debt wall - about $30 billion in accumulated deficits from recent state budgets - is less than 10 percent of the debt that state and local governments have amassed, according to a new compilation by the California Taxpayers Association, if one includes unfunded liabilities for public employee pensions.

Cal-Tax researchers counted $443 billion in state and local debts, roughly two-thirds of it carried by the state and the other third by local agencies. That's the equivalent of a fifth of the state's annual economic output and amounts to $11,600 for each of California's 38 million residents.

August 29, 2013
Whites a minority in California, but still majority of voters

ELECTION02.jpgAlthough whites have dropped to well under 50 percent of California's population, they are still a strong majority of the state's voters, according to new studies by the Public Policy Institute of California.

The PPIC reports also confirm the state's shift to dominance by the Democratic Party, even though its share of registered voters has declined to well under 50 percent - largely because the increasing numbers of independents lean Democratic.

The statistical studies of the partisan leanings of the state's registered voters, as well as likely voters, were generated from both official statistics and PPIC's polling.

PPIC's research found that while whites are now just 44 percent of California's adult population, they are 62 percent of the state's likely voters. In contrast, Latinos are 33 percent of adult population and just 17 percent of likely voters. With all ages counted, the white and Latino populations are virtually equal at about 38 percent each.

As past studies have shown, likely voters are "older, more educated, more affluent; they are homeowners, and born in the U.S."

Another finding: 45 percent of likely voters are Democrats, 32 percent are Republicans, 19 percent are independents and 5 percent identify with other parties. But 41 percent of independents lean toward Democratic Party candidates, while 29 percent lean toward Republicans.

PHOTO: Caption: Naomi Johnson, 93, never thought she would see the day that a black president might win as she left the voting booth where she cast her vote for Obama on Nov. 4, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

August 22, 2013
California's public workers among nation's best paid

RB_Capitol_Dome.JPGCalifornia's 2.2 million state, local government and public school workers were among the nation's highest paid public employees in 2011, according to an annual survey by the Census Bureau.

At an average of $4,604 per month, California's public employees - both full-time and part-time - had the nation's third highest salary levels among the states, slightly behind New York's $4,679 and New Jersey's $4,642. The District of Columbia topped all at $5,862. California's salary level was 26.1 percent above the $3,652 national average.

California's full-time public employees ranked No. 1 among the states at an average of $5,952 per month but were No. 2 when the District of Columbia was included. New Jersey was No. 3.

The state's 2.2 million public workers were by far the nation's highest total, but with 11.1 percent of the nation's 19.3 million state and local government employees, California's share was slightly lower than its share of the U.S. population.

However, because of its high salaries, the roughly $119 billion spent on California's state and local government payrolls in 2011 was about 14 percent of the nation's total, above its percentage of the national population.

PHOTO: The California Capitol dome. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

August 21, 2013
California Business Roundtable debuts new economic database

The California Business Roundtable will unveil its new database on the state's economy Thursday morning.

The organization of corporate leaders has set up a nonprofit subsidiary, the Center for Jobs and the Economy, to maintain the database, which is open to the public free of charge.

The database uses data from federal, state and local government sources on economic issues, such as employment and unemployment numbers and rates, not only for the state as a whole, but for regions, counties, legislative districts and demographic groups. The organization says it intends to expand the parameters of the site as more data become available and users express preferences.

Robert Lapsley, president of the Business Roundtable, says while the organization has political goals relating to the business climate, the new organization will deal strictly with data from official sources and will not be used for any political efforts.

August 16, 2013
Californians rated as being nation's 11th least obese

Obesity_Rates_States.jpgA quarter of Californians are overweight, but the state has the nation's 11th lowest rate of obesity, according to a new report from the Washington-based Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Generally, the report found that obesity rates are highest in Southern and Midwestern states, with Louisiana having the highest at 34.7 percent, and markedly lower in Northeastern and Western states, with Colorado having the lowest at 20.5 percent.

The years of data collection on obesity discovered a trend toward equalization of the genders. A decade ago, American women had obesity rates six points higher than men - 33.4 percent to 27.5 percent - but the latest data indicate that rates are very similar, albeit much higher for both genders. They are 35.8 percent for men and 35.5 percent for women.

Both numbers are lower in California, but men are higher in this state as well - 26.2 percent for men and 23.8 percent for women. The study also found that California's baby boomers, overall, have an obesity rate of 31 percent, while for older Californians it's 21.1 percent. For young adults aged 18 to 25 years old, it's 13.7 percent.

The details on California are available here.

PHOTO: Two women speak to each other in New York on June 26, 2012. The Associated Press/ Mark Lennihan

August 5, 2013
Business uses digital media, but not in its California campaigns

Big money ballot measure campaigns in California spend the vast preponderance of their money on fairly traditional forms of voter outreach, such as television and radio ads and direct mail, but that will have to change as voters' habits evolve, a new study suggests.

The statistical study of how business-backed ballot measure campaigns spend their funds - contrasting with how commercial business now operates - was produced by Forward Observer, a Sacramento-based political consulting firm headed by Joe Rodota, a one-time top aide to Republican Govs. Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as the Reagan White House.

It analyzed five 2012 business-supported ballot measure campaigns and found that they spent 78.5 percent of their funds on traditional media, and another 12.5 percent on direct mail appeals, with the remaining 9 percent distributed among consultants' fees, polling, legal services and miscellaneous costs.

Less than 1 percent was spent on digital messages, even though voters increasingly rely on the Internet and social media for news and discussion about political issues, even though business is increasingly oriented toward digital commerce and even though business groups provided much of the money spent by the ballot measure campaigns.

August 5, 2013
Legislative analyst charts decline of California sales tax revenue

Dramatic changes in Californians' consumer spending have sharply eroded the sales tax as a source of state revenue, a new report by the Legislature's budget analyst concludes.

Spending on taxable goods such as cars and clothes hit a high point of 53 percent of personal income in 1979 and has been declining ever since to 33 percent currently, Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor's report found.

The relative decline of taxable sales has been only partially offset by increases in the sales tax rate, so it has been supplanted as the state's largest revenue source by the personal income tax, which now generates nearly twice as much revenue.

July 31, 2013
Big California corporations parking $262 billion offshore

Chevron.jpgA dozen of California's largest corporations are holding nearly $262 billion in foreign earnings in offshore subsidiaries to shield the money from American taxation, according to a new study by a consumer advocacy group.

The 12 are on a list of 105 publicly traded American corporations collectively holding $1.17 trillion in earnings offshore, according to the study by a coalition of state Public Interest Research Group affiliates, including CALPIRG in California.

The critical study is entitled Offshore Shell Games and the PIRG coalition says the practice is depriving federal and state governments of much-needed revenue for public services.

California's Apple, was listed as having has the most offshore holdings of any American corporation, $82.66 billion.

Parking profits in other nations whose corporate tax rates are lower is not illegal, but has been widely criticized by liberal groups.

Chevron, California's largest corporation, is holding $26.5 billion, the report says, and others from the state on the list, by size of the firm, include Hewlett-Packard, $33.4 billion; McKesson, $3.8 billion; Apple, $82.7 billion; Wells-Fargo, $1.3 billion; Intel, $17.5 billion; Safeway, $1.3 billion; Cisco Systems, $41.3 billion; Walt Disney, $566 million; Sysco, $910 million; Google, $33.3 billion; Ingram Micro, $2.1 billion; and Oracle, $20.9 billion.

PHOTO: A Chevron sign is shown in San Francisco, Nov. 2, 2007. Associated Press/Jeff Chiu

July 30, 2013
California will spend $232.9 billion in new state budget

mactaylor.jpgCalifornia will spend $232.9 billion during the 2013-14 fiscal year if the recently enacted state budget is precisely followed.

But the total, outlined in a followup report by the Legislature's budget analyst, Mac Taylor, is only an educated guess, and if past patterns hold true the real levels of income and outgo will be billions of dollars different.

One differential is already known. State revenues are running about $2 billion ahead of the budget's assumptions - as Taylor predicted they would be - and that will affect the money the state must spend on public education, the largest single category in the budget, as well as potentially pay for mid-year increases in health and welfare spending that the Legislature's majority Democrats are seeking.

The state's general fund, from which education and other major state expenditures are financed, is tagged at $96.3 billion in the report, with special funds, such as those devoted to transportation, accounting for another $42 billion, bond spending for $7 billion, and federal funds, mostly for education and health and welfare services, for another $87.6 billion.

Taylor's report - in effect an explanation of the budget in layman's language - not only deals with the money but how it will be spent, including a major overhaul in how school funds are being allocated, with more money going to school districts with large numbers of poor and/or English learner students. It also includes the state's plans to expand Medi-Cal to serve more of the state's medically insured residents, using funds from the federal health care overhaul, and a boost in higher education spending.

PHOTO: Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor, in 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

July 29, 2013
College students inflate California's poverty rate

MC_GRADUATES_02.JPGCalifornia has one of the nation's higher official poverty rates but a new Census Bureau report indicates that it is fractionally inflated by college students who have low personal incomes.

The Census Bureau made the calculations, it says, because of "numerous telephone inquiries" about whether the presence of large numbers of students had a major impact on poverty rates, which are used for a variety of federal government programs and which also affect a community's image for business development purposes.

The state's official poverty rate during the 2009-11 period was 15.5 percent, a bit higher than the national rate, but when low-income college students not living at home are taken out of the equation, the state's poverty rate declines to 14.9 percent, the Census Bureau calculated. It estimated that 47 percent of California college students not living at home met the qualification for poverty because of their low incomes.

The recalculations were only on the official poverty rate. The Census Bureau is testing an alternative method of calculating poverty, which includes the cost of living, that would give California the nation's highest poverty rate.

July 25, 2013
Census Bureau tool shows California's congressional contrasts

censusmap.pngCalifornia's 51st Congressional District, stretching along the state's border with Mexico, is nearly 70 percent Latino, its median household income is $38,528 a year, fewer than two-thirds of its residents have high school diplomas and just 13.2 percent are college graduates.

The 18th Congressional District lies 450 miles to the northwest, encompassing the San Francisco Peninsula and much of Silicon Valley. Fewer than 17 percent of its residents are Latino, they have median household incomes of $97,001 a year, 93.6 percent have high school diplomas and 57.3 percent have college degrees.

California is a land of great cultural, demographic and economic extremes and that extends to its 53 congressional districts as well, as a new Census Bureau interactive tool demonstrates.

Data about the characteristics of every congressional district in the nation - although not political data - are instantly available on the site, making comparisons easy. About the only similarities between the 51st CD and the 18th CD is that both have virtually the same size populations, 717,000 or so, and both are represented by Democrats, first-termer Juan Vargas in the 51st and 20-year veteran Anna Eshoo in the 18th.

July 11, 2013
California poised to regain No. 8 ranking in global economy

MAJ_PORT_OF_OAKLAND_051007.JPGCalifornia's economic recovery and economic crisis in Europe should allow the state to regain its No. 8 ranking in the global economy, according to the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy.

Steve Levy, the Palo Alto-based organization's director, cited the latest data on California's $2 trillion economy and numbers from the World Bank to conclude that the state should stand alone in the No. 8 position behind the entire United States, China, Japan, Germany, France, United Kingdom (Britain) and Brazil.

July 2, 2013
Muni bond industry betting on better California credit rating

Standard_Poor_2011.jpgThe multi-trillion-dollar municipal bond industry appears to be betting that California's balanced state budget and improving economy will pay off in an improved credit rating.

The Bloomberg financial news service reported Tuesday, in the wake of a generally positive appraisal by Standard & Poor's, that bond investors are demanding lower premiums for California bonds.

"The perception of California from an investor's perspective is that it's on an upswing," said Robert Miller, an executive at Wells Capital Management in Menomonee Falls, Wisc., told Bloomberg. "I don't think there is anybody out there who doesn't think that they are going to receive an upgrade at some point."

The state's credit plummeted to one of the nations lowest during years of deep recession and chronic budget deficits, but has been rising slowly.

An index of economic health devised by Bloomberg says that California's growth in the first quarter of 2013 was faster than the four next largest states, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois. Among the factors were rising home prices and lower unemployment rates.

The state budget situation is also improving with revenues during the just-concluded 2012-13 fiscal year running about $1 billion above the level assumed by the 2013-14 budget.

PHOTO: Tourists drive past Standard & Poor's headquarters in New York's financial district on Aug. 6, 2011. Associated Press/ Karly Domb Sadof

June 27, 2013
Census Bureau charts California's housing meltdown

RP APT CONST ROOF.JPGThe meltdown of California's once-booming housing industry is graphically illustrated in a new Census Bureau report.

In the two years after the 2010 census, California added a net 27,305 units of rental or owner-occupied housing, a gain of just two-tenths of 1 percent, one of the nation's lowest rates, the report says. When the housing industry was booming in the middle of the last decade, it was adding as many as 200,000 units each year.

California's housing growth during the two-year period was the 42nd lowest in the nation and just a third of the national rate. A few states actually saw a reduction of housing, while it boomed in states seeing big economic and population gains from the surge of oil and gas production.

Oil-rich North Dakota had a 3.7 percent gain in housing during the period, the nation's highest rate, while Texas was No. 2 at 1.8 percent, nine times California's rate. Texas added 176,793 housing units, more than six times what California added.

June 24, 2013
California still ranked 41st in children's well-being

childrenrun.jpgCalifornia remains ranked 41st in an annual survey of children's well-being by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, based on a series of key indicators.

The 2013 version of the Kids Count Data Book says that California ranks particularly poorly -- 46th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia -- in children's economic well-being, while its highest ranking, 29th, is in children's health. It is 39th in education and 42nd in "family and community."

The specific report on California includes dozens of statistical charts and can be broken down by county, city and congressional district as well.

Ted Lempert, president of California's Children Now, said in a statement that the report "shows California leaders aren't giving enough attention to the fundamental issues undermining our children's -- and our state's -- success. It's a misprioritization problem. While our state ranks 11th nationally in per capita state and local tax revenues, we are well below the national average in per capita spending on education but 2nd in per capita spending on corrections and prisons."

Lempert, a former Democratic state assemblyman, has been an ardent advocate of Gov. Jerry Brown's plan, recently adopted by the Legislature, to steer more money into school districts with large numbers of poor and/or English learner students."

New Hampshire ranked the highest in children's well-being, followed by Vermont and Massachusetts. New Mexico was 50th, replacing Mississippi, which had held that dubious honor for a number of years, but Mississippi was second lowest and Nevada third lowest.

PHOTO: Children participate in the 10 years-old and under race during the Superheroes 5K run on June 16, 2013 in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

June 10, 2013
California just average in computer and Internet use

BIZ WRK-CPT-GADGETS SJ.jpgCalifornia, birthplace of the personal computer and home to Silicon Valley's tech giants, is only average when it comes to Internet connectivity - probably because the state has a very large population of low-use ethnic groups, a new Census Bureau report indicates.

The report says that 15.4 percent of Californians over two years old lack a home computer and have no other access to a computer and the Internet, only slightly lower than the 15.9 percent national average. Other states range from a low of 7.5 percent in Utah to a high of 26.8 percent in Mississippi.

Californians did rate relatively high, however, in two other indices - smartphone use and using multiple sources and platforms to access the Internet.

The Census Bureau found that computer access and use rates vary widely with ethnicity, with Asian households having the highest rates of Internet use at 82.7 percent, followed by non-Hispanic whites at 76.2 percent, Hispanics at 58.3 percent and blacks at 56.9 percent. The latter two comprise about 45 percent of California's 38 million residents.

PHOTO: Kim Gibbons, director of strategic marketing at Cisco Systems uses her own personal cell phone and iPad while working on a laptop at Cisco in San Jose on Friday, January 27, 2012. San Jose Mercury News/Patrick Tehan

May 31, 2013
UC Davis study: California's Latino vote increases but still lags

OBAMA_HISPANIC_VOTERS_Latino_NYT_2012.JPGVoting among California's Latinos has increased sharply in the last decade - more than doubling the group's rate of population growth - but it still lags that of other major ethnic groups, a new UC Davis study reveals.

Between 2000 and 2011, the university's Center for Regional Change said, the state's Latino population increased by 31 percent, accounting for nearly 90 percent of the state's overall growth during the period. That ethnic group is due to become California's largest sometime this year.

Between the 2002 and 2010 elections, "the Latino vote grew 67.1 percent ... in absolute numbers, outpacing the 37 percent growth ... in the overall vote during the same period," the report said, adding, "but disparities in electoral participation still exist for Latinos."

Latinos make up 26.3 percent of Californians qualified by age and citizenship to vote, but were just 19.7 percent of the state's voters last year. "Latinos are underrepresented in their share of California's vote because they both register and vote lower than the non-Latino electorate," the report continued. "These disparate trends have been historically consistent and are the case, again, for the 2012 election."

In 2012, the report said, eligible non-Latinos voted at a 57.3 percent rate while Latinos were much lower at 39.4 percent - five points lower than it was in 2008, the previous presidential election year, which usually draws the highest turnouts.

Regionally, the voting pattern study found, Latinos were least likely to vote in Los Angeles and rural counties, and most likely in the San Francisco Bay Area. It also found that while the Democratic bent of Latino voters remained high in 2012 at nearly 60 percent, that was lower than it had been in previous elections. Republican orientation also had declined with more Latinos opting to become independents, mirroring overall trends.

Looking to the future, the UC Davis analysis said that the state's Latino population, now about 39 percent of the total, is likely to hit 45 percent by 2040 while its share of potential voters, now 26.3 percent, will be close to 38 percent then.

PHOTO CREDIT: A volunteer with Mi Familia Vota, a national group that helps Latinos become citizens and register to vote, helps a man with voter registration papers at a Denver library. Matthew Staver / New York Times file, 2012

May 30, 2013
California's one-person businesses show sharp rebound

RCB_Real_Estate_Agent_2009.JPGCalifornia's smallest businesses - those without any employees - saw sharp reductions in their incomes when recession hit the state a half-decade ago, but they have since rebounded, a new Census Bureau report indicates.

The number of those no-worker businesses - essentially one-person operations - remained stable during the recession at 2.7 million to 2.8 million, but their receipts declined from $144.5 billion in 2007 to as low as $133.9 billion two years later before beginning to recover. By 2011, the last year for which data are available, there were 2.9 million such businesses and receipts had climbed to $143.8 billion, an average of nearly $50,000 each.

The largest single category of California businesses without employees is "professional, scientific and technical services" - in essence, contract consultants. The Census Bureau counted 501,688 of those "nonemployers," as it calls them, in 2011. They took in just under $24 billion or an average of about $48,000 each. However, the 299,602 one-person operations in real estate garnered $33.4 billion in receipts for an average of more than $111,000 each.

PHOTO CREDIT: A Sacramento real estate agent drops off fliers in hopes of meeting future home buyers or sellers. Renée C. Byer / Sacramento Bee file, 2009

May 29, 2013
New survey underscores California's economic divide

TravelTripBikingSanFran.JPGThe economic bifurcation of California - prosperous coastal cities and struggling inland communities - was underscored again Wednesday by a national survey of local economic prospects by MarketWatch, an Internet business website owned by the Wall Street Journal.

Two coastal cities, San Francisco and San Jose, scored in the top 10 of the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas in terms of economic growth prospects and two others, Los Angeles and San Diego, are only slightly lower.

However, six inland California communities are ranked in the bottom 10 by the survey, with one, Stockton, at No. 100.

Stockton, whose city government has filed for bankruptcy, was clobbered by the bursting of the housing bubble, the study notes. It places Modesto at No. 99, Fresno at No. 98, Riverside at No. 97, Bakersfield at 94 and Sacramento at No. 93, citing its lack of corporate infrastructure and its economic reliance on government.

Others in the bottom 10 are Scranton, Pa.; Lakeland, Fla.; McAllen, Texas; and Tucson, Ariz. Another Texas city, Austin, was rated No. 1 in potential for growth, followed by Boston, Houston, San Jose, Portland, Washington, San Francisco, Bridgeport (Connecticut), Salt Lake City and Raleigh.

PHOTO CREDIT: An escalating row of Victorian houses known as "Painted Ladies" sits on the edge of Alamo Square Park, overlooking the San Francisco skyline. Paula Froke/AP Photo

May 21, 2013
Census Bureau says California 36th in school spending

RP MATH HANDS UP.JPGCalifornia spent far more than any other state on K-12 education in 2011, but its per-pupil spending was $1,421 below the national average, putting it 36th in the nation, according to a new Census Bureau report.

The Capitol's ceaseless debates over school spending usually count only state and local funds, and education advocates say by that measure, after adjustment for California's high cost of living, the state ranks near the bottom vis-à-vis per-pupil spending in the other states. But the Census Bureau calculates revenue from all sources, including the federal government, and spending of all types, including capital outlay.

Gov. Jerry Brown is attempting to overhaul how state and local school funds are distributed, giving more to districts with large numbers of poor and/or English-learner students. His latest budget revision pegs per-pupil spending in 2011-12 from state and local revenues at $7,175 and says it would rise to $9,929 by 2016-17, thanks largely to tax increases approved by voters last year.

May 13, 2013
California ranks second in boating accidents, fatalities

RB Hydroplane 2.JPGCalifornia is the nation's most populous state but ranks fourth in the number of boats plying oceanic and inland waterways.

Conversely, the state is second behind only Florida when it comes to the number of boating accidents and boating fatalities, according to a new data report from the U.S. Coast Guard.

Florida has the nation's highest number of boats, almost a million, followed closely by Minnesota, Michigan and California. Florida was also No. 1 in boating accidents in 2012 with 662, according to the Coast Guard, in fatalities with 50 and in injuries with 398.

However, California was second in accidents (365), in fatalities (49) and in injuries (249). The state has been trending downward in boating accidents, the report's five-year spreadsheet also showed, but the number of fatalities has remained fairly constant, ranging from a low of 45 in 2008 to 52 in 2011.

PHOTO CREDIT: The Peters & May hydroplane race boat driven by JW Myers at Granite State Beach in Folsom on Thursday, September 8, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

May 13, 2013
California lags nation in reduction of carbon dioxide emissions

EPA_AIR_QUALITY.jpgAlthough California fancies itself a leader in the reduction of greenhouse gases, the state has the nation's second highest level of energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide and has lagged the rest of the nation in reducing those emissions, according to a new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Under Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown, California has adopted a mandate that utilities shift to at least 33 percent of its electrical power coming from non-emitting renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal by 2020. It's also adopted a "cap-and-trade" system to compel sources of carbon emissions to reduce their impact.

The EIA report, however, says that California's 369.8 million metric tons of energy-related carbon emissions in 2010 made it second only to Texas' 652.6 million metric tons. But between 2000 and 2010, while the nation's emissions were dropping by 4.2 percent, Texas' fell by 8.3 percent and California's by just 3 percent.

On a per-capita basis, California's energy carbon output dropped from 11.2 metric tons to 9.9 tons - one of the nation's lowest levels and barely half the national average of 18.2 tons. However, the state's per capita decline during that period, 11.2 percent, was lower than the national average decline of 12.6 percent. Texas' per capita decline during the decade was 23.8 percent.

PHOTO CREDIT: Smog covers downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, March 12, 2008. Monica Almeida/The New York Times

May 7, 2013
California has 2.6 million illegal immigrants, USC study finds

ha_IMMIGRANTS0001.JPGCalifornia has 2.6 million residents who are in the country illegally and thus would be heavily impacted by any immigration reform legislation, a massive new study by the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration concludes.

The state's undocumented population is about a quarter of the nation's, and about 72 percent comes from Mexico.

The study also found that California's illegal immigrants have $31.5 billion in income but individually earn less than half of U.S.-born workers, even though 74 percent of working-age immigrants are in the labor force.

PHOTO CREDIT: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, right, talks at the state Capitol on April 30 about his SB 516 and SB 666 on ensuring immigrants' rights, regardless of legal status. Hector Amezcua / Sacramento Bee

May 1, 2013
Census Bureau charts California economy's rise and fall

RCB_20121031_NEWHOMES_0003.JPGMost California workers are payroll employees of private businesses, and the rise, fall and slow recovery of that employment during the last decade is laid out in a new Census Bureau report.

The report -- which excludes government workers and the self-employed from its calculations -- reveals that in 2001, there were 806,733 "business establishments" employing 13.2 million Californians and paying them $521.8 billion a year.

Five years later, during an historic housing boom that helped drive the state's unemployment rate below 5 percent, there were 878,128 businesses with 13.8 million workers, and payroll outlays hit $633.8 billion.

As the housing bubble burst, however, the state slid into its worst recession since the Great Depression, and the statewide unemployment rate surged over time to more than 12 percent. By 2010, the number of employers had dropped to 849,875 and business employment had declined to 12.5 million - a decline of 1.3 million workers - but payroll costs were virtually the same at $635.6 billion.

The latest employment data files for 2011 show a slight uptick from 2010 as the state's economy began to recover. In 2011, there were 849,316 employers with 12.7 million employees, and they were paying out $663.6 billion in wages and salaries.

PHOTO CREDIT: Construction workers smooth out foundations at a new housing development in Folsom. Renée C. Byer / Sacramento Bee file, 2012

May 1, 2013
California's out-of-wedlock birth rate lower than that nationwide

AOC_Baby_Hand.JPGMaybe California is not such a wild and crazy place after all.

The Census Bureau reported Wednesday that 35.7 percent of U.S. births were to unmarried mothers in 2011, but California's rate was markedly lower at 33.9 percent.

A number of other states had higher rates than California's, including rival Texas at 35.8 percent.

Among the states, Louisiana had the highest rate of births that year to unmarried mothers, 48.7 percent, although that was surpassed by the District of Columbia at 50.8 percent.

Utah was lowest at 14.7 percent.

PHOTO CREDIT: A care-giver holds the hand of a 4-month-old baby. Autumn Payne / Sacramento Bee file, 2006

May 1, 2013
California population growth remains low

MC_TRANSAMERICA_G.19.JPGThe California Department of Finance's demographic unit calculated that California gained fewer than 300,000 new residents in 2012 for a growth rate of 0.8 percent.

Numerically, that's about half the annual growth California experienced during the 1980s, when high immigration and birth rates hit the state, and proportionately it's scarcely a third of the 1980s rate.

Working off 2010 census data, state demographers estimated the state's population at 37,966,000 on January 1, up 298,000 over the previous year.

The state's still-struggling economy may have something to do with population trends, the report indicated. The San Francisco Bay Area, whose economy is booming, was the fastest growing region last year, with Santa Clara County, home of Silicon Valley, growing twice as fast as the state as a whole.

Population growth last year was lowest in rural counties, where unemployment rates are the highest, and several actually lost population - Alpine, Calaveras, Del Norte, Lassen, Modoc, Plumas and Tuolumne.

Although regionally the Bay Area saw the highest rate of population growth, Santa Clarita, a suburban enclave north of Los Angeles, was the state's fastest growing city at 15.4 percent, followed by Dublin in Alameda County at 6.8 percent.

Despite scant population growth, however, California saw a resurgence of residential construction last year, with a 27 percent increase in new housing units from the previous year. The amount of residential construction in 2012, 45,309 units, was, however, just a fifth of what California was building during the height of the housing boom in the last decade.

PHOTO CREDIT: The San Francisco Bay Area had California's highest regional growth rate in 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo 2010 file.

April 30, 2013
Report: California governments could be $1.1 trillion in debt

BrownDebt.JPGCalifornia's state and local governments are at least $648 billion in debt and the total could surpass $1.1 trillion -- depending on how pension liabilities are calculated -- according to a data compilation by a conservative think tank.

The report was published by the California Public Policy Center, which is based in Southern California and concentrates its work on public employee unions and public pension liabilities. It's also a target of criticism by unions and other liberal groups, which accuse it of being part of a right-wing conspiracy to attack unions and public employees.

Anticipating that criticism, the organization took great pains to base its debt calculations on official data, including pension funds' own estimates of their unfunded liabilities, deviating from that methodology only on speculating about potentially higher pension debts.

The heavily footnoted report says the state's official debt stands at $132.6 billion, with general obligation bonds more than half the total. Other state debts include $27.8 billion in "budgetary borrowings" that Gov. Jerry Brown has described as a "wall of debt," $10.9 billion owed to the federal government for unemployment insurance benefits, and $11.3 billion in lease-revenue bonds.

April 23, 2013
Ever-fewer California employers offering health insurance

RB Scope 1.JPGAs the federal Affordable Care Act begins to take effect, ever-fewer California employers are offering medical insurance to their workers, according to an annual survey by the California Healthcare Foundation.

From 2002 to 2012, the proportion of employers offering such coverage declined from 71 percent to 60 percent. Meanwhile, the costs of health care insurance have risen by just under 170 percent since 2002, more than five times the overall inflation rate.

The average premium for single-person coverage was $545 per month in 2012, substantially more than the national average of $468, while family coverage cost an average of $1,386 in California and $1,312 nationally, the foundation said.

The survey also found that larger employers with high proportions of full-time workers were most likely to offer health insurance to workers and that deductibles tended to be much higher among small employers than among large ones.

Finally, 21 percent of employers reported that they had increased the share of insurance costs borne by employees during the preceding year, while 17 percent either reduced workers' costs or absorbed increases.

PHOTO CREDIT: Optometrist Aaron Lech, right, examines patient Melanie Kearns of Rocklin in his office in Roseville on April 11., 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

April 3, 2013
Californians getting healthier, county-by-county data show

DeathMap.jpgCalifornians appear to be getting healthier in many respects, with drops in deaths attributable to cancer and many other major illnesses, as well as homicide and auto accidents, a new statistical report from the state Department of Public Health indicates.

However, the state also is seeing an uptick in deaths from Alzheimer's disease, as well as suicide and chronic liver disease. The report covers three years -- 2009-2011 -- with comparisons to 2006-2008.

For the first time, too, the state report on health-related issues compares California's experiences with the recommendations of the federal government's "Healthy People 2020" benchmarks.

California averaged 234,637 deaths a year from all causes during the 2009-11 period for an "age-adjusted rate" of 654.9 per 100,000 population. But the age-adjusted death rate in the state's 58 counties varied widely, from a low of 516.4 in wealthy Marin County to 989.2 in nearby Lake County, which has a high poverty rate.

March 28, 2013
State auditor: California's net worth at negative $127.2 billion

RB_Prison_Construction_2009.JPGWere California's state government a business, it would be a candidate for insolvency with a negative net worth of $127.2 billion, according to an annual financial report issued by State Auditor Elaine Howle and the Bureau of State Audits.

The report, which covers the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, says that the state's negative status -- all of its assets minus all of its liabilities -- increased that year, largely because it spent more than it received in revenue.

During the 2011-12 fiscal year, the state's general fund spent $1.7 billion more than it received in revenues and wound up with an accumulated deficit of just under $23 billion from several years of red ink. Gov. Jerry Brown has referred to that and other budget gaps, mostly money owed to schools, as a "wall of debt" totaling more than $30 billion.

March 26, 2013
The highs and lows of California's health care spending

RP EFFORT KUMAR.JPGHealth care has become, by most measures, the largest single piece of the California economy, well over 10 percent of its $2 trillion output of goods and services -- and destined to grow as the state extends medical insurance coverage to millions of Californians under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Nevertheless, a new nationwide study finds that as large as it may be, the health care spending in California has been relatively small, compared to other states.

The statistical compilation by the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis found that as of 2009, the latest year for which complete data were available, California was sixth lowest among the states in public and private health care spending as a proportion of its economy. The state's relative spending, 12.5 percent of its economy, was just 84 percent of the national average.

March 25, 2013
Poll: Californians back gun control, immigration reform


Clear majorities of Californians across the ideological spectrum support measures to reduce violence and overhaul the U.S. immigration system, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

Congress has tackled immigration with a renewed sense of urgency this year, and California voters agree with the premise that the current laws are in need of overhaul: 67 percent of respondents to the poll said the current system is not working.

Nearly three-quarters of California voters backed President Barack Obama's framework, which includes tightened border security, tougher restrictions to ensure employers hire legal workers and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The poll found strong support when it broke those components into separate questions -- 75 percent of voters backed stricter employment verification, a figure that rose to over 80 percent for border security and a route to citizenship.

While registered Republicans were less likely to support those proposals, they were more receptive than in past surveys. A 45-percent plurality of Republicans backed the citizenship option, outstripping the third who favored deportation.

"You see the Republican party, at least in California moving away from a deportation mentality," David Kanevsky of the research firm American Viewpoint said in a conference call with reporters.

March 19, 2013
Cal Lutheran economist sees California's population declining

Declining birth and migration rates have slowed California's population growth to a crawl and "it's only a matter of time before California's population declines," California Lutheran University economist Bill Watkins declares in a new report on the state's demographic and economic prospects.

Such a decline, Watkins says, would mean that "all of California's problems will be much harder to solve than they are today."

Although California appears to be adding jobs slowly as it recovers from the worst recession since the Great Depression, Watkins continues, the state's economic future is cloudy. Despite recent real estate price increases, he doubts whether they imply that a new real estate boom is coming, particularly with much-slower population growth.

Watkins, the least optimistic of the economists who chart California's finances, released his new report today during a meeting of the California Taxpayers Association in Sacramento today.

March 5, 2013
Local CA officials say $82 billion needed for road repairs

RP STREET WORK JACKHAMMER.JPGCalifornia's network of local streets and roads "is in crisis" and needs $82 billion in repairs and reconstruction to be restored, a coalition of local government groups declared Tuesday.

The California Statewide Needs Assessment Project report closely parallels recent appraisals by the California Transportation Commission that the state highway network also needs hundreds of billions of dollars in work.

Cities and counties are responsible for 81 percent of the state's roadway mileage, and the report by the California State Association of Counties, the League of California Cities and other groups say that while $2.5 billion is being spent annually on their upkeep, they need another $1.9 billion to keep the roadways from deteriorating further and $82 billion over the next 10 years "to bring the system up-to-date."

Localities receive shares of gasoline taxes and supplement those funds with local sales and property taxes to maintain and expand local streets and roads.

"It costs far less to repair and maintain roads than to replace them," Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities, said in a statement accompanying the report, adding, "We can either spend money now and make the repairs, or expect to pay a lot more in the future."

The report does not suggest a way to pay for the work it advocates, but notes that $82 billion would translate into an extra 56 cents per gallon of fuel in taxes.

PHOTO CREDIT: A Sacramento City street division road crew uses jackhammers to remove cracked asphalt on Land Park Drive near 2nd Avenue on April 24, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

March 4, 2013
Fewer California school districts in financial distress

RP RALLY TORLAKSON.JPGThe number of California school districts in financial jeopardy has dropped by a third in the last year, state schools superintendent Tom Torlakson said Monday.

Last May, 188 school districts, including several of the state's largest, were either in "negative certification" or "qualified certification," denoting levels of financial distress, but the number has since dropped to 124 - in part because the state is pumping more money into local school coffers from the sales and income tax increase approved by voters last November.

The new list has seven districts with "negative" status, meaning they cannot meet their financial obligations now, the largest of which is Inglewood Unified in Los Angeles County.

Another 117 districts have "qualified" status, meaning they may not be able to meet their obligations. They include the state's largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, and a number of other large districts, such as Oakland Unified, Antelope Valley Joint Union High School, Compton Unified, Pomona Unified, Capistrano Unified, Elk Grove Unified, Sacramento City Unified, San Juan Unified, Folsom-Cordova Unified and San Diego Unified.

Overall, Torlakson said, 500,000 fewer of California's 6 million K-12 students are being schooled in financially distressed districts, but 2.1 million remain in those districts.

PHOTO CREDIT: 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

February 26, 2013
5.3 million Californians received low-income aid in 2011

More than 5 million California adults received some form of income-based government assistance in 2011, according to a new Census Bureau report.

The report covered welfare grants, aid to the aged, blind and disabled and medical care through the Medi-Cal program, as well as several smaller programs in which aid is based on recipients' low incomes. But it excluded Social Security payments, public employee pensions and other public payment programs that are not tied to on recipients' incomes.

The 5.3 million Californians receiving aid in 2011 were the largest number of any state by far but the percentage, just under 19 percent of all California adults, was a percentage point lower than the national rate of means-tested public assistance.

Nationally, 30.4 percent of 46 million aid recipients were disabled, but in California it was 27.9 percent, one of the nation's lowest rates.

February 20, 2013
California home ownership continues slide, now second lowest

RB_New_Home_Sales_4.JPGCalifornia's rate of homeownership continued a years-long slide in 2012 and is now the second lowest in the nation, according to a new Census Bureau report.

Just 54.1 percent of Californians lived in homes during the last quarter of 2012 that they or their families owned, the Census Bureau reported. Only New York, at 53.1 percent, had a lower rate.

The report covers the annual housing survey dating back to 2005, when California's home ownership rate was 60.1 percent. It has declined every year since.

Nationally, 65.4 percent of U.S. residents live in homes owned by themselves or their families. States range as high as 76.7 percent in West Virginia.

PHOTO CREDIT: New homes are under construction in West Sacramento on Thursday, July 8, 2010. Randall Benton / Sacramento Bee file, 2010.

February 19, 2013
Five California House members on 'most liberal' list

Does California's delegation in the House of Representatives lean to the left? So it would seem from an exhaustive ranking of 435 House members on their ideological positioning by the authoritative National Journal.

Five California Democrats are tied with nine Democrats from other states for the title of "most liberal," based on their voting records in 2012.

However, when it comes to "most conservative," the highest any Californian - San Diego County Republican Duncan Hunter - ranked was 18th.

February 11, 2013
Silicon Valley has nation's 2nd highest concentration of wealthy

A tony suburb of New York City has the nation's highest concentration of high-income households, but Silicon Valley ranks No. 2 and eight of the nation's 25 wealthiest communities are in California, according to a new Census Bureau report.

The Bridgeport, CT, area has the highest concentration with 17.9 percent of its households having incomes in the top 5 percent, the report said, with San Jose and other Silicon Valley communities in second place at 15.9 percent.

San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont ranks No. 4 at 13 percent, just behind Washington, DC, and its suburbs. Napa is No. 10, with the Santa Cruz-Watsonville area No. 11, Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana No. 15, Santa Barbara-Santa Maria No. 16, San Diego and vicinity No. 18 and Santa Rosa-Petaluma No. 23.

February 6, 2013
Report: California Asians, Islanders are 'community of contrasts'

JV_052012_PACIFICRIM 055.JPGWhile Latinos are poised to become California's largest ethnic group within a few months, the state's Asian-Pacific Islander community has been growing even faster, according to a new report charting the community's status.

The state's 5.6 million Asians and nearly 300,000 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders easily make up the largest such concentration in the nation. Despite widespread belief that they are very prosperous, the group is actually the report's title, "A Community of Contrasts," with some nationalities doing very well economically and others among the state's poorest residents.

The report, produced by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and the Asian Law Caucus, breaks down the overall community into 23 specific Asian and 19 Hawaiian-Pacific Islander subgroups.

It declares, for instance, that while Taiwanese, Fijian, Malaysian, Japanese, Filipino and Indian Californians have levels of poverty below those of white Californians, those of other subgroups are higher, topped by 34 percent poverty among Hmong, more than twice the state's overall rate.

Income levels show a similarly wide spread in the report, with Hmong having per capita incomes of under $10,000 a year, less than a quarter of whites and the upper-income Asian communities, such as Indians, Malaysians and Taiwanese. The report also declares that Asians were hit particularly hard by the recent recession, both in terms of unemployment and housing foreclosures.

PHOTO CREDIT: Lincy Han of the Golden Turtle Lion Dance Association of UC Davis, prepares for the opening ceremony of the Pacific Rim Street Fest on May 20, 2012. José Luis Villegas / Sacramento Bee file, 2012

February 4, 2013
California teachers pension fund faces $64 billion deficit

The trust fund that provides pensions to retired teachers has a $64 billion deficit and would need a $4.5 billion per year infusion of revenue to become fully solvent, according to a new internal study.

The California State Teachers Retirement System produced the report in response to a legislative resolution.

Its release came just days after the Legislature's budget analyst, Mac Taylor, indirectly chided Gov. Jerry Brown for ignoring "huge unfunded liabilities associated with the teachers' retirement system and state retiree health benefits" in his new budget.

STRS receives money from the state, from local school districts and from teachers themselves, but is also highly dependent on investment earnings, which were clobbered during the recent recession. And while its larger cousin, the California Public Employees Retirement System, has the power take money from the state treasury as it sees fit, STRS must receive specific appropriations from the Legislature.

While fully funding teacher pensions would require $4.5 billion more a year --excluding projected investment earnings -- the system says in its report, the burden would be eased by setting lower funding targets and./or stretching out contributions. The most important decision, STRS said, is to begin closing the deficit, rather than allowing it to widen further.

February 1, 2013
Poll: California business leaders see state's climate as difficult

More than two-thirds of California business leaders see the state as an extraordinarily difficult state in which to operate, a new survey by the California Business Roundtable has found.

The poll adds heft to the often-voiced complaints about the state's business climate from Republicans and business groups -- complaints that Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders say they want to address as the state struggles to emerge from a deep recession.

Brown and top legislators have pledged to reform the California Environmental Quality Act and examine other ways to make the state more attractive to investment, but environmental and consumer groups are leery.

The Business Roundtable polled 1,142 leaders of both large and small businesses and learned that more than 60 percent see the state's economy as worse than the nation's as a whole and 69 percent say it is harder to do business in California than in other states.

The survey also found that just 26 percent of business leaders believe that the results of the 2012 election, in which voters passed new taxes and expanded Democratic legislative majorities, will have a positive effect on the economy while 51 percent said it would have a negative effect.

January 31, 2013
How does California economy compare to other states?

Comparing California to other states has become a common exercise among politicians, academicians and in the media.

So how does California really shape up? Next 10, an organization dedicated to looking into California's future, commissioned David Neumark and Jennifer Muz of the University of California, Irvine, to produce a voluminous study of California's economy vis-à-vis other states. Among its findings:

January 31, 2013
As California grows slowly, Latinos will be biggest bloc

Although California's once-soaring population growth has slowed markedly, the state will surpass 50 million by 2050, and by then, Latinos should be nearing a majority, according to a new set of population projections by the state Department of Finance.

Meanwhile, the state's once dominant white population will continue to shrink, becoming smaller than the Latino contingent by early 2014, and the state will become markedly older as the huge Baby Boom generation moves into retirement years.

The 2010 census counted 37.3 million Californians, and population growth, once well more than 2 percent a year, has dropped to under 1 percent. The new projections see 40.6 million by 2020, 44.3 million by 2030, 47.7 million by 2040, 50.4 million by 2050 and 52.7 million by 2060.

January 30, 2013
California ranks low in family economic security

The theory that California has evolved into a two-tier society is getting another dose of statistical support from a new nationwide survey of family economic security.

The Washington-based Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) found that Californians rank 38th among the states in economic security by such indices as poverty rate, savings, and net worth. It means, CFED's report said, that nearly half of California residents have no savings on which to rely in the event of job loss, illness or "other income-depleting emergency."

The state would rank even lower were the federal government to adopt a proposed new standard of gauging poverty. Under the current system, which is reflected in the CFED report, the state ranks 29th in poverty rate at 14.6 percent, but under the proposed new system, which takes into account living costs and other factors, the state would have the nation's highest poverty rate.

The detailed section of the report on California cites as major factors in the state's low economic security ranking its high level of average credit card debt ($13,825; ranked 48th) and its high bankruptcy rate, 6.2 per 1,000 residents, nearly 50 percent higher than the national rate (ranked 45th).

January 23, 2013
California unions gain membership, bucking national trend

Union Membership.JPGBucking a national trend of declining labor union membership, California's unions saw a tiny uptick in 2012, according to a new report from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nationwide, the proportion of wage and salary workers belonging to unions dropped from 11.8 percent in 2011 to 11.3 percent in 2012, the BLS said, but in California, it increased from 17.1 percent to 17.2 percent.

California was one of just 14 states that saw union gains. That translated into an increased in union membership from 2.4 million to 2.5 million, the majority of them state, school and local government employees.

New York has the nation's highest union membership proportion, 23.2 percent, while North Carolina has the lowest, 2.9 percent. California's rate is fifth highest behind New York, Alaska, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Washington state, but the Golden State's number of union members is by the far the largest of any state.

PHOTO CREDIT: This Feb. 28, 2011 file photo shows protests at the state Capitol in Madison, Wis. The nation's labor unions suffered sharp declines in membership last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Wednesday. (AP Photo/ Andy Manis, File)

January 18, 2013
Manufacturing stages U.S. comeback, but not in California

Manufacturing is staging a big comeback in the United States, according to a new U.S. Commerce Department report, but a new state employment report indicates that manufacturing is continuing its years-long slide in California.

The federal report says that between the start of 2010 and the end of 2012, manufacturing accounted for 500,000 new jobs. But a state-by-state survey indicates that the effects are being felt mostly in the Upper Midwest and the South.

In Indiana, for example, manufacturing accounts for 13.1 percent of jobs and 22.3 percent of earnings, making it the No. 1 state in terms of economic impact. All other states with high-impact manufacturing sectors, except for New Hampshire, are in the two regions.

Meanwhile, a monthly report on employment in California, also released Friday, shows that government and manufacturing are among the categories to show declines over the past year.

Manufacturing, once a major component of the California economy, now accounts for less than 9 percent of the state's non-agricultural payrolls. It shed 11,400 jobs between December 2011 and last month.

The federal report's manufacturing employment map indicates that only in a handful of San Francisco Bay Area counties do manufacturers account for more than 10 percent of employment.

January 17, 2013
California high on gas tax, low on user-financed transportation

Gas Pump.JPGCalifornia has the nation's third highest fuel taxes, but nevertheless has one of the nation's lowest rates of charging users for highways and other transportation services, according to a new study by the Tax Foundation.

Despite fuel taxes of over 50 cents a gallon, the Washington-based organization found, those and other "user" taxes and fees account for just 30.3 percent of state and local government spending on transportation services, including mass transit, and just 22.7 percent of spending on roads, streets and highways.

The state is the 33rd lowest state in the first category and 39th in the second. On average, states finance 35.8 percent of all transportation spending from user revenue, and 32 percent of roads, streets and highways.

The Tax Foundation argues that most transportation costs should be covered by user taxes and fees, rather than general revenues. Delaware ranks No. 1 in that approach, covering well over 50 percent of its costs with user revenue.

PHOTO CREDIT: Associated Press file, 2008

January 16, 2013
American Lung Association critiques California on smoking

smoke 044.JPGCalifornia has one of the nation's lowest rates of smoking -- just 13.6 percent of adults light up -- but the American Lung Association gives the state low marks for reducing tobacco use, primarily for not taxing cigarettes more and not spending more on anti-smoking programs.

The critique of California is contained in the organization's annual state-by-state "report card" on anti-smoking efforts.

While praising the state as an early leader in persuading its residents to give up cigarettes, the association raps the state for not raising cigarette taxes higher than the current 87 cents a pack and decried voter rejection of a $1 per pack increase last year (Proposition 29). It said California is one of only three states that haven't raised smoking levies since 1999. It also singles out the Legislature for stalling action last year on Senate Bill 575, which would have removed exemptions from smoke-free places.

January 15, 2013
California sees slower population growth, Latino plurality this year

With a declining birthrate and ebbing migration into California from other states and nations, the historically fast-growing state will see only relatively slow population expansion in the foreseeable future, the state's own demographers conclude.

However, these trends also mean that Latinos are likely to become the state's largest single ethnic group sometime this year, a data-packed section of Gov. Jerry Brown's new state budget plan concludes.

That's a couple of years earlier than previous demographic expectations.

January 14, 2013
Watch: Kevin Yamamura, lawmakers talk budget

The release last week of Gov. Jerry Brown's 2013-2014 budget proposal has kept reporters busy, particularly Capitol Alert's resident budget expert, Kevin Yamamura.

In the video below, Kevin hosts a California Connections discussion analyzing whether this budget marks California moving beyond the era of gaping budget deficits. He is joined by Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff; Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, who sits on the Budget and Fiscal Review Committee, and H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for California's Department of Finance.

January 14, 2013
Study says more than third of California cigarettes are smuggled

More than a third of the cigarettes that are smoked in California have been smuggled from other jurisdictions, according to an updated study by the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

The conservative think tank said that California's illegal cigarette rate, 36.08 percent in 2011, was slightly lower than the 36.29 percent rate calculated in 2009 and ranked it seventh highest in the nation, down from fifth highest in 2009.

The Mackinac study cited a strong correlation between "buttlegging" rates and the level of cigarette taxation. It said New York had the highest rate of smuggled cigarette use 60.4 percent, as well as the highest cigarette tax, $4.35 per pack statewide and an additional $1.50 in New York City.

Meanwhile, it rated New Hampshire as being the biggest exporter of cigarettes to other states because its tax is lower than those of most surrounding states. For every 100 packs of cigarettes smoked in New Hampshire, 27 were taken elsewhere.

January 8, 2013
Number of California children declines, poor in poverty

The number of California's children is shrinking, and more of them are living in poverty, according to two new reports by private organizations.

The release of reports from the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health and the Center for the Next Generation. was coincidental, but both explore the same phenomenon of change in the state's under-10-year-old population.

The Packard Foundation study, using Census Bureau data, reveals that the number of California children declined by nearly 200,000 between 2000 and 2010 and is likely to drop by another 100,000 in this decade. Proportionately, the study found, children are declining from 33 percent of California's population in 1970 to a projected 21 percent by 2030.

January 2, 2013
Unlicensed California drivers have high fatality rates

California's millions of unlicensed drivers are nearly three times as likely to cause a fatal traffic crash as those who are driving legally, a new Department of Motor Vehicles study concludes.

The findings, the DMV's researchers conclude, "strongly justify the use of countermeasures, including vehicle impoundment, to control (illegal) drivers and to reduce crashes caused by those drivers."

The data provide new grist for the state's perennial political debate over whether illegal immigrants should be allowed to obtain licenses, and local debates in San Francisco and other cities over police seizure of vehicles from drivers who are unlicensed.

For the past 18 years, applicants for driver's licenses have been required to prove their legal status. Advocates of licensing illegal drivers say that it would improve traffic safety.

The study covered fatal accident statistics from 1987 and 2009 and divided at-fault drivers into three categories - licensed drivers, those driving on suspended or revoked licenses, and those who never had licenses.

On average, fewer than 1 percent of licensed drivers will be at fault in a fatal collision, while the rates of those with suspended or revoked licenses and those without licenses approach 3 percent.

The study noted that in a given moment, about two million Californians will have their licenses suspended or revoked, but how many continue to drive is unknown, as is the number of drivers who never had been licensed. The latter number is assumed to have grown since the law was changed in 1994 to require license applicants to prove legal status.

December 20, 2012
California Legislature is biggest generator of major new laws

If you sense that California's Legislature is the nation's most active -- or most intrusive -- generator of new laws, a nationwide compilation of 2012 state legislation by the National Conference of State Legislatures seems to prove the case.

The NCSL released its annual list of the nation's 81 most significant new state laws Thursday, and the California Legislature is responsible for 27 of them, or exactly one third. California edged out Illinois, which generated 26 of the noteworthy new laws.

Among California measures cited by the NCSL were those that allow clergy members to refuse to perform same-sex marriages, prohibit prison workers from having sex with inmates, allow life-sentence offenders who were under 18 when they committed crimes to seek release, restrict picketing at funerals, protect breastfeeding rights, require car washes to recycle water, reform state pensions, and no longer require passengers in off-road vehicles to keep their feet flat on the floor.

December 20, 2012
Forbes ranks California as No. 41 in business climate

Steven Glazer, one of Gov. Jerry Brown's closest advisers, tweeted jubilantly Thursday about his hometown of Orinda's being rated the second friendliest community in America by Forbes magazine.

Glazer, an Orinda city councilman, was dismissive, however, about California's poor showing in Forbes' annual ranking of the states on business climate, which also was published Thursday.

California was rated No. 41, just behind Alabama and just ahead of Wisconsin, in the annual survey, which covered six factors ranging from business costs to quality of life. California's lowest score was in business costs while its highest - No. 1, in fact - was in "growth prospects."

When asked whether he also embraces Forbes' business climate ranking, Glazer responded, on Twitter: "Of course not. This is all abt fun. Best 2 argue abt criteria, laugh @ conclusions 4 both. Go Orinda!"

Forbes ranked Utah as the No. 1 state for business, with Maine last at No. 50.

December 20, 2012
Census Bureau sees California growing faster than state agency does

A polite, decade-long disagreement between the federal Census Bureau and California's state demographers developed after the 2000 census.

The Census Bureau saw California's population growing more slowly than did the state, and by the end of the decade, the gap between the two had grown to about a million persons.

The 2010 census officially settled the argument in the Census Bureau's favor. The state, albeit reluctantly, rebenched its population figures to the census.

Two years later, however, the gap has emerged again, only this time the Census Bureau sees California's population growing more rapidly than does the state Department of Finance's population unit.

Last week, the state pegged California's July 1 population at 37.8 million, up 256,000 from 2011. But on Thursday, the Census Bureau said the state had just over 38 million residents on July 1, having grown by 357,500 during the previous 12 months.

The Census Bureau's growth estimate for California was the nation's second highest behind Texas' 427,400, but in percentage terms, the state's annual growth rate, 0.9 percent, was just a tad over the national rate of 0.7 percent while Texas' rate, 1.7 percent, was nearly twice California's.

North Dakota, thanks to an oil boom, had the fastest growth rate of 2.17 percent and Texas was No. 3. California's rate was the 19th highest. At the other end of the scale, Vermont dropped by 581 residents. It and Rhode Island were the only two states to see a population decline.

December 17, 2012
New battle coming over California's minimum wage

California's minimum wage of $8 per hour has been frozen for five years and a battle is likely in the 2013 legislative session over whether it should be increased and whether it should be automatically indexed to inflation.

Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, tried to win passage of a minimum wage hike and automatic indexing in 2011, but after Assembly Bill 10 easily cleared the Assembly's Labor and Employment Committee with Democratic votes, it died without a hearing or a vote in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, having drawn stiff business opposition.

Alejo is back with a new bill, also tagged as AB 10, that's slightly less ambitious. It would boost the minimum wage to $8.25 in 2014, with two 50-cent boosts in subsequent years, and then automatic adjustment to inflation beginning in 2017.

Backers of change - labor unions and advocates for the poor - contend that low-income workers lose purchasing power due to inflation. Opponents - restaurants and other employers with large numbers of minimum wage workers - say that raising it would increase their costs and force them to reduce payrolls.

December 13, 2012
Report: Smokeless tobacco use up among California students

Though the prevalence of cigarette smoking among California high school students has declined over the past decade, smokeless tobacco use has risen among high school students, from 3.1 percent in 2004 to 3.9 percent in 2010, according a report released this morning.

The report, by Ron Chapman, state health officer and director of the California Department of Public Health, attributed the increase in part to a rise in the promotion and availability of snus and other smokeless tobacco products.

The study found the prevalence of smoking was higher at schools in neighborhoods with five or more stores that sell tobacco than at schools in neighborhoods without any stores selling tobacco.

The study also documented a rise in the illegal sale of tobacco to minors. According to the survey, 8.7 percent of retailers sold tobacco to minors this year, up from 5.6 percent in 2011.

"For the first time in the last three years, tobacco retailers are selling tobacco to our youth more often," Chapman said in a conference call with reporters this morning.

December 13, 2012
California continues to see modest population growth

California's population grew last fiscal year by 256,000 residents due to natural births, a 0.68 percent increase that brings the state's total to 37,826,000 people.

The data are contained in a new release from the state Department of Finance, whose demographers update population statistics each year.

The state has seen annual population growth rates below 1 percent since 2004-2005. The new report shows California had 503,000 births last fiscal year, 234,000 deaths and a net migration of 13,000 people who left the state.

Placer County again topped the list in population growth with 1.21 percent growth to 360,680 residents. Santa Clara County was close behind with 1.20 percent growth to 1,828,597 residents.

Lassen County saw the biggest population decrease, losing 2.94 percent down to 33,650 residents. Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said the county suffered significant population declines after the state began shifting lower-level prisoners and parolees to counties, resulting in fewer people at Lassen's California Correctional Center and High Desert State Prison.

December 11, 2012
New Census Bureau tool makes finding detailed data easy, fast

Let's say you'd like to know how many Asian residents of Sacramento County moved in the last year, either to a new address within the county or somewhere else.

A new Census Bureau online tool, dubbed Easy Stats, makes finding that information not only easy but instantaneous.

Results from the 2010 Census and other Census Bureau research into demographics, economics, living arrangements and just about everything else are available for every state, every county and every community.

By the way, Easy Stats tells us that about 31,000 Asians living in Sacramento County a year ago have since moved, nearly 24,000 of them to other homes in the county, more than 5,000 to somewhere else in California and more than 2,000 to another state.

December 10, 2012
California lost more people to other states than it gained in 2011

About 100,000 more Californians moved to another state in 2011 than California gained from other states, a new Census Bureau report reveals.

However, more than a quarter-million persons relocated into California from other countries during the year and that, coupled with what demographers call "natural increase" - births minus deaths - meant that the state still gained population.

The Census Bureau calculated that 562,343 Californians moved to other states during 2011 with the most popular destinations being Texas (58,992), Arizona (49,635), Nevada (40,114), Washington (38,421), Oregon (34,214), New York (25,761), Colorado (23,234) and Florida (22,420).

Meanwhile, 468,428 residents of other states moved to California during the year, with the most numerous domestic immigrants coming from Texas (37,387), Washington (36,481), Nevada (36,159), Arizona (35,650), New York (25,269) and Florida (22,094).

Finally, the Census Bureau tallied 269,772 persons who moved to California from outside the 50 states, almost all of whom came from foreign countries, but with relative handfuls from Puerto Rico (1,344) and islands under U.S. control (2,817).

December 10, 2012
California leads nation with nearly 6,000 centenarians

California is home to more Americans 100 years or older than any other state, according to a new Census Bureau report, but its percentage of centenarians and other over-70 residents is below the national average.

The report says that in 2010, 53,364 Americans were over 100 years old, including 5,921 in California, topping No. 2 New York's 4,605 and Florida's 4,090, but with just 1.6 percent of its population listed as centenarians, it was a bit below the national average of 1.7 percent and way below the leading centenarian state, North Dakota, at 3.3 percent.

California also fell under the national average in residents aged 70-79 (4.7 percent), 80-89 (2.7 percent) and 90-99 (0.53 percent).

December 6, 2012
California budget spends less than U.S. average on education

Education may be the largest single segment of California's budget, but the state proportionately spends less of its money on elementary and high schools and colleges than the national average, according to a new Census Bureau report.

The statistic is gleaned from the bureau's annual report on state government finances, the latest of which covers 2011.

The report tallies California's "general expenditures" last year at just under $225 billion -- spending from both the state's own taxes and other resources as well as $64.5 billion in federal funds. Education is almost $75 billion of that, according to the report -- or exactly one-third, somewhat below the national average of 35.8 percent.

California's level of education spending in 2011 was fractionally lower than in 2010. Other states ranged from a high of 46.6 percent in Georgia to a low of 24.9 percent in Alaska.

December 5, 2012
High-income Californians may pay nation's highest tax rate

Thanks to passage of Proposition 30 last month, high-income Californians would pay the nation's highest marginal income tax rates -- nearly 52 percent -- if President Barack Obama and Congress fail to make a deal to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff," according to a new study.

Without a fiscal cliff deal to the contrary, the Bush era tax cuts on high-income taxpayers would expire next year and rates would return to their previous levels.

Gerald Prante, an economics professor at Lynchburg College in Virginia, and Austin John, a Lynchburg economics student, calculated marginal tax rates -- the highest rates on the highest levels of income -- for all 50 states. They combined state, federal and, where applicable, local income taxes, plus payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare and included the deductibility of some taxes.

Proposition 30 added three percentage points to the marginal state income tax rate for California's highest-income taxpayers, bringing it to 13.3 percent. That action raised California over other high-tax jurisdictions to a marginal rate of 51.9 percent, slightly higher than New York City's level. Hawaii was the only other place with a calculated rate above 50 percent.

Their report was published by the Social Science Research Network.

November 27, 2012
California doesn't do well in state-to-state wellbeing match-ups

So how does California compare to other states in measures of economic, fiscal, educational and personal wellbeing?

Not so well, it appears, according to new national study by a heavyweight academic consortium and another report from the U.S. Department of Education.

"The States Project" is a joint effort of Harvard University's Institute of Politics, the University of Pennsylvania's Fels Institute of Government and the American Education Foundation. It gathered data on state and local government finances, educational attainment and other "fundamentals" to create the issue-by-issue and state-by-state comparisons.

Overall, California ranks 33rd among the state in what the project calls "best fundamentals," in which Virginia was No. 1 and Mississippi was No. 50.

November 15, 2012
Study finds California high in family-income inequality

California has one of the nation's highest levels of income inequality -- gaps between families in upper income brackets and those in middle and lower quintiles -- according to a new study by the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The left-leaning organization, whose California affiliate is the California Budget Project, found that in the late part of the last decade, California had the third greatest disparity between those in the top income brackets and those at the bottom of any state. Only New Mexico and Arizona had greater gaps.

When it came to the gap between those at the top and those in the middle, California had the second widest gap, lower only than New Mexico's. It also had the second largest increase in the gap between top and middle during the preceding three decades, from the late 1970s. Only Connecticut's gap grew more.

Nationally, the organization found that the richest fifth of households had average incomes eight times as large as those of the poorest fifth. It suggested that states with wide income gaps could close them with such steps as raising the minimum wage, making tax systems less regressive, strengthening benefits to low-income families and improving unemployment insurance benefits.

November 14, 2012
California's poverty rate highest in U.S. by new federal measure

Nearly nine million Californians - almost a quarter of the state's residents - live in poverty under a newly devised federal standard, making the state's rate by far the highest in the nation.

The stunning number will fuel California's perpetual political debate over the state's "safety net" of health and welfare services, which have been reduced sharply due to budget deficits. With voter approval of new taxes, advocates for the poor are demanding that some of the benefit cuts be rescinded.

California's 23.5 percent poverty rate under the "supplemental poverty measure" (SPM) developed by the Census Bureau is approached only by the 23.2 percent rate in the District of Columbia. The highest SPM rate in any other state is Florida's 19.5 percent.

The state-by-state comparison is found in a Census Bureau report on the SPM, which is being tested as a replacement for the current way of measuring poverty, which is a half-century old.

The new, and still experimental, system includes broader data of income and outgo that have emerged since the system was created in the early 1960s, such as payroll taxes that reduce disposable income and government benefits that increase income.The new system also takes into account cost-of-living variations from state to state.

The steep climb in California's poverty rate under SPM, adding nearly 3 million to the poverty rolls, is apparently driven largely by the state's high cost of living.

Under the old - and still official - system, California's poverty rate is 16.3 percent, which translates into slightly over 6 million of the state's 38 million residents. That rate is somewhat higher than the national rate of 15 percent, but by no means the highest in the nation.

The national SPM rate is 15.8 percent, a fractional increase from the official rate, and California's SPM rate of 23.5 percent represents not only the highest in the nation, but the largest of any state's jump from the official rate to the SPM rate. In some states, the SPM rate actually is lower than the official rate.

November 12, 2012
Latinos make big gains in legislative seats across nation

Latinos made big gains in state legislative bodies during last week's election, including the California Legislature, according to a report from the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

The organization called the increases "historic" and said that Latinos now hold legislative seats in 36 states with 70 state senators and 206 members of lower legislative houses.

New Mexico, with 46 Latinos, leads the nation, while California runs second with 26, up from 23 prior to the election. California's Latino legislators include two newly elected Republicans.

November 2, 2012
California EDD predicts that high unemployment will persist

High unemployment will persist in California for at least a couple more years, the state Department of Employment Development predicts, and the state's $10 billion debt to the federal government will also persist unless California employers cough up more money.

The projections are contained in a new EDD report.

California began borrowing to shore up its flat-broke Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) nearly four years ago. The fund pays for the initial 26 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits, plus portions of extended benefits.

The debt grew to nearly $10 billion by the end of 2011. It's expected to hit $10.2 billion by the end of this year and remain at that level through 2013 before slowly declining in 2014 as, EDD expects, unemployment drifts slowly downward.

California has just under 2 million unemployed now. The agency expects that the number will decline slowly in 2013 and 2014. It also expects new claims for unemployment insurance benefits to remain at about 2 million a year through 2014.

The federal government slightly boosted taxes on employers to offset some of the state's UIF debt, but it also started charging interest on that debt -- about $300 million a year -- in 2011. With the UIF in the red and the state budget facing deficits, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature opted to borrow money for the interest payments from the Disability Insurance Fund (DIF), which is financed by payroll taxes on employees.

Brown asked the Legislature this to raise taxes on employers to repay the DIF loan, but there was no action -- nor has anyone proposed a plan to repay the larger, $10 billion UIF debt to the federal government.

November 1, 2012
Brown debates economy long distance with manufacturers

It was just a a semi-coincidence that as Gov. Jerry Brown was touting California on Thursday as an engine of economic growth, the California Manufacturers and Technology Association was declaring the state to be falling behind the rest of the country.

Both have data on their sides.

During an appearance before the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco -- mostly to campaign for passage of his tax measure, Proposition 30 -- Brown skewered the "declinists" who believe that California is faltering.

The state has its flaws, he said, but "California ... has made some fabulous decisions, and our collective will ... will not be slowed by the skeptics, the declinists and those fearful individuals who can't see where they are: the greatest place in the world."

October 30, 2012
California's litigation rate fuels long-running Capitol battle

One of the California Capitol's longest running conflicts pits personal injury attorneys against business, professional and insurance lobbies over the rules governing lawsuits -- who can sue whom and collect how much.

The conflict has continued in dozens of specific legislative and ballot measure battles over such issues as pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice cases, third-party liability for injuries, auto insurance underwriting standards and "bad faith" handling of insurance claims.

Just this year, the "tort warriors," as they have been dubbed, clashed over lawyer-backed legislation that, if enacted, would have overturned a state Supreme Court decision limiting recovery of medical costs to those actually paid, rather than what medical care providers billed.

It's also been a media war as the contending factions constantly exchange allegations about the extent of litigation in California.

October 29, 2012
Think tank report slams Jerry Brown's school finance plan

Gov. Jerry Brown has been seeking implementation of a "weighted student formula" that would give more school money to districts with high levels of poverty and other educational impediments and low levels of achievement.

But the proposal has been a hard sell in the Legislature, because districts that would lose money under the redistribution plan are opposed. This year, the Legislature passed only legislation that would create a "task force" to study the issue, but Brown vetoed Assembly Bill 18, saying, "a task force ... may actually delay action on reforms" and adding, "Rather than create a task force, let's work together and craft a fair weighted student formula."

The issue is expected to be joined again in 2013, but prospects for increasing overall school financing are dim. Brown's own tax measure, Proposition 30, is fading, and a rival tax measure just for schools, Proposition 38, is faring even worse. And without more money to lubricate the politics of the situation, districts that would lose under a weighted formula would be even less willing to accept it.

Brown's proposal, which has never been fully fleshed out, is now receiving flak from another source, Education Trust-West, an education think tank based in Oakland. It has issued a report that enthusiastically embraces a weighted formula, noting that only a handful of states are not using such a system, but says that Brown's proposal may fall short.

October 24, 2012
California has lowered number of medically uninsured children

California, the nation's most populous state, also has the nation's largest number of medically uninsured children, but has lowered that number sharply in recent years, according to a new study by Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute.

Ironically, however, the study attributes that decline from 2009 to 2011, in part, to the state's Healthy Families program, which was repealed this year as part of the 2012-13 state budget, saving $13 million. Children who had been insured under Healthy Families are now being shifted into the Medi-Cal program, a move that has angered children's health advocates.

Georgetown's Center for Children and Families calculates that the number of medically uninsured California children dropped from 890,998 in 2009 to 744,797 in 2011 and the proportion from 9.5 percent of the state's children to 8 percent, just slightly above the national rate of 7.5 percent.

The 2011 rates ranged from a high of 16.2 percent in Nevada to a low of 1.7 percent in Massachusetts, the latter reflecting the universal health insurance program instituted by the state's former governor, Mitt Romney, now the Republican candidate for president. California's 8 percent rate was the 35th highest among the states.

October 23, 2012
Californians had fourth highest state-local tax burden in 2010

Californians paid the nation's fourth highest state and local taxes in 2010, as a percentage of personal income, and 13th highest on a per-capita basis, according to an annual compilation by the Washington-based Tax Foundation.

The tax burden snapshot reflected, in part, temporary income and sales taxes that then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had enacted in 2009.

Those taxes have since expired, due to rejection by voters, but Gov. Jerry Brown is sponsoring a new income and sales tax measure, Proposition 30, on the Nov. 6 ballot that would raise about $6 billion a year, or roughly 0.37 percent of personal income.

The Tax Foundation pegs Californians' state-local tax burden in 2010 at 11.2 percent of personal income, more than a percentage point higher than the national average of 9.9 percent and topped only by No. 1 New York at 12.8 percent, New Jersey's 12.4 percent and Connecticut's 12.3 percent. Alaskans had the lowest burden of 7 percent, largely reflecting the state's massive oil extraction revenues.

It was slightly higher than the 11 percent calculated for California by the Tax Foundation for 2009. Since 1977, the state's lowest level was 10.2 percent in 1985.

In per capita terms, Californians paid an average of $4,934 in state and local taxes in 2010, based on an average per capita personal income of $43,919, 13th highest. Connecticut topped the states at $6,984 per capita.

October 16, 2012
California has by far most immigrants from Asia to U.S.

California is home to nearly a third of the nation's 11.6 million Asian immigrants, according to a new Census Bureau report, and the Los Angeles metropolitan area has the nation's largest urban concentration.

California's 3.7 million Asian-born immigrants are 10 percent of the state's population and are three times as numerous as No. 2 New York's 1.2 million. The Philippines are California's largest source of Asian immigrants, with nearly 900,000 from that nation counted by the Census Bureau, but the state also has the nation's largest populations of immigrants from China, India, Vietnam and Korea.

The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana metropolitan region is home to 1.6 million Asian immigrants, according to an addendum to the main report, slightly larger than the New York metropolitan area's Asian immigrant population.

The San Francisco-Oakland area ranks third in the nation with 707,000, while the San Jose area is fifth at 420,000 and San Diego is 10th at 269,000.

The report covers only those born in Asia, not their American-born offspring and descendents. The overall Asian population of California is estimated at more than 5 million.

September 28, 2012
Bloomberg: California among states with faltering economies

The economies of 36 states, including California, "showed signs of worsening" during the second quarter of this year, according to the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States.

Ironically, the on-line article by the international economic reporting organization was published just as California was hit with two major corporate pullbacks.

Comcast announced that it was shutting down its California call centers and Campbell Soups said it was closing its Sacramento plant.

Initially, Comcast cited the state's hostile business climate, but after politicians, including Gov. Jerry Brown, protested, the firm changed its stance. Brown has been touting employment gains and other positive economic news of late, and bad news is widely seen as a negative factor for the multi-billion-dollar tax increase, Proposition 30, that Brown and other Democratic politicians are hoping voters will endorse in November.

Recent polls, including one released Friday by the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Times, indicate that the measure is favored by just over 50 percent of voters now and would be vulnerable to an opposition campaign.

The Bloomberg survey, dubbed BEES, found that 10 states, mostly those with thriving energy sectors, showed economic improvement during the second quarter while 36 stumbled. The first quarter survey had found 35 states improving.

September 28, 2012
San Francisco rated as nation's most livable city

San Francisco is the nation's most livable city, according to an annual evaluation of urban ambiance by Bloomberg/Businessweek, citing its gastronomical, cultural and economic amenities.

"As long as chilly weather, walking uphill, and really expensive real estate don't turn you off, San Francsco has no shortage of positive qualities," the article declares.

"Not everything is golden in San Francisco, of course," the economic website acknowledges, noting that an "influx of young techies has driven up living costs" and as the city "has grown wealthier, it has lost some of its legendary grit" and has "one of the largest U.S. populations of homeless people."

Seattle was ranked second in livability. San Diego came in ninth and Los Angeles 50th.

September 27, 2012
Is San Francisco denser than Los Angeles? It depends

Does the compact San Francisco Bay Area have a denser population than the sprawling Los Angeles Basin?

Most would say San Francisco does, but it turns out, according to a new Census Bureau statistical report, that it depends on how the information from the 2010 census is viewed.

The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana region is higher at 2,646 persons per square mile in terms of what the Census Bureau calls "overall population density." That's the second highest rate in the nation, just slightly less dense than No. 1 New York City and its environs, with the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont region third at 1,754 per square mile.

But when the Census Bureau massages the data a different way to produce "population-weighted density," the San Francisco Bay Area, at 12,144 per square mile, is No. 2 behind New York with the Los Angeles area third at 12,113.

If nothing else, however, the lengthy report confirms that California is simultaneously the nation's most urbanized state and its most prolific agricultural producer, two "firsts" that might seem mutually exclusive.

The report also contains these other nuggets of data pertaining to California:

September 26, 2012
California's state, local governments spent $434 billion in 2010

California's state and local governments spent $434 billion in 2010, according to a new Census Bureau report, the equivalent of more than 20 percent of the state's economic output.

California's 2010 expenditures were $3.3 billion -- less than 1 percent -- higher than in 2009.

Three-fourths of California's 2010 spending, or $326.4 billion, was raised inside the state -- mostly from income, sales and property taxes but also including fees and utility sales -- while virtually all of the other 25 percent came from the federal government, a substantially higher percentage than in most other states. Nationally, just 19.7 percent of state and local revenues came from the federal government.

The report also revealed that education accounted for $102.5 billion, or 23.6 percent, of California's 2010 spending, roughly two-thirds of which was for the state's six million K-12 students and the other third for higher education. Nationally, state and local governments devoted 27.6 percent of their spending to education.

Welfare services took another $52.2 billion, or 12 percent, of California's spending in 2010, nearly three percentage points lower than the national average.

Despite California's national reputation as a low property tax state, thanks to its landmark property tax limit, Proposition 13, its level of property tax revenues is only slightly lower than the national average. California's $53.9 billion in property tax revenues to local governments and schools in 2010 represented 16.5 percent of total state-local revenues while nationally, the average was 17.7 percent.

Relative property tax burdens in other states ranged from a high of 33.6 percent of revenues in New Hampshire to a low of 7.3 percent in New Mexico.

September 25, 2012
Census Bureau report charts ups and downs of California revenues

To those who chart state government finances, tax revenues during the second quarter of each year loom large because income taxes are the largest source of income and they peak as the annual tax return deadline arrives in April.

Just as fourth quarter holiday gift sales can make or break retailers' year, second quarter tax collections tell state budget writers whether will enjoy surpluses or face budget deficits. And a new Census Bureau report shows how California's second quarter revenues have gone up and down in the last decade.

September 12, 2012
How California ranks in income, poverty and health insurance

California's median household income of $53,367 was only slightly higher than the national median last year while its poverty rate and its medically uninsured population were among the nation's highest, according to a new Census Bureau report.

The national median income in inflation-adjusted dollars was $50,054, a 1.5 percent decline from 2010. Fourteen other states topped California in median household income last year, with Maryland the highest at $68,876 and South Carolina the lowest at $40,084.

September 10, 2012
California ranked 4th worst in business legal climate

California ranks 47th in the nation in its courts' "fairness and reasonableness" regarding business lawsuits, according to a poll conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform.

Not only is the state's legal climate as a whole ranked fourth worst in the nation, just ahead of Mississippi, Louisiana and West Virginia, but Los Angeles County has the second worst lawsuit climate among local jurisdictions and San Francisco fourth worst..Delaware, the legal home of many major corporations, ranks No. 1 in business legal climate.

The rankings are based on a survey of corporate general counsels and senior attorneys, conducted by Harris Interactive.

The annual survey has been conducted for the past decade, and California's standing has declined during that period. The survey report called California courts "havens for class action lawsuits because judges certify cases for trial that wouldn't be certified in most other parts of the country." It noted that the largest asbestos verdict in the nation this year - $48 million for one plaintiff - came in a Los Angeles jury trial.


August 29, 2012
California had ninth-highest medically uninsured rate in 2010

California had the nation's ninth highest rate of medically uninsured residents in 2010, according to a new Census Bureau report.

The report -- which covers those under 65 years old, the age at which Medicare kicks in -- found that 6.7 million of the state's 32.5 million under-65 residents lacked medical insurance, for a rate of 20.7 percent.

Texas had the nation's highest rate of 26.3 percent, while Massachusetts, at 5.2 percent, was the lowest, thanks largely to a program that its former governor, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, championed. Most of the states with rates higher than California's were in the South, but they include adjacent Nevada at 25.1 percent.

Within California, the most populous county, Los Angeles, also had the highest medically uninsured rate, 25.9, virtually identical to Texas' rate. The state's lowest rate, 11.8 percent, was in Marin County, which also has the state's highest personal incomes.

August 23, 2012
State payroll up 9.3 percent, costs 42.4 percent in last decade

California's state government had 9.3 percent more employees in 2011 than it did 10 years earlier - closely tracking overall population growth - but its payroll costs had jumped by 42.4 percent in non-inflation-adjusted dollars, according to a new Census Bureau report.

That data are gleaned from the bureau's annual report on state government employment, which also reveals wide swings in the makeup of the state's workforce, which includes all agencies, regardless of funding source, and institutions of higher education.

In 2001, the state had the "full-time equivalent" of 372,678 employees and was paying them $1.7 billion a month. By 2011, the FTE's, as they are dubbed, had increased to 407,321 and payroll costs to $2.4 million billion.

Over the 10-year span, which included two major recessions separated by a brief period of economic expansion during the housing boom, FTE's in higher education, the largest single component of the state workforce, increased by 23 percent from 128,665 to 158,229, and prison payrolls, the second largest, jumped by a nearly identical amount -- from 48,896 to 60,007. Offsetting declines occurred in transportation agencies and state hospitals.

State employment in 2011 was also slightly lower than in 2010, but the decline was less than the 1.4 percent nationwide drop in state payrolls. Year-to-year declines in other states ranged as high as 7 percent in Arizona while a few states recorded employment increases, topped by 13.3 percent in Arkansas.

Editor's note--Corrected at 12:55 p.m. Aug. 23, 2012 to reflect monthly, not annual, payroll cost. Updated 1:50 p.m. Aug. 24, 2012 to clarify that the 10-year data is not adjusted for inflation.

August 15, 2012
California has below-average rate of obesity

California may have high taxes and high unemployment, but its residents have one of the nation's lower rates of obesity, according to a new report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the agency says more than a third of American adults are obese, it's just 23.8 percent in California. Other states range from a high of 34.9 percent in Mississippi to 20.7 percent in Colorado.

The report also found that obesity rates are much higher than average among African Americans- nearly 50 percent - and Latinos and tend to be higher among low-income adults.

August 15, 2012
California has 2.7 million 'nonemployer' businesses

California has nearly 3 million businesses so small that they have no employees, according to a new compilation by the Census Bureau.

The report, based on 2009 income tax data from the Internal Revenue Service, found 2.7 million "nonemployer" businesses in the state, 12 percent of the nation's total, right in line with California's proportion of the U.S. population. The largest single category of such businesses - 480,000 - is "professional, scientific and technical services" and the smallest is "utilities" at 1,314.

August 9, 2012
California healthier than Greece, The Atlantic mag concludes

When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made a joke that compared California to Greece the other day, the state's Democratic politicians reacted with anger, rather than laughter.

"Entrepreneurs and business people around the world and here at home think that at some point America is going to become like Greece or like Spain or Italy, or like California -- just kidding about that one, in some ways," Romney said during a campaign stop in Iowa.

"Romney knows just as little about the Golden State as he does about the rest of the world," Gov. Jerry Brown's spokesman, Gil Duran, snapped back.

The Atlantic magazine took the dustup seriously enough to generate five charts comparing California with Greece and other troubled European countries. Correspondent Jordan Weissmann concluded, "If anything, Greece, Spain and Italy would love to be in as good shape as California right now."

But at least one of those charts -- dealing with debt -- appears to show California in a better light than it deserves.

August 9, 2012
California pension fund earnings outpaced other states in 2011

California's state-managed public employee retirement systems appear to have outpaced those of other states in 2011 investment earnings, according to a new Census Bureau report.

The annual statistical report reveals that California pension funds' $433.3 billion in assets were 17 percent of all state-managed retirement systems' assets, but that California's investment earnings of $82.4 billion were 20 percent of all earnings.

The three largest California funds are the California Public Employees Retirement System, the California Teachers Retirement System and the University of California's pension system.

The California funds received $19.1 billion in contributions - $13 billion from government employers and $6.1 billion from employees - last year, according to the report. They served 1.9 million active and inactive members, and paid out $27.9 billion in benefits and other payments to 847,135 retirees.

August 8, 2012
California state-local sales tax rate ranked 12th highest in nation

California has the nation's 12th highest average sales tax rate, 8.13 percent, according to a new compilation by the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation.

While four states -- Oregon, Montana, New Hampshire and Delaware -- levy no sales taxes, other states' average rates range to as high as 9.43 percent in Tennessee.

California's basic state sales tax rate is 6.25 percent, and there's another 1 percent levied statewide for local governments. But that 7.25 percent statewide rate swells to near 10 percent in some jurisdictions due to local surtaxes for transportation and other services.

Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed tax increase measure, Proposition 30, would temporarily add a quarter-percent to the state's rate. Several city and county governments have also placed local sales tax hikes on the November ballot.

Editor's note, 4:27 p.m.: This post has been updated to correct the characterization of Proposition 30.

July 31, 2012
California ranks second highest in employment distress

California's unemployment rate - currently 10.7 percent - has been the nation's third highest for months but ranks second worst in a broader measure of employment distress by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It's called "U-6" and it includes not only unemployment, but "marginally attached workers," and those employed only part-time for economic reasons.

By that measure, 20.3 percent of California's workforce was distressed from the third quarter of 2011 through the second quarter of 2012, the new BLS report says. And that was second only to neighboring Nevada's 22.1 percent.

California is also tied for the top spot with Rhode Island in the "U-4" category - unemployed workers plus discouraged workers - at 11.8 percent.

July 25, 2012
'Realignment' has shifted 38,000 felons to local control

The "realignment" of California's criminal justice system, implemented in response to a Supreme Court decree to reduce overcrowding in state prisons, has shifted 38,000 felons from the state to local authorities so far, according to an initial study.

The study, conducted by the Chief Probation Officers of California with a foundation grant, says that 23,000 prison inmates have been released into supervision by local probation officers, rather than by state parole agents, and an additional 15,000 felons have been diverted into local jails and probation rather than being sent to state prison.

The underlying concept of the program is to reduce the number of felons deemed to have little propensity for violent crime in the state prison system. So far, the study says, the prison population, once over 160,000, has dropped to under 140,000.

July 25, 2012
California still ranked No. 9 among the world's economies

As it slowly recovers from its worst recession since the Great Depression, where does California's economy fit into the global marketplace?

A massive new economic forecast from the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. confirms that were California a nation, it would place No. 9 among the globe's economies, just behind No. 8 Italy and just ahead of Russia.

The data-filled report, to be unveiled today in Los Angeles, pegs California's economy at just under $2 trillion a year (2011 numbers) and implies that it could move up or down in the rankings, depending on what happens to the volatile European economy. The state once ranked as high as sixth.

California's economy saw an inflation-adjusted 2 percent growth from 2010 to 2011, while Italy's grew at just one-fifth of that rate. Among the economies larger than California's, only China, Germany and Brazil, which leaped into sixth place, had higher rates of growth than the state. But Russia's economy grew twice as fast as California's from 2010 to 2011, so it could push California down to 10th place.

The report says that Los Angeles and four surrounding Southern California counties would rank 16th among the world's economies at over $900 billion a year, just behind South Korea. Los Angeles County by itself, at $557.5 billion, would be 21st, lodged between No. 20 Saudi Arabia and Sweden.

Overall, the forecast is for California to recover from recession "slowly but steadily," albeit with double-digit unemployment rates for at least another year.