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Daniel Weintraub

California Insider

A Weblog by
Sacramento Bee Columnist Daniel Weintraub

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« May 2003 | | July 2003 »
June 30, 2003

Here's one way to close the remaining gap

The Senate Republicans have promised to make public shortly a list of budget cuts they say will balance the budget without tax increases beyond the car tax hike Gov. Gray Davis already has implemented. I'll post that list when I see it. In the meantime, here's my own list of potential cuts that would accomplish the same goal -- all endorsed either by Davis at some point or by the non-partisan legislative analyst's office. Download file

Posted by dweintraub at 4:34 PM

Recall or revolution?

In a joint interview we did this morning with public radio station WBUR in Boston, Davis Recall sponsor Ted Costa said the campaign is not aimed so much at the governor as the entire California political system. He especially cited the 2001 partisan gerrymander and the role of special interest money in the political process. And when Davis is gone, Costa said, the movement will focus its attention on other officials, possibly legislators. This is exactly the possibility that opponents of the recall have been warning of. I have been downplaying the likelihood of recall after recall, and I still think the public would not support the repeated use of the tool for that purpose. But I thought Costa’s comments were provocative, and worth noting.

Posted by dweintraub at 10:02 AM

June 29, 2003

Context is everything

Since May 1, when President Bush declared major fighting had ended in Iraq, 23 American soldiers have been killed by hostile fire. This sounds bad, and it’s certainly tragic for those of our soldiers who have met this fate. But I wish some numbers were available somewhere on the general state of crime in Iraq at this point. Because while I could be wrong, I have a hunch that it might actually be safer in Baghdad right now than in California. Here in the state that is famously “roughly the size of Iraq,” we have an average of 5 homicides a day (that would be about 300 since May 1). We also have 18 reported rapes per day, 134 robberies, 258 assaults, 395 motor vehicle thefts and 27 arsons. Match that, Mesopotamia.

PS: I’ve also crunched the numbers on a population-adjusted basis, given that California’s 35-million population is about a third larger than Iraq’s. The adjusted numbers for California: 3.6 murders per day, 13 rapes, 95 robberies, 183 assaults, 281 vehicle thefts, and 19 arsons. Based on 2002 crime figures reported by the attorney general’s office.

UPDATE: Ok, here's another view of Iraqi lawlessness, from the New York Times. Chilling, but still anecdotal. Click here. Free registration required, but you can use mine: californiainsid/insider

Posted by dweintraub at 9:39 AM

June 28, 2003

Fans of on-time budgets, do not despair

Justene at Calblog has a nice summary of the state’s current budget predicament but then concludes that, with the July 1 fiscal year deadline looming, “it’ll be ugly very soon.” I disagree. For all their huffing and puffing, the Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are less than $2 billion apart on a $71 billion general fund. The Republicans have said they will not vote for a tax increase, and that is the only thing on which they will not negotiate. Well the only tax increase in the Senate budget plan on which the Republicans are being asked to vote is the half-cent increase in the sales tax, which is expected to raise $1.7 billion in the coming fiscal year. So with about $1.7 billion more in trims, the Democrats could put a budget up for a vote that could hold together (briefly) without the Republicans voting for a tax hike. It would rely on the recently tripled car tax, but Republicans won’t have to vote for that because Davis has done it already by remote control. It would include hundreds of millions of dollars in new fees, but those are majority-vote bills, so Republicans won’t have to vote for that. And it would surely leave the state facing a deficit the year after next of at least $8 billion. But Republicans, while they might not like that, haven’t said they won’t vote for a budget that doesn’t completely fix the state’s structural problems. So how likely is it that the Democrats will go along with another $1.7 billion in cuts? Consider that Gov. Davis, nominally the head of the Democratic Party in California, has proposed more than $3.5 billion in cuts this year which are not in the current version of the Democratic budget plan. The legislative analyst, who is fiercely non-partisan but answers to the Democratic controlled Legislature, has offered another $1 billion or so in possible cuts. From that menu, I think the Dems could find the cuts they need to win Republican votes for a budget plan. The Democrats wouldn’t like it, because they’d think it would be too rough on the poor. I wouldn’t like it, because I think it would irresponsibly push the state’s problems off into the future. But if you want a budget by the deadline or shortly thereafter, it’s within sight. They just need to put it together. And I think they might.

Posted by dweintraub at 12:07 PM

"I'll Drive"

--Best nomination for Arnold campaign slogan, repeating a line from T3 that he's using in movie promotions. (Suggested by a loyal Sacramento-area reader)

Posted by dweintraub at 7:18 AM

June 27, 2003

Shelley responds

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley says he’s not Katherine Harris in pants. Calling your blogger to explain his position on the verification of recall signatures, Shelley said he’s relying for advice on a bipartisan group of lawyers in his office (including one whose name is Riddle).

“My responsibility is to run a fair and impartial election system,” Shelley told me. “Sometimes I’m going to make a ruling or provide advice that’s going to make the proponents happy or mad, and the same thing for the opponents. I can assure you, they’ll have equal-opportunity to be ticked off. My absolute bottom line here is to make sure this is an accurate process. However that ends up. My concern is to make sure it’s overseen properly and done fairly.”

Shelley also took pains to point out that he's not telling the counties that they must pause their verification process for a month. Only that they may pause if they want to. "They have the option," he said.

Well, whether Shelley is trying to be fair or not, I still think he and his lawyers are wrong. The law says the registrars must report every 30 days the total of “all valid signatures received since the time the recall was initiated.” That seems pretty clear to me. They can’t report the number of valid signatures unless they are checking to see if they are valid. Can they?

Posted by dweintraub at 6:10 PM

A sign of things to come

Aside from the dueling interpretations of the law, county registrars are telling me that they are facing at least one technical obstacle to verifying the recall petitions. Normally with ballot measures, they check the signatures on petitions all at once, and their computers tell them when duplicates show up. That is, if a voter has signed more than one petition. But with the recall, they are getting signatures in batches. If they verify one batch, and then another, and another, the same person might have signed petitions in each batch and their computers would never catch it. Several counties are trying to get a quick software patch to fix that glitch.

In the meantime, the state association of county clerks and elections officers has gathered up a list of questions about the process and will be forwarding it to the Secretary of State’s office next week. They want all the counties to be on the same page before they move forward. Among the queries: can they do a random sample or must they verify every signature? I thought it was long-since settled that they could do a sample. Apparently not.

Bottom line: we’re not going to be getting any updates on signature verification for a while.

P.S. A friendly reader suggests that as I start portraying Kevin Shelley as a partisan Democratic operator, I should also note that Shelley recently went out on the limb trying to ensure that President Bush would be listed on the 2004 ballot in California even though Bush won't be re-nominated until after the ballot deadline here. Suggestion taken.

Posted by dweintraub at 4:10 PM

The hints keep coming

"You haven't seen special effects like this since the California state budget."--Schwarzenegger, on the Tonight Show. Leno introduces him as the "next governor of California." From the Washington Post. Thanks to prestopundit.

Posted by dweintraub at 11:51 AM

June 26, 2003

Shelley slows the recall count

Big news from the Secretary of State’s office on the recall. According to a spokesman, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley has interpreted the law to say that county registrars need only be verifying the signatures they received by June 16. The rest they may set aside until the end of the next reporting period on July 23. Then they will report that number to Shelley and he will give them the go-ahead to verify the second batch. But they won’t be required to report that new number until Aug. 22. If this ruling stands, it will delay considerably the verification process and the date by which the recall qualifies for the ballot. It would almost certainly delay the election until March.

This is looking more like a mirror image of Florida every day. Instead of a Republican Secretary of State fighting to slow a recount and elect a Republican president, we have a Democratic Secretary of State acting to slow a signature count to prevent the recall of a Democratic governor.

And just like in Florida, this one might also wind up in the courts. Except for one problem: if the recall proponents sue, they might find themselves locked in a legal death struggle that could delay rather than quicken the pace of the count. So they may be trapped into accepting Shelley's edict.

My reading of the elections code is that the counties are supposed to be verifying the signatures as they get them. Here’s what it says:

11104. (a) The elections official, 30 days after a recall has been
initiated and every 30 days thereafter, or more frequently at the
discretion of the elections official, shall report to the Secretary
of State all of the following:
(1) The number of signatures submitted on the recall petition
sections for the period ending five days previously, excluding
Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.
(2) The cumulative total of all signatures received since the time
the recall was initiated and through the period ending five days
previously, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.
(3) The number of valid signatures, verified pursuant to
subdivision (b), submitted during the previous reporting period, and
of valid signatures verified during the current reporting period.
(4) The cumulative total of all valid signatures received since
the time the recall was initiated and ending five days previously,
excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.

Those last five lines seem pretty clear: the registrars are required to notify Shelley on July 23 of the number of valid signatures received during the current reporting period, and the cumulative total. And that would be as of July 16, when the recall organizers say they intend to have submitted all the signatures they will need.

But Shelley’s spokesman says that’s not the case.

“They’re required to provide us the number of verified signatures received through June 16, for the next reporting period (on July 16),” the spokesman said. “If they want to verify signatures received after June 16th, the law does not address that issue. They’re not required to do so.”

The problem is that the statute on signature verification seems to clearly require a continuous verification process, but the detailed rules for the process itself (elections code section 9030) are the same as for a ballot initiative, where the signatures are normally turned in all in one batch. That conflict is what gives Shelley the opening he appears to be exploting to delay the count.

Posted by dweintraub at 4:44 PM

A higher power

Dick Gephardt isn't the only one who thinks the Supreme Court isn't the utlimate authority on constitutional law. If you want to glimpse what the hard core right thinks of the Lawrence v. Texas decision, take a peek here. Warning. It's not for the politically squeamish. Download file

Posted by dweintraub at 4:15 PM

Court to Texas: butt out

The Supreme Court has just overturned the Texas law banning sodomy, and certain folks already are contending that this is somehow an example of legislating from the bench. “Regulating homosexual conduct…is the right of the people, to be exercised through the legislative, rather than the judicial, branches of government,” says Mathew Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel. Perhaps this strangely named group needs to look up the definition of liberty. Regulating homosexual conduct is the right of the people, alright, to be exercised by the people in the privacy of their own homes – not by any branch of the government, legislative, judicial or executive. The court here isn’t regulating conduct. It’s preserving the right of free people to act as they please as long as their behavior is consensual and does not harm others. The court is not creating a right to sodomy; it’s denying the right of government to interfere in the private lives of free citizens. Big difference.

The more I see of this decision, the more it becomes apparent that it's a huge victory for liberty and should be celebrated by all opponents of an intrusive government, no matter their beliefs about homosexuality. The point is that three people, making a majority, ought not legislate what two others can do in the privacy of their own home. Would that this doctrine not stop at gay sex but be extended to all human conduct.

Key quote from Kennedy opinion:

"This, as a general rule, should counsel against attempts
by the State, or a court, to define the meaning of the rela-
tionship or to set its boundaries absent injury to a person
or abuse of an institution the law protects. It suffices for
us to acknowledge that adults may choose to enter upon
this relationship in the confines of their homes and their
own private lives and still retain their dignity as free
persons. When sexuality finds overt expression in inti-
mate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but
one element in a personal bond that is more enduring.
The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosex-
ual persons the right to make this choice."

And Scalia, though dissenting, drives home the point:

"This effectively decrees the end of all morals legislation."

We can only hope that he is correct.

I should add that I am troubled by the court's clumsy explanation of why it was overturning a fairly recent precedent. Dispense with all the mumbo jumbo and just admit it: we screwed up.

Posted by dweintraub at 8:51 AM

Is Shelley the new Katherine Harris?

I see I’m not the only one having a hard time getting straight answers from Secretary of State Kevin Shelley about the recall rules. Roll Call reports that a Shelley spokeswoman says it is “unclear whether a scheduled recall election would proceed if Davis resigns before it takes place.” (Article is for paid subscribers only; I got the quote through Rick Hasen’s Election Law blog.) Shelley’s office has also been painfully slow in answering questions I’ve had about how things will unfold, and up until now I’ve given them the benefit of the doubt, figuring they’re new in the job and a little bit overwhelmed. But the longer this goes on the more I’m inclined to suspect that Shelley wants to keep things vague so he can make it up as he goes along—sort of a Democratic version of the post-election legal interpretations in Florida 2000. I don’t think Davis is going to resign, but shouldn’t Shelley know by now what the law says about the effect of a resignation in the face of a recall? And even if we observers think the law is unclear, shouldn’t Shelley have an opinion, since that’s where the process of sorting it out would begin?

Posted by dweintraub at 7:34 AM

Issa's bro: stuff happens

The San Jose Mercury News quotes Darrell Issa’s brother saying Darrell was not involved with either auto theft for which the two of them were charged but never tried:

``It happened a couple of times in our youth where he got blamed for things I did,'' said William Issa, 51. ``It bothers me that my shenanigans caused him problems, but that's life.''

Posted by dweintraub at 7:13 AM

Ward cashes in

My colleague Jim Sanders has an interesting piece on Ward Connerly profiting off his crusade for a color-blind government. At first glance it doesn’t look good – Connerly pulling down 700 grand through two non-profits he runs. But more than $400,000 of that was from speaking engagements and consulting fees. And while Sanders compares Connerly’s salary to the managers of other policy oriented non-profits, the better parallel might be to a political consultant. Connerly is basically a consultant whose client is his own cause. And I’d venture to say that some of the people running ballot initiatives in California as mercenaries are doing just as well. Finally, I have to take issue with a quote in the piece from Assemblyman Fabian Nunez of LA, who is supposed to be one of the rising stars in the Legislature’s Latino caucus. Nunez accused Connerly of creating a “race-baiting” type of atmosphere for financial gain. Again, this is part of the big lie. Connerly has dedicated his life to ending race-baiting and the whole concept of race. It’s his opponents who use race as a political wedge. It will be a shame if Ward’s personal excess on the financial side of his operation in any way keeps the public from seeing that.

Posted by dweintraub at 6:56 AM

June 25, 2003

A preference by any other name...

Californians might have thought their race-neutral admissions standards in higher education were safe from the Supreme Court’s “split-the-baby” decision in the University of Michigan case. But state Sen. Richard Alarcon, acting on behalf of the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, is asking Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer to opine on whether the decision would somehow allow race preference advocates to get around California’s own Proposition 209. Maldef, Alarcon says, wants to know if California’s ban on preferences still means what it says even though the high court now says numerical preferences are bad while vague indefinable preferences are good. Seems unlikely. Maldef and Alarcon are forgetting that the beauty of 209 is that it bans not only preferences but also discrimination based on race or ethnicity. And even Sandra Day O’Connor admits that the stuff she approves of is discrimination. It’s just, in her view, good discrimination. Sorry, that flaky stuff they’re putting out in Washington won’t fly here in sensible, grounded, down-to-earth California.

Posted by dweintraub at 5:19 PM

Davis heightens counterattack

It’s generally not a good sign when a candidate for governor has public safety folks demanding that he “make public his full criminal record.” Which is what Rep. Issa is facing today in the wake of the story disclosing a second arrest for auto theft in his past. And Issa may yet go down in the face of the nuclear bomb the Davis folks are dropping on him. But I think Davis is better off with Issa in the race than without him. If Issa were to drop out of the running for governor, Davis would be left trying to persuade voters that they should oppose the recall because they never would have had a chance to vote for it if not for a twice-charged (though never convicted) car thief. That’s not going to fly. But if Issa is still there, with a chance to be governor if Davis is thrown out, then you have the ability for the governor to once again portray himself as the lesser of evils, his personal specialty.

Posted by dweintraub at 1:07 PM

Radanovich bows out

Another Central Valley Republican Congressman – George Radanovich – has just taken himself out of the running for the GOP nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer next year. His announcement follows a similar one by Rep. Doug Ose a few weeks ago and leaves the potential Republican field thinner and thinner for a seat once thought to be ripe for the picking. Still a possibility: U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:13 AM

More alarm bells for Issa

The San Francisco Chronicle reports this morning that Rep. Darrell Issa was charged in a 1980 auto theft case in which the charges were later dropped. The never-before reported allegation was the second time that Issa was charged but not convicted of car theft. The first incident was made public at the time of his 1998 campaign for the US Senate. Both cases involved Issa’s brother William. The new report stems from a San Jose case in which Issa was charged with falsely reporting the theft of a Mercedes that his brother had sold to a San Jose car dealer. Issa, who was an Army officer at the time, said the car had disappeared from the Monterey airport while he was out of town. He denied knowing that his brother, posing as Darrell Issa, had sold the car.

While this story is classic political character assassination, it’s also something voters should know about the history of a guy who’s trying to take down the governor and get himself elected to the job. Issa says he’s always been up front about why he went into the car alarm business, which is the source of his personal fortune: “My brother was a car thief.”

But it remains to be seen whether the voters will trust that explanation. And if Issa, who more and more is becoming the public face of the recall, is taken down, will the recall fall with him?

Posted by dweintraub at 6:57 AM

June 24, 2003

Welcome to my Garden Party


I took the junior Insiders downtown this afternoon, ostensibly to get haircuts but really to see the protesters and cops squaring off over globalization and biotech. The US is hosting a world conference of agricultural ministers here this week and the anti-WTO crowd was threatening to “shutdown Sacramento.” Turns out they didn’t need to. The police did it for them.

This afternoon’s big event was the protestors’ move toward a former community garden that was closed after the city discovered it was contaminated with toxic waste. Forget for a moment the irony of environmental activists trying to squat in a toxic garden and “take it back” for the people. If they’d gone in there and hung out for a time nobody would have noticed, or cared. After a while they would have grown tired, hungry, bored (or sick) and gone home. But that’s not the way it works in the modern state. Hundreds of police, sheriff’s deputies and highway patrol officers, many in riot gear, descended on the garden. Their mates, meanwhile, diverted traffic for several blocks in every direction, creating rush-hour gridlock around the Capitol. They brought out the horses (with plastic face shields), the Humvee-like vehicles, the vans, the black SUVs with running boards filled with officers waving guns. They barked orders at each other and marched to and fro. It was all very ridiculous—and expensive. They outnumbered the protesters at least two-to-one, maybe more. Watching them, you couldn’t help but get the feeling that they have all this gear and training and they just need to use it every so often to stay in shape.

“Aren’t they embarrassed?” someone asked.

Seeing the highway patrol and assuming this was a state-government operation, one of my sons wondered if the same drill would have taken place if Arnold were governor. “He probably would have just come down here by himself with one of those big machine guns and cleared them all out,” he said.

NOTE: The Sacramento Bee photo above was from yesterday's protest but it captures the mood of the event I've described here...

Posted by dweintraub at 7:54 PM

Shelley reports 376,008 signatures

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley says the counties have informed him they had 376,008 signatures on hand as of June 16 calling for the recall of Gov. Gray Davis. That’s far more than the 10 percent threshold needed to trigger the verification of those signatures, and Shelley says he’s instructed the counties to begin that process. They must report back to him again no later than July 23 with updated counts of raw and verified signatures.

The number reported by Shelley is less than the cumulative total the counties gave the Associated Press in a survey conducted Monday. And it’s significantly less than the 429,000 that recall proponents said they’d submitted to the counties by June 16.

Much of the discrepancy comes from the fact that Los Angeles County did not report the 31,000 signatures recall supporters say they submitted June 16. The governor’s supporters pounced on the gap to suggest that the recall campaign is falling far short, and clearly won’t make its goal of forcing a November special election. A Davis committee spokesman called the recall campaign’s claims “a lot of hype, hooey and hot air.”

I think this is wishful thinking. Clearly the signature pipeline is clogged at several points: at the unofficial verification done by the recall proponents, and at the registrar of voters in each county. Shelley, for example, announced that Sacramento County had 24,978 signatures. But Ernie Hawkins, the county’s registrar of voters, tells me that the county now has more than 42,000 on hand. And that’s exactly what the recall committee has told me they submitted. So I don’t think they are inflating their numbers.

Meanwhile, David Gilliard, the consultant for Rep. Issa’s Rescue California committee, said the paid signature gathering operation collected 125,000 last week, a new high, and activity surged over the weekend after the governor’s finance director announced that he had, by bureaucratic remote control, triggered a tripling of the state’s car tax. Returns are also now arriving from the second set of 1 million mail pieces sent to Republican households, and Gilliard says those are coming in at a higher rate than the first mailing.

Gilliard, in fact, is already laying plans for wrapping up this phase of the campaign. He says the paid signature gatherers will work through the July 4 weekend and quit on July 7. The firm coordinating the circulators will gather up the last of the petitions and submit them to Gilliard’s operation by July 10. The second group of mail-in signatures will also be counted by then. That would give the operation about six days to get the last of the signatures into the counties before the next monthly deadline on July 16.

The counties will now be taking 3 percent samples of the signatures and checking to see how many are valid. They will apply that ratio to the rest of the signatures in each batch and keep a running tally. They will report the total number to the secretary of state on July 23.

Hawkins, the Sacramento registrar, said he expects it to take only about two days for his staff to verify the 42,000 signatures they now have on hand. The county’s voter registration database is digitalized, and it’s simply a matter of taking the 1,200 or so cards in the 3 percent sample, typing in the name of the voter and comparing the signature on the petition to the one in the computer. Hawkins said most if not all of the state’s large counties use the same system.

I still think the campaign has an excellent chance of qualifying by July 23. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of the counties haven’t finished verifying all their signatures by then. But if that happens it should just be a few thousand stray petitions. If it’s enough to keep them short of qualifying, the next pressure point will come in the weeks after July 23, when the recall committee leans on the counties to verify the last of the signatures and report the number promptly to Shelley.

Posted by dweintraub at 4:27 PM

Arts Council staff defies governor

I hate to keep picking on the California Arts Council, but it keeps popping up as an example of why it’s so difficult to control government spending. While others are warning that old people will go hungry, the sick will go without health care, and children will be left with substandard schools, the arts community is mounting a campaign to save the Arts Council from deep spending reductions. At issue is whether non-profit arts groups can survive without taxpayer funding. I think they can, and should. Further, I’d bet many of them might find deep private support if private donors knew the programs couldn’t simply turn to the government for help. One source of that support might even be actor Tim Robbins, who joined the crusade Monday, staging a press conference urging legislators to restore funding for the council. More telling was a quote in the LA Times from Council spokeswoman Kristin Margolis, who noted that there is still “time for change” because the Legislature has not yet voted on the budget. Here we have a paid employee of the state, supposedly answerable to Gov. Gray Davis, campaigning in public against the governor’s budget proposal. Again, I know we are talking here about a tiny portion of the state budget. But it’s emblematic of a much deeper problem. We can’t afford to do everything for everybody. We’ve got to set priorities. And those things that don’t make the cut are going to have to compete on their merits for voluntary funding. Is that so bad?

Here is a link to the LA Times story. Free registration required, but you can use mine: CaliforniaInsider/insider

Posted by dweintraub at 10:40 AM

June 23, 2003

Counties to report about 400,000 recall sigs

Davis Recall proponents should have about 400,000 signatures credited to their effort when Secretary of State Kevin Shelley announces the updated count on Tuesday. AP surveyed 55 counties Monday and found they’d reported 389,000 signatures to Shelley. But Placer County, which had at least 10,000 on hand by last week’s checkpoint, wasn’t part of AP’s count. The next step: Shelley instructs the counties to begin verifying the signatures and then report back to him by July 23 with two tallies, one of total signatures filed and one of the number verified. Proponents need just under 900,000 valid signatures. They say they’ve already got nearly 900,000 on hand and predict they will have turned in at least 1.2 million by next month’s reporting date. I think they will probably do so. The only question is how long it will take the counties to verify them.

Posted by dweintraub at 8:22 PM

GOP balks at passing bill to cover over-spending

In a sidelight to the main budget skirmish, you may be hearing soon about partisan differences over legislation to increase the state’s appropriations for health and welfare spending in the current fiscal year. The Davis Administration is asking the Legislature to approve $1.2 billion in new spending for this year that wasn’t in the budget passed last summer. Most of it is for Medi-Cal, but it includes spending on social services, developmental services and alcohol and drug programs. But Republicans so far have opposed the bill, and the question arises, what happens if it doesn’t pass? According to a memo I’ve seen from the Finance Department to various state agencies, Davis and Controller Steve Westly agree that the state can continue to pay non-institutional health caarwe providers even without the go-ahead from the Legislature, so doctors and pharmacies will get paid. But it’s not clear that the same will be true for hospitals, nursing homes and clinics. If not, get ready for some loud protests from those entities and the people they serve.

Posted by dweintraub at 5:05 PM

Race bias ok, court says

My first instincts are negative toward the Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action in the University of Michigan case. They seem to be splitting the difference in a decision that is too nuanced and, I fear, too political. I think the dissenters in the law school part of the case pretty well destroy the state’s argument that its need to create a “critical mass” of minorities justifies discrimination based on race. The dissenting justices further cast great doubt on whether “critical mass” is in fact what drives the UM admission process and suggest that the idea is a “sham” to cover the school’s racial quota tracks. Government-sponsored discrimination based on race is supposed to be legal only if it meets strict scrutiny and serves a compelling purpose. Michigan’s does neither. Good news: for Californians this is mostly an academic argument. Our own constitution already forbids preferences or discrimination based on race.

Posted by dweintraub at 2:12 PM

Gray finds a friend on the right

The NYT's Safire comes out against the recall, arguing that Californians should grow up and live with their decision to reelect Gray Davis last year.

“Californians should suffer Gray Davis for three more years, voting like grown-ups not as penance for their mistake last year, but to uphold the principle that election results are final for a fixed term and officeholders should not be removed merely when ratings fall.”

Posted by dweintraub at 9:43 AM

June 22, 2003

Hey, it takes guts to cross Andrew on gay marriage

Andrew Sullivan accuses Hillary Clinton of waffling on gay marriage. But her real sin isn’t a lack of courage, as Sullivan alleges, but a lack of agreement with Andrew Sullivan. In an item peevishly titled “Another profile in courage,” Sullivan sets out to destroy the myth that Clinton is a “principled liberal.” Her comments on gay marriage in the wake of the Canadian decision, he says, show that Hillary is as bad as Bill—“straddling, prevaricating, waffling” and offering a “complete non-answer” on one of the most important issues of the day. But then Sullivan quotes Clinton saying pretty clearly and at some length that she opposes gay marriage, favors domestic partnerships and civil unions, and doesn’t think the US will ever favor gay marriage or institute it on a national basis. “Marriage has a meaning,” Clinton says, “that I think should be kept as it historically has been.” Clinton’s words are so clear, in fact, that Sullivan sums up by saying Hillary has “opposed equal rights for gays and lesbians.” He’s right (finally), but how is that waffling? He only knew she opposed gay marriage because, contrary to his headline and first paragraph, she did take a position. Disagreeing with Andrew and lacking courage are often the same thing. But not always.

Posted by dweintraub at 9:22 PM

Quitters never win

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Bob Novak is the latest to suggest that Davis might resign to head off the recall. This is a rumor that started a week or so ago, raced through the Capitol, bounced off Oakland Mayor (and former Davis boss) Jerry Brown and is now going national. I really, really doubt that is going to happen. Davis worked his whole life to get this job, thinks he is performing it well, is convinced he is going to defeat the recall, and probably doesn’t care if the job stays in Democratic hands or not. I don’t think he is going quietly into the night.

If, somehow, he does, let’s clarify what happens. Novak wrongly states in his column that Davis could derail the recall “at any time prior to the actual balloting by just quitting.” Not true. The state elections code says the election goes forward if Davis quits after the petitions have been filed. It’s not entirely clear what "filed" means, but I think it means when a sufficient number to trigger the election have been filed. It could even be sooner. It is most definitely not the date of the election itself.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:24 PM

No Dems running? Willie's not buying it

Add SF Mayor Willie Brown to the list of skeptics who doubt the state's top Democrats mean what they say about staying out of the race to succeed Gray Davis when the recall qualifies for the ballot. Said Brown to the Chronicle's Matier and Ross: "They all did it in a very 'Willyish' way -- all very sincere and all leaving out just enough key words to give them wiggle room if it becomes clear that Gray is dead in the water."

Posted by dweintraub at 8:11 AM

The Bee on the recall

If you're still undecided about the recall or just curious about its potential ramifications, you might want to check out this transcript of the Sacramento Bee editorial board's discussion of the issue. The rare window into the editorial board's preliminary debate came about after our first discussion of the recall failed to generate a consensus. David Holwerk, the editor of the page, thought the chat was interesting, though, and asked us to expand it and print excerpts in the paper and on the web.

Here's The Bee's editorial on the recall. Bottom line: the process ain't our thing, but we'll hold our fire until we see who runs.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:56 AM

What they'll do on their summer vacation

According to The Militant, more than 75 Southern California youth, including 18 from Cal State Northridge, are gearing up for a trip to Cuba next month to investigate for themselves the fruits of the island nation’s socialist revolution. But it sounds as if some of them have already made up their minds. “I want to go to Cuba,” says a woman identified as president of the MEChA chapter at the university, “because I have heard a lot about Cuba as a socialist country and I want to see for myself and understand how communism contributes to a better way of life.” Their timing couldn’t be better, as the Cuban government, according to Amnesty International, is in the midst of an unprecedented crackdown on human rights and free thought. Perhaps before they depart, these students can arrange a sit-down with Ramon Humberto Colas Castillo, a recently exiled Cuban dissident and founder of Cuba’s independent library movement. Colas and his wife founded the movement in 1998 and then faced harassment and detention and finally exile, according to the Friends of Cuban Libraries. The librarians are considered subversives in Cuba because they give people access to printed material without the permission of the government. According to Amnesty International, the government in March jailed 75 independent journalists, poets, and human rights activists, including the directors of several independent libraries. Some of the librarians reportedly received sentences of up to 26 years in prison. Amnesty International considers them prisoners of conscience. I wonder if the Cal State University students will pay a call to them between visits to programs through which Cuban youth organizations “aim to win and integrate reinforcements to the active political defense of the revolution.”

Posted by dweintraub at 7:41 AM

June 21, 2003

Feinstein: "Not a candidate"

The circle is now complete. Or is it? According to an AP report that just hit the wires, Sen. Dianne Feinstein swore off running in the recall to replace Gov. Davis. But Feinstein’s statement, which she made while opening the new SFO Bart station with Davis at her side, was not an emphatic “never.” What she actually said, according to the report, was “I am not a candidate.” We already knew that, didn’t we? The piece doesn’t say whether she ever will be a candidate – and several people close to her say she is still considering it.

The Davis people were also kind enough to send over a transcript of some of her comments, and if it’s accurate, they were rather inane. According to the Davis transcript, Feinstein mused about the possibility that Davis could lose the recall 51-49 and then see his replacement elected in a multi-candidate field with only 11 percent or 15 percent of the vote. This scenario, she said, would present a “very interesting legal challenge.” The governor, she said, “ought to be able to put his name” on the ballot to replace himself if he is recalled. Except for the minor fact that the recall law is in the state constitution, was put there by the people in 1911, and it bars the official being recalled from running to replace himself. The fact that Davis might get “more votes” than his replacement makes interesting salon chatter but it has absolutely no significance in a legal sense. It’s also misleading. The 49 percent to whom Feinstein refers would not be voting for Davis, they’d be voting against the recall. That’s not the same thing. In fact, Feinstein’s scenario points out exactly why the recall is so perilous for Davis. He has excelled by being the lesser of evils. He has no great core of support in this state. But in the first question on the recall ballot, it will be Davis against Davis, the governor yes or no? And that’s a much more difficult case for him to make. It's also why he desperately wants to keep other Dems off the ballot, so he can get voters to focus on the second question -- should a Republican replace him? -- while they ponder the first.

Posted by dweintraub at 9:06 PM

Westly doubts fellow Dems will stay out

Controller Steve Westly says he doesn’t believe all of his fellow Democrats will be able to resist the temptation to run for governor when the move to recall Gray Davis qualifies for the ballot. Despite claims from several statewide officeholders that they “do not intend” to run, Westly, who himself has flatly ruled it out, predicts one or more will jump into the race.

“The first guy who goes is Cruz,” Westly said, referring to the lieutenant governor, Cruz Bustamante. “I’m sorry. He’s going.” After that, Westly predicts, Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer won’t be able to stay out. In the end, he says, “you end up with 10, if not 20 people on the ballot.”

Westly wouldn't venture a guess about fellow centrist U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein, who turns 70 on Sunday, is having a birthday bash at her San Francisco home and has invited a wide circle of campaign supporters and advisers to the celebration. The buzz leading up to the party was that Feinstein would be soul-searching with her inner circle on the idea of putting her name on the list of potential Davis replacements this fall.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:03 AM

June 20, 2003

Finance Director: state busted

Steve Peace, explaining why he made the call to triple the car tax, invoking a law that allows such a tax hike when the state runs out of money: "I don’t think members of the Legislature, let alone the general public, understand how far we've gone. We are broke."

Posted by dweintraub at 4:34 PM

How's this for anti-democratic?

Here's a note I just got from a volunteer recall petition gatherer:

"I have not taken a single penny and I am now approaching 4000 signatures. I will be in Galt on Saturday with my eleven year old daughter working a table at the Galt auction getting signatures. Tonight we are going over to the People's Advocate to process petitions. This movement has a viral effect. Everytime I obtain a signature, I ask the person if they would like two petitions to take with them. I had one woman take ten and return them signed. I pick them up from people everyday. One man who works at a Chevron here in Elk Grove has collected 75 signatures for me and is still going strong. This is OUR Boston Tea Party! This is the first time I have actually been politically active in my life. I wanted to prove to friends and family one man can make a difference...I was out talking to Farmers in Herald this morning with my two little girls in tow. They had already signed the petition. The feedback is the same with teachers, rank and file union, state workers, truck drivers, and people from other walks of life ad infinitum."

Posted by dweintraub at 2:27 PM

Too little democracy, or too much?

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante has added his name to the list of top Democrats who “do not intend” to run for governor when the recall election qualifies for the ballot. The Democrats, led by the labor movement’s most influential players, are pursuing a high-risk strategy of offering the voters Gray Davis or nobody from the Democratic side. That’s their best chance of saving Gray. I’m not sure it’s their best chance of holding the office.

Like many of the others, Bustamante suggested in his statement that the recall is somehow un-democratic. “The will of the many,” he said, “should not be set aside for the ambition of a few.” I don’t understand this. The recall might be faulted for being too democratic. But un-democratic? It’s going to be the expression of more than 1 million registered voters demanding another bite at the apple. It’s partly a reflection of how discouraged voters were with the choice presented to them last year. It is a demand for more democracy, not less.

Yes, many of the signatures were gathered by people paid by the pro-recall campaign, and the campaign has been paid for largely by Congressman Darrell Issa. But nobody’s been compelled to sign. Every report I’ve seen about the signature-gathering process suggests these folks are being mobbed by voters eager to add their names to the list. Everybody’s talking about it. People who had completely tuned out of politics are registering to vote so they can participate again. If anything, it has the feel of a peaceful revolution.

I think ultimately that’s what bothers the elites, including Republican Party leaders and folks like the Business Roundtable. They have grown used to elections being a fairly private affair among insiders, who anoint the favorites and control the money that’s the lifeblood of modern campaigning. The recall is messy, it’s risky, it’s scary. Most of all it’s unpredictable. Who knows what the people will do? The insiders simply can’t accept this.

As a side note, elections analyst Tony Quinn said the other day he thinks the voter turnout for the recall is going to be higher than it was for the general election last November. Now, with the dwindling number of potential candidates, it’s growing more likely that if the voters dump Davis, the eventual winner will get 40 percent or 50 percent of the vote. It might even be possible that the winner will get more votes than Davis did last year. Would that be un-democratic, too?

Posted by dweintraub at 7:38 AM

June 19, 2003

Car tax might triple, but will it last?

I'm blogging this morning aboard the Capitol Corridor train to the Bay Area, via a wireless connection through my cell phone. Pretty cool. Here is a link to today's column, in which I describe how the Legislature's lawyer has cast doubt on the legality of the governor's plan to triple the car tax. My colleague Alexa Bluth, meanwhile, reports that the administration is set to pull the car tax trigger any day. I wouldn't expect the new legal opinion to affect that decision. There is a long history in the Capitol of ignoring the Legislative Counsel when their advice goes against what the majority wants to do. But don't be surprised if someday a court throws the whole thing out.

Also, aside from the legal questions, isn't the way Davis is raising this tax incredibly cowardly? Does he really expect people to believe that it's somehow a decision made by robotics, untouched by human hands? I still maintain that this habit of his of denying responsiblity for his decisions is as big a factor in his unpopularity as his policies themselves. This one is starting to look remarkably like the electricity rate increase of 2001. That was the right thing to do, but Davis could never bring himself to advocate for it, and denied that he had anything to do with it after it happened.

Posted by dweintraub at 8:10 AM

June 18, 2003

Are Dems clearing the way for Gray, or for Arnold?

The more I think about it, the more I get the feeling that clearing the Democratic field might be just the thing to prompt Arnold Schwarzenegger to join the race. We know Arnold doesn’t want a messy fight, and a contest that includes a Lockyer or a Feinstein would probably be that. But beyond that, think about how he would be positioned among the Republicans most likely to run. He is pro-choice, favors gay rights and supports gun control. He is basically a fiscal conservative and social moderate, similar in some ways to Pete Wilson when he ran in 1990. But with those positions these days, Arnold would have a difficult time winning a Republican primary. The magic of the recall is that there is no primary. It’s a winner take all election. So if the Democrats clear the field and allow Gray to portray the recall as a partisan attack, the gov might survive. But voters are asked on the same ballot to choose his potential replacement. Nearly every Democrat who votes no on the recall then turns around and votes for Arnold, rather than Issa, Simon, or McClintock. Plus he gets most of the independents and a decent number of Republicans. So if Gray does go down, Arnold is in great position to win the election. Another thing: Arnold isn’t going to be viewed as a partisan figure. So his very well publicized entry into the race robs Gray of one of his most effective talking points.

Posted by dweintraub at 4:30 PM

A glass half full

While the Richman-Canciamilla budget plan obviously has a ways to go before gaining traction in the Legislature, Assemblywoman Lois Wolk of Davis noted in the Sacramento Bee that it does have one thing going for it:

"It's the only plan," she said, "that has one vote from each party."

Posted by dweintraub at 8:46 AM

June 17, 2003

Dems start circling the wagons

In a major lift to Gray Davis, three top statewide Democratic officeholders said Tuesday they won’t run for governor if the recall election qualifies for the ballot. Treasurer Phil Angelides, Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer and Controller Steve Westly all ruled out a run for the state’s top office this year. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has criticized the recall and said through a spokesman that she does not “intend to run” but has not flatly ruled it out. The announcements make it increasingly likely, though still not certain, that the recall will play out as a purely partisan affair. The more that’s the case, the better the governor’s chances of surviving it. Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who has no love for Davis, little chance of winning a regular election in 2006 and something of a base in the Latino community, remains the major Democratic wildcard here.

UPDATE: To clarify, Lockyer's statement also used the "I" word, as in he doesn't "intend" to run. But he also called the recall a "threat to democracy." Angelides said he "would not consider running" and could envision no circumstance in which he would run. And you can add Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi to the list; he says he's out, too. If Feinstein and Bustamante follow suit, this will be a high-risk but probably smart strategy by the Democrats. Force a bunch of Republicans to stand alone in opposition to Davis. GOP regulars, however, might be forgiven for thinking, 'Great! We get to dump Gray and then have our pick of Republicans to replace him."

Posted by dweintraub at 6:28 PM

Centrists release bold new budget plan

Assemblymen Keith Richman and Joe Canciamilla have just released the most serious alternative budget plan to date, and really the most serious of any budget plan on the table at the Capitol. Richman, a Republican, crossed the aisle and endorsed the tax increases his party abhors. Canciamilla, a Democrat, took a similar risk in backing spending cuts that most in his party oppose. The result, according to the non-partisan legislative analyst, would be a budget that balances next year and also dramatically cuts into the state's ongoing operating deficit. By 2005-06, the Richman-Canciamilla plan would have a deficit of just $3.9 billion – compared to $17.6 billion if you spin forward the most recent version of the Assembly’s spending plan.

And that’s not all. This compromise proposal also envisions the kind of structural reform the governor has been talking about but has yet to deliver: a spending cap that limits growth to population and inflation, a rule that only 95 percent of general fund revenues can be spent in a given year, mandate relief for local government, and a new, less expensive pension system for new government hires. It also calls for reforming workers comp, preserving the manufacturer’s tax credit, and ending abusive lawsuits.

The tax increases include the raising of the vehicle license fee, which the governor is going to do anyway by administrative fiat, and a temporary, one-half cent sales tax increase to retire the state’s accumulated budget deficit of $10.7 billion. The cuts include reductions in Medi-Cal provider rates, grants to the aged and disabled, in public schools, higher education and local government. It assumes the state cuts payroll costs by 10 percent.

This thing might not have much backing in the Legislature right now, but it’s real, it’s responsible, and it’s doable. If the governor were smart, he’d dump his “Big Five” leadership meetings and jump on this with all the gusto he can muster. Republican purists won't like the tax increases. But they can challenge the car tax hike in court, and trading a temporary half-cent sales tax increase for the reforms Richman has negotiated here would be the deal of the century for fiscal conservatives.

UPDATE: Here is a link to the legislative analyst's letter to Richman appraising the plan. Download file

Posted by dweintraub at 10:26 AM

June 16, 2003

Job losses, signatures pile up

Within the span of a couple of minutes, I just received back-to-back emails from the California Manufacturers and Technology Assn. and the Gray Davis Recall Committee. The CMTA noted that California lost another 4,000 manufacturing jobs in May and has now lost 287,200 since the sector’s decline began in 2001. The email from the Recall committee said they’ve now filed 429,531 signatures with county registrars calling for an election to recall Davis. Synergy?

Posted by dweintraub at 5:40 PM

Clarifying the threat to cities and counties

Shedding further light on the mystery of who wants to cut what from local government, the Senate Republicans have provided a spread sheet that seems to clear up the confusion. The biggest piece of the much talked about $1.16 billion cut is $850 million that the cities and counties would lose in the first quarter of the new fiscal year. The hit results from the way the state would implement its plan to raise the car tax back to earlier levels. In essence, the state on July 1 would take away the aid it has been giving the locals to make up for the reduction in revenue that came with the 1998 car tax reduction. But the locals wouldn't start getting the higher revenues from the increased tax until October. The loss in the meantime amounts to $850 million. The other big chunk comes from the state's taking of $250 million in redevelopment money.

It appears that despite denials from the governor's office, this is a cut that Davis is backing. Here is what Davis spokeswoman Hilary McLean said in the SD Union-Trib on Saturday:

"There are a lot of moving pieces in these times, and a thousand ideas get floated. All I can say is it's not part of the governor's proposal, and we are sort of surprised."

To give them the benefit of the doubt, I think the gov's press office was confused on this one and meant to deny that the gov was asking for more cuts than he'd proposed in his revised budget in May. The cities have simply added up all the cuts Davis is backing and packaged them in a way that the governor's budget did not.

UPDATE: Here's the spreadsheet. Download file

Posted by dweintraub at 9:46 AM

Who's in charge here?

Conventional wisdom says term limits have made lobbyists more powerful, with their institutional memory and experience manipulating the levers of the Legislature. But Assemblyman Jerome Horton, a Democrat from Inglewood, sent a letter to lobbyists last week suggesting that they’ve failed, as a group, to keep up with the constantly changing political dynamic in the lower house. As a result of the most recent and pending elections, Horton said, “The Democratic Assembly has shifted in such a way that the traditional liberals and moderate Democrats are no longer predictable and should not be taken for granted.” Horton encouraged his readers to lobby their bills early and often and not rely on last-minute “discussions in the halls or cryptic notes on the back of business cards.” He also encouraged the advocates to learn the political dynamic, “who is running for what and against who, who is vying for leadership, and who is connected to whom.” Those factors, he suggested, have much to do with how individual members vote.

The scuttlebutt among lobbyists is that Horton’s letter grew out of the recent flap over consultant-lobbyist Richie Ross’ semi-public scolding of aides to two legislators who were reluctant to vote for a bill Ross was pushing. That and the high-pressure lobbying by the trial lawyers for a bill that would preserve with limits a certain kind of lawsuit that small business owners see as frivolous.

The latest rumor is that lawmakers might consider banning lobbyists from the third floor of the Capitol when members are in session.

Posted by dweintraub at 8:38 AM

June 15, 2003

If Johnny's two moms marry....

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum, writing last week at National Review Online, seemed to be blaming the gay marriage movement for the recent increase in unwed births in Canada:

“It's important to understand too that gay marriage has arrived in Canada just as conservatives warned: as part of a dissolution of the institution of marriage in general. Those same judges have worked for ten years to equate marriage and cohabitation. The gay marriage decision is just part of that larger social revolution - and must share responsibility for that revolution's results, including an out-of-wedlock birth rate now as high as that of the United States, in a country that has until recently prided itself in avoiding America's social troubles.”

My position on marriage is purely libertarian: I think it should be a private contract among consenting adults and, if they like, their church. The law should recognize it just like any other contract, with the only concern being that it was entered into without coercion. I realize others disagree, but how on earth can you connect gay marriage to out-of-wedlock births? Not too many gay couples are conceiving kids, ok? And for those who are, wouldn’t allowing them to marry reduce, not increase, the incidence of children born out of wedlock?

Posted by dweintraub at 10:15 PM

Fear factor

Not that he has much choice, but the gov now seems intent on making the unofficial slogan of his campaign to beat the recall “I’m not as bad as the other guy.” If the strategy works, it will be the third straight time Californians have gone for the line, electing, reelecting or keeping Davis out of fear that his opponent or opponents might be even worse. What was that about getting the government we deserve?

Posted by dweintraub at 9:29 PM

June 13, 2003

Cities fearing new budget cuts

According to the League of California Cities, Capitol budget-writers are weighing a major and perhaps permanent whack at local government. While the talks are still at the rumor stage, the League seems to have heard a fairly specific number: $1.16 billion for cities, counties and special districts. The cities are mobilizing now to defeat or at least reduce the size of the hit and keep it from being ongoing. They also want maximum flexibility to manage any cut they do end up taking.

UPDATE: Sen. Brulte's staff says what's with the intrigue? The 1.16 B figure was in the gov's revised budget in May and in SB 53, the Senate-passed budget bill. Maybe so. But I just reviewed both and couldn't find it.

Posted by dweintraub at 5:04 PM

ABC spells more trouble for Davis

In the latest sign that the Davis Recall is going mainstream, the Associated Builders and Contractors of California has just announced that it will join the effort and will contribute money and muscle to help it pass. The group cited crises in workers compensation and health insurance and what it called the governor’s “endless crusade” on behalf of labor unions against non-union, or merit shop, employers. Among the administration actions that have angered the contractors are a recent move to expand the prevailing wage standards to cover fabrication and assembly work done off-site for public works projects, and a years long campaign to shut down non-union apprentice training programs. ABC lobbyist Matt Tennis said he expects many of the association’s 1,400 members to help gather signatures and provide other services to help oust Davis. ABC is the biggest major interest group to join the recall campaign.

UPDATE: A reader predicts that the ABC's backing of the recall will drive labor further into Davis' corner, perhaps even trigger a re-run of the Prop. 226 campaign, when former Gov. Pete Wilson provoked a labor backlash by trying to limit how unions use dues money for political activity. I agree, to a point. It could help Davis portray the recall as "business interests" against the working stiff. But at the same time, it's working stiffs who are feeling hurt by Davis' shortcomings, so I think they will be a divided bloc. Their leaders won't be. Labor is the gov's one and only source of passionate supporters. But the rank and file won't necessarily follow.

Posted by dweintraub at 3:41 PM

Why not swap state and federal tax burdens?

As the recently passed federal tax cut begins to trickle out to taxpayers, a new debate has arisen over the effects of the change on state and local governments. Some are saying the tax cut won’t give the economy the growth spurt Bush was looking for because the states will raise taxes as much as the feds are cutting them. Others say reductions in state and local spending will take away from the economy whatever the feds giveth. But both of these arguments seem off-base to me.

First, there’s no inherent reason for the locals to raise taxes or cut spending in reaction to the federal cut. The feds aren’t cutting spending, they’re cutting taxes. The states, and then the counties, will have as much federal money as before, or more. California, for example, is getting $2.4 billion from the $20 billion state aid package that was part of the tax cut.

Second, if the states do raise taxes for reasons of their own, this will not result in any less spending in the economy. Any state revenue raised will turn right around and go back out in checks to schools (and then teachers), doctors, hospitals, construction companies that build roads, etc. While you might argue that the private economy would have spent the money originally in more efficient ways, including more investment that would pay off in the long term, it’s unlikely that the movement of the money through the state government’s coffers will result in any decline in short-term spending.

Finally, those arguing that state and local taxes will rise while federal taxes decline assume that this would be an entirely bad thing. Not so. Aside from the question of whether state taxes need to rise, the relative shift of the tax burden from the feds to the states is a healthy trend. Tax money spent at the state or local level is inherently more accountable to the voters, who can see their elected officials up close and play a role in deciding how that money is spent. The recent news that the feds are considering funding firefighting in cities across America is an example. Why should the people of Jackson, Miss, send taxes to Washington to support local services in Modesto, Ca.? There are certain shared obligations that we all have, things the federal government must do because the states, counties and cities cannot do them. Firefighting is not one of them. It has survived as a local service for more than 200 years in this country. Surely if this is to be a new federal priority then it’s time to shift money back to the states and local governments from the feds.

One might even see the two trends as an example of a new kind of federalism. Packaged together as a reform, a reduction in federal taxes and a partially offsetting increase in state taxes could be a conservative idea. Move the money from Washington to Sacramento, and then down to the local governments.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:53 AM

June 12, 2003

Cable honcho pushes satellite tv tax

My colleague Ed Fletcher had a story in the Bee this morning about the budding movement in the Capitol to levy a new tax on the satellite television industry. The tax, not surprisingly, is being pushed by cable television companies, who argue that utility taxes that hit cable but not satellite are unfair. One of the major supporters of the satellite tv tax is William Rosendahl, who is vice president of political affairs for Adelphia Communications and former chairman of the California Cable Telecommunications Assn. Given his background, Rosendahl seems a natural to lead this fight. But he is also chairman of the California Commission on Tax Policy in the New Economy, a supposedly high-minded effort to study tax reform issues on behalf of the governor and the Legislature. Most of the members of the commission come with a strong point of view. But as far as I can tell, Rosendahl is the only one with a financial stake in one of the policies he is pushing, and trying to get the commission to recommend. Seems like a conflcit of interest to me.

Posted by dweintraub at 8:31 PM

Truth in budgeting

I’ve been trying for a couple of weeks now to answer this question: How much might the state spend next year compared to this year, on an apples to apples basis? There are so many shifts, transfers, loans and gimmicks in the budget that it’s difficult to tell. But the Assembly Republican Caucus has offered an analysis that seems right to me. I’ll put it out there as the working assumption until someone knocks it down or comes up with something better.

The bottom line: General fund spending this year will be $78.9 billion. Spending on the equivalent programs next year will be $82.2 billion, after making all the required adjustments to keep the story straight. Obviously that’s a little different from the line we’re hearing from the administration, that they’re making the biggest year-to-year cuts in modern times.

Here’s how to follow the pea. Start with the conference committee's official spending total as of June 7, which was $72.2 billion. Then add the following:

Realignment (shifting programs to counties and raising taxes to pay for them) $1.7 billion
Medi-Cal accounting gimmick: 1.0 billion
Raise the vehicle license fee: $4.2 billion
Various fund shifts and fees: $1.3 billion
Borrowing to pay pension obligations: $900 million
Deferring payments to teachers retirement fund: $500 million
New federal funds: $250 million

Each of these moves technically reduces the level of general fund spending in the budget without reducing the real amount the state is spending on services. So when the gov says he is asking for $18 billion in cuts and $8 billion in taxes, that’s not exactly true. Far from it, in fact.

Posted by dweintraub at 9:40 AM

June 11, 2003

Layoffs, enrollment limits, more fees planned for CSU

The Irascible Professor (Mark Shapiro) appears to have a scoop on the CSU's latest plans for dealing with potential budget cuts. He's got a link to a memo laying out plans for a 30 percent fee increase, limits on enrollment, and faculty layoffs.

Posted by dweintraub at 2:25 PM

Clip and Save!

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Davis Recall calendar, as best as I can determine from my interviews with election lawyers and the Secretary of State’s office:

Recall Basics

Valid signatures needed: 897,158 (12 percent of those voting in the last gubernatorial election)

Deadline for proponents to file signatures with county election officials: Sept. 2 (160 days from start).


Every 30 days, county elections officers must determine the number of signatures on-hand and report that number to the Secretary of State.

The reporting dates are:

June 23
July 23
August 22

The monthly county reports are based on signatures counted as of five working days before the reporting date. At first this is a raw count. Once the Secretary of State determines that at least 10 percent of the total number needed have been filed, he notifies the counties, and they begin to verify the signatures. This won’t happen until June 23 at the earliest. Thus, July 23 is the earliest possible date the recall could be certified.

The count of valid signatures is based on the verification of all signatures if fewer than 500 have been submitted, or a 3 percent sample if more than 500 are submitted. The verified rate from each 3 percent sample is then applied to the total collected in each county, and that number is reported to the Secretary of State each month, or more often at the county’s option.

The Secretary of State must maintain a “continuous count” of the signatures certified to his office. Once the Secretary of State determines that sufficient valid signatures have been filed with his office, he has 10 days to notify county elections officials and the lieutenant governor.

The lieutenant governor then sets the date for the election. The election must be held within 60 to 80 days from the date the Secretary of State certified the petitions—unless the certification occurs within 180 days of the next regularly scheduled election. By my count, Sept. 6 is 180 days before the March 4 primary.

--If the proponents have submitted and the counties have verified 110 percent of the needed number (a total of about 987,000) by July 23, Secretary of State Shelley notifies all parties that it’s time to call the election. In this case, the election would then be held between 60 and 80 days from that date. That would put the election in late September or October.

--If the proponents meet the 110 percent threshold by Aug. 22, Shelley notifies all parties (within 10 days) and the election is then called. That would probably put the election in late October or November. (Note that the clock starts ticking on the election calendar when Shelley certifies the petitions, not when the election is officially called by the lieutenant governor.)

--If the proponents use their entire allotted time to gather signatures, county officials verify the remaining signatures and report them to the secretary of state within 30 working days of the deadline. Again, if that produces 110 percent of those needed, the election is called. If it’s between 95 percent and 110 percent, the registrars go back and verify every signature. Under this scenario the election would be March 2.

The recall will be a two-part election. The first question will be, should Gov. Gray Davis be recalled from office? The second question will be, if Davis is recalled, who should replace him? Voters can vote on either or both of these questions. If it is a special election, any other measure already qualified for the ballot, such as the Racial Privacy Initiative, will also appear.

If a majority of voters vote to recall Davis, his successor will be the candidate with the most votes in the second part of the election. There are no primaries, and no runoff. It’s winner take all. The winner will serve out Davis’ term and be eligible for one more.

Posted by dweintraub at 1:55 PM

June 10, 2003

This item just $99 -- after rebate

Good piece from Carol Vinzant at Slate on the great gadget rebate scam. I've been bit by that bug, more than once.

Posted by dweintraub at 6:19 PM

What if they held an election and nobody could run?

Here’s another bizarre wrinkle in the Davis recall story. The official calendar says potential candidates to replace Davis must file nomination papers no later than 59 days before the election. But Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante can call the election for 60 days after the date on which the petitions are certified. And Bustamante need not make his announcement immediately. So it looks as if it is possible, in theory, for Cruz to set an election date after it’s too late for candidates to file to run in that election. Presumably he won’t do that, and presumably if he did, the courts would frown on it. But the calendar says it’s possible.

Posted by dweintraub at 11:52 AM

Issa complaint won't derail recall, but keep your eye on it

Lance Olson, lawyer for the plaintiffs in the Darrell Issa fundraising complaint, tells me that even if his side wins, he can’t envision a scenario where the issue could derail a recall election. At most he sees the case leading to a big civil fine against Issa or possibly a criminal complaint, although that seems unlikely. And Olson doubts anything will happen before September, given the way the Federal Elections Commission works. Still, an early-fall bombshell that the major funder of the recall effort and a candidate to replace Davis broke federal law probably wouldn’t hurt Gray’s survival campaign.

Conservatives who think this is nothing but a nuisance suit ought to read the McCain-Feingold law before writing it off.

The key quote is this:

“A(n)…individual holding federal office …shall not solicit, receive, direct, transfer, or spend funds in connection with any election other than an election for federal office or disburse funds in connection with such an election unless the funds…are not in excess of the amounts permitted with respect to contributions to candidates and political committees (for federal office) and are not from sources prohibited by this Act from making contributions in connection with an election for federal office.”

Even given the usual legal mumbo jumbo, that seems pretty clear. Olson’s translation: The law prohibits Issa “from soliciting, directing, receiving, transferring, or spending funds for Rescue California, unless those funds are raised in compliance with contribution limits of $5,000 per year, and are not derived from prohibited sources such as corporations and unions.”

I opposed McCain-Feingold as an unconstitutional and unwise limit on free political speech. If Issa turns out to be the first pol tripped up by the measure, his case will be Exhibit A.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:12 AM

June 9, 2003

City's goal leaves something to be desired

This interesting piece by my colleague Terri Hardy about the city of Sacramento’s unusual yard waste program reminded me of a funny story involving that issue. For those of you who live elsewhere, you should know that the Capitol City has a policy that allows residents to dump lawn clippings, leaves (of which we have many), tree trimmings and anything else organic into huge piles in the street in front of our houses. Once a week, workers driving a tractor we call “the claw” come by and scoop the stuff up and carry it off in trucks. This service, for which we pay an extra tax, is much loved in a city known for its greenery. But city bureaucrats have always seemed to hate it, and they’re talking once again about trying to eliminate it. The last time they tried, in 1988, they put a measure on the ballot asking voters to end the program and agree to put our yard waste in containers. As that measure was pending, my wife and I were traveling in Europe. On a bus carrying us from Vienna to Budapest (before the fall of the Iron Curtain), we happened to be talking about the ballot proposition, known as Measure F. Suddenly, from the seat behind us, came a voice, in English: “Measure F? Are you talking about Measure F in Sacramento?” Turns out our fellow traveler was a lawyer for the legislative counsel’s office in the Capitol. And by this coincidence the hottest issue in Sacramento became the subject of much discussion thousands of miles away and across the pond. By the way, the city’s ballot measure was defeated in a landslide, and I predict any new attempt to kill the program will see a similar fate. Hands off our yard waste!

Posted by dweintraub at 2:28 PM

Got price controls?

Most Californians probably are not aware that the price of the milk they drink has been regulated (and in some cases artificially supported) by the state since the Great Depression. That complex regulatory scheme created a perverse incentive in the 1990s for milk processors to buy raw milk from out of state, process it and then sell it in California. The state tried to stop this practice by levying fees on these out-of-state purchases. The out-of-state farmers sued, alleging that the fees violated the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The state won at trial and in federal appeals court. But today, the Supreme Court overturned the appeals court decision, clearing the way for a full trial on the merits of the issue. The outcome could mean cheaper milk on the grocery store shelves and, if you believe California’s dairy farmers, a more unstable home-state industry. Here’s the Supreme Court opinion, courtesy of

Posted by dweintraub at 2:00 PM

Does Issa fundraising violate federal law?

Here's the best analysis I've seen on the question of whether Rep. Darrell Issa's fundraising for the recall campaign violates the new federal campaign finance law. It's from the San Diego Union-Tribune, by John Marelius and Dana Wilkie.

UPDATE: The article suggests that Issa may well be violating the letter of a law that is unconstitutional and will, at some point, be thrown out.

The question the piece neither asks nor answers is this: what are the consequences if Issa is violating the law? Would he just face a fine? Could the recall be thrown out? Would he be barred from running? Even if it were just a fine, such a blemish certainly wouldn't help either the recall or Issa's campaign.

Posted by dweintraub at 8:41 AM

June 7, 2003

Look for a Davis-ite in a town near you

From the governor’s office: Nearly 20 Senior Davis Administration officials will fan out across the state this weekend to promote an "on-time, balanced budget." Deputy Chief of Staffs Vincent Harris and Glen Roselli, Health and Human Services Secretary Grantland Johnson, CALTRANS Director Jeff Morales, State and Consumer Services Agency Secretary Aileen Adams, and Education Secretary Kerry Mazzoni are among the officials that will attend the budget meetings organized by the Pacific Institute for Community Organization (PICO). Cities that Davis Administration officials will be in include: Oakland, San Bernardino, Santa Ana, Anaheim, San Francisco, Long Beach, San Jose, Pinole, Union City, Hollywood, Berkeley, Sacramento, Los Altos, and San Diego.

This is progress, exactly the kind of grass-roots public engagement the state, and the Administration, need more of. But there’s no mention here of the one “senior Davis Administration official” who would be guaranteed to attract attention from the local media in these towns: Gray Davis. Maybe the gov himself is not up for barnstorming because he knows it’s increasingly futile. The Legislature is almost certain at this point to produce little more than a “get outta town budget” that rolls over the debt and starts building a new deficit that lawmakers will have to confront next spring, at the latest.

One other nit: the goal of an "on-time, balanced budget" is endearing, but it's not what this fight is really about. That sounds like an appeal to all the CPAs in the crowd. Isn't the governor's unspoken message really that California's government lacks the resources to meet its needs (or at least its desires) for schools, health care, transportation and the like? Davis, or someone, needs to convene a discussion about values, not budget deadlines. Davis should be making the case for higher taxes to pay for these programs. Republicans should be making their case that California can't afford the level of government to which its become accustomed. Let the best argument win. But at least have the argument.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:56 AM

June 6, 2003

Tax break repeal not a credibility booster

The Assembly’s vote Thursday to repeal tax breaks granted to farmers to break a budget stalemate in 2001 will almost certainly make it more difficult for Democratic leaders to win Republican votes for this year’s spending plan. The sales tax breaks on farm machinery were never a good idea; the tax code is already larded up with too many narrow provisions for particular interest groups. And they were approved in a dubious move by Democratic budget writers to buy the vote of farm county lawmaker Mike Briggs of Fresno. But yanking them away now, ostensibly to pay for health care for farmworkers, sends an unmistakable message to Republican lawmakers: Democrats won’t keep their word. With trust already at an all-time low in the Capitol, this can't help.

Posted by dweintraub at 8:45 AM

June 5, 2003

And I thought we had weak leaders in the Legislature

The Capitol’s got its panties in a bunch today over Big Jim Brulte’s threat to campaign against any Republicans who vote for a tax increase. Brulte, the Senate Republican Leader and one of President Bush’s closest confidants in California, addressed a joint meeting of the Senate and Assembly Republican caucuses earlier this week and told them he was willing to break from precedent and actively work to defeat any incumbent who voted for higher taxes. I don’t happen to share Brutle’s fervor for freezing tax rates. I think it’s pretty clear that the state needs at least some temporary revenue to pay off the $11 billion in deficits we have already piled up. I’m also open to the argument that we might need a bit more to pay for the kind of schools, universities, public safety, health care, roads, and parks that Californians seem to enjoy and want—if that revenue comes in exchange for fundamental reform in the way government spends the money. But that’s not really the point. The question is, was it somehow wrong for Brulte to express his opinion the way he did and vow to use his power to further his particular ideological point of view? I think not. I mean, that’s what politicians do, isn’t it? They run for office, and seek leadership posts, in order to change the world, or keep the world from changing in ways they don’t like. I have more respect for a guy who’s willing to lay it on the line like that than for certain people who are unwilling to fight for what they believe, or who in fact show precious little evidence of believing in anything. Gray Davis raised and spent more than $70 million running for governor last year. If he had spent some of that money helping like-minded people get elected to the Legislature, and had done the same in the 2000 off-year elections, he might have more allies in the Assembly and Senate than he does today. Still, it’s not as if Democrats don’t have enforcement mechanisms of their own. Any Democrat who refused to vote for the party’s budget would surely be pummeled into submission before long. Look at the votes on all the recent budgets. Almost every Democrat has voted yes. Republicans, often to the chagrin of party leaders, have shown far more diversity of thought. One final point: I hope no one who has championed the ideal of “strong political parties” in the past, including campaign finance limits that further that goal, will condemn Brulte. I’m not a fan of parties for just this reason. I think legislators should be accountable to their constituents and no one else. But plenty of people think that parties are just nifty. They bemoan the lack of party strength and say term limits have given us weak leadership in the Legislature. Proposition 34, the campaign finance measure voters approved in 2000, limits the ability of individual legislators to raise money while turning party leaders into agents that gather and distribute the cash. It is precisely that reform that gives Brulte the ability to threaten incumbent lawmakers the way he did this week. He controls the purse strings. Think about that the next time you hear a pitch for putting stricter limits on campaign contributions. Here’s a link to the Bee’s story on Brulte’s remarks.

Posted by dweintraub at 10:31 AM

June 4, 2003

Judge releases medicinal marijuana grower

A federal judge released the self-styled “Guru of Ganja” today in a mixed decision that medical marijuana advocates hailed as a victory but which still left the door wide open for the feds to keep prosecuting marijuana offenses as a major crime. Ed Rosenthal, the 58-year-old Bay Area man convicted of growing 100 marijuana plants in an Oakland warehouse, could have been sentenced to 60 years in prison. A federal judge let him off with one day for each of three counts and released him for time already served after Rosenthal claimed he was growing the plants for medicinal use as an agent of the city of Oakland. But the judge, Charles Breyer, said the case would not serve as a precedent. "This case should not and could not happen again," he said, according to the Associated Press report. "Others are now on notice that a state or municipality cannot legally authorize medical marijuana." The question is, why not? And further, why do Americans even need the permission of states or cities, much less the federal government, to grow, consume and share a plant of their choosing? If pot, or any other drug, causes anti-social behavior, regulate that. But leave responsible users alone. The government has enough to do without telling people what they can and cannot put into their bodies.

Posted by dweintraub at 5:42 PM

Recall rift over election date

Interesting wrinkle in the recall campaign. According to Carla Marinucci in the Chronicle, recall sponsor Ted Costa is sitting on a couple hundred thousand signatures while he ponders whether to push for an early, special election or allow the recall to be consolidated with the March primary. Major funder Darrell Issa, the San Diego County congressman who wants to run for the job himself, would prefer an early vote so he wouldn’t have to give up his seat in the House. But Costa says he won’t be rushed, and figures avoiding having to defend the costs of a special election might be a good strategy. I don’t know if the recall forces will get all their signatures in time to force an early election. But if they do, I’d bet they’ll turn them in. My guess is that Costa is just sending a little message to the money men—that they better not forget he started this thing and he’s the only one with the power to pull the trigger. Issa’s forces, in turn, will make sure Costa knows his efforts are appreciated.

Posted by dweintraub at 11:57 AM

June 3, 2003

Budget update

The Republican press staff just announced that the party will be pushing five budget amendments on the floor today. They all address spending. But they are penny ante compared to the GOP complaints about a "37 percent increase" since Davis took office. One amendment would roll back spending on state operations (the bureaucracy) by 10 percent to save $1.2 billion. Another would close the state's foreign trade offices to save $3.4 million. Allowing schools and community colleages to contract out more services, they contend, would save $250 million. Another amendment limits spending on boards and commissions to save $5 million. So let me get this straight. State spending has increased from $58 billion to close to $80 billion during Gray's tenure. That's $22 billion. But at the moment of truth, as the Assembly is about to debate the budget, Republicans can find only $1.3 billion in cuts to recommend? Strange.

Posted by dweintraub at 3:18 PM

Partisan chasm growing faster than budget gap

It’s starting to look as if even the gov’s minimalist revised budget proposal is too ambitious for the Legislature to pass. Republicans, of course, say they won’t vote for tax increases. Democrats, meanwhile, have already added close to $2 billion in additional spending. The parties, in other words, are drifting further apart, not closer together. But I'm not expecting a long hot summer stalemate. Instead, I am leaning toward the Great Compromise scenario, which would be to do next to nothing but call it a budget. Watch for the leadership to start looking for ways to roll over the deficit, perhaps without a tax increase, adopt spending levels close to what the governor has proposed, and then vow to make it all work by freezing spending a year from now. It would be ugly, but it would probably be enough to get headlines saying “Lawmakers pass budget,” which might be all that matters to them at this point. If that doesn’t pass the smell test, the absolute outer limits of what I can imagine them doing would be a temporary, half-cent sales tax to retire the debt, linked to workers comp reform and some sort of spending cap. But even that would leave a structural gap between spending and revenues on the order of $10 billion or more. Senate Leader John Burton told the Bee that he expects negotiations to come down to the sales tax, which suggests he’s already giving up on the other taxes in the Davis plan. “We are going to be down to a point of whether or not people would be willing to vote for temporary half-cent sales tax increase," Burton told the Bee. "If we don't do that, there's a possibility that the state would find itself (in) some very difficult circumstances, to say the least."

Posted by dweintraub at 2:23 PM

June 2, 2003

More scare tactics against RPI

I still haven’t decided how I'll vote on Ward Connerly’s Racial Privacy Initiative, but I’m increasingly bothered by what seem to be blatant misrepresentations by the measure’s opponents. At a conference in Washington last week, academics and medical researchers said the initiative would prevent the collection of racial data crucial to gauging disparities in the medical treatment received by black and white patients.

But as I've noted in this space before, medical research is one of the areas expressly exempted from Connerly’s proposed ban on government collection of racial data. The pertinent language reads:

“(f) Otherwise lawful classification of medical research subjects and patients shall be exempt from this section.”

I’m still waiting to hear from opponents why that exemption isn’t sufficient.

Posted by dweintraub at 11:57 AM



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