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Daniel Weintraub

California Insider

A Weblog by
Sacramento Bee Columnist Daniel Weintraub

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« November 2004 | | January 2005 »
December 24, 2004

E-budgeting

The Department of Finance gave reporters a sneak preview this week of its new "e-budget" -- a web-based version of the document that will be more user-friendly than the pdf-based version that's been on the Internet for a few years now. The state is no longer going to print and distribute the printed budget, except for a few copies around the Capitol. Users are supposed to be able to print their own, if they like, from the pdf file that will still be part of the online version.

Finance officials said the contract for converting the document to web form is costing $450,000. This seems like a lot of money to me for a job that is essentially converting a book to an online presentation. It does have some cool features that allow users to drill down through various levels of detail, but still, that's a healthy chunk of change for something that doesn't actually do anything other than present static copies of saved pages. The project was competitively bid, so that must be the going rate. Anybody out there have any thoughts on this?

Posted by dweintraub at 7:31 AM



Hang-up on transportation bonds

Treasurer Phil Angelides tells Schwarzenegger that he has done all he can to prepare for the sale of transportation funding bonds backed by the Indian gambling compacts the governor negotiated earlier this year. But the treasurer says the bonds can't be sold until Schwarzenegger resolves litigation filed against the compacts and persuades the tribes to provide more detailed financial information about their operations. The bonds of nearly $1 billion are supposed to back-fill for money Schwarzenegger and the Legislature shifted out of the transportation budget this year. Angelides' letter is here.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:21 AM



December 23, 2004

The daily grind

Schwarzenegger releases edited versions of his daily schedule. Some interesting things in there, but no bombshells. He schedules meetings with labor leaders, for example, at least as often as he does with individual corporate officials. And the governor who has been accused of being inaccessible to the media has done dozens and dozens of interviews, though many of them are short takes with talk radio. See the datebooks for yourself here, at the bottom of the Bee's story.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:24 AM



December 22, 2004

Christmas pardons

Gov. Schwarzenegger has just issued his first three pardons, all involving people who committed drug offenses decades ago and, according to the governor's office, have lived clean lives ever since. Here is the information from the governor's office on the three cases:

In 1971, at the age of 19, James Brown, of Arvada, Colorado, was convicted of burglary and driving under the influence of drugs in Riverside County. He served four months and 29 days in a narcotic-addiction-treatment program and then was released on parole. Since his discharge from parole more than 31 years ago, Brown has contributed to the community through his academic achievements and by providing substance-abuse counseling and teaching for many years as a college professor, and volunteering for a nonprofit organization.

In 1978, at the age of 26, Antonio Garcia, of Hacienda Heights, was convicted of two counts of sale of a controlled substance in Los Angeles County. He served approximately one year and eight months on probation and completed a residential drug-treatment program. Since his discharge from probation more than 24 years ago, Garcia has gone on to contribute to the community by serving for 20 years on the Board of Directors for a local drug-treatment program and serving, as a member of the California State Bar, on various Superior Court committees relating to juvenile-dependency law.

In 1975, at the age of 24, Alec Webster, of Santa Cruz, was convicted of one count of possession of marijuana for sale and one count of transportation/sale of a controlled substance in Santa Cruz County. He served approximately two years, eight months on probation. Since his discharge from probation more than 26 years ago, Webster has contributed to the community in which he has lived for more than 20 years through his academic achievements and extensive volunteer and philanthropic activities.

According to Schwarzenegger's office, Gray Davis issued no pardons while governor, Pete Wilson issued 13, George Deukmejian 328, Jerry Brown 403 and Ronald Reagan 575.

Posted by dweintraub at 1:28 PM



Caltrans faulted in bridge retrofit audit

The state auditor's report on the bridge retrofit is out, and it faults CalTrans for failing to do enough to track the rising costs that have now far exceeded the budget. The highlights (or lowlights):

Cost estimates have increased $3.2 billion since April 2001, including a $900 million program contingency reserve.

Approximately $930 million of the $3.2 billion increase relates to the May 2004 bid for the superstructure of the signature span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge's east span (East Span); the remainder is attributable to other cost categories.

Various factors have driven cost increases including volatile markets for steel and contractor services, a lengthening of the East Span's timeline, and Caltrans' past experience with the program, which is reflected in contingency reserves.

Caltrans neglected several important aspects of generally accepted standards for project management. Specifically:

Caltrans did not create a comprehensive risk management plan for the East Span, and lacked processes to identify, track and quantify risks throughout this project's life.

Caltrans' cost update for the August 2004 report to the Legislature was its first program-wide update of cost estimates since April 2001.

Caltrans failed to disclose information to the Legislature according to the law's regular reporting schedule and disclosed huge cost overruns long after it should have been aware of them.

In November 2003, Caltrans' financial plan update to the Federal Highway Administration did not reveal the probable extent of estimated program costs.
At that time, based on internal reports, Caltrans should have known that the program was over budget.

Read the whole thing here.

Posted by dweintraub at 10:13 AM



December 21, 2004

Cock-eyed

Asian-American Republicans in the Legislature want to be included in the Asian-Pacific Islander Caucus. The Democrats who run the group say the Republicans can't join and urge them to form a caucus of their own. Maybe it would be better to eliminate the ethnic caucuses altogether and treat all members of the Legislature and their constituents as the individual Californians that they are.

Posted by dweintraub at 12:27 PM



Nurses sue over ratios

The California Nurses Assn. has sued Schwarzenegger to try to overturn his decision to delay full implementation of state-mandated nurse-to-patient ratios.

From the union's statement:

CNA charges the governor and his Department of Health Services with “compromising patient protections, unlawfully abusing executive authority to overturn a legislative mandate, and setting a dangerous new precedent that threatens decades of health and safety protections for Californians,” said CNA Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro.

The suit is in Sacramento Superior Court.

Posted by dweintraub at 12:08 PM



Núñez v. South

Former Gray Davis consultant Garry South is getting hammered by Democrats in the Legislature, including Speaker Fabian , for aNúñezdvising the business-backed Jobs-PAC in campaigns against Democrats this fall. I don't blame them for being ticked, but Nunez's blast at South for being the guy who "took Gray Davis down the hole" is misplaced.

South is the man who was most responsible for getting Gray Davis elected and re-elected, and he correctly saw that the way for Democrats (or Republicans for that matter) to excel in California was to run and govern from the center. Davis was recalled after South left his side, and, while the consultant did return and advise the campaign, he was not in control of it.

If Núñez doesn't understand that South is one of the smartest Democratic consultants in California, he risks taking his members and his party down the same political "hole" from which Davis is now looking up.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:40 AM



Happy holidays for grocery workers

Good news for Northern California supermarket workers: a tentative deal with the industry that appears certain to head off a threatened strike that could have been devastating to workers and employers alike and an inconvenience to consumers. The deal does not reduce wages or benefits but puts new workers on a slower track to the top track for pay and perks. It also continues the practice of the employer paying the entire cost of health insurance.

This last point was important to the union and the workers, but it is more of a symbol than a true victory. Health insurance premiums are just another form of compensation. You can get more pay and less reimbursement for your health insurance, or less pay and more reimbursement. Over the past several years, wages and benefits nationally have been climbing at a pretty good clip, but most of that has come in the form of benefits, mainly health benefits. That will continue to be the case with this contract, it appears.

More broadly, there is evidence that having the employer arrange for the payment of health insurance increases usage and costs while reducing employee choice, all of which is bad for our system overall. But it's hard to ask one set of employees in one industry to give up a hard-won benefit that is important to them on the grounds that doing so would help their fellow citizens and restrain the overall growth in the cost of health care nationally.

So kudos to the grocery workers union and the industry for working out a mutually acceptable deal on the eve of the Christmas holiday.

Posted by dweintraub at 6:51 AM



December 20, 2004

No gimmicks?

It's very difficult to see how Schwarzenegger can live up to new Finance Director Tom Campbell's pledge of a no-gimmicks budget, erase a projected $8.1 billion shortfall and still not raise taxes. Especially given commitments the governor made last year to K-14 education and university leaders. To get anywhere near accomplishing that goal, Schwarzenegger will have to divert the potential windfall in education spending that is coming from a jump in revenues, hold down higher ed budgets, shift transportation funding to the general fund, and cut $1 billion to $2 billion from the growth in health and welfare spending. If he did all that and spent the final $3 billion left from last year's bond measure (but isn't that a gimmick?) he could probably balance the 2005-06 budget. He would still face another huge problem in 06-07. It is simply amazing how two years of reckless budgeting in 2001 and 2002 are haunting the state for the rest of the decade.

Posted by dweintraub at 8:41 AM



Debt service climbing

The increase in debt service payments in the coming year, if available to spend on current programs instead, would be "enough to pay the annual salaries of 50,000 teachers or to educate 357,000 students. It's more money than the state puts into the entire University of California system each year. It's more money than it costs to provide healthcare for 847,000 Californians." So reports the Los Angeles Times in this piece (registration required).

Posted by dweintraub at 8:14 AM



Pension spiking

The Bee's John Hill and Dorothy Korber have produced another in a fine string of stories on the state's public employee pension system. This one focuses on how California's unique rule basing pensions on the final year's salary, rather than three to five years like every other state, encourages employees to change jobs or roles at the end of their careers simply to spike their pension. One woman managed to boost her annual retirement by $18,000 using this technique.

Posted by dweintraub at 8:08 AM



December 16, 2004

PUC appointees

Schwarzenegger says he intends to appoint Dian Greuneich and Steve Poizner to vacancies on the Public Utilities Commission when they come open in January.

Greuneich is an energy lawyer and consultant who is the former staff counsel for the California Energy Commission and former president of the California League of Conservation Voters. She is a Democrat.

Poizner founded SnapTrack. Inc. and was chief executive of Strategic Mapping, Inc. He has also been a management consultant and a White House fellow in the National Security office. Most recently he was a losing candidate for an Assembly seat in the Silicon Valley. He is a Republican.

Posted by dweintraub at 1:04 PM



New Cal-EPA secretary

Schwarzenegger has named Alan Lloyd as his EPA secretary, replacing Terry Tamminen, who served in that job for a year before moving to the governor's office as Schwarzenegger's cabinet secretary.

His bio, via the governor's office:

Lloyd has over 25 years of experience with environmental issues. He has served as chairman of the California Air Resources Board since 1999. Prior to joining the Board, Lloyd was executive director of the Energy and Environmental Center at the Desert Research Institute. From 1988 to 1995, he served as chief scientist for the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Prior to that, Lloyd served in many positions at Environmental Research and Technology, Inc. (now ENSR), starting as senior staff scientist in 1976, moving to manager of the Environmental Modeling Section of the Environmental Analysis Division, then becoming deputy manager of the Environmental Analysis Division before serving his last four years with the company as manager of the Air Quality Division for the Western region. Lloyd's professional experience also includes six years as assistant director and assistant research chemist for the Department of Chemistry at the Statewide Air Pollution Research Center.

Posted by dweintraub at 12:58 PM



Not Helping America Vote

The state auditor's report on Secretary of State Kevin Shelley's management of federal "Help America Vote" funds is out, and it's not pretty. Here are the bullet points:

--The office's insufficient planning and poor management practices hampered its efforts to implement HAVA provisions promptly.

--The office's disregard for proper controls and its poor oversight of staff and consultants led to questionable uses of HAVA funds.

--The office avoided competitive bidding for many contracts paid with HAVA funds by improperly using a Department of General Services exemption from competitive bidding and by not following the State's procurement policies.

--The office bypassed the Legislature's spending approval authority when it executed consultant contracts and then charged the associated costs to its HAVA administration account.

--The office failed to disburse HAVA funds to counties for the replacement of outdated voting machines within the time frames outlined in its grant application package and county agreements.

See the whole thing here.

Posted by dweintraub at 9:38 AM



SF considers gun ban

From the AP:

San Francisco supervisors want voters to approve a sweeping handgun ban that would prohibit almost everyone except law enforcement officers, security guards and military members from possessing firearms in the city.

Read the whole thing here.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:26 AM



San Diego mayor's race

An unofficial recount of write-in ballots cast in the San Diego mayor's race suggests that Councilwoman Donna Frye would win if all her write-in votes are counted, including those disqualified because voters did not also color in the oval next to the line where they wrote her name.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:22 AM



Budget gap growing

The budget gap Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will try to close when he proposes his spending plan next month has grown to $8 billion, or $1.3 billion more than projected by the legislative analyst just one month ago, the Los Angeles Times reports (registration required).

This AP story provides a good overview of the stakes involved in the coming fight over the education budget.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:15 AM



Shelley expands patronage

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley has five times the number of political appointees working for him today as he did when he took office, the Sacramento Bee reports.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:11 AM



Perata probe widens

The FBI searches the home of Nick Perata, son of the newly elected Senate Leader.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:09 AM



December 15, 2004

Rob Reiner

The dailykos reports that advisers to Rob Reiner have told him that Reiner probably won't run for governor in 2006, in part because he has concluded that Schwarzenegger, if he runs, won't be beaten. But Reiner is keeping his options open. "Unless Schwarzenegger shows unexpected vulnerability" in the next year, look for Reiner to focus on 2010, Kos says.

Posted by dweintraub at 3:28 PM



Lunch time

Should the government require everybody to take a lunch break?

What if you would rather work straight through, skip lunch and go home early?

Current state law and regulations don't let you. And any employer who allows you to do so is subject to fines and civil litigation.

The Schwarzenegger Administration says employers should be allowed to simply notify all workers that they are entitled to a break if they want one, but also allow those who would rather not take it to have the freedom to work without a break. Labor leaders say this amount to exploitation, not flexibility.

The story is here.

Posted by dweintraub at 9:11 AM



Slowing the growth

If Schwarzenegger is going to balance the budget without a tax increase, as he still apparently hopes to do, he has to overcome two big hurdles. One is the simple math, which says he has to trim $6 billion to $8 billion from the growth in ongoing programs to bring them into line with revenues. The other is politically, convincing the people of California that this is the best approach to take.

On the latter, it's clear that the governor has latched on to a rhetorical approach that he thinks will work. He has used it at almost every opportunity recently to discuss the budget, and I expect to hear him use it a lot more in the weeks ahead. The theme is that state revenues are growing smartly, but that spending is programmed to grow even faster. The fix, in his view, is to slow the growth in spending. He seems to think that people will be more accepting of the cuts if they understand that, overall, spending is still growing quite a bit. Last night, on of all venues "The Best Damn Sports Show Period," Schwarzenegger tried out his lines again:

"We had a great revenue increase this last year of 6 billion dollars, but we are spending, you know, 13, 14 billion dollars more. So therefore we have a gap, we have an 8 billion dollar gap, and so we have to close that gap, and we have to make certain cuts because of it. These are tough cuts that we have to make, and I think that people will be angry, but that's what we have to do, otherwise we will go eventually again into bankruptcy, because the politicians have a tendency to spend money they don't have."

Posted by dweintraub at 9:06 AM



November revenues

The Finance Department report for November is here. Not much news on the surface -- revenues for the month $30 million short of projections, still about $1 billion over projections for the fiscal year. But one intriguing number jumps out: withholding from wages was 24 percent above the level of a year ago. That seems promising.

Posted by dweintraub at 8:58 AM



December 14, 2004

Disclosure

State Sen. Dean Florez plans to sponsor legislation that would require political nonprofit groups to disclose their donors just as campaign committees and political action committees do now. The Democratic lawmaker was the target earlier this year of ads run by a group calling itself the "Consumer Alliance for a Strong Economy."

“I think Americans have made clear in recent years and in recent elections that they want to know the source of messages they are expected to buy into,” Florez said in a statement released by his office. “I am all in favor of CASE saying what they want about me, as long as they acknowledge who is behind the statements. The public should have the opportunity to weigh what their motives may be.”

Posted by dweintraub at 1:55 PM



December 13, 2004

Stem cells

The governor has nominated Robert Klein, the Palo Alto investment banker who was one of the major forces behind Prop. 71, to be chairman of the Citizens Oversight Committee that will be part of the implementation of the stem cell initiative. Schwarzenegger nominated former Chiron CEO Edward Penhoet to be vice chairman of the panel.

Posted by dweintraub at 11:37 AM



December 12, 2004

New York, New York

New York 2004 019.jpg
Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge.

I haven't been to New York in many years, and my wife had never been. We both thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Great food. Great neighborhoods. Great people.

This was a very low-key trip, light on big events and heavy on walking. I'd forgotten how wonderful New York is for walking. My idea of a great vacation is just wandering a city and its neighborhoods, exploring, and New York is perfect for that. My wife likes a little more structure, so she cheated by doing tons of neighorhood-based research ahead of time and then guided us from point to point. It felt spontaneous to me, and we did come upon surprises between the guideposts, and she was happy because she knew where we were headed much of the time. We stayed in a small hotel in the Flatiron District (W. 17th Street) near Union Square, which seems like a neighborhood that is definitely on the way up.

Some things I noticed:

The city was clean, and, at least in the parts we walked, amazingly free of the homeless and panhandlers. Especially so in contrast to San Francisco, where the street people at times are overwhelming. Not sure if New York has simply pushed its destitute all into a corner somewhere or if there are actually fewer of them than there used to be, but it was very apparent.

The subways were also very clean, nearly grafitti-free, and they felt safe, day and night.

New York is still very much a dog town. We saw only three cats the entire time we were there, and probably hundreds of dogs. I get the feeling that professional dog walking is a very lucrative career in the city.

I love the way people buy Christmas Trees in New York. I am used to going to a Christmas Tree lot or even a farm, looking them over and picking one out that's just right. In New York they are pre-bundled, lined up on the sidewalk outside your corner grocery or drugstore, like bodies at the morgue. You grab one and take your chances that it will turn out ok.

The American Girl phenomenon is very hot. If you haven't been exposed to this yet, American Girl is a popular new doll that is a sort of Barbie meets Superwoman, a doll who knows how to dress up and look right but is also career-minded, smart and likes math. At the American Girl Place on Fifth Avenue, you can have lunch with your doll or even have her hair styled at the salon. A very Red State sort of thing in the Capital of Blue.

The newly reopened Museum of Modern Art was great, but we had just as much fun at the far smaller and less pretentious Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in the Carnegie Mansion on 91st Street just off Central Park.

This is obvious, but I was struck again by how European-facing New York is. Out here on the left coast, Europe is very far away. We are much more oriented toward the Pacific Rim and Latin America. New York to me feels like Paris West. The accents you hear on the street or in the restaurants are much more likely to be French or German or Russian than Mexican or Asian. I am not sure what the raw numbers are on the source of immigrants and visitors, but for a native Californian, the different influences is palpable.

The news. My three favorite stories that were in the news while we were there:

Hawks. A red-tailed hawk's nest was forcibly removed from the side of a Fifth Avenue co-op, and animal rights activists, including co-op resident Mary Tyler Moore, were outraged.

Sharpton. The Village Voice, in a long, front-page feature story, discovered 15 years after the rest of the world that the Rev. Al Sharpton just might have a credibility deficit.

Rent Control. A story that could have run in The Onion, but instead was in the New York Times (registration required). A Queens landlord was convicted of attempted murder for hiring a couple of thugs to rub out two of his tenants so he could rent the unit at market rates. Attempted murder is an awful crime. But it's not hard to understand why this guy was so frustrated. The tenants were the sons of a couple who had moved into the apartment in 1964 and had been paying $400 a month ever since. The parents moved out in 1997 but transferred the unit, and its controlled rent, to their children. The place would rent for about $2,000 a month today.

New York 2004 022.jpg
Nassau Street in the Financial District.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:52 PM



December 5, 2004

Later

I am going to be taking this week off. And no, it has nothing to do with the fact that the Legislature is back in town! See you on Monday, Dec. 13.

Posted by dweintraub at 8:31 PM



Making a list

Dan Walters has a helpful list of reform ideas for the governor, here.

Posted by dweintraub at 8:27 PM



December 3, 2004

Slippery slopes

I had the pleasure of hearing Eugene Volokh speak on the "Slippery Slope Mechanism" at a luncheon today sponsored by the Federalist Society of Sacramento. As some of you know, Volokh, now a UCLA law professor, graduated in math and computer science from UCLA at age 15. But he is apparently not a big fan of personal technology. In the age of Power Point presentations, he used an old-fashioned overhead projector to accompany his talk. The machine, provided by the hall, made a horrible noise when Volokh first turned it on. The fan seemed to be malfunctioning. Attempts by the staff to silence it proved futile, and it threatened to drown out Volokh's words. Desperate, he gave it a swift whack with his palm. Silence. Ovation. And a great talk, heard by all.

Posted by dweintraub at 2:32 PM



Amend for Arnold?

KXJZ Capitol Public Radio in Sacramento is doing an hourlong show from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on the idea of amending the Constitution to allow immigrants to run for president. I'll be a guest toward the end of the hour. It's available online at www.capradio.org

Posted by dweintraub at 2:16 PM



December 2, 2004

Chaplain Jim

As of Monday, the new Chaplain of the state Senate will be James Richardson, the former Bee political reporter, author of a biography of Willie Brown and now reverend and canon at the Trinity Cathedral Episcopal Church in Sacramento. If you had told me 10 years ago...

Posted by dweintraub at 3:36 PM



Appointments

Gov. Schwarzenegger released a batch of mid-level appointments this afternoon, including veteran troubleshooter Chon Gutierrez as interim director of the state Lottery and former state Sen. Marian Bergeson to the Transportion Commission. The details on those and the others should be here later today.

Posted by dweintraub at 12:50 PM



Cal Journal

The California Journal announced Wednesday that it will suspend publication after 35 years as a non-partisan source of in-depth coverage of the state's politics and policy. The mag has been on shaky ground for many years, operating as a non-profit and constantly forced to raise money through donations to stay afload. Board members say they will keep the foundation alive in hopes of restarting publication. It's hard to believe there isn't room for something along these lines in California, a dynamic, vibrant state of 36 million people with some of the most interesting politics in the nation. Perhaps a for-profit venture, with an aggressive online presence and an updated, more edgy take on the issues. We'll see.

Posted by dweintraub at 7:00 AM



December 1, 2004

Prop. 72 trailing, again

The glitch has been fixed. Turns out that San Diego County submitted final results for Prop. 71, the stem cell initiative, as the results for Prop. 72, the health care mandate. That led briefly to the appearance that 72 had passed. Caren Daniels-Meade of the Secretary of State's office says the measure is trailing by 203,000 votes. And that should be very close to the final result.

Posted by dweintraub at 12:59 PM



Prop. 72 leading?

In a bizarre story, the secretary of state on Tuesday suddenly reported that Prop. 72, the health care mandate on the Nov. 2 ballot, had come from behind with a last-second surge of late-counted votes to prevail, narrowly. Then, just as quickly, the office pulled the result from its Web site, saying the numbers might have been the product of a clerical glitch. An update is due today. The LA Times has the story here (registration required).

Posted by dweintraub at 6:41 AM



All aboard

I am riding the Capitol Corridor train to Berkeley this morning for a health care conference, and I am using the new wireless connection that the train managers are piloting. It's a nice idea, but so far, the connection seems no faster than my cell phone modem I have used on the train in the past. Also, a feature that is supposed to track the train's progress on a map via GPS isn't working. On the bright side, the train's on time!

Posted by dweintraub at 6:35 AM



 
 

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