The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

January 30, 2009
L.A. court hires lobbyist to restore perks for judges
Today's editorial takes aim at a self-serving bill to enhance benefits for judges statewide that the state Judicial Council hopes will be part of a state budget deal. The proposed legislation, which you can find here, would add tens of millions of dollars in annual compensation obligations that would either have to be paid out of the judiciary's existing budget, or through additional appropriations.

Since publishing the editorial, we learned that the Los Angeles County courts has hired a high-priced lobbyist and former legislator to push for the legislation. That juicy tidbit was part a story by Cheryl Miller that ran this week in Cal Law, an online journal whose premium articles can only be accessed through a subscription.

As Miller notes, L.A. County lost a lawsuit last year filed by the group Judicial Watch that challenged the supplemental benefits the county was paying to its state judges.

Court Executive Officer John Clarke said two judges have said publicly that they will quit if the local benefits stop. When the county lost the Judicial Watch lawsuit, leaders of the Los Angeles County Superior Court dipped into the court's operating budget to retain a former state assemblyman to lobby the Legislature to re-establish the county's authority to offer judicial benefits. The court is paying Burt Margolin $10,000 a month through April for consulting and lobbying services, Clarke said.
This is a pretty fine kettle of fish. L.A. County and the state are both in fiscal crises, and yet the county is paying a lobbyist $10,000 a month to lobby for enhanced benefits that will have to be borne by our cash-strapped state.

One has to ask: Where is the justice?
January 30, 2009
Steinberg puts gavel down on play by judges to boost benefits
Today's lead editorial looks at "sneaker bills" that inevitably enter into closed-door deliberations as lawmakers try to close out a budget deal. The editorial highlights one such bill that came across our desks -- an attempt by state judges to hike the benefits they could receive on top of their existing salary and compensation.

After we flagged it and inquired about it, the office of Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he would not introduce it this session:

You can read the draft language in question here at
Judges bill

January 28, 2009
Jerry Brown: More delay on dealing with aging, sick prisoners

In a Sunday editorial, "Brown blocks the way on prison health," the SacBee editorial board posed a question to Attorney General Jerry Brown and other California officials: "If you don't like [Federal Prison Health Receiver J. Clark] Kelso's plan or don't want a federal court-imposed solution, where's your plan?

Well, now Brown has a plan.  Sort of.

He has filed a motion in federal district court in San Francisco to end the federal takeover of California's prison health system. He wants the court to return the prison health care system to the state and simply appoint a Special Master to evaluate the state's compliance with federal constitutional standards. Blah, blah, blah. Been there, done that. 

Brown also wants the court to terminate the receiver's proposed plan to construct facilities to house 10,000 chronically ill, physically impaired, feeble prisoners.

Surely, Brown must know that U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson only took the drastic step of putting the federal receivership in place precisely because the state was making no progress on its own.

Does Brown really believe that Judge Henderson would clip the wings of the only entity that has a 3-4 year plan -- and deadlines for a return to the state -- only to replace it  with a Special Master with little authority to achieve results? This would drag things out for another 10, 15 or 20 more years. 

 The fact is, neither the Attorney General nor the Governor's Office has been willing to sit down with J. Clark Kelso, the federally appointed receiver, to figure out ways to reduce prison medical care construction costs or provide an alternative that reduces the population of older, chronically ill, physically impaired, feeble prisoners.

 

 Now that might get us somewhere, unlike this latest delaying tactic.
January 28, 2009
A new tune on taxes for Republicans

Bruce Bartlett, a well known advocate of "supply-side economics" and domestic policy adviser to President Reagan, has some trenchant advice for Republicans on taxes.  Though his remarks are addressed to Republicans in Congress, what he says is even more appropriate to Republican lawmakers in the California Legislature.

 

Bartlett's whole piece, written for Politico, is worth reading.  But here's a snippet:

 

There is simply no appetite for big spending cuts or the radical restructuring of programs that benefit a huge percentage of Americans, especially when there has been a severe downturn in the stock market that has wiped out trillions of dollars in retirement savings. 

Historically, Republicans have come back from electoral losses by accepting the fact that Americans mostly like government spending. Rather than make a futile effort to take away something most voters want, Republicans have instead worked to make the welfare state function efficiently, target benefits to those that play by society's rules and finance those benefits without additional debt. ...

 

I think conservatives would better spend their diminished political capital figuring out how to finance the welfare state at the least cost to the economy and individual liberty, rather than fighting a losing battle to slash popular spending programs. But this will require them to accept the necessity of higher revenues. ...

If conservatives refuse to participate in the debate over how revenues will be raised, then liberals will do it on their own, which will likely give us much higher tax rates and a tax system that is more harmful to growth than necessary to fund the government. Instead of opposing any tax hike, I think it makes more sense for conservatives to figure out how best to raise the additional revenue that will be raised in any event. ...

 Are California Republicans listening?

January 28, 2009
Budget dithering catches up with Sacramento County
Today's lead editorial in The Bee states that Sacramento County "has made a bad fiscal situation worse" by stubbornly clinging to wishful revenue projections and refusing, in past weeks, to disclose the extent of the county's red ink.

The bottom line:

"The time for wishful thinking is over. The county is experiencing an epic slide in property values and sales tax revenues, and this isn't a blip. It's a monumental challenge, and it will require sacrifices and realism from everyone - beginning with the people elected to run Sacramento County."
What do you think? If you want to send a letter to the editor, you can submit one here.
January 28, 2009
GOP lawmakers come to the rescue of diesel soot
Following up on an earlier Swarm item, an editorial in The Bee today hits Republican lawmakers for seeking rollbacks of environmental regulations as the price of a state budget deal.

The editorial notes that some of these environmental regulations -- including limits on diesel pollution from construction equipment -- were enacted after months of public hearings.

"Now, at the 11th hour, Republicans want to use a closed-door process to gain regulatory relief for construction companies that, instead of investing in cleaner equipment, have put their money into a lobbying campaign."
You can read the full editorial here.
January 26, 2009
GOP gambit? Legislation surfaces to roll back environmental rules
Bill language has surfaced in the Legislature to roll back various state environmental rules, and environmental groups are claiming that Republican lawmakers are circulating the legislation as a condition for any budget deal.

The legislation, which you can find here at budget language.pdf, would change the compliance dates for regulations on off-road diesel equipment recently passed by the California Air Resources Board. It would affect regulations on pesticides, and limit which highway and development projects would need to be reviewed for their potential greenhouse gas emissions.

Republicans are declining to comment on the document. "Legislative leaders have agreed to keep the details of negotiations confidential," said Sabrina Lockhart, press secretary for the Senate Republican caucus, when asked about the document and whether it was part of budget talks.

Environmental groups are livid that lawmakers could be secretly negotiating major changes to environmental laws to reach a budget deal. Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council have called a press conference for Tuesday.

"Republican legislative leadership is exploiting the crisis to repeal laws that protect the health and safety of Californians, yet have nothing to do with the budget," the two groups said in a joint statement today.

UPDATE: The Bee's Kevin Yamamura has a fuller story on the Republican budget demands here.

January 26, 2009
California Index: welfare

Here is another in my series of charts giving a snapshot of the quality of life in California:

Welfare. California's welfare rolls climbed in the past year for the first time since 2005, and at a faster rate than any time since they began dropping after the federal welfare reform in the mid-1990s. California had nearly 920,000 families on public assistance in 1995 before new work requirements and time limits were imposed. That number bottomed out at 456,000 in 2007. But this year it is back up to 477,000 and likely to keep climbing.

January 26, 2009
Congress set to approve new wilderness and recreation areas
Bonnie Lake email.JPGToday's lead editorial urges the House to approve a public lands omnibus package that could expand wilderness areas in California by 700,000 acres, and create new snowmobile parks and other recreation areas.

The editorial highlights a proposed addition to the Hoover Wilderness that will protect dozens of gorgeous alpine lakes and meadows near Sonora Pass, just west of Bridgeport. The photo to the right shows Bonnie Lake, one of the areas that would become part of the Hoover Wilderness.    
 
To read a copy of S. 22, the omnibus package passed by the Senate and now in the House, go here.

So what do you think? A step forward for our public lands?

Photo couresty John Dittli, special to The Bee.
January 26, 2009
McClintock now big fed's big defender

We always thought Tom McClintock was a local-control guy, favoring muni and state government over the big bad bureaucracy in Washington. But now that McClintock has moved from the Legislature to Congress, he wants the feds to keep stomping on California's right to regulate how much smog cars spew into the air here. When word started leaking out that Obama's EPA would likely withdraw federal opposition to California setting more stringent clean-air standards, McClintock claimed that a strong, vigorous federal government is needed to protect consumers (not to mention automakers) from the wrath of California regulators.

McClintock said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was "asking the president to waive a federal law that currently protects California consumers from the governor's crusade to save the planet by destroying California's economy." McClintock added:

"The net effect of his request would add between $1,000 and $5,000 to the price of every car sold in California. Automobile sales normally account for one-fifth of sales taxes paid in the once-Golden State and total sales tax receipts are already down $1.5 billion over the last 12 months."

But shouldn't California consumers have the sovereign right to raise the price of their cars in the cause of cleaner air, if that's really what would happen?

Here is a McClatchy story on the issue.

UPDATE: Here is a reaction from McClintock: "Dan Weintraub suggests that advocates of limited government like myself should welcome the federal government allowing states like California's to impose radical new restrictions on vehicle emissions that will raise the price of a new car by as much as $5,000. The reason our Constitution empowers Congress to regulate interstate commerce is precisely to prevent one state from running amok, impeding the free flow of commerce across state lines and negatively impacting the economies of other states and of the nation." 

January 23, 2009
What you don't know about Obama

The guy can speak Bahasa Indonesian.

 

This came out during his appearance Thursday at the State Department.  After giving a speech on the Middle East and challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he worked the assembled crowd of diplomats.  Charles Silver, who had served in Indonesia, shouted "Good afternoon" in Bahasa Indonesian. Obama, not skipping a beat, responded in Bahasa Indonesian. The two then had a short conversation in English about the neigborhood where Obama lived in Jakarta.

 

Obama, you'll recall, lived in Indonesia from 1967 to 1971 (until the age of 10).

 

These language skills surely are a plus.

 

Indonesia, little known or understood in the United States, is the world's 4th most populous nation, with the world's largest Muslim population (more than all the Middle East Arab nations combined). It is strategically located between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.  It is a front-line nation in confronting terrorism.

                       

Indonesia has the largest economy in Southeast Asia. Perhaps Californians, sharing a Pacific Ocean link, can capitalize on the new attention to Obama to drum up business with this pivotal nation. Hey, use every advantage you've got.

Watch the exchange here.

January 22, 2009
California Index: spending

This chart is one in a series using statistical measures to assess the well being of California. This one is by request, sort of. A reader asked us to track the trend in taxes as a percentage of the economy over time. I have not found a ready source for those numbers, but this is close. This chart tracks state spending as a percentage of the economy, and since spending is financed by taxes one way or another (a deficit simply means the postponement of the tax collections), this is a close approximation.

The chart shows that spending since 1991 has tracked within a fairly narrow range. For the general fund it has been roughly between 6 percent and 7 percent of the economy. For all funds, between the high-sevens and the mid-nines:

 


Source: Department of Finance, state budget
January 22, 2009
Shared sacrifice: What would you give up for a budget deal?
973-shared.highlight.prod_affiliate.4.gifLast week, The Bee's editorial page ran an eight-day series of editorials examining the big interest groups whose demands are contributing to the state's $40 billion budget impasse. You can find the lead editorial here along with links to others in the series.

As part of "Shared Sacrifice," we set up an on-line forum and urged readers to tell us what they would give up -- as a member of an interest group -- to help bridge the state's budget gap.

Many of the responses were of the predictable "blame someone else" mode. But a few were thoughtful and to the point. Here's one from a reader with a persona named "WilburHaynes."

I am a non-union state employee. Because we are all in serious trouble, I am resigned to accepting a temporary pay cut but am highly skeptical that other more powerful constituencies will contribute their share. I am prepared to pay a much higher gasoline tax to help us move away from imported oil. I am willing to pay the old vehicle license tax which Arnold imprudently cut, taking on a new burden of billions on the general fund to replace the counties' lost VLF revenue. I am willing to pay higher income taxes because it is another distasteful necessity.

But I am not willing to take a 10% hit it salary while other sacred cow groups escape pitching in their share because of their political muscle, and while the electeds continue to avoid the need to implement recommendations by CPR, Little Hoover, State Auditor et al to eliminate all the bureaucratic waste, stupid procurement practices, pointless boards and commissions, etc. Yet I am, sadly, quite sure that is precisely what will occur. The politically powerless will take serious hits, the sacred cows will remain untouchable, and the electeds will continue to fail to address the real problems.

Wilbur makes a good point. It's a delicate dance, this budget deal. If everyone fears they might be dropped onto the floor, no one will want to tango.

January 22, 2009
California Index: Poverty

Here is the latest measure from the list of statistical indictors that are part of my California quality of life index published in Sunday's Forum.....We are going to archive these and update them. Let me know if you think of additional measures we should be using.

 Poverty. Poverty declined markedly in California during the dot-com boom. It wasn't just the rich who got richer. But once the boom went bust, the poverty rate went pretty much stagnant, hovering around 13 percent, give or take half a point. It went up early in this decade, then declined, and in 2007 it climbed again, up to 12.7 percent.

January 21, 2009
California Index: jobs

Here are the latest charts in my California Index of quality-of-life indicators....

Jobs. This chart shows that the number of jobs in California generally kept pace with the growth in the labor force over the past decade -- until this year,when the number of jobs declined while the number of people entering the labor force grew. Overall, from 1998 through 2008, the cilvilian labor force has grown by about 2.3 million since 1998. The number of civilian jobs has climbed by about 1.7 million.


Source: Employment Development Department

Unemployment. The result of that divergence between the number of jobs and the number of people seeking jobs in 2008 was a big jump in unemployment.


Source: Employment Development Department

 

UPDATE: Here is a chart I did not have room for in the print column. It shows the recent trend in jobs by industry category. This chart shows November 2006, 2007 and 2008, seasonably adjusted. You can see that the biggest drops have come in construction. manufacturing, retail trade and financial activities. Leisure and hospitality has held its own while education, health and government have grown.


Source: Employment Development Department
January 20, 2009
'I know what you're all about'

When I got in this morning I had an angry voice mail on my machine that was left by an anonymous caller over the weekend. The caller said he had looked at he charts that went with my Sunday column but did not read the column because, he said, "I've read you before and I know what you are all about." 

The funny thing is, at that moment in listening to the voice mail, I realized I had absolutely no idea what he was going to say next. What am I all about? I think I know, but it is hard to explain, impossible to pigeon hole and somehow I didn't think this guy had figured it all out by just looking at the pictures. Turns out his answer was that I am a "Republican and a conservative" and it is people like me who got this state into the mess it is in. Ok. But he could have been an angry conservative accusing me of being a liberal big spender and I would not have been surprised.

I don't know if it is me, or our readers managing to see what they want to see, but I have been accused of being on both ends of the ideological spectrum. Usually not by the same person.

January 20, 2009
Di Fi sets tone for Obama inauguration festivities

Californians can be proud. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who led the inaugural committee, opened Tuesday's ceremonies with a wonderful two-and-a-half-minute speech (Watch it below):

Welcome to the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States of America. (applause)  The world is watching today as our great democracy engages in this peaceful transition of power.  Here on the National Mall, where we remember the Founders of our nation and those who fought to make it free, we gather to etch another line in the solid stone of history. The freedom of a people to choose its leaders is the root of liberty. In a world where political strife is too often settled with violence, we come here every four years to bestow the power of the presidency upon our democratically elected leader. Those who doubt the supremacy of the ballot over the bullet can never diminish the power engendered by nonviolent struggles for justice and equality, like the one that made this day possible. No triumph tainted by brutality could ever match the sweet victory of this hour and what it means to those who marched and died to make it a reality. Our work is not yet finished, but future generations will mark this morning as the turning point for real and necessary change in our nation. (applause) They will look back and remember that this was the moment when the dream that once echoed across history, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial finally reached the walls of the White House. (applause) In that spirit, we today not only inaugurate a new administration, we pledge ourselves to the hope, the vision, the unity and the renewed call to greatness inspired by the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama. (applause) Thank you and God bless America.

 

 

January 20, 2009
California Index: income

My column on Sunday featured the latest update of my Quality of Life Index, in which I check in on a dozen statistical measures of life in California. But in this age, 12 measures seems like a puny number, and once a year is not often enough for an update. So I am going to try to create an archive of charts that I can update as new data is available, and I can add more if readers suggest good ideas. Here are the first two charts, on personal income per capita and median family income. You can click on the data points on the graph to see the underlying numbers:

 Personal income per capita. This chart shows that income per capita measured in current dollars and adjusted for inflation has climbed over the past ten years. Adjusted for inflation, income per person in California climbed by about 27 percent between 1997 and 2007. In the most recent year for which numbers are available, per capita income grew by 4.3 percent, or 1.7 percent after inflation.

Source: Department of Finance

Median family income. Median family income has not risen as fast as per capita income. Between 1997 and 2007, median family income increased by about 18 percent after adjusting for inflation. In the most recent year, median family income grew by 8.8 percent, or 6.1 percent after inflation.


Source: Department of Finance

January 15, 2009
Mayor Kevin Johnson after 44 days...

Sacramento's new mayor met with the editorial board Thursday afternoon.  His impatience with business as usual stands out.

  Thumbnail image for JV JOHNSON TEAM 02.JPGPrime example: With the city experiencing declining revenues in the current budget year (requiring mid-year cuts) and looking at a deficit of $45 million to $50 million in 2009-2010, Johnson proposed bringing in a national firm to do an independent review immediately. "This was a no-brainer in my mind," he said.  "We are in desperate times here."  An outside audit would have provided "extra eyes and ears" to look for savings.

The council defeated it on Tuesday, Johnson's first major defeat. He explained why he chose not to pursue a bid process - the need was urgent to garner any savings during the mid-year cutting process and the 2009-2010 budget process (with March 15 decisions). A bid process of six to eight weeks would be too late - helping only for future years. City staff, he noted, recommended the proposal.   The defeat, he said, means that Sacramento won't have an audit to help with mid-year cuts or the 2009-2010 budget.

He minced no words, believing that Tuesday's council vote signals that "The Old Guard is still in charge" and that it is yet another example of Sacramento being "against everything and for nothing."

He has no regrets. He expects to "ruffle feathers" and he insists, "I do not want to scale back on my vision."

Other items on his agenda:
A crime summit on February 28, bringing together law enforcement and prevention/intervention folks across the region.  He has a staff person, Chris Young (who was Barack Obama's Deputy Finance Director for Northern California), devoting time to public safety and finding ("leveraging") resources to reduce violent crime.

An education summit at the California Museum March 9.  He wants to elevate the profile of the city as a place of innovation.  He'll have local folks and a few national speakers to address the following issues: how to attract high quality teachers and principals (including alternative credentialing); school choice (including attracting providers to Sacramento); accountability and data (the state's API, he believes, is "not transparent" and is "convoluted" as a way of identifying good schools); performance pay; and how to bring additional resources to Sacramento. Hear any feathers ruffling? 

On the strong mayor initiative:
He wants "responsive, nimble government."
He's building relationships with mayors, current and former, in Fresno, San Francisco, Oakland, Anaheim and Long Beach.

He says he still likes the job...

January 15, 2009
Schwarzenegger strikes the right tone

I thought the guv's speech was just about right. There has been plenty of combat already, and there will be more. This was a chance to take things down a notch, and he succeeded, with an almost plaintive tone. He is right about the partisanship. The Capitol is obsessed with ideology and defending narrow interests in a way that the general public just cannot understand or relate to. The state is $20-billion short on an ongoing basis. Revenues are $10-billion-plus below the level that Republican lawmakers thought were adequate a few months ago, so adequate that they threatened to override the governor's veto if necessary to put in place a $100 billion dollar general fund. Now revenues are below $90 billion.

We all know the problem is not going to be solved without new revenue, or without deeper cuts. It is just a matter of finding the right combination of the two, and the right mix of temporary and permanent measures and reforms. I don't agree with everything Schwarzenegger is proposing, but right now he does seem to be the only person in the room talking honestly about the problem and willing to try anything to find a solution.

One thing I definitely don't like is his cheap hit on taking away pay if the budget is not done on time. The public loves that idea but it is bad policy. It creates a deep, personal economic conflict of interest for lawmakers at budget time. Those who are independently wealthy could hold out forever. Those who depend on their state paycheck to pay the bills would be forced to cave in. Bad idea.

January 12, 2009
Fox: tax hike likely
Longtime taxfighter Joel Fox appears in this blog item to be all but resigned to the idea that higher taxes will inevitably be part of any budget deal. But he says a spending limit will be, too.
January 12, 2009
Shorter school year not a bad idea

In this editorial the SF Chronicle rips the guv's idea for allowing schools to shave five days off the 180-day school year in 09/10 to save as much as $1.1 billion. The editorial calls it a "dunce" of an idea. But is it that bad? Anyone who has had kids in school knows there are plenty of wasted days. Many schools ease up completely once standardized testing is done for the year, usually in May. And the final week is notoriously frittered away with movies, parties and the like. So in this economic climate, facing what amounts to a fiscal emergency, taking 5 days off the academic year certainly seems like an idea worth discussing rather than dismissing out of hand. It surely must be better than many other options for saving $1.1 billion. The biggest downside effect from the change might be that it would force parents of young children to find alternate supervision for their kids.

Here is a Q and A on the proposal from the Bee's Cap bureau.

January 10, 2009
Don't defy Di-Fi
Part calculation, part circumstance, U.S. Dianne Feinstein is all over the news in the early days of 2009.

One day she's questioning Barack Obama's choice to head the C.I.A., the next day she's getting an apology from the president elect. One day she's defying Majority Leader Harry Reid and saying that Roland Burris should be seated in the Senate, the next day Reid and other Democrats are playing buddy-buddy with Burris.

Meanwhile, she's heading the inaugural ceremonies for the guy who just apologized to her. You can also see historical footage of Feinstein in the opening scenes of "Milk," the critically acclaimed film by Sean Penn about the slain San Francisco supervisor.

All this attention can't hurt but help Feinstein as she decides whether to run for governor or stay in Congress, where she will be the first woman to head the Senate Intelligence Committee. It's a tough choice -- as the Associated Press's Erica Werner notes in a feature about Feinstein that has just hit the wires.

Feinstein said she hasn't yet decided, but she's always wanted the (governor's) job, which she came close to winning in 1990. She passed up the chance to run in the 2003 gubernatorial recall, when she was viewed as the only Democrat who could have beaten Schwarzenegger. Now, her new chairmanship provides powerful incentive to stay in Washington -- even as the prospect of being in a position to tame her unruly home state tugs her in the opposite direction, according to advisers.

This is terrific political theater. Nearly every major politician in California -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Leon Panetta, Gavin Newsom, John Garamendi and other possible gubernatorial candidates -- is waiting to see what Feinstein will decide. And Di-Fi seems to be in no hurry to provide them with further clarity. This is her moment. She's relishing it.

January 8, 2009
Kevin Johnson moves his office
Having introduced a strong mayor charter change initiative that would allow the mayor to skip council meetings, Kevin Johnson may end up never again having to meet face to face with his fellow council members. The new mayor has moved his office  from the 5th floor at city hall, which he shared with the eight other council members to the 3rd floor. Space there was freed up when the city's Planning and Development Services Departments consolidated and moved into new digs on Richards Blvd.

According to Steve Maviglio, the mayor's unpaid volunteer spokesman, Johnson's 3rd floor office has an open design "that  allows for a more collaborative approach because everybody on the mayor's team can see each other." By contrast, the mayor's old 5th floor office consisted of two rooms with doors on them and two cubicles with high walls. Maviglio said no new furniture was purchased and  the move didn't cost the city anything. Johnson got the idea for the move when he visited Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York who has a similar kind of set up there which he calls the " bull pen."

As for Johnson meeting up with his fellow city council members? Maviglio says "they are just a touch of the elevator away."

January 7, 2009
Why did the budget deal blow up?
BB GOV 21ST 0350.JPGThere are two competing versions on why budget negotiations blew up Tuesday between Democrats and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Democrats' version, laid out in this op-ed by Senate and Assembly leaders Darrell Steinberg and Karen Bass, contends that the governor kept changing the goal posts. They say the governor got cold feet about the Democrats' plan to bypass Republicans with a scheme to raise taxes by a majority vote.

Top aides in the governor's office, however, offer a different version. They say Democrats kept wanting to defer decisions on cuts to welfare programs and state payroll that will be needed to close a $40 billion gap. And they say the governor was clear, in agreeing to consider the Democrats' tax approach a month ago, that they would have to agree to his list for public works projects to be relieved of CEQA reviews. Democrats, they say, kept changing the goal posts on CEQA after that initial handshake.

The real truth is probably a mixture of these two versions. Now we will see what happens next. In their op-ed, Steinberg and Bass say that next week, they will vote on additional bills "that are even closer to the governor's requests." That sounds like a deal is not entirely dead. But that op-ed was written before the governor quickly vetoed their package, and both sides went into acrimonious spin mode.

It was ugly yesterday, and when things get ugly, politicians stop talking to each other.

Sacramento Bee Photo from 12/11/08 -- By Brian Baer
January 6, 2009
Steinberg: Schwarzenegger has "cold feet" about budget deal
In a conference call with The Bee's editorial board this afternoon, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg explained why a promising budget deal with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger blew up today.

Steinberg said that he and governor were close to resolving differences over the governor's economic stimulus proposals and budget cuts. That wasn't the big holdup, Steinberg said. Instead, he suggested, the governor was getting "cold feet" on a plan by Democrats to raise taxes and fees without a two-thirds vote by lawmakers. Here's his full comment:

Between Sunday night and Monday, something else occurred unrelated to the specifics of the issues. It is cold feet, you know. He met with Republican leaders on Monday morning. I think he is back in that place where he believes he can get Republican votes for revenue and therefore doesn't have to do this unorthodox majority vote thing. We have been sort of going down that road for five or six years. It hasn't resulted in a single vote.

Jake Suski, a spokesman for the governor, declined to comment on whether the governor has changed his position on the Democrats' revenue plan or is making progress with Republicans. But Suski said it was telling that Democrats now plan to send the governor a budget package that is unchanged from three weeks ago, despite his veto threat. He said the governor would have something to say about that tomorrow.

Update: Suski, an an email, says the Governor's position has not changed on the Democrats' budget package. "The reasons to veto this proposal that the Governor laid out in his press conference on December 18th remain the same," he writes.

January 6, 2009
What should GOP lawmakers seek in a budget bargain?
Over on the Flash Report, GOP strategist Dan Schnur has posed an important question, one that few Republicans have wanted to publicly float: What reforms should they seek as price of supporting some form of tax increase?

Schnur notes how difficult it will be to close a $40 billion hole without some form of new revenues in the next 18 months. He also notes that Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines may be more flexible on new revenues than his public statements would indicate.

Villines has hinted that a package of tax and regulatory incentives that could improve the state's business climate could be part of a tradeoff for some revenue increasesBecause he was careful not to promise such an exchange, Villines was roasted by the state's mainstream media for intransigence. But while he was not willing to negotiate against himself by offering up absolute assurances of Republican support before any serious discussions had occurred, he was effectively sending a message to Schwarzenegger and the Democrats that he and his allies would be open to the conversation if significant job-creation measures were part of the discussion as well.

Schnur's essay is well timed. I hope he'll soon follow it up with another one that analyzes what type of temporary tax increase would be least harmful to the economy. Lawmakers need to have that conversation. Here at The Swarm, we think a broad-based increase in personal income taxes is preferable to a sales tax increase. Much of it would be deductible.

But kudos to Schnur and the Flash Report for at least going this far.
January 5, 2009
Kick-off for strong-mayor campaign

Newly elected Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has made a proposed change from a weak-mayor to strong-mayor system in Sacramento his first priority.  Organizers have a kick-off meeting today (6 p.m. at The Grand, 1215 J Street).

Here's the list of organizers for the campaign:

Detective Mark Tyndale, Vice President, Sacramento Police Officers Association
Randy Paragary, Owner, Paragary Restaurant Group
Jeannine English, Former Executive Director, Little Hoover Commission
Lina Fat, Small Business Owner, Sacramento
Mark T. Harris, President and Managing Partner, Pineapple Group LLC
Amador S. Bustos, President & CEO, Bustos Media LLC
Maeley Tom, CEO Tom & Associates
Kim Mack, Community Organizer
Georgette Imura, Sacramento API Community Activist

They also have a Web site: http://www.reformsacramento.com/

January 5, 2009
With Panetta's pick, maybe the CIA could reform California?
The Swarm is abuzz at the news that President-elect Barack Obama has tapped former California congressman Leon Panetta to head the CIA.

Over the last year, Panetta has been heading the California Forward effort to reform California's governance and its chronic budget troubles. We ran an essay of his on Sunday about the state's future.

Now, all of a sudden, we learn that Panetta is heading to Virginia to be the nation's top spook.

One can't help but wonder: Did the former congressman see better prospects in reforming the CIA than in trying to fix California?

And what will happen to California Forward? Will it still have the juice to push for broad reforms without someone of Panetta's stature? Or will it become....California Stalled?
January 4, 2009
Sunday morning scrimmage and...reading
One benefit of watching NFL football is it gives you plenty of time to read the morning papers.

Over at the San Francisco Chronicle, Willie Brown continues his defense of Ron Blagojevich, saying his attempted appointment of Roland Burris was "worthy of Joe Montana." (I'm doubtful the former 49ers quarterback would agree.) 

The Los Angeles Times has an important story about a court decision involving Latino representation in Madera that "has already begun to reshape school boards, city councils and special districts throughout California."

In The Bee, Dale Kasler's piece on CalPERS and its real estate investments is a must read, and it cries out for further investigation. Any connection between former CalPERS board members and the recipients of these dubious investments?

Slavery is on the mind of prominent columnists. The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof writes about brothel girls in Cambodia and in The Bee, Dan Walters notes that such forced servitude is a reality here in California.

Meanwhile, in our Forum section, eight thoughtful Californians reflect on the state's prospects. Leon Panetta's essay is particularly forceful. "California's future depends on whether we will become part of a constituency for change - a strong and persistent voice for better government that cannot be ignored," he writes.


About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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