The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

February 25, 2009
Inspiring kids the Obama way

Here's an idea for a three-and-a-half minute video to show in U.S. classrooms.

 

Combine three segments of President Obama's 54-minute Address to Congress.

 

1. Where he explained why Americans need more than a high school diploma (30:46 to 31:50):

 

In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity - it is a prerequisite.  Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma.  And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education.  We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation.  And half of the students who begin college never finish.  This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know that countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow.  That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education - from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.

 

2. Where he made a ringing call to every kid in the nation to stay in school as a matter of self-respect and patriotic duty (33:25 to 33:44):

 

Every American will need to get more than a high school diploma.  And dropping out of high school is no longer an option.  It's not just quitting on yourself, it's quitting on your country - and this country needs and values the talents of every American.

 

  1. Where he highlighted the can-do spirit of a young student from South Carolina (49:41 to 51:56):

 

And I think about Ty'Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, South Carolina - a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom. She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people sitting in this room. She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, "We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters."

We are not quitters.

These words and these stories tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here. They tell us that even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.

Their resolve must be our inspiration. Their concerns must be our cause. And we must show them and all our people that we are equal to the task before us.

This president can do much to use the bully pulpit to reach kids and inspire them to achieve their potential for themselves and for their country. And schools can take advantage of it when he does.
February 24, 2009
Gov. Schwarzenegger rakes in DC money

At the National Governor's Association meeting over the weekend, it did not go unnoticed that Gov. Schwarzenegger skipped the Republican Governors Association dinner on Saturday and did no fundraising for the RGA's annual fundraising gala on Monday.

But, according to Al Kamen's "In the Loop" column in the Washington Post, Schwarzenegger was active in fundraising for upcoming California ballot measures at a K St luncheon:

For a mere $25,000, you and a guest can join Schwarzenegger at the head table and take photographs with the governor. For $10,000, you'll get "preferred seating" and photos. For bargain hunters, a single luncheon ticket and photo opportunity is only $2,500. The funds go toward Schwarzenegger's California Dream Team, his political action committee that supports state ballot initiatives.

Schwarzenegger also made the rounds of TV talk shows, weighing in on whether states should take money from the just-passed stimulus package (some Republican governors are threatening to reject the money). On ABC's "This Week," Schwarzenegger said: "Well, Governor Sanford (of South Carolina) says that he does not want to take the money, the federal stimulus package money. And I want to say to him: I'll take it. I'm more than happy to take his money, or any other governor in this country that doesn't want to take this money, I'll take it, because we in California need it."

February 24, 2009
Gone to pot
February 23, 2009
Oprah highlights homelessness in Sacramento

It's not the most flattering landmark in Sacramento, nonetheless, the capital city's burgeoning tent city will be featured on Oprah Winfrey's talk show on Wednesday at 4 p.m. on Channel 3 and again at 9 p.m. on channel 58. The show is about the recession and homelessness; part of it was filmed in Sacramento.  Below, you can read what Joan Burke, director of advocacy at Loaves & Fishes, had to say about the program. 

  

Dear Friend of Loaves & Fishes,

 

Watch the Oprah Show at 4 PM this Wednesday, February 25! It's about the recession and homelessness and was filmed at Loaves & Fishes, Sacramento homeless shelters and Sacramento's Tent City. They also filmed in other cities to show this is a national problem.

 

Please pass the word by forwarding this on to your e-mail groups, colleagues and friends.

 

The Oprah Winfrey Show asked Loaves & Fishes if they could interview one of the homeless mothers at Maryhouse. Favor Whitesides, a very devoted mother of three bright and beautiful children, agreed to share her story.  Oprah Correspondent Lisa Ling, Sister Libby and I also visited the large tent city in Sacramento with over 100 tents spread out over several acres as far as the eye can see. Over 200 people live there in a scene straight out of the Great Depression. When I asked the film crew if they had seen anything like it anywhere else, the sound man replied, "Only in a war zone."

 

The show airs this Wednesday, Feb. 25.  In Sacramento it will be shown at 4PM on Channel 3 KCRA and again at 9 PM on Channel 58 KQCA. Showing times in other cities vary. A link to info on Oprah's website is below:

 

Tent Cities in America: A Lisa Ling Special Report

http://www.oprah.com/dated/oprahshow/oprahshow_20090218_recession 

Correspondent Lisa Ling brings us the new faces of the recession. The desperate search for work, a hot meal, a place to sleep. Meet families who are struggling every day to get by.

The spiraling economy and the foreclosure crisis are causing an increasing number of middle-class Americans to suffer. On today's show, Lisa Ling investigates the emergence of tent cities--makeshift temporary shelters set up by people who simply have nowhere else to go. Our cameras follow a family that went from living in a condo and driving a Lincoln Navigator a year ago to sleeping in homeless shelters and carrying all their possessions in garbage bags. Then, hear from a woman who was making $70,000 a year and is facing eviction. Get an inside look at how more and more families are struggling every day just to get by.

 

We believe, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, that sunshine is the best disinfectant. We hope that those who see this show and its sad and shocking depiction of the pain of homelessness will be motivated to both seek solutions and to help the families and individuals who are homeless now. We will have a special page set up on Loaves & Fishes website by Wednesday for those who wish to help: www.sacloaves.org  

 

Joan Burke
Director of Advocacy
Loaves & Fishes
P O Box 2161
Sacramento, CA 96812
(916) 446-0874
advocate4loaves@yahoo.com
www.SacLoaves.org
February 20, 2009
Niello and Steinberg defend the budget they helped enact
On Sunday, The Bee's Forum section will include separate op-eds from Assemblyman Roger Niello and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg on the budget the governor signed today.

Niello discusses the reforms he and other Republicans sought as a condition for their votes, and explains why a resolution was imperative. An excerpt:

The consequences of not agreeing to a budget now were too severe and simply not an option. As California continued to face a severe cash shortage, having more bills to pay than money to pay them, the bus that is California's state government would have continued to go over the cliff and had a resulting negative impact on everyone.

The most disastrous scenario would have required IOUs to be issued for payroll and tax refunds, and small counties would have gone bankrupt, resulting in the complete stoppage of many services. There would likely have been health clinic and hospital closures statewide. Unemployment would skyrocket. At some point, the state's ability to issue bonds would completely stop and road construction and public works projects would grind to a halt.

Steinberg, by contrast, focuses on the agenda he hopes to pursue now that the budget nightmare is behind us, or at least put off for a few months. One item on his list is water:

California indisputably has a water-supply crisis. Drought conditions threaten the economic viability of its agriculture industry and could lead to shortages for communities all over the state. For too long, this has been a partisan issue. It's well past time to recognize that water shortages know no party. We must look for ways to stabilize our water supply using a variety of methods, and do so on a bipartisan basis.

To read the full versions of these op-eds, check back with The Bee's opinion pages on Sunday.
February 19, 2009
Chiang takes issue with "grandstanding" by Maldonado
Controller John Chiang has been a persistent target of Sen. Abel Maldonado during the budget negotiations, as noted in an earlier entry. Chiang isn't really happy about that. Without mentioning Maldonado by name, Chiang says the senator is "grandstanding" and is mispresenting a $1 million expenditure by the controller to renovate and consolidate his offices.

Chiang recently sent a letter to Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg laying out his version of the matter, and you can find it here.STEINBERG letter 2-13-09 CW1.pdf
February 19, 2009
New slogan
February 19, 2009
Arnold pulls an open primary rabbit out of his hat
All the attention this morning is on Sen. Abel Maldonado, the Santa Maria Republican who cast the critical vote for California's budget package just hours ago.

But no matter how much you blame him for the state's budget mess, you have to hand it to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He helped engineer the final deal, and got something he wanted in the process -- a 2010 ballot measure for an open primary.

It's hard to overstate what a radical change this could be for congressional and legislative races in California. If it passed, candidates for all parties would run against each other in the primary, with the top-two vote getters moving on to a runoff. That would open up chances for the Green Party to win in the Bay Area and Libertarians to win in conservative districts. It could rewrite the political map in our wacky state in ways we can't even imagine.

Moderates like Maldonado hope it will open political doors that would otherwise be closed to them. In 2006, Maldonado lost to conservative GOP lawmaker Tony Strickland in the primary for state controller, which Strickland then lost to Democrat John Chiang in the runoff. Maldonado is still seething about that, partly because Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to endorse him in the primary.

Now Maldo has double revenge. The governor has been treating him like a king for days, and agreed to a budget provision that prevents Chiang from spending $1 million on furniture for his controller's office. Maldo also got the open primary measure, which gives him a thin chance of landing a state office after 2010. He'll need that chance. His party is sure to ostracize him and other five other GOP lawmakers for voting for a $12 billion tax increase, even though Maldo was successful in removing a gas tax from the package.

Here's where political reality set in. Members of Congress and the major parties are sure to attack the open primary proposal with everything they've got. It will be epic. Schwarzenegger and good government groups will rally behind it, but they'll need major bucks to counter the money spent against it. In all likelihood, they'll kill the measure and Maldo will be left out in the cold, a man without a party.

But that's a battle for another day. For now, Maldo can claim victory, as can Schwarzenegger.

Errata: An earlier version of this item had $1 billion for Chiang's office furniture instead of $1 million. My apologies. Lack of sleep.
February 18, 2009
Hollingsworth postpones fundraiser

At 2:50 this afternoon,just hours into his reign new Republican Senate Leader Dennis Hollingsworth sent out a fresh e-mail invitation for his $1,000 per guest "Third House Reception," ie, fundraiser.  This one  trumpeted his new title. It reads  in relevant part "Don't Miss the Reception TONIGHT with the NEW Senate Republican Leader Dennis Hollingsworth"

Approximately two hours later the brain trust in the Senators office, apparently  reconsidered. The sight of the newly minted Republican Leader gobbling up campaign cash while the state sinks into a fiscal abyss  and workers lose their jobs might not go over well, even with "No Tax Never Republicans." A new notice went out announcing that the Hollingsworth fundraiser was postponed. " RECEPTION TONIGHT POSTPONED!! The Reception at Cosmo Cafe with Senate Republican Leader Dennis Hollingsworth has been Postponed Until Further Notice"

February 18, 2009
Hollingsworth holds fundraiser as state sinks

On the day he was elected the new Republican Leader in the state Senate, Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, had schedued a $1,000 fundraising reception at the Cosmo Cafe in downtown Sacramento. "You are Cordially Invited to a Reception in Support of Senator Dennis Hollingsworth" the invitation reads.  "$1,000 per guest."

Republican Leader Hollingsworth isn't alone in his ill timed fundraising appeal. On Wednesday, a day when the state stands poised to pull the plug on 374 infrastructure projects worth $5.58 billion because of the budget stalemate, five other legislators have scheduled fundraisers. In fact 38 legislators in all have scheduled fundraisers between today and March 5th.While inaction on the budget is wreaking financial havoc and throwing people out of work up and down the state, legislators continue to do what they do best - raise campaign funds. 

February 17, 2009
What does Dave Cox fear most? A falling sky? Or a broken camel?
chicken_little_dvd.jpgState Sen. Dave Cox of Sacramento remains a possible vote for a budget breakthrough, but his floor statements of the last two days leave us mystified.

This afternoon, Cox got up and took issue with the floor speech of Sen. Ron Calderon, who used the fable of "Chicken Little" to describe the current budget situation. In Calderon's version of the fable, Republicans were not taking seriously the warnings that "the sky is falling" and were recklessly risking disaster.

Cox went on to describe an alternate version of the fable, one in which Chicken Little eventually learns it was only an acorn that hit him on the head, a problem fixed by a simple umbrella.

Thus Cox provided a lesson to his younger peers: There are many versions of ancient fables. All of them provide wisdom, but few offer clear answers to the problems of modern California.

After providing this lesson, Cox decided to offer us an old Arab proverb -- the straw that broke the camel's back.

February 17, 2009
A Republican legislative hero

I live in Capitol Villas downtown and heard a huge crash Monday night.  It sounded like a truck hitting a concrete wall at full speed. A little later, I heard two explosions. Then I heard a woman screaming, "My truck. My truck's been hit."

My husband and I came out and saw a smashed car that had hit a pickup truck parked on N Street, between 5th and 7th. The car must have been traveling at some incredible speed. It turns out that freshman Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, pulled two people from the car. As reported in Capitol Weekly, Hagman lives nearby, heard the crash and went down:

"Hagman helped the male driver and his female passenger from the car. The driver immediately ran off, and the woman was found later to have a blood-alcohol level of .33, Hagman said, about four times the legal limit for a driver in California. The car exploded after the occupants made it to safety. The parked pickup also blew up." 

All in a day's legislative work.  Hagman showed Monday night that he's not inclined to be a bystander. Now he just needs to help pull the state from its current wreckage -- and do the hard task of voting for a package with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases.

February 17, 2009
Tour of California
February 17, 2009
Texas businessman who was close to Gray Davis charged with fraud, Post reports
A mysterious Texas businessman who was a major financial backer of former Gov. Gray Davis and donated $2.5 million toward the renovation of the Leland Stanford Mansion in downtown Sacramento has been charged with securities fraud by the SEC, accrording to the Washington Post. R. Allen Stanford, who traced his roots to the Leland Stanford family but never proved a connection, has been charge with fraud in connection with the sale of $8 billion in securities in one of the largest securities fraud cases ever, the Post reports. A column I wrote on Stanford and his connection to Davis in 2001 is below the jump.
February 16, 2009
Senate recesses, back tomorrow at 10 a.m.
If you missed the debate on the Senate floor tonight (Channel 2 on Comcast), you missed some fine theater.

Republicans came out in force to remind Democrats that they have dissed the GOP for years, and are now paying the price for it. Lots of whining, etc. etc.

The most interesting and statesmanlike speeches came from Republicans Abel Maldonado and Dave Cox. They continue to say they are no votes for the budget package, even though they acknowledge considerable pressure to vote otherwise.

Maldonado took aim at Senate leader Darrell Steinberg's early promise of a "Budget of 40" -- meaning, 40 senators all working together to devise a budget. Instead, he and other legislators were frozen out of the Big Five meetings that were held behind closed doors.

"Maldo" -- as he is being called -- went public with his demand for an end to pay raises for legislators during budget impasses, and an end to pet spending projects for certain legislators. He didn't mention Lou Correa by name, but everyone knew who he was taking about.

For his part, Dave Cox accidentally sparked the floor debate by doing a procedural maneuver that allowed Dennis Hollingsworth to talk. That led to a fascinating outpour by several senators, ranging from Rod Wright (a Demo) to George Runner (a Rep.).

Cox, in his comments, didn't hold out much hope he would vote for the budget package, but he effectively dinged Steinberg for quietly pushing through SB 1, which would expand eligibility for kids in Medi-Cal.

In normal times, such a push by a Democratic senate leader would go unnoticed, but with the state facing budget crisis, Cox made his point very clear.

Steinberg was the last to speak. He acknowledged the points that Maldonado and Cox were making, and on the latter point, said that the SB 1 stuff had been shelved.

So Cox and Maldo seem to be in the driver's seat. We wait until 10 a.m tomorrow to see if they are driving the state in the right direction, or ,,,,right off the cliff.
February 16, 2009
State prepares to shut down highway, flood-control projects
Update: Turn to the California Channel (Channel 2 on Comcast) to watch lawmakers debate this issue right now. (7:58 pm).

Schwarzenegger officials told lawmakers today that, without a budget resolution by tomorrow, they will be forced to suspend 276 public works projects statewide with an estimated value of $3.8 billion.

Finance Director Mike Genest and Caltrans Director Will Kempton told a senate subcommittee that the state is running out of cash to pay contractors.

Several projects in the Sacramento area could be suspended -- including HOV lanes on I-80 in Solano County and on U.S. 50 in El Dorado County, worth tens of billions of dollars. Also at risk, say officials, are levee improvements in Sutter County. You can find the full list here at PMIB Project Shut down - suspend list.pdf

Republicans at the hearing seemed unimpressed by projections that the shutdowns could affect roughly 90,000 jobs in California. One GOP Senator, Dennis Hollingsworth of Murrieta, said a sales tax increase proposed to close the $40 billion budget gap could cost 50,000 jobs, an estimate from a Board of Equalization economist.

Shutting down the projects will not be cheap. Kempton said it would cost about $190 million for contractors to "button up" projects they have already started -- securing equipment, filling holes, etc.
February 15, 2009
Shame on the Flash Report
Flash Report publisher Jon Fleischman today ran a "Shame on the Sac Bee" item after the editorial board used The Bee's Breaking News Alert to tout an editorial urging state Sen. Dave Cox to seek a resolution of the state budget impasse.

As Fleischman may or may not know, The Bee has published breaking news editorials before. In previous late-night budget sessions, our online editorials have warned readers about the prison guards union and its last-minute attempts to strong-arm pay raises from lawmakers, adding to the kind of unsustainable payroll obligations that Fleischman supposedly opposes. 

Now Fleischman is using his blog to suggest that esteemed reporters in the  Sacramento Bee's newsroom are having their credibility undermined because the editorial page is publishing opinions, and is using emails to let readers know about those opinions. That is shameful, especially for someone who drapes himself in the cloak of the First Amendment.

Ever since the first newspapers were published, they have run opinions, just as Fleischman is now doing on his Web site.

We've disagreed with the Flash Report over the years, but we've never denigrated Fleischman's right to say what he thinks nor personally attacked writers that he is associated with. We also find it hilarious that a guy whose blog is constantly targeting individual lawmakers -- Recall Maldonado Web Site in the Works -- would take issue with an editorial that focuses on a single lawmaker and makes a reasoned argument for him to act in the state's interest.

Shame on the Bee? Shame on the Flash Report.  

February 15, 2009
Will Maldonado's hurt feelings sink chance for budget deal?
873-BB_BUDGET_0835.embedded.prod_affiliate.4.JPGThe Bee's editorial page just posted an editorial urging constituents of Sen. Dave Cox of Fair Oaks to call the senator and urge him to support a budget resolution. (The number of Cox's office is (916) 651-4001).

Yet there's another Republican senator whose vote could make a difference as the all-night marathon session draws closer to 24 hours. Overnight, the governor and other legislative leaders were in closed talks with Sen. Abel Maldonado, a moderate Republican from Santa Maria. But Maldonado, seen to the right, has stuck to his "thumbs down" position.

Why?

One possible reason is that Maldonado is still resentful that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't support him in his campaign for state controller in 2006. ""Where was he when I needed him?," Maldonado is quoted as saying in a report today in the San Jose Mercury News.

Another complication is Maldonado's sour relationship with Senate minority leader Dave Cogdill of Fresno. "There's a difference between managing a caucus and leading a caucus," Maldonado said.

Cox, according to my sources, is also less than inspired by Cogdill's leadership. All politics is personal, as the saying goes, and in the Senate, the backbiting among Republicans has gotten very personal.

FYI, unlike the governor, The Bee's editorial board enthusiastically endorsed Maldonado in his primary bid for controller, which he lost to Tony Strickland in 2006. At the time, we said that Maldonado "could be a strong candidate for governor one day."

"Could" is the operative word there. Political leadership is judged over time, and Maldonado's book is still being written. 

February 13, 2009
Friday the 13th -- lucky or unlucky for a budget deal?
heads on stick.jpgThe deal to close California's $40 billion budget hole will either live or die today, depending on what happens this afternoon and tonight. And, of course, it is purely coincidence that it all comes down to Friday the 13th.

Now that details of the plan have leaked out, the special interests on all sides are flailing their knives and trying to gut the package. Apparently they are willing to let California run out of money.

On the right are the Flash Report, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers' League and the John & Ken Show. The latter has an entertaining web site that shows various state leaders with their heads on sticks, shown above.

Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has joined in this dubious spear chucking with this op-ed.

On the left, the California Teachers Association is urging its thousands of members to call legislators to scuttle parts of the deal giving school administrators more flexibility over spending. Transit groups and others are also raising hell about potential cuts.

It will all come down to three and three. That is, three Republican votes in the Assembly and three in the Senate.

But those trios will only stick their necks out (with heads to be hung on John & Ken's poles) if Democrats put up all their votes for a tax increase. That's a big if.

Meanwhile, the expected legislative votes tomorrow will coincide with the opening prologue of the Tour of California, which will bring tens of thousands to the Capitol, closing streets and surrounding lawmakers with hordes of cycling fans. If bicycle advocates had their acts together, they could storm the Capitol and demand more spending for bike lanes.

To make it even more interesting, the day's convergence of events could be interrupted by lightning, thunder, high winds and dousing rain. In other words, a perfect storm could follow a dangerous day for the superstitious. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his buddies in Hollywood couldn't have scripted it better.

Photo courtesy of KFI-a.m. 640. 
February 12, 2009
A smaller Sacramento Planning Commission with fewer duties?

At its 5:30 p.m. meeting today, the Planning Commission will hold a hearing on the following proposal presented to Mayor Kevin Johnson by the Development Oversight Commission and "customers" of the city's development hearing process:

--Reduce the existing Planning Commission from nine members to seven members.

--As part of this, the 7-member Design Commission would be eliminated and merged into the new 7-member Planning Commission.

--Move the majority of project decisions to the staff level. Use the planning commission only for "complex projects" (undefined) and appeals.

Key questions:

1. Have planning commissions in other large urban areas moved in this direction?

2. How would this change impact the role of the planning commission as a watchdog on the planning process and on the city planning department?

3. How would this change impact the role of the planning commission in considering public viewpoints on planning proposals?

See the Planning Commission agenda, including the proposal letter, here.

February 12, 2009
Attorney General Moonbeam
Jerry Brown was in town yesterday speaking to the California Newspaper Publishers Association.  If you haven't already seen it, here's a link to my latest animated cartoon featuring the state attorney general...
Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for SED_G0208_7BABINTEASE0208.jpg
Click on image to see animated cartoon




February 12, 2009
How the spending limit would work

Here is my understanding of how the spending limit or revenue smoother that is headed for the ballot as part of the budget deal would work, including the provisions that were already adopted in the rainy day fund proposal that was part of the September budget:

 --3 percent of revenues would be taken off the top every year and put in the reserve. The governor could waive this requirement until 2011 -- the first year of the next administration.

--One half of this rake, or 1.5 percent of general fund revenues, must stay in the reserve and be used only in bad economic times.

--The other half would be used to "repay" schools the money they are losing in the most recent rounds of budget cuts, until about $9 billion is made up....In effect this means they get a guarantee on top of their guarantee for about 4 or 5 years, depending on how well the economy rebounds. Once the schools get their money back, this portion would go to pay off debt or for infrascructure. The school repayment provision will be in a separate ballot measure, and it is still not clear how the two will be linnked, if at all. It appears that the schools might get this money whether or not the spending limit passes.

--In addition to the 3 percent rake, any revenues over the ten-year trend line would also be put into the reserve.

--Other than the provision mentioned above, money would come out of the reserve only in years in which new tax revenues were insufficient to grow the budget by a combination of population growth and inflation. In those years, only enough money to bring the budget growth up to that level would come out of the reserve.

--If the reserve reached 12.5 percent of the general fund, any additional revenues could be used for one-time purposes, including paying off debt, pre-payment of retiree health benefits and tax rebates.

--If the Legislature or the people raise taxes, the revenue trend line would be adjusted upward so that the new money could be spent immediately, rather than waiting 10 years for the bump to work its way into the trend line. I think the opposite applies after a tax cut.

--The governor would have the authority to cut state operations spending and suspend cost of living increases midyear if a shortfall developed after a budget was adopted.

February 11, 2009
What to do about California's overcrowded prisons?

Update:  Click here to listen to the Insight segment on prison overcrowding.

I'll be appearing at 2 p.m. today on Capitol Public Radio's "Insight" show (90.9 FM) with host Jeffrey Callison and other guests to talk about the Monday federal court tentative court ruling that would limit California's prison population to 120 percent to 145 percent of capacity.  Today, the prisons are near 200 percent of capacity.

See photos of overcrowding from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation here

If the ruling becomes final, California would have to reduce its prison population from 158,000 today to something between 101,000 and 122,000.

That means that over the next three to four years, the state would have to find alternatives for 35,000 to 56,000 prisoners.

The judges did not propose a one-time release of prisoners.  But they did propose several options to reduce prison population that would also save the state hundreds of millions of dollars. 

This seems like a win-win situation for the state:  reduce prison population and save a ton of money during a dire budget crisis.

What do you think?

You can read the view of The Bee's editorial board on the issue here.

 

February 10, 2009
Should it be illegal to scavenge from garbage cans?
As I write this, the Sacramento City Council is hearing from residents on whether the council should approve a proposed ordinance to make it illegal to scavenge from dumpsters and garbage cans in the city.

Sacamento already has a law -- lightly enforced -- that bans people from taking items out of recycling bins. The proposed ordinance would make it illegal to scavenge from "any type of solid waste receptacle."

Just a few minutes ago, the council heard from homeless people and their advocates. They argued that scavenging from dumpsters is a "time-honored" form of recycling and that many people depend on it for income.

What do you think? Should scavenging be made illegal? And could the city possibly enforce such a ban, given that pilfering from recycling bins is rampant all over the city?
February 10, 2009
A message to Speaker Karen Bass from a letter writer

Some of our sharpest op-ed writing comes from local letter writers, who are quick to spot contradictions and hypocrisy on the part of elected leaders.

Here's a letter we ran today from Steven Swan of Sacramento. He was commenting on Speaker Karen Bass' response to a threat by Republican activists to censure any GOP lawmaker who votes for a tax increase:

Bass is quick to call out Republicans for their party's resolution to censure any dissenting opinion for their platform that new taxes should not be part of the state budget deal.

I would like to remind the speaker that she employed a similar tactic when she banished Nicole Parra, D-Hanford, from the State Assembly building to a small legislative office in a building across the street for withholding her vote toward the Democratic proposed budget in August 2008.

All lawmakers are voted into office to represent the best interests of their constituents. These elected officials should be able to do so with impunity, and any method engaged by party leaders to force a party-line vote is shameful as well as contrary to the democratic process. I expect my representation to reflect my district's interests, not those of the party to which they are affiliated. If my community's representation is only an extension of their party, we might as well elect a single lawmaker from each party to represent the entire state.

If you'd like to submit your own letter to the editor, go here.

February 9, 2009
Budget deal could hinge on changes to meal breaks, overtime
As the budget impasse hits 96 days, things are remarkably quiet at the Capitol. No one is saying much -- at least on the record. There are few salvos being launched by either side -- with one notable exception.

Labor groups are alarmed that the Big Five budget deal may soften a state requirement that employees be given meal breaks and overtime after eight hours of work. Republicans are seeking repeal of those labor laws, arguing that businesses are failing all over the place and  federal law is less demanding of employers. Unions fear that Democrats might accept some changes as the price for getting GOP votes for tax increases.

Labor groups have targeted one vulnerable freshman lawmaker, Assemblyman Danny Gilmore, R-Hanford, hoping it will scare off other GOP lawmakers. Meanwhile, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, a Democrat from the East Bay, is running a television ad (seen below) that hits Republicans who "are holding the budget hostage" until Democrats agree to the labor law changes.

Although Skinner's ad is aimed at Republicans, it is also sends a message to the Democratic leadership that her vote, and possibly others, may not be there when the budget deal is brought up for a vote. That's why the entire deal could implode at any moment, despite reports that an announcement is imminent.
 
February 6, 2009
Recover overpayment for train depot?

We're working on a Monday editorial taking up the idea that the City of Sacramento should aggressively go after money owed to the public to help fill a $50 million budget gap.  Council members Kevin McCarty and Rob Fong have identified at least one prime target, worth millions of dollars.

 

In a rush land deal in December 2006, the city gave Thomas Enterprises $55 million to help the developer close on its $70 million purchase of 240 acres in the downtown railyard.

 

The city's $55 million was called an "advance payment" on city purchase of 32.8 acres, which included the historic I Street train depot.

 

With no appraisal, the city paid roughly $1.7 million per acre for the 32.8 acres (while on the same day, Thomas Enterprises paid roughly $292,000 an acre for 240 acres in the railyard).

 

However, the purchase and sale agreement did lay out a three-month negotiation/mediation/arbitration process to determine the fair market value of the 32.8 acres and to have Thomas Enterprises pay up if the city's $55 million advance payment was more than the final purchase price. 

 

Yet two years have passed and the city still has no final purchase price or settle up.

What do you think the mayor and city council should do?

February 6, 2009
Furloughs = Smooth commute
With the rain this morning, I braced myself for another stop-and-go commute from Camino near Apple Hill. Thursday night it took an hour and a half to get home, an extra 20 minutes. Today, the cars were rolling swiftly at 8:15 a.m., heading toward Sacramento on Hwy. 50. I had to wonder if an absence of state workers on the highway made my path to The Bee clear. In the other direction, there was a lot more traffic, most noticeably cars bearing snowboards.

If you've been told to skip work, why not play? In these days of disruption, all those furloughed workers deserve a little fun.
February 6, 2009
Editorial: Big Five secrecy makes mockery of democracy
By voting for these budget packages and allowing their leaders to negotiate them in the dark, lawmakers of both parties are ensuring an odious outcome. In essence, they are abdicating their responsibility to legislate and govern, further diminishing their standing in the public eye. To read the full editorial, go here.

Related content:
SacBee: "State's Big Five keep talks secret for fear of dooming budget deal"

Tim Herdt: "When the deal hits the fan"
February 4, 2009
Will K.J. provide refunds to supporters of his strong-mayor bid?
As of Jan. 31, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson had raised $131,500 for his bid to create a strong-mayor form of government in Sacramento. But after collecting 37,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot, Johnson recently backtracked amid protests from the city council and said he'd hold off on the measure.

Contributors to his campaign may have been surprised to read in today's Bee that the mayor's supporters may not place the proposal on on the ballot until 2010.

One wonders: What happens to their money? Will they get refunds?
February 3, 2009
Editorial: Bike path growing on the Garden Highway?
LS TANDEM CYCLING 1.JPGA wider levee in Natomas could be the foundation for bicycle and hiking trail that could stretch from Sutter County to Sacramento. To read the full editorial, go here.

Sacramento Bee Photo/ Lezlie Sterling

February 3, 2009
Editorial: CTA takes low road with its ads
The California Teachers Association is running television ads urging legislators to reject proposals to give school districts funding flexibility to mitigate inevitable reductions. Teachers at the local level need to tell their leaders at the state level that flexibility is better than draconian cuts. To read the full editorial, go here.
February 2, 2009
Are environmental regs a drag on stimulus, or a red herring?
The debate over environmental regulations and infrastructure in California is getting lots of attention on the pages of East Coast newspapers today.

Former California governors George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis have an op-ed in the Washington Times. It urges President Obama to waive federal environmental regulations for certain transportation projects, including "breakthrough" projects that would speed up goods movement.

"As former California governors who faced emergencies during our administrations, we know that the smart use of emergency powers to enable rapid response can make the difference in ending a crisis. Our advice to President Obama and Congress is to recognize the urgency by granting and encouraging the use of streamlined public procedures for our nation's governors to use as your field commanders."
Meanwhile, a possible rollback of California's environmental regulations is highlighted in this New York Times blog item. It quotes environmentalists fearful that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will agree to concessions that Republican lawmakers are demanding as the price of a budget deal. The GOP demands were first detailed here last week in an item in The Swarm.
February 2, 2009
Prison pugilists need to put down their gloves
Our lead editorial today urges Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown to start negotiating with the state's prison receiver, instead of wasting time on what is surely to be a unsuccessful court effort to end the receivership.

States the editorial:

Delays mean that thousands of prisoners have to be transported from prison to local community hospitals, costing hundreds of millions a year. The shadowboxing between Schwarzenegger, Brown and Kelso provides great entertainment, but is getting the state nowhere - at great expense.

February 2, 2009
Union leaders hurt rank and file by not cutting furlough deal
In an editorial today, The Bee notes that rank-and-file state workers would have been far better off if their leaders had quickly agreed with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to implement one-day-a-month furloughs as an alternative to layoffs or two-day furloughs.

Had the governor been able to implement one-day furloughs two months ago, the state would have banked the savings quickly and there would have been less pressure to seek other payroll savings.

An excerpt from the editorial:

Now that so much time has passed and Schwarzenegger has been given new leverage by the court decision, he may continue pressing for the full two days rather than agreeing to a compromise.

We still think a cut that large puts too much of the burden for solving the state's budget problems on its employees. Unfortunately, that is the price they might have to pay for the intransigence of their union leaders.



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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