The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

January 31, 2010
Meg Whitman's tax cut idea finds support in an unlikely place
  Meg Whitman on MSNBC.JPG

Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman called for a specific tax cut in her latest round of East Coast television appearances--and is finding support in a surprising corner of Sacramento's lobbying corps.

The former eBay chief executive officer, appearing on MSNBC's Morning Joe show, called for "targeted tax relief," specifically calling for an end to what she called a "factory tax."

She complained that in California, manufacturers must pay sales tax on the equipment they purchase to make whatever widgets they sell.

"It is a really good reason to go overseas or to a neighborhing states," Whitman said of the sales tax, which is 9.75% and generates more than $1 million annually.

It's no surprise when a Republican wants to cut taxes. But it's a little unusual when Lenny Goldberg and Jean Ross, two leading tax and budget experts from the left in Sacramento, don't reject the concept out of hand.

Goldberg said such a break should not go to utilities or telecommunications companies, but rather to tech companies and other true manufacturers.

Goldberg is a lobbyist whose clients include organized labor, and is head of the California Tax Reform Association. He said Whitman's idea "is not wrong."

Goldberg said such a break makes far more sense than the roughly $2 billion in corporate tax cuts that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the legislature approved last year--and that our Rex Babin captured so perfectly.

"If you're going to give away money to corporations, that is a better way," Goldberg said.

Ross, of the California Budget Project, said the cut would not be a bad idea "if we had an extra $2 billion."

"The question is, 'How do you pay for it?' It is problematic given recent tax breaks," Ross said.

Whitman also criticized California's initiative process, something that will not endear her to the more populist wing of her party. 

Said Whitman:

"The referendum process dates back to 1918, I think. It has its useful purpose but there is no question we have had too many referendums on the ballot and too much spending has been propositioned into process. I think you have got to have a different approach, no question about it."

Minor notes. It was 1911. And most Californians refer to it as the initiative process.

You have to wonder what Schwarzenegger thinks about that, what with all his initiatives.

--Dan Morain 

January 27, 2010
Barbara Boxer expects a fight after Massachusetts vote

Barbara Boxer is sounding worried and American Future Fund is feeling its oats.

The Iowa-based nonprofit, with the high-powered Washington consultants, is being credited by the Boston Globe and others with being the first independent campaign committee to jump into the Massachusetts senate race on behalf of the winner, Republican Scott Brown.

But rather than simply bask in its win, the group took out print ads getting into the faces of Democrats, essentially warning that will lose their seats if they continue supporting President Obama's economic policy.

The ad said:


"Liberals are risking their careers by supporting a big government health care plan that the country can't afford, and that polls show the American people don't want. ... Are You Willing to Sacrifice Your Career for Obama?"

The ad likely won't have much impact on Democrats. But as Chris Cilliza wrote in Washington Post's The Fix, Barbara Boxer says: "Every state is now in play."


Sandra Greiner, president of American Future Fund, told The Swarm that she is not sure Boxer is vulnerable. But Greiner, the focus of a column today in The Bee, is particularly concerned about legislation to create a cap-and-trade system to control greenhouse gases. Boxer is pushing that bill.


"We do have a tremendous interest and concern about cap and trade. If that moves forward, so will I," Greiner said.


Who knows whether American Future Fund will play in California. But if it does, we can expect ads like this and like this.


Greiner said in a phone interview that the group's Internet fund-raising has taken off since word spread of its role in the Massachusetts race. Her group is an upstart, having been created only two years ago. But it has shown an ability to raise money, generating $7.5 million in its first year, 2008, its publicly available tax return shows.


--Dan Morain


January 6, 2010
Schwarzenegger helps a friend, whacks a foe

As he enters his final year in office, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is picking a new fight with one of his favorite foils--the prison guards' union.

In the process, he likely will be helping one of his political allies, private prison company called Corrections Corp. of America--and skewering one of his foils, California's prison guard union.

In his State of the State speech today, the lame-duck governor proclaimed his intention to push to privatize prisons. Such a move, he says, would sharply cut the $8 billion-plus the state spends on prisons.

He plans to use a ballot measure that would entice voters by guaranteeing that the state would spend more on universities than on prisons. He will face a major fight. The prison guards' union fiercely opposes private prisons and repeatedly has shown its ability to spend millions on campaigns.

But of course, its money is not unlimited. Any money it spends to battle Schwarzenegger at the ballot would be money it could not spend to help elect candidates who might be friendly to the union's cause.

In tomorrow's column, I will be explaining how one firm, Corrections Corp. of America, has received a lucrative contract to house California inmates. One legislator, Assemblyman Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate), is preparing to hold hearings on the matter later this month.

 --Dan Morain

January 4, 2010
Richard Pombo is running--and prairie dogs are worried

Pombo-Prairie Dog.jpgRichard Pombo is jumping back into politics--and the news is causing prairie dogs across South Dakota to dive into their burrows.

Pombo lost his congressional seat in 2006, a victim of the Democratic tidal wave, an intense campaign against him by environmentalists, and of his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Pombo originally won office by claiming to be an anti-politician. But he discovered that politics is fun--so much so that he aims to head south of where he previously served and run for the seat being vacated by George Radanovich.

Speaking of aiming, it was Pombo who held one of the all-time great fundraisers. Back in 2004, when he was chairman of a congressional committee with oversight over Indian affairs, Pombo invited his benefactors to join him on the Rosebud Sioux reservation in South Dakota. He raised a bundle of money into his RichPac, as the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics found.

There, they could partake in a buffalo hunt. For people arriving early, there was a special treat. As the invitation above says, people with a hankering for little critters could blast away at prairie dogs.

We at Swarm have never savored prairie dog. We couldn't find a recipe at Epicurious. But in some parts of this great land, prairie dog seems to be a delicacy. Here's what we could find. Prairie dog pie sounds especially yummy.

 --Dan Morain

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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