The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

August 25, 2010
A possible tobacco tax hike, but not until 2012

It looks like California voters will finally get their way on whether to raise tobacco taxes.

It just won't be until the primary in February 2012.

The Secretary of State's office says that the latest initiative to qualify for the ballot is one that would raise the cigarette tax by $1 a pack, with the estimated $855 million in annual proceeds going to cancer research and smoking prevention programs.

As The Bee's editorial board noted last month, even as the Legislature slashes health programs, the vast majority of lawmakers won't look at most increases in tobacco or alcohol taxes to help plug the gaping budget deficit.

Bills last year in both the Assembly and Senate to increase cigarette taxes went nowhere fast. The last two major tobacco tax increases also came through the ballot box, Proposition 99 in 1988 and Proposition 10 in 1998.

While California is stuck, 20 states have increased their tobacco taxes in the past two years, so California's tax is 19th lowest in the country.

August 24, 2010
League of Women voters weighs in on meeting change

More voices are being raised objecting to the Sacramento City Council's decision last week to move a public comment period to the end of meetings from the beginning.

In advance of tonight's meeting, the League of Women Voters sent a letter to the council saying it was "disappointed" by the change, which affects comments on issues not on the council agenda.

The league echoed concerns that because of Regional Transit service cuts that mean no buses or light rail trains start routes after 9 p.m., it might be "impossible" for some residents to speak.

The league suggested an alternative: limit the public comment at the start of meetings to 12 minutes total and put the "overflow" at the end of meetings. The league said that would be much fairer.

Already, the advocates of a "safe ground" campground for the homeless are up in arms. They have been showing up like clockwork and Mayor Kevin Johnson told his colleagues before voting last week against the change that the group was being unfairly targeted.

The supporters of the change complained that "special interests" have taken over the comment period, and argued that moving to the end of meetings will allow them to do the public's business more efficiently.

The Bee's editorial board also opposed the change.


August 17, 2010
Sacramento 'crash tax' debate is delayed

Sacramento's "crash tax" is back in the shop.

The City Council was supposed to vote tonight on whether to join a growing number of California cities and start billing out-of-town motorists who have wrecks.

But the city just announced that the debate has been put off -- tentatively until Sept. 14 -- at the request of interim City Manager Gus Vina, who wants more information on what other cities are doing.

The current proposal had already been revised to make clear that only at-fault drivers would be filled for the costs of the fire department responding to crashes, and to include a dispute resolution mechanism.

The Bee's editorial board, however, is still against the plan, which would make California's capital city a bad host and likely cost it more money in lost tourism revenue.

The state insurance association and small business advocacy group also oppose the "crash tax."

The fire department, which is strapped for cash like the rest of City Hall, wants to recover its costs on a sliding scale that starts at $435 any time it responds and goes to $2,275 if a helicopter is used to take the injured to the emergency room.

August 17, 2010
Paul Smith suspends campaign against Rep. Matsui

He was always going to face a really uphill battle.

But Paul Smith, the Republican challenger to Congresswoman Doris Matsui of Sacramento, was running a feisty campaign. When I wrote last week, after Matsui visited the Bee's editorial board, that she was expected to win a third term easily, Smith left me an angry voicemail.

Today, however, he announced he is suspending his campaign due to a lack of money, and is going back to his day job selling homes.

He left himself a small out (and suggested this might be a fund-raising gambit), saying he would jump back in if he raised at least $20,000 by the end of the month.

"All campaigns must have some support from the voters and it has become apparent just relying on my bank account to pay for everything is no longer feasible," he wrote in an email to supporters.

"As of today, all precinct walks, meetings and events are canceled," he added. "I have appreciated meeting all of you and discussing issues that are important to America and to the 5th CD. I believe our message is right for America and the 5th CD. Unfortunately, unless folks start voting with their pocket books, I can no longer afford to pay the freight and continue to deliver the message that you the voter, needs to hear."

August 16, 2010
Has State Fair turned the corner? Numbers say maybe



Maybe the earlier start date did pay off for the California State Fair.

Not only did overall attendance go up nearly 10 percent in this year's version to 741,189, Cal Expo said today that the more important paid attendance figure rose by 11 percent to 512,277.

This year's version (shown in a Bee staff photo above) ended Aug. 1, a month earlier than the usual Labor Day closing, to try to attract more schoolkids on summer vacation. Lower food prices, admission discounts and relatively pleasant weather also helped, and the fair got past a robbery of a vendor and the unfortunate putting down of a pregnant cow.

But it's too early yet to say the fair has entirely turned the corner on a lengthy decline. The 2010 attendance figures are still lower than any other year this century, other than 2009.

And as The Bee has editorialized and has analyzed, the annual expo faces big challenges. State Fair officials, of course, say they're up to the task.


August 13, 2010
Sacramento 'crash tax' gets boos from insurers, businesses

If there were any doubt, California's insurance industry made absolutely clear today how much it abhors a proposed "crash tax" in Sacramento.

Sam Sorich, president of the Association of California Insurance Companies, plans to testify Tuesday before the City Council against the proposed ordinance.

Under the plan, out-of-town drivers who are at fault for wrecks would be billed fees that would range from a minimum of $435 every time the Fire Department shows up at an accident scene to $2,275 if a helicopter is called in to transport an injured motorist.

Sorich says that if the fees are imposed, Sacramento would operate like a small-town speed trap and gouge unwary drivers.

"Sacramento is rightly proud to be the capital of America's largest state. It should be welcoming with open arms those from outside Sacramento who work in the city and visitors from around the world," he said in a press release. "Instead, the city plans to literally add insult to injury."

The insurers group also warns that if the fees are collected, rates could rise for all drivers in the Sacramento region.

The state's largest advocacy group for small businesses also opposes the "crash tax," saying that florists, pizza parlors and others that operate fleets of vehicles cannot afford any more bills.

"The local police and fire departments are there to serve and protect, not serve and collect," John Kabateck, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business, wrote in today's Bee.

The Bee's editorial board has also come out against the proposal. For its take on the latest version of the proposal, come back to on Monday.

August 12, 2010
Ray Kerridge happy to be the heck out of Sacramento



A delegation of Roseville leaders came calling this afternoon to trumpet the city's efforts toward economic recovery and prosperity.

In September, the City Council plans to appoint an advisory committee of builders, engineers and others to look at development standards -- softening the city's reputation as tough on developers and making sure it's not putting itself at a competitive disadvantage. In October, the council plans to create a community development corporation to focus on infill development in downtown and older commercial corridors. Roseville is continuing to work on recruiting clean energy, medical and professional jobs, plus a possible satellite campus of Sacramento State University.

The Placer County city is "open for business," declared its new city manager, Ray Kerridge (shown in a Bee photo above).

He said he didn't want to dwell on his previous life as city manager in Sacramento. But with just a little goading from The Bee's editorial board, Kerridge also made clear how happy he is to be in Roseville -- and no longer in Sacramento. He resigned in February after a tumultuous four years, and started his new job June 17.

Kerridge said there's a different culture in Roseville, where the council and administrators have a good relationship and are all interested in moving forward. Of his leaving Sacramento, Kerridge said he decided: "This isn't a good environment to be working in, and I need to get out."

He even made a joke -- with a mischievous gleam in his eyes -- about the split vote by the Sacramento council last month on the latest K Street redevelopment proposal, when the four members of an ad hoc committee were outvoted by the council members not on the panel.

Kerridge's departure has remained somewhat murky. It was clear he was frustrated by the dysfunctional council, and that some council members were not happy with him. When he left, Kerridge talked about a private sector job, so it was something of a surprise when he landed nearby in Roseville.

He and Mayor Gina Garbolino provided much more of the back story today:

A headhunter hired by Roseville in November originally came up with 68 names. Kerridge was in a group of 13 that the consultant recommended for a closer look, then was one of four finalists who underwent intense vetting. He originally provided six references, but then was asked for more with both positive and negative views of him. He eventually offered 50 references, 36 of whom were contacted.

Kerridge wanted to leave after February budget work but before May, but eventually stuck it out until May when his hiring was announced. He is now the Sacramento region's highest paid city manager, with an annual salary of $237,700. But that's less than the $285,000 his predecessor was making.

Garbolino said she's heard little criticism of Kerridge's pay, even with the huge controversy started by the astronomical salaries in Bell. And she seemed confident that Kerridge is providing the vision, leadership and integrity the city wanted.

August 12, 2010
Rep. Doris Matsui not looking forward to ethics trials



Rep. Doris Matsui, five years into her tenure in Congress, is so happy working on clean energy, housing and other issues that she's not angling for a leadership post. She says she's busy looking out for Sacramento, making sure her district gets money for the Natomas levees, Folsom dam improvements and transportation projects.

One job she isn't looking forward to: Possibly weighing in on the conduct of fellow Reps. Maxine Waters of Los Angeles and Charles Rangel of New York, who face ethics charges and whose fate could end up in the full House.

"None of us look forward to that at all," Matsui told The Bee's editorial board this afternoon. "It's difficult to judge your colleagues."

Matsui said she hasn't reviewed the allegations in detail, but knows that both colleagues are fighting them tooth and nail. She was in the House on Tuesday when Rangel took to the House floor to defend himself and demand a prompt ethics committee hearing so he wouldn't't be left "swinging in the wind" until the November election.

'He's a proud man and he's very hurt," said Matsui (shown above in a Bee photo).

(Come back to over the next few days to see The Bee editorial board's take on Waters and Rangel.)

Matsui isn't expected to face much of a challenge in November to win a fourth term (though Republican Paul Smith would dispute that), but acknowledged that fellow Democrats are likely to lose some seats because it's a midterm election in the middle of a recession with lots of unhappy voters.

But she's still optimistic that Democrats will hold on to their majority. Republicans, she said, face their own challenges because of divisions between establishment candidates and tea party activists.

And while she wasn't ready to predict victory, she said that Democrat Ami Bera will run a very strong race against Republican Rep. Dan Lungren of Gold River. Bera, she said, is bright, a very good fund-raiser and has the "fire in the belly" to win.

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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