A Larger Legislature?

December 28, 2005 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comments Off 

2005 has been another year where statewide polls have shown widespread dissatisfaction with the California Legislature.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger once famously suggested that perhaps the Legislature should be downsized to a part-time operation. But some are now pondering just the opposite: increase the size of the Legislature, in an attempt to make it more responsive to citizens.

Our story aired this morning on The California Report. Click here later today for audio from today's broadcast.

'Tis The Season

December 24, 2005 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comments Off 

A note to all of you that the blogging will be taking a bit of a holiday until the New Year. It's a little hard to keep watching California politics when in North Carolina visiting family, and (seemingly) being fed every hour.

Best wishes to all for a safe holiday season, and a Happy New Year. See you back here the first week of January! --JM

The Governor's Calendar

December 22, 2005 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comments Off 

It was one year ago today that reporters, and the public, got a look at the daily calendar of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the first time a chief executive had handed over such documents.

So one year later, what do those documents reveal about how he spends his time?

For a few months, we've been compiling an analysis of the records for 2005... which, as many reporters know, are now released for inspection every few weeks. On this morning's edition of The California Report, we look in particular at how many calendar entries are marked as "private"-- private meetings, private events, private phone calls-- and whether Schwarzenegger should be even more transparent about those "private" appointments.

Peter Scheer certainly thinks he should be. Scheer is executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, one of the organizations that pushed for public disclosure of the calendar last year. "When you're governor," says Scheer, "most everything you do ought to be fair game for reporters to know about, and to tell voters about." Scheer says family events and purely political meetings should be the only things that are obscured from public view.

But our analysis suggests many more items are being kept private. Through October (the last full month for which the calendar has been released), our data shows 197 calendar entries marked as "private." Of the categories which we created to examine the records, that tally is among the largest.

Most of the other entries can be categorized as media events (85), news interviews (106), public relations/entertainment media (135), politics and political fundraisers (94), ceremonial duties (114), and staff meetings (135).

A few not-so-newsworthy (but intriguing) items worth noting in our review of the governor's 2005 calendar:

* An International Presence: Maybe it's his international name recognition, but Schwarzenegger certainly attracted a broad cross-section of world dignitaries... from the president of Poland to the prime minister of Bavaria.

* Wish I Could've Been There: Among the meetings that reporters and others would have loved to have attended-- April 13's meeting between the governor and Judge Thelton Henderson, the same day a scathing report on conditions at San Quentin State Prison was released (Henderson is the judge overseeing the mandate for the state to deal with numerous prison problems)... the multiple meetings on March 31 and April 4 between the governor and public safety officers and their families, just days before he shelved his pension reform plan over concerns of its impact on these officers and their families... and the March 8 meeting in Washington, DC that Schwarzenegger attended with White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove.

* You Don't Send Me Flowers... Anymore: And just in case you're curious, there are no recorded meetings so far in 2005 between Governor Schwarzenegger and Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante. The last known chit-chat between #1 and #2 was on March 18, 2004. But hey, the year's not over yet...

Biz Groups: No More Union Dues Battles

December 21, 2005 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comments Off 

An elaborate guessing game over a new showdown on union dues and political contributions appears to be over, at least for 2006.

A statement released this morning by California Chamber of Commerce president Allan Zaremberg and California Business Roundtable chairman Bill Hauck says the two organizations have no interest in resurrecting the battle over political contributions made by labor unions.

The note is likely a major blow against any redux of Proposition 75. That doesn't mean that Prop 75 proponent Lew Uhler will abstain from floating a new version of his measure to curtail the political influence of labor unions. But because Prop 75 was largely put on the ballot with money from Governor Schwarzenegger's business allies, it may be hard for Uhler to get enough signatures on a new version.

The announcement from Zaremberg and Hauck comes shortly after they received a letter from the union leaders who defeated Schwarzenegger's initiatives, warning the business community to stay away from resurrecting the issue. In fact, the union-backed Alliance For A Better California still could put in play its counter-measure: an initiative to require shareholder permission before corporations can spend money on politics.

The alliance missed the deadline for submitting the collected signatures to place that issue on the June ballot, but could still submit petitions in time for the November ballot. And it's possible the threat of the counter-measure may have played into the business community's reluctance to wade back into another battle with the unions.

"An acrimonious campaign on either one of these measures diverts attention from critical issues facing the state," says the statement from the business community leaders.

CJ's Demise Is Permanent

December 20, 2005 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comments Off 

The defunct California Journal will not return to cover the state's political and policy debates, according to a news release this afternoon from the non-profit foundation that ran the monthly magazine.

In January, the magazine's backers suspended publication after 35 years-- the last few as a source of government reporting in desperate need of money. At the time, they left the door open for a return of the California Journal. But today, board members of the foundation that oversaw the magazine decided to end their efforts to find new publishers.

"We simply didn't have the financial committments necessary to put out a quality magazine," said foundation board president Lou Cannon in a prepared statement.

"A Time To Let Off Some Steam"

December 15, 2005 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comments Off 

[4:45pm UPDATE: Schwarzenegger emerged after a 1 hour private meeting with leaders of the California GOP to say that Republicans were "one big family." And he reitereated his intentions to keep his administration moving "in the same direction" as before Kennedy's hiring.

"The Susan Kennedy issue is over," said GOP Chairman Duf Sundheim. But underscoring the importance of the issue, Sundheim also told reporters that Republicans had been assured there would be a path for the party to talk to the governor in 2006 with Kennedy "out of the loop."]

Are you a political junkie who's breathlessly following the saga of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his relationship with fellow California Republicans in the wake of the governor hiring Democrat Susan Kennedy as his chief of staff?

If so... feel free to read what you will into his comments today on the brouhaha (all answers to questions posed at a late morning news conference on a totally different subject):

"My message to them is don't judge me by who I hire, but judge me by my actions, and that's the bottom line."

"I respect my Republican base, my Republican colleagues, and this is just a time to let off some steam right now, and I think that's good. That's healthy. And we have all had relationships like that, where people need to let off some steam, so I think this is all good. And then we will work together."

"Everyone should express themselves, and let out their disappointments, whatever. My message is clear: don't judge me by who I hire."

A Second Set Of Eyes...

December 15, 2005 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comments Off 

It may seem like only a real policy wonk would care about it, but a new state law for the first time provides some outside analysis of contract agreements struck between state employees and the executive branch.

The law, written by Sen. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo), requires an assessment of new contracts by the Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO). And while the law doesn't technically go into effect until January 1st, the LAO decided to get an early start, with an analysis released today on an agreement struck by the Schwarzenegger administration and Bargaining Unit 2. The unit represents attorneys and state hearing officers, and constitutes about 2% of the state workforce.

Today's LAO analysis [read it here] seems to show that these reports will give policymakers and journalists a new way to see the big picture of these contract deals, and the impact on the state's finances.

For example, today's report gives a real sense of what the new Unit 2 contract will cost the state, in everything from salary to health and retirement benefits. By the way, an interesting element of the new Unit 2 contract appears to be an option for these state workers to actually opt out of the state employee retirement (CalPERS) system... and instead take the state's annual contribution as a salary stipend, perhaps for the worker to invest on their own.

Of course, this may be one of the simpler contracts to analyze. Elsewhere this week, negotiations resumed between the Schwarzenegger administration and 9 other bargaining units, representing a total of some 85,000 state employees. Those negotiations have been stalled for months.

Lawsuit Attacks Non-Resident Tuition

December 14, 2005 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comments Off 

Almost four years after it went into effect, California's law allowing some illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at UC, CSU, and community colleges is being challenged in a class action lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed today in Yolo County (home to UC Davis), argues that the 2002 law (AB 540) violated pre-existing federal law that sought to keep states from charging in-state tuition rates to students who are not U.S. citizens.

Mike Brady, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit on behalf of 42 college students and parents (Martinez vs. Regents of the University of California, et al.), claims that 60,000 out-of-state students have been overcharged... because, as he says, the federal law stipulates that any state granting in-state tuition status to undocumented students must also give that same tuition break to out-of-state students.

But university officials say their information shows the policy is not used by a large number of students. A UC spokeswoman said that's because, in part, the law restricts participation to students who also attended a California high school for 3 years and who file an affidavit saying they intend to apply for legal immigration status. She estimated about 1,000 students use the policy every year... and she says a full 75% of those students are legal U.S. citizens whose family situations left their tuition status in limbo (example: a California family moves to another state just before its senior child graduates from high school).

So why now, almost four years after it went into effect, is the lawsuit filed? Part of the answer may be as simple as the one the speakers at today's Capitol news conference: former U.S. Representative Brian Bilbray.

Bilbray, who represented part of the San Diego area in Congress for 6 years, says that when he moved his family back to California, he discovered his college-age children would not be eligible for in-state tuition, having attended high school in Virginia while he served on Capitol Hill. In fact, the GOP lawmaker, his son, and his daughter are now all plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Two Tobacco Taxes Become One

December 13, 2005 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comments Off 

Read any recent public opinion poll of Californians and you'll find strong opposition to just about every kind of tax increase except for one: so-called "sin taxes", levies charged on either alcohol or tobacco.

Next November, voters may be asked to make that official-- through a ballot initiative that would make a pack of cigarettes sold in California the most costly in the nation.

Ending what looked to be a nasty fight between groups that wanted new-- but separate-- taxes on tobacco, a consortium of hospitals, health care workers, and anti-tobacco groups announced today what they're calling the "Tobacco Tax of 2006".

The initiative would raise the cost of a pack of cigarettes by a whopping $2.60. California's tobacco tax hasn't been increased in seven years, and is reportedly below the national average. This boost, however, would make California #1.

At a crowded morning news conference in the Senator Hotel, the new group unveiled its omnibus initiative to replace the once-competing versions; each of those would've hiked the per-pack tax by $1.50.

The new initiative, according to its backers, would result in an extra $2.27 billion every year. Slightly more than half of that would go to treatment programs-- including money for things like hospital ER services, community clinics, and prostate cancer treatment. Slightly less than half of the total tax revenues would be spent on prevention services-- including money for children's health insurance, tobacco control and education programs, and cancer/heart/asthma prevention programs.

Policy issues aside, the decision to lump all of this into one initiative may make the sales pitch to voters simpler. It also settles some of the infighting among health care-related groups that was brewing as a result of the separate activities.

At this morning's event, Duane Dauner of the California Hospital Association said their original initiative already had enough signatures to qualify for the June ballot.

And avoiding the June ballot is probably a wise strategy for proponents... considering that ballot is likely to have another tax increase for voters to consider: the initiative for universal preschool, to be paid for by hiking taxes on high-income earners.

No Admittance, No Clemency

December 12, 2005 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comments Off 

In reading the five page statement from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on denying clemency to convicted murderer Stanley Tookie Williams, it seems clear that a key sticking point for the governor was Williams' long-standing denial of the four murders.

Barring any last-minute court interventions, the 51-year-old former street gangster will die by lethal injection just after midnight.

Williams' plea for clemency rested, in part, on the notion that he has become a changed man while behind bars. But he also maintains he did not commit any of the four 1979 murders for which he was convicted. And Schwarzenegger, in a carefully worded statement released about 12:45 p.m., says that the idea of redemption is hard to square with those denials:

"Is Williams' redemption complete and sincere, or is it just a hollow promise? Stanley Williams insists he is innocent, and that he will not and should not apologize or otherwise atone for the murders of the four victims in this case. Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings there can be no redemption. In this case, the one thing that would be the clearest indication of complete remorse and full redemption is the one thing Williams will not do."

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