Tonight's release of the latest statewide poll from the Public Policy Institute of California has a lot of interesting nuggets, so I'll post them as separate items to ponder. But there's one pretty consistent theme: the voters are grumpy.
And they're grumpy about a lot of things -- most notably the economy and their elected leaders.
As economists and politicians debate whether the country is -- or isn't-- in a recession, it's a no-brainer for Californians. 72% of those surveyed say that's where we are. 58% believe it's serious, and 76% expect bad times ahead for California.
63% of the survey's respondents think California is headed in the wrong direction... a number that's starting to inch toward the grumpiness felt by voters in 2003, just before the recall of then Governor Gray Davis. But it could be worse; we seem to be even gloomier about the direction things are going in the country (73% say we're going the wrong way).
That sour mood may help explain the low approval ratings for elected officials. Most notable are Governor Schwarzenegger's new numbers. Only 44% of those surveyed approve of the job he's doing; that's one of his lowest points since climbing out of the dog house with voters after the 2005 special election debacle. Voters' feelings about the Legislature are, not surprisingly, still not so hot.
The great parlor debate of 2008 in state Capitol circles has been whether Governor Schwarzenegger's proposed budget and its across-the-board cut in every sector of government is really a Trojan horse of sorts for some kind of eventual tax increase.
The governor's team, and he himself, have flatly denied it... and fair enough. But the new PPIC poll numbers may only fuel the discussion.
The new poll finds that 56% of voters are "very concerned" about the effects of spending cuts proposed by Schwarzenegger. And only 30% say they support a budget that would be balanced with spending cuts alone.
With that in mind, 42% of voters now favor a mix of tax hikes and cuts to balance the budget... something lobbied for by legislative Democrats. Of course, only 25% of Republicans surveyed favor this option; who said GOP members of the Legislature don't represent their constituents?
Finally, some presidential politics to talk about in this PPIC poll... and warning signs for supporters of John McCain and Hillary Clinton that the two pols may face an uphill battle here.
The poll shows 61% of voters now have a favorable opinion of Democrat Barack Obama. That's tops of the big three contenders. Only 49% feel that way about McCain and only 45% feel that way about Clinton. If the election were held today, Obama would beat McCain 49%-40%... while Clinton would scrape by 46%-43%.
Two things come to mind from all of that. One is that the Clinton camp has made much ado of late about her strength in the nation's electoral vote-rich states. But even though she won the California primary back in February, it looks like she's lost some real ground here.
And the second observation: the new poll showing McCain's current weakness among many California voters comes the very same week as the Arizona Republican's swing through the state where he quipped that he believes he can win here. To make matters worse: a solid 58% of Californians surveyed want U.S. troops to come home from Iraq soon... and only 34% think the troop surge, strongly supported by McCain, has worked. Mac has his work cut out for him if he truly thinks California will be in play.
In a move that ups the ante over the state budget fight on how much to spend for social services, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced today that he's leading the charge in a lawsuit to challenge a cut in the reimbursement rates paid to doctors that treat Medi-Cal patients.
Newsom confirmed the widely speculated action in remarks at the monthly luncheon of the Sacramento Press Club. "What just happened at the state is so alarming," he said of the decision to further cut the payments to doctors who accept low-income patients. "We had no choice but to sue." Newsom also later characterized the decision made by the Legislature and Governor Schwarzenegger to be "unconscionable."
That was obviously the main news. But a decent sized crowd flocked to see the charismatic San Fran pol at today's event, and it's hard to deny that many wanted to hear how he answered The Question.
I call it that in homage to an episode of one of my favorite TV series, The West Wing. In that episode, as the staff prepares for President Jed Bartlet to run for a second term, there's giddiness when a potential GOP contender flubs what the White House staff keeps calling "the question" from a reporter. In that case, the question was: "Why do you want to be president?"
In Newsom's case, you probably know the question...
Are you running for governor in 2010?
"It's wildly premature" to be making such plans, Newsom said. He then went on to say that if the people who are urging him to do so are convincing enough, "and if I can convince myself," he said... well... then he said he'd think about it.
Vague, but fair enough at this point.
Well, it was quite the hiatus.
The last Capital Notes Podcast was recorded at the end of 2007, and it may have seemed as though we were just going to let the project fade away. Not so fast.
Capitol Weekly editor Anthony York and I are back to our musings about the latest in political news. The podcast was sidelined for the same reason that this newsblog was put on ice back in January: the birth of my now 10-week-old daughter. Now that I've acclamated to life without sleep, it seemed a good time to reengage. The big change for the immediate future is that we'll be doing the podcast at the start of every week with an eye looking forward.
This week, we talk about the status of the messy state budget. And we look at some of the more interesting legislative matchups that will appear on the June primary ballot.
It's good to be back.
A damning report is out this morning chronicling the activities of the State Board of Chiropractor Examiners -- a report that flatly says that board members broke the law.
The report released by California State Auditor Elaine Howle doesn't say that the illegal activity was intentional; rather, it says that the "lack of understanding" of both the law and their responsibilities led to the actions in question.
The chiro board has been in the hot seat for about a year, with the controversy peaking after a feud between members appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger and the board's top staffer led to that staffer being fired. Reporting by The Sacramento Bee at the time described the firing and subsequent actions at one meeting last year as a "coup" staged by appointees who are friends of the governor. The Bee has done a yeoman's job at following this story in the months since the squabbling first broke out.
The audit requested by the Legislature concludes that the firing of then executive director Catherine Hayes was fraught with "significant errors." The audit also alleges that some top officials at the commission didn't file financial disclosure forms as required by state law.
And there's more. From the audit's executive summary:
The chiropractic board has insufficient control over its licensing and continuing education programs. It has not established timelines for processing some of its applications for licenses, certificates, and referral services. The board also could not always show whether it verified the status of chiropractors' licenses before approving applications and certificates. Additionally, many of the chiropractic board's current practices for administering its continuing education program are not consistent with its regulations and written policies and procedures.
You can find the entire audit here.
UPDATE: The state chiropratic board has issued a formal statement in response to the audit. "The auditor's report lays out the path for improvment that we began implementing last summer," said current executive officer Brian Stiger in the written release. "These are the Board's top-priority issues."
Governor Schwarzenegger kicked off his latest road show this morning in Fresno, talking budget reform and striking a curious balance between defending elected officials and criticizing them.
The governor's event with Fresno Mayor Alan Autry and others had a familiar theme. Armed with his now infamous budget charts showing the imbalance between state expenditures and revenue, Schwarzenegger promised a new push this year for a constitutional amendment to change the budget system.
That proposal was hinted at in his State of the State speech two months ago but remains more concept than concrete. What we do know is that it would create a new rainy day fund by constraining spending in robust times and would give the governor the option of unilaterally cutting some state spending if the Legislature fails to do so as needed.
This morning's event, broadcast on the governor's website, featured Schwarzenegger walking a careful line when assessing blame for the budget problem. While at one point saying that elected officials are not the problem ("No one has forseen this [budget] situation," he told the audience), the governor then dusted off some language that sounded like it came from his failed 2005 campaign to pass the budget proposal known as Proposition 76.
Schwarzenegger said that rather than punishing Californians, perhaps someone should "punish Sacramento" for the problems.
"Why take people, vulnerable citizens," said the governor describing the recent spate of feast or famine budget years, "on this kind of roller coaster ride?"
The governor then went on to blame the amorphous "Sacramento" for -- in his words -- stealing money over the years from the people.
He criticized last week's Assembly vote on a new tax on oil production as the wrong approach. "The oil companies didn't create this [budget] problem," he said, later arguing that the proposal was merely "taking money away from the [oil company] shareholders."
And in a preview of things to come this spring and summer, Schwarzenegger seemed to make it clear that he wants to negotiate a reform proposal in tandem with the coming year's budget. That could be particularly tough, given how little consensus there is so far on how to solve anything related to the state's recurring gap between revenues and expenditures.
Last week, Governor Schwarzenegger was trying to right one of his wrongs from 2005 on the subject of political map drawing. Next week, he's expected to resuscitate another one of the 2005 "year of refrorm" issues: a constitutional amendment to change the state budget process.
Last time, it was a proposal to allow the governor to make some midyear budget cuts on his own -- without legislative approval. It also would have allowed the governor to have the power to, if he so desired, make some of those cuts from the public schools.
This last provision of Proposition 76 -- the ability of the governor to trim spending even in K-12 education and thus supersede the firewall protections for school funding under 1988's Proposition 98 -- was the one that probably sunk not only the budget initiative, but the entire Schwarzenegger special election agenda. With tens of millions of dollars in TV ads funded by teachers unions and others, voters rejected all four of the governor's government reform ideas.
But Schwarzenegger has never let go of the notion that the state's budget woes can never be fully resolved without a change in the budget process itself. And so it appears next week, he'll roll out a new proposal.
We don't know what's in it. But we do have a basic outline of it, courtesy of this morning's weekly gubernatorial radio address... this week, delivered by Schwarzenegger's budget director, Mike Genest:
"His proposal would set aside money in a rainy day fund in the good years that we could tap into when the economy is down. When we see a deficit coming the plan would impose moderate cuts throughout the year to avoid severe reductions all at once."
So it appears that there will again be some mechanism for midyear cuts. And because this is a true shifting of power from the legislative branch to the executive branch, you can bet there will probably be another battle.
Genest's speech goes on to say that the governor will be soon campaigning up and down the state to get the voters behind his proposal. Does that mean a return to his former political strategy of "if the Legislature won't act, I'll circulate an initiative"?
Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, this year's budget mess is a particularly pointed time for all of this to resurface.
The leader of the one independent, nonpartisan place for state budget and fiscal information says she will step down later this year after 32 years of state service.
Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill released a short notice this morning announcing her retirement, which will take effect at the end of the current legislative session. Hill has served as the top analyst for 22 years and is only the fourth person in that job since 1941.
Hill is one of the most widely respected voices on California public policy issues. And those of us in the press corps trust her and her staff to provide the only true "non-spin" information about what's going on under the state Capitol dome. No word yet on who will replace Liz Hill; the Joint Legislative Budget Committee will now conduct a search for her replacement.
Size wise, her shoes may be easy to fill... reputation wise, it will be much tougher.
Update: The reactions are starting to come in...
"Her thoughtful, non-partisan stewardship of the Legislative Analyst’s Office is an example of public service at its best." -- Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez
On this hump day, while the nation is riveted by the goings on at the statehouse that's 2,852 miles away from Sac Town (hello Albany), here are a few items that... granted... may not be able to compete for intrigue but are worth pondering:
THE CLERK WILL OPEN THE ROLL: Assembly Democrats are poised this afternoon to make good on their threat to force a vote on new oil taxes that would help fund public schools. The bill making a speedy trip to the floor is AB 9XXX, which would impose both a tax on oil drilling in California and a tax on some oil industry profits. Democrats argue that California is the only oil producing state in the nation without a tax on the bubbling crude that's barreled within its borders. The oil tax idea first rose to the surface (sorry, the pun was unavoidable) as part of Proposition 87, the failed November 2006 ballot initiative with a similar tax that would have funded alternative energy research.
Given the fact that a tax hike takes a two-thirds vote... which means at least six GOP votes are needed in the Assembly... you can consider this one dead on arrival at this point. And that begs the question: is this evening's vote on a drilling tax a drill of the political kind, designed to simply make a point? Probably. But it's a point worth making in the mind of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, who said as much in a news conference this morning at a Sacramento elementary school.
"It's an effort on our part to show voters who's on the side of education, and who isn't," he said.
NIXING TERM LIMITS: Fresh off the heels of voters rejecting a modification of the state's legislative term limits law, one veteran GOP legislator is pushing something even more extreme --a plan to eliminate the 18-year old term limits law completely.
Sen. Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield) announced today he hopes to introduce a new government reform measure that would, among other things, repeal term limits as of December 2016.
"Term limits are not serving the people of California well," said Ashburn at a Capitol news conference. He also dismissed the existence of any message from the voters when they rejected Proposition 93 by arguing that the defeated proposal's loophole for incumbents made it flawed from the beginning.
"I'm not sure we know where the public is, exactly, on the issue of term limits," said Ashburn.
The senator said that his plan's effective date of 2016 assures that it doesn't benefit incumbents... though he admitted that there's no way to stop former legislators from trying to win back their old jobs in 2018.
The proposal would also change campaign finance laws and the way political redistricting is done.
GUV ANTES UP: And speaking of redistricting, the governor's political operation is digging a little futher into its coffers today to help qualify a redistricting initiative for the November ballot. We're told that Schwarzenegger's California Dream Team is making a $250,000 contribution to the effort. That would bring his total buy-in so far to $300,000. As we know in California... it takes money to get signatures.