Monthly Archives: August 2012

Election Road Trip: Pension Reform Debate Hits Home in Sacramento

California's capitol

(David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

Sacramento, California is a company town — and the company is state government. More than a third of all state workers live in Sacramento County. So when talk turns to changing pension benefits for public employees — the top issue for the final weeks of this year’s legislative session — people living in the state capital pay close attention.

At the Ambrosia Cafe on the K Street Mall, just across the street from the State Capitol, Denise Ackerman is sharing an outside table with a friend.

She’s an attorney with the state, and her feelings about pension benefits are unambiguous. Continue reading

Not So Simple Math: Support for Silicon Valley K-8 Teachers in an Era of Budget Cuts

The Ten Commandments of Arithmetic: no place here for fuzzy math like you see in politics. (Credit: KQED/Rachael Myrow)

This November, California voters will be asked to weigh in on two ballot measures that affect education funding. Proposition 38 promises to raise money for K-12 schools with a broad-based income tax hike. Proposition 30, backed by Gov. Brown, would also raise taxes, but to a slightly different end: bolstering the state budget and avoiding massive education cuts.

Of course, lots and lots of funding has already been slashed. The distance between where we are and where we want to be in education is profoundly troubling to many voters in California – not just parents hoping to get their kids into a top university.

Continue reading

Soda Industry Outspends Beverage Tax Supporters 10-1 in Richmond

by William Harless, California Watch

Groups aligned with the soda industry already have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars as Richmond prepares to vote on raising taxes on sweetened drinks an extra penny an ounce. Since the spring, tax opponents have outspent supporters almost 10 to 1, new financial records show.

A group backed by the American Beverage Association sent this mailer to Richmond voters. (Barnes Mosher Whitehurst Lauter & Partners)

The American Beverage Association, a Washington, D.C., trade organization that represents PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and other major beverage companies, has spent $150,000 to fight the soda tax measure since June, according to recently released campaign finance disclosures.

The Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes, the beverage association-backed organization created to defeat the tax, spent an additional $200,000, according to campaign finance records. The money is going largely to political consulting, attorney, and polling and research firms. Almost $60,000 was earmarked for outdoor advertising.

Meanwhile, another organization has entered the fray to support the tax. The California Center for Public Health Advocacy, a nonprofit group with offices in Oakland, Davis and Los Angeles, has spent about $21,600 on polling and focus groups.

Richmond City Council Member Jeff Ritterman, a cardiologist who is leading the campaign for the sweetened-beverage tax, said he believes soda drinkers will start to turn to tap water, saving money and drinking something healthier. He said the American Beverage Association is worried that Richmond will set a trend.

“I think they’re quite aware that if these dominoes begin to fall, a lot more will,” he said, referring to the two California cities, Richmond and El Monte, in Los Angeles County, that are considering penny-per-ounce sweetened-beverage taxes, which would be the first of their kind in the United States.

Ritterman and a handful of Bay Area residents have raised about $10,400 for their own campaign, dubbed Richmond Fit for Life, and have sent out brochures and mailers advocating for the tax, outlining obesity statistics and describing how it and a companion health measure are phrased on the November ballot.

The Richmond City Council voted to place the soda tax on the November ballot. Ritterman estimates the measure would raise $3 million a year, which advocates want to use for obesity programs, school fruit and vegetable gardens, and playing fields. The tax would apply to soft drinks and other beverages with added sugar.

Opponents of the soda tax point out that the ballot measure does not guarantee the new money would be spent on health measures, though supporters say they have enough pledges from City Council members to ensure it would be.

“Our campaign activities are and will continue to be focused on helping voters cut through the false claims of the tax backers,” Chuck Finnie, a vice president of the San Francisco public relations firm Barnes Mosher Whitehurst Lauter & Partners, which is working on the campaign to defeat the tax, said in a statement. “They say the measure is intended to fight obesity but they know not one thin dime is being raised specifically for new public health, recreation and other anti-obesity programs.”

Both sides have sent out mailers, including one by the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes that irked soda-tax supporter Tom Butt, a Richmond City Council member. Last week, he sent a complaint to the city’s attorney claiming the mailer didn’t contain the specific disclosure, as Butt said city law requires: “Major funding from large out-of-city contributors.”

“Although the BS (Big Soda) campaign is free to use the rest of the mailer to imply that this was paid for by local interests, it is not free to do that in the part of the mailer where the disclosure is required,” Butt wrote, forwarding this complaint to his constituents in an e-mail.

The brochure does mention American Beverage Association funding at its bottom. And Finnie said the city’s requirement for disclosing out-of-city contributions applies to independent expenditure committees, not campaigns against specific ballot measures like the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes.

“It is Councilmen Butt and Ritterman who are misleading voters,” Finnie said. “They are misleading voters by failing to acknowledge the so-called soda tax is going to raise the cost of living on everyone, not just on consumers of sugar-sweetened beverages and certainly not just on soda drinkers.”

William Harless is a journalist with California Watch.

Mitt Romney Compares California to Greece

Mitt Romney at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan 3, 2012. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Hmm. Looks like Mitt Romney might have given up on these here parts. A RealClearPolitics average of recent polls puts Obama up by 17.2 points in California, and while campaigning in Iowa today, the candidate jokingly compared the state to Greece. And he wasn’t talking about the sunny beaches, either. (Watch CSPAN’s video of Romney’s Iowa speech here. The California remark occurs around 13:50 of the video.)

AP reports on the jest…

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took a potshot at California’s bedraggled economy, comparing it to the crisis in Greece, as he warned voters on Wednesday that Barack Obama is leading the nation down a similar path of huge debt.

“Entrepreneurs and business people around the world and here at home think that at some point America is going to become like Greece or like Spain or Italy, or like California – just kidding about that one, in some ways,” he added, to laughter from his audience in Iowa.

The remark seemed likely to bruise egos in a state wrestling with the prospect of tax increases and painful budget cuts. But Romney may have little to lose there – polls show Obama with a comfortable lead in California, where Democrats control the governorship and the Statehouse.

A spokesman for California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, disputed Romney’s assessment. Gil Duran said the state’s credit outlook has improved under Brown and that borrowing costs, a major issue facing Italy and other financially struggling European nations, have dropped by hundreds of millions of dollars.

“This is just a paper-thin Republican talking point that doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny” Duran said. “He should get some better speechwriters who actually know what they’re talking about.”

Election 2012: Teachers Pony Up Against Prop 32; S. Bay Sales Taxes; Romneys Asked For Big Reduction on La Jolla Home Value

  • Primary Voters in California

    Flickr/Old Man Lee

    In San Francisco, odd-numbered district supervisors (as opposed to just odd supervisors) are up for election in November. The deadline to enter one of those races and “grab that City Hall office and that sweet $105,723 salary,” as the Chronicle puts it, is Friday. But the process can be perilous, the Chron reminds us:

    Benjamin Castaneda probably wasn’t going to be much of a challenge to Supervisor David Campos in District Nine, but he signed up to start raising campaign cash. Then the 24-year-old decided to use a Facebook post to threaten District Attorney George Gascón for charging him with violating a restraining order. Castaneda pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of making criminal threats, which to no one’s surprise took him out of the race.

    How do I get my donation back, I’d like to know…

  • The Chron also reports on the California Teachers Association ponying up $7.5 million for the campaign against Prop 32, the initiative that aims to limit both union and corporate donations to candidates through automatic payroll deductions, but which labor characterizes as a Trojan Horse due to an exemption for limited liability companies. Reporter Joe Garofoli runs through a brief history of recent attempts to hamper union funding of political activity:

    Prop. 32 is the third California ballot measure in 14 years designed to limit the ability of labor unions to fund their political activity through payroll deductions. In 2005, union-backed forces spent $54.1 million to defeat a similar “paycheck protection” measure that was the centerpiece of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to reform state government. The “Yes on Proposition 75″ side spent only $5.8 million. In 1998, the similarly worded Prop. 226 was also defeated by a wide margin as unions outspent the supporters 4-1.

    Which raises the question: by getting unions to expend this kind of money, are these initiatives a win for anti-union forces even when they fail?

  • On Tuesday, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and the San Jose City Council will debate putting separate tax measures on the ballot. The county is looking at a 1/8 cent hike, San Jose at 1/2 cent, the San Jose Mercury News reports. That’s on top of the governor’s proposed 1/4 cent sales tax rise. One telling exchange from the Merc’s reporting:

    “I think we pay enough taxes as it is,” said [Shirley] Puentes, 49, who was shopping with three of her four children at the Costco store on Coleman Avenue last week. But what about the important priorities these tax increases would fund?

    “They always say that,” Puentes said, rolling her eyes.

  • Some of the chattering classes are chattering today about the Los Angeles Times report on Mitt and Ann Romney’s request for a 45 percent reduction in the assessment of a home they own in La Jolla. Initially assessed at $12 million, the San Diego County Assessment Appeals Board lowered the value to $8.7 million over three years, saving the Romneys about $109,000 in taxes.

Contra Costa Voters to Weigh In on $75 Fire District Parcel Tax

C. Costa Cty Fire District

Come election day, Contra Costa voters will weigh in on a $75-a-year parcel tax, sent to them courtesy of the Contra Costa Fire Protection District. Here are some of the district’s arguments as to why they need the dough. Of note:

Without additional revenues…our reserves will be exhausted and service cuts will be inevitable… we would be forced to close an additional 6 fire stations – reducing our total stations from 28 to 22. This is a step we don’t want to take – response times would be inadequate to meet the need for quick action for life-saving emergency medical services and fires would not be staffed with enough firefighters in a timeframe experts agree is necessary to properly protect life and property.

If the measure passes by the required two-thirds vote, residents of Antioch, Clayton, Concord, Lafayette, Martinez, Pittsburg, Pleasant Hill, San Pablo and Walnut Creek, plus those from the unincorporated communities of Bay Point, Briones, Clyde, El Sobrante, North Richmond, East Richmond Heights, and Pacheco are in for seven years of payments, from Jul, 2013 to Jun, 2020.

ConFire has posted a May survey that asked respondents whether they’d pony up a tax of up to $88 for five years in order to avoid closing fire stations, ensure prompt 9-1-1 response, and make needed repairs and upgrades. Sixty-six percent responded definitely or probably yes. Of course, that’s without hearing the counter-arguments, which usually go something like, “I already pay enough in taxes.”

Here’s another argument, by Supervisor Candace Andersen, as reported by The Contra Costa Times:

[Anderson] said she could not support a parcel tax without a long-term financial plan detailing how the district would sustain itself. Andersen said fire district figures show that even if the tax passes, the district will be in the red by fiscal year 2015-16.

“I would rather, as horrible as it sounds, put no measure before voters than a flawed measure that is destined to fail,” said Andersen.

By the way, in June, a much bigger parcel tax — $197 gradually increasing to $257 over 10 years — was voted down by neighboring East Contra Costa County Fire Protection District voters, not even gaining a simple majority let alone the two-thirds needed for passage.