Archives for February 2012

Gas Price Blame

Mary Hayashi and Nadia Lockyer don’t belong in public office

From Bay Area News Group:

For the sake of their constituents, their families and themselves, it’s time for two dishonest East Bay politicians with serious personal problems to resign from office and focus on their issues.

We’re talking about Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley, who last month pleaded no contest to shoplifting, and Alameda County Supervisor Nadia Lockyer, of Hayward, who this month checked back into substance-abuse rehab after carrying on an extramarital affair with a methamphetamine user.

In addition, Lockyer’s husband, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, must immediately separate his personal from his political life.

(Read Full Article)

Nadia Lockyer saga gets uglier

From CC Times:

When Nadia Lockyer ran for a seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors in November 2010, she looked about 120 pounds. But as 2011 wore on she grew increasingly gaunt.

People questioned whether she had an eating disorder or addiction. Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, a former colleague and political ally, said she was concerned about Lockyer’s health. She also got text messages from Lockyer suggesting that she was “in a downward spiral — in crisis.”

Now, after Lockyer’s shocking 911 report to police that she had been beaten by her ex-lover in a Newark motel room, there are sordid allegations that she made a sex tape with the man.

(Read Full Article)

Photo Courtesy Alameda County Supervisors

Dem. Assemblyman Portantino Keeps CA Legislature Accountable

Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Portantino isn’t making many friends these days in the Legislature. After a well-publicized battle with Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, over the Assembly’s secretive accounting practices, Portantino has introduced a measure to freeze the pay of California’s highest paid state employees — for the eighth time. But that’s not all. He is also calling for a state audit of the Legislature, and proposing that legislators pay for their own vanity license plates.

Portantino, notorious for forcing Perez to open up the Assembly books and comply with the state-required performance audit of Assembly administrative offices, found himself in a battle last year with his own party’s leadership. But that doesn’t seem to have tempered his agenda.

Freeze! Step Away From The Paycheck

Portantino’s AB 1787 calls for a two-year freeze on state employees who earn more than $100,000. Portantino said  thousands of state employees could and should be subject to the salary and bonus freeze. “It is unacceptable to be giving raises and bonuses when we are still struggling with a budget deficit in the billions and one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation,” Portantino said this week. “We should be making better choices.”

Portantino said that his previous salary freeze bills have been repeatedly killed in the Assembly Appropriations committee. “Over the past four years, my bills on this issue have been held on ‘suspense’ in the Assembly, even though it saves the state money,” Portantino said. “I have reduced the salary amount so the state can save even more money. If President Obama can freeze the salaries of White House employees making $100,000 or more, why can’t we do the same here in California?”

Portantino said that the State Controller reported that more than 3,300 state employees could be affected by the bill, and even more if University of California and California State University employees are included. “The potential savings would be in the tens of millions,” Portantino said. Critical that many university employees, as well as CalPERS money managers, routinely get raises and bonuses, Portantino said that this is an issue the Legislature should be dealing with, but has largely ignored.

Audit The Lawmakers

Portantino also wants the State Conroller to perform an audit of the Legislature.

AB 1887 would require the State Controller to conduct a thorough audit of the state Legislature’s finances for two budget years, fiscal 2012-13 and 2013-14.

In following years, the Joint Rules Committee would hire an independent contractor to perform the audits but under guidelines set by the controller. Under current law, the Joint Rules Committee chooses the auditor, but sets the parameters for the audit.  As Portantino has repeatedly said, the Assembly does not even follow its own rules by not doing annual performance audits.

“This practice has led to large surpluses at a time when the state is facing huge budget shortfalls resulting in cuts to school funding, increased tuition at colleges and universities and decreases in support for aged, blind and disabled Californians,” Portantino pointed out.

What’s really interesting about AB 1887 is that it would require that the Assembly and Senate return any unused funds to the general fund at the end of the legislative year. Then, the money would be earmarked for the Student Aid Commission to use in the Cal Grant program.

“If the Legislature appropriates more money than it needs, let’s help solve this problem by setting a specific agenda for using that surplus and putting in place strict accountability and transparency,” Portantino said.

During the 2011-12 fiscal year, Portantino’s office said that the Assembly and Senate were allocated more than a quarter-billion-dollars to run the state Legislature — $109,350,000 for the Senate and $146,716,000 for the Assembly.  Existing state law allows these funds to carry over from one year to the next, where they remain in the Senate and Assembly Operating Fund.  According to Portantino, the Assembly has been transferring 15 percent of its total appropriation to various state agencies — $52 million over the past three years.

AB 1887 provides that line item monies allocated to the Senate and Assembly cannot be diverted to other agencies or programs, unless such diversion is approved by a vote of the legislature and the signature of the governor.

Pay For Your Own Vanity

Portantino has called for an end of the vanity license plates that current and retired legislators receive — and barely pay for. “I was shocked, but not surprised to see that legislators would carve out a special situation for themselves and I’m determined to put an end to the practice,” Portantino said this week.

AB 2068 would require legislators that have personalized vanity legislative license plates on their personal cars,to pay the same fees that almost everyone else does for them.

Under existing law, current and retired legislators can ask the DMV for a license plate that designates them as a state legislator or retired state legislator.  The cost of these plates is $12 on issuance, and no additional or annual fees are paid with subsequent yearly registration. “Why should current and former legislators get special treatment for the issuance of license plates?  It makes no sense for former and sitting legislators to be treated any differently than everyone else,” Portantino said.

The cost of personalized license plates for the general public is $98. Other-themed license plates cost $50. Annual renewals costs run between $15 and $78.

Portantino said that the DMV reported there are 750 of these legislative license plates issued in California.  “In contrast, average Californians, retired police and fire included, pay $50 upon issuance and $35 per year thereafter.”

Portantino said that he does not drive a state-purchased district car, does not use an Assembly plate and has no plans to receive one upon retirement. AB 2068 will be heard in the Assembly Transportation Committee in about six weeks. While not an earth-shattering amount of money, the outcome of this bill will be significant as well as symbolic. Will legislators vote to pay for their own personalized license plates, or will vanity and entitlement win out?

(Katy Grimes is CalWatchdog’s news reporter. Grimes is a longtime political analyst, writer and journalist. This article was first posted on CalWatchdog.)

Stockton could become biggest city to go bankrupt

From Sac Bee:

The city of Stockton in California’s crop-abundant Central Valley has the second-highest foreclosure rate in the nation and one of the highest crime and unemploymentrates. It was named America’s most miserable city in a national magazine – twice.

And now, officials say this river port city of 290,000 is on the brink of insolvency and could become the nation’s largest city to fall into Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection.

The city council was expected to vote Tuesday on a proposal to continue the city’s fiscal emergency for a third year and use a new California law to enter mediation with its creditors.

Bill would allow non-doctors to perform abortions in California

From LA Times:

A state senator is proposing to significantly expand access to abortion in California by allowing licensed nurse practitioners, physician assistants and nurse midwives to perform nonsurgical versions of the procedure in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) late last week introduced SB1501, which would allow medical professionals who are not doctors to perform aspiration abortions, which is the procedure most often used to terminate a pregnancy in the first trimester.

Kehoe said she introduced the bill because half of California’s counties do not have an abortion provider. The proposal is cosponsored by the leaders of each house of the Legislature, a sign it has significant support in the Democrat-dominated body.

(Read Full Article)

3 counts dismissed in California corruption case

From Sac Bee:

A judge dismissed some felony charges against a former mayor and ex-councilman of the scandal-plagued city of Bell who were accused of misappropriating funds to overpay themselves.

In a ruling made public Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy dismissed one count of misappropriation of public funds against ex-Mayor Oscar Hernandez and two counts of misappropriation of public funds against former Councilman Luis Artiga.

(Read Full Article)

CSU chairman rejected by state Senate

From SD Union-Tribune:

California State University Board of Trustees Chairman Herbert Carter lost his post Monday in the furor over executive pay coupled with some partisan politics.

A divided state Senate did not take up Carter’s nomination for a second four-year term despite pressure from Gov. Jerry Brown and a last-minute appeal by the California Chamber of Commerce.

Carter needed two-thirds of the Senate to confirm his appointment before a Wednesday deadline. The Senate is not scheduled to be in session again until Thursday.

(Read Full Article)

Photo courtesy of Rob Crawley, flickr

WH Says Keystone Pipeline Still Possible

From Roll Call:

The White House today stepped up its counteroffensive against GOP attacks on President Barack Obama’s energy record, announcing that a Canadian oil firm was resubmitting its Keystone XL pipeline plan for a federal permit.

The TransCanada pipeline project, which would ship Canadian shale oil to the Midwest and Gulf Coast to be refined, has become a key talking point for Republicans, who have accused the White House of opposing it at the behest of environmentalists. Republicans forced the president to make a decision on the pipeline as part of last year’s deal to extend the payroll tax, but the White House said it couldn’t approve it until all environmental and other reviews have been completed. When Obama rejected the pipeline application, he invited TransCanada to resubmit its application.

(Read Full Article)

CA Government Fails to Generate Promised Revenue

Sacramento politicians and Japanese censors during WWII share a similar philosophy — they do their best to prevent the public from learning of their leaders’ mistakes.

The turning point of WWII in the Pacific was the battle of Midway where the Japanese fleet suffered a catastrophic defeat with the loss of four aircraft carriers. The response of Japanese officials was to announce a victory.

Seventy years later, Sacramento officials deal with failure in much the same way. Here, thanks to research by California Watch, a project of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting, is some bad news the politicians do not want you to know.

A major bond rating agency is warning that California may not be able to repay $4 billion borrowed against the ten year old settlement with tobacco companies that would pay states approximately $246 billion over a 25-year period to compensate for tobacco-related health care costs. The problem? The money was not guaranteed, but tied to tobacco sales, and the number of smokers is declining more rapidly than anticipated.

After the agreement was finalized, state and some local governments issued $16 billion in bonds against California’s share of the anticipated revenue, a process known by insiders as “securitization.” This allowed Gov. Gray Davis and other officials to continue to ramp up spending, without having to deal with growing deficits. It was the J. Wellington Wimpy — Popeye’s buddy — approach to government finance, “I’ll gladly pay you on Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Now we are finding that all the hamburgers have been eaten and California taxpayers may be on the hook for billions of dollars borrowed against phantom tobacco receipts.

In a rational world, this would be called a failure by government and the public would be alerted, but Sacramento is quiet about this problem because this approach to papering over deficits is not unusual. Rather than limit spending so that it is line with realistic revenue expectations, the political class is constantly searching for gimmicks.

In 2009, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger worked with the Legislature to develop a complex measure, Proposition 1C, to securitize lottery revenue and advance the state $5 billion. Fortunately, voters saw through the scam, and rejected this along with the $16 billion in higher taxes that appeared on the same ballot.

And, in his last year in office, Schwarzenegger pushed to sell a number of state buildings. The idea was to sell the buildings for cash now, and rent them back. The long term implications were so expensive to taxpayers that the Office of the Legislative Analyst said it would be much cheaper to issue bonds to raise the desired revenue and, after Gov. Brown was sworn in, he put an end to this ill-conceived effort.

The lesson here, of course, is that there is no free money. Whenever officials engage in securitization of revenue or assets, you can bet that the long term impact on taxpayers will be negative. When securitization takes place, with a resulting temporary infusion of cash, the politicians will declare victory and claim it is the result of their good stewardship of government. However, when the bill comes due for their malfeasance, they are nowhere to be found.

(Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -– California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.)