Legislature to Tackle Hundreds Of Bills

Seriously does anybody believe your Assembly member or State Senator, even if hard working or well meaning, will read and understand the over 400 bills to be presented this week, a four day week? That is 100 bills each day, on average, to be heard, debated, learn about the pro’s and con’s, then vote.

The reality is that staff will provide a summary and each bill be get a few minutes and the vote will be predetermined by Caucus—and the Democrats will win EACH vote—or THEY will decide to hold it over and kill it..mostly without a vote.

Photo courtesy of DB's travels, Flickr.

Photo courtesy of DB’s travels, Flickr.

Legislature to Tackle Hundreds Of Bills

Katie Orr, Capitol Radio, 5/27/14

Today the California legislature will begin a marathon week of voting. Both the Senate and Assembly must act on hundreds of bills before a key deadline.

Friday is the legislature’s House of Origin deadline, meaning bills have to pass out of the house they were introduced in by then or they’re done. Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gatto says he expects to be voting on about 400 bills this week, a fraction of the thousands that are introduced each year. Gatto says there’s no need for that many bills.

“The modern legislature, especially with term limit reform, would really benefit from doing more oversight,” he saus. “Some of the things we try to do in bills really could be done by just holding the feet to the fire of the different department heads within the state of California.”

Gatto says he and his colleagues try to be as informed as they can. He says he spends many nights reviewing legislation, though he admits he can’t read every sentence of every bill. But he said legislative staff compiles thorough summaries that help fill in the gaps.

 

Community Clinics Under Pressure to Keep Patients

While for profit insurers are fighting to keep costs down, nonprofits are fighting for patients. This is easy—since those who are paying large sums each month for minimum care, few doctors and hospitals long distances from their homes, send them to local clinics—they will get the same type of care, and maybe sooner.

Third World health care has come to the United States and even the “free clinics” are negatively affected. Was this the desired result Barack wanted? Doesn’t matter, this is what he got.

“LifeLong Medical Care, like many community clinics, has been through the spin cycle of the sign-up for the Affordable Care Act. And now, also like clinics across the state, they have to compete for those newly insured and paying patients they helped to enroll.

County clinics once were the one and only stop when low-income people without health care needed treatment and clinic staff expected to help their clients secure a card for Medi-Cal. The program, for the first time, was accepting low-income childless adults, a change that was part of the Affordable Care Act.” Eleven million Californians will be using this “service”

healthcare obama

Community Clinics Under Pressure to Keep Patients

By Callie Shanafelt, HealthyCal,, 5/20/14 

The phones at LifeLong Medical Care in Berkeley started ringing off the hook and voicemail boxes started filling up in November. Office spaces shrank to make room for the desks of new staff hired to help patients navigate through the often-difficult process of signing up for insurance.

Linda Collins, Patient Services Director at LifeLong, says the calls for assistance grew more intense in the days before the March 31st deadline to secure coverage through Covered California. “The website naturally went down so people couldn’t get on,” Collins said. “People were panicking.”

LifeLong Medical Care, like many community clinics, has been through the spin cycle of the sign-up for the Affordable Care Act. And now, also like clinics across the state, they have to compete for those newly insured and paying patients they helped to enroll.

County clinics once were the one and only stop when low-income people without health care needed treatment and clinic staff expected to help their clients secure a card for Medi-Cal. The program, for the first time, was accepting low-income childless adults, a change that was part of the Affordable Care Act.

But like the sign-up process, the certification process was beleaguered by technical problems. LifeLong hired 38 enrollment and outreach specialists, but they needed to be certified by the state to navigate the sign-up process. By the end of February, one month from the end of the open enrollment period, only 22 of the 38 LifeLong enrollment specialists had the badge and delegation code needed to access back channels of the website.

Those who were certified helped to enroll more than 1,300 people. In the final days of open enrollment, Collins and her staff learned that as long as they got patients into the system with a username and password, they could complete the applications after the deadline as long as they were complete by April 15th.

They are still working on a few hundred applications and in the meantime improving patient services.

Holding on to Paying Patients

Mekelia, like many of those who are newly qualified for the program, was skeptical of enrolling in a state-run safety net program again. Mekelia worked as a home care aide until her health gave out, problems she had treated at Highland Hospital, a public hospital in Oakland, where she had two hernia surgeries, one in 2001 and one in 2004. But an information session at LifeLong helped her understand her options under the reforms and convinced her to sign up for Medi-Cal.

Four years ago, she found LifeLong’s Berkeley Primary Care Clinic. They helped her enroll in the Alameda County low-income health program, HealthPac, the only insurance available to her at the time.

“My friends are surprised, they say: ‘Mekelia you’re excited to be on Medi-Cal?’ But when you don’t have insurance you’re a non-entity.”

With Medi-Cal, she has a broader choice of doctors, but she wants to stay with Berkeley Primary Care, part of the LifeLong clinic consortium. She appreciates that staff take her seriously and treat her with respect.

Berkeley Primary Care recently gained recognition as a Level Three Patient-Centered Medical Home, the highest level possible. It was Crystal Eubanks’ job to bring the clinic up to the standards required for the designation.

“In health-care reform our patients will have opportunities to choose other places,” Eubanks said. “We want them to stay here and we want to attract more patients.”

LifeLong had to reduce their clinic visit-times and develop a way for patients to call in and reach a provider, both during clinic hours as well as after hours.

They also created an eight-person patient voice collaborative that meets on a monthly basis to guide the clinic personnel and prioritize reforms. Shorter visit-times were at the top of the priorities list.

They’ve tried to improve care team coordination and communication to decrease the time a patient spends at the clinic from check-in to check-out. The clinic recently put a electronic health records system in place, too, which initially were more time consuming for patients and staff. But soon, staff had reduced visit times by fifteen minutes so that the average patient spends less than an hour at the clinic. Their goal is a visit-time of no longer than 45 minutes.

“It was a little overwhelming at the start,” Eubanks said.

Eubanks looks closely at the no-show rate to understand how they’re doing. Community and public health clinics face a high number of people who don’t show up for their appointments. Berkeley Primary Care reduced their no-show rate by 9 percent in the 12 months they worked for Level Three Patient-Centered Medical Home designation.

“To me that is patient feedback,” Eubanks said.

But for Linda Collins patient feedback comes in the form of those who decide to come to LifeLong for care after they’ve helped them enroll in a health insurance program.

Many of the enrollees came to LifeLong to navigate their private insurance options like Kaiser and Blue Cross. The private insurers’ phone lines were so overloaded they often disconnected as soon as patients got though, but enrollment specialists were able to call contacts with the agencies and work around the system.

Collins estimates 75 percent of the new enrollees in Medi-Cal and Covered California plans have stayed with LifeLong for health care.

For Collins the most significant enrollment happened at barbershops, libraries and churches in the community where specialists brought laptops and enrolled people on the spot. “If you meet them where they are you get better results,” Collins said.

For all the challenges in the enrollment process, Collins said patients feel it’s worth it. “People are just so thrilled to have health insurance for the first time,” Collins said. “We get so many cheers and smiles, that just says it all.”

*Last name withheld to protect patient privacy.

 

Obama Using Banking Industry to Kill Off Companies That Oppose Him?

Recently gun manufacturers had problem getting banking services, because they were making legal weapons. Obama tried to get them closed via a lack of finances. A Treasury Department program was created to stop bad firms from doing business, instead it is being used to end legal businesses. Now Obama is using it to end gun manufacturing and companies in other industries. This is another way for a totalitarian State to determine who is allowed to work and create and who must be on welfare.

“Hensarling’s letter follows a letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder in January by Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, over the Justice Department’s “Operation Choke Point.” This law enforcement effort ostensibly was started to go after fraudulent operations by pressuring banks and third-party payment processors to close the accounts of suspect businesses. But Issa contends the department is conducting a dragnet so wide that it results in legitimate businesses, as well as businesses suspected of fraud, being denied access to financial services.”

handguns

Is the government choking off financial services for businesses it doesn’t like?

Kent Hoover, Washington Bureau Chief, Jacksonville Biz, 5/27/14

There’s growing concern in Congress that the federal government is pressuring banks and third-party payment processors to sever ties with legal businesses with bad reputations, such as online payday lenders.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, sent a letter to banking regulators last week asking them whether they use “reputation risk” as well as objective data when they rate the safety and soundness of financial institutions.

Using “reputation risk” — i.e. negative public opinion — as a rating factor “could ostensibly be involved to compel a depository institution to sever a customer relationship with a small business operating in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations, but whose industry is deemed ‘reputationally risky’ for no other reason that it has been the subject of unflattering press coverage, or that certain executive branch agencies disapprove of its business model,” Hensarling writes.

Hensarling’s letter follows a letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder in January by Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, over the Justice Department’s “Operation Choke Point.” This law enforcement effort ostensibly was started to go after fraudulent operations by pressuring banks and third-party payment processors to close the accounts of suspect businesses. But Issa contends the department is conducting a dragnet so wide that it results in legitimate businesses, as well as businesses suspected of fraud, being denied access to financial services.

“It appears the department has indiscriminately targeted an access point to the financial system that countless legitimate merchants rely upon simply because it is ‘faster’ than targeting the actual perpetrators of fraud,” Issa wrote.

“The extraordinary breadth of the department’s dragnet prompts concern that the true goal of Operation Choke Point is not to cut off actual fraudsters’ access to the financial system, but rather to eliminate legal financial services to which the department objects,” he added.

Everyone from porn stars to gun dealers have cited Operation Choke Point as the reason why their banks canceled their accounts. Paranoid? Maybe not. Both industries were on a list of 30 industries associated with a high risk of fraudulent activity issued by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in 2011.

Conservative web sites have seized on Operation Choke Point as an example of the Obama administration’s abuse of executive power.

The banking industry also has objected to Operation Choke Point, contending it forces banks to behave “like policemen and judges,” in the words of Frank Keating, president and CEO of the American Bankers Association.

“Justice is pressuring banks to shut down accounts without pressing charges against a merchant or even establishing that the merchant broke the law,” he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “It’s clear enough that there’s fraud to shut down the account, Justice asserts, but apparently not clear enough for the highest law-enforcement agency in the land to prosecute.”

The Independent Community Bankers of America said Operation Choke Point also could “have unintended and costly consequences for consumers.”

ICBA also praised Hensarling’s letter to banking regulators about using “reputation risk” as a factor in rating banks.

“Applying subjective factors such as reputational risk in safety-and-soundness examinations will allow regulators and law enforcers to pressure financial institutions to sever relationships with legal businesses that are out of favor with some policymakers or to terminate certain types of products or services,” said ICBA President and CEO Camden Fine.

ICBA, he said, “is looking forward to seeing how federal banking regulators respond” to Hensarling’s letter.

So far, there’s been little response from the Justice Department about Operation Choke Point. Maybe that will change if Congress gives the agency a taste of its own medicine by threatening to choke off its funding.

 

Ring: Examining the CalSTRS Shareholder Bailout

Guv Brown has a plan to solve the $70 billion CalSTRS unfunded liability. Of course the Feds, using their criteria say the liability is $166.9 billion. Even at the lower number it will be near impossible to pay off. Jerry wants the current $4.3 billion payment to go up another $5 billion a year—for 30 years. That money will come from teachers and the classroom. He also has others plan, but it does not matter, without a massive reform, the system will collapse. Democrats and their union financiers will not allow the saving of the system.

“Based on these numbers, which are all pulled directly from CalSTRS official disclosures, it should come as no surprise that Gov. Brown’s CalSTRS bailout plan requires annual contributions into CalSTRS to double. When you are paying down mortgage of $71 billion – the imperfect analogy that nonetheless applies quite accurately in this context – and in a given year you only pay $1.1 billion (oneseventieth), you will never pay off your mortgage. Rather, you will incur negative amortization, owing more every year.”

Either end the current system or it will get worse for students and teachers.

unions pensions public employee

Examining the CalSTRS Shareholder Bailout

By Ed Ring, executive director, California Policy Center, 5/27/14


“CalSTRS has a $70-plus-billion unfunded liability – even with assumed investment earnings that Brown deems ‘highly unlikely’ – and says it needs about $5 billion more a year to regain solvency.”

–  Dan Walters column, “Brown budget reflects state’s massive debt,” May 25, 2014, Sacramento Bee

Those “investment earnings” that Walters quotes Brown as finding “highly unlikely,” refer to the long-term annual return on investment projection of 7.5% used by CalPERS (ref. FYE 6-30-2013 CalSTRS Annual Report, page 29).

So what happens if investment earnings generated by CalSTRS are destined to, as even California’s union-friendly Governor Brown attests, achieve more “likely,” lower returns? In November 2013, using data from CalSTRS FYE 6-30-2012 Annual Report, the California Policy Center released a study “Are Annual Contributions Into CalSTRS Adequate?,” that examined this question.

The first objective of this study was to calculate how much CalSTRS was actually paying down on their unfunded liability. Here’s what it found:

“For the fiscal year ended 6-30-2012 the California State Teachers Retirement System, CalSTRS, collected $5.8 billion. Of this $5.8 billion, $4.7 billion was the normal contribution and the remaining $1.1 billion was a ‘catch-up’ payment to reduce the unfunded liability, which as of 6-30-2012 was officially estimated to be $71.0 billion.”

Based on these numbers, which are all pulled directly from CalSTRS official disclosures, it should come as no surprise that Gov. Brown’s CalSTRS bailout plan requires annual contributions into CalSTRS to double. When you are paying down mortgage of $71 billion – the imperfect analogy that nonetheless applies quite accurately in this context – and in a given year you only pay $1.1 billion (oneseventieth), you will never pay off your mortgage. Rather, you will incur negative amortization, owing more every year.

Where will this money come from?

To put this challenge in perspective, it is relevant to note just what CalSTRS retirees are getting. According to 2012 data provided by CalSTRS, as summarized in a March 2014 California Policy Center study “How Much Do CalSTRS Retirees Really Make?,” the average CalSTRS employee after a 30 year career currently retires with a pension of $51,500 per year; their average retirement age is 62. How many private sector employees can work 180 days a year for 30 years and retire with a guaranteed annuity this big – including annual cost-of-living adjustments? The conventional wisdom of retirement planners is to save approximately 25 times the amount you intend to eventually withdraw each year to live on. That’s $1.3 million. How many people can work 180 days a year for 30 years and save $1.3 million?

The idea that CalSTRS participants can save this much money via their 8.25% payroll withholding is ludicrous. And the idea that contributing 8.25% to CalSTRS vs. 6.4% to Social Security justifies a pension benefit this much higher than what participants can expect from Social Security is equally unfounded. Here is the conclusion of a February 2014 California Policy Center study “Comparing CalSTRS Pensions to Social Security Retirement Benefits.”

At age 62, the average CalSTRS retiree collects 56% of their final salary in the form of a pension, whereas, depending on their income, the average Social Security recipient collects between 29% and 36% of their final salary in the form of a retirement benefit. At age 65, the oldest age necessary to collect the full CalSTRS benefit, a CalSTRS retiree with 35 years experience will collect a retirement benefit equal to 84% of their final salary. At age 65 a Social Security recipient will collect a retirement benefit between 30% and 35% of their final salary.

The CalSTRS bailout – and it is a bailout – will cost California’s taxpayers an additional $5.0 billion per year, and only if, as Governor Brown says, the “highly unlikely” average returns of 7.5% per year are realized. But as documented in the aforementioned study “Are Annual Contributions Into CalSTRS Adequate?,” using a 20 year payback period, here’s what lower rates of return mean for California’s taxpayers:

  • At 7.5% per year, unfunded contribution = $7.0 billion per year (increase of $5.9 billion over what was actually paid).
  • At 6.2% per year, unfunded contribution = $9.6 billion per year.
  • At 4.8%, unfunded contribution = $12.2 billion per year.

The 20 year amortization period, recommended by Moody’s investor services, used in the study, resulted in an estimate $900 million over the latest figures from Governor Brown. This minor discrepancy validates these calculations more than anything else – they probably used a 30 year payback period. Fine. Let’s continue.

  • At 7.5% per year, the normal contribution necessary to CalPERS, i.e., not the “catch up” payment on the underfunding of prior years, but just the payment necessary to cover future pensions earned in each most recent year, is $4.7 billion per year.
  • At 6.2% per year, the normal contribution = $5.8 billion per year.
  • At 4.8%, the normal contribution = $7.2 billion per year.

To summarize:  In the FYE 6-30-2012 CalPERS, assuming a long-term return of 7.5% per year, received contributions (normal and unfunded) of $5.8 billion; they should have collected total contributions of $11.7 billion ($10.7 billion using Brown’s numbers). But if their rate of return going forward drops to 6.2% per year, they would have had to collect $15.4 billion. Got that? If the highly unlikely 7.5% average annual return isn’t realized, and only 6.2% is realized instead, taxpayers will pitch in nearly $10 billion more per year, just to bail out CalSTRS.

The money is not there.

And why is the 7.5% return “highly unlikely?”

(1) Pension funds are starting to pay more in benefits than they collect via contributions, for the first time ever. As a result, pension funds, who own over 20% of all U.S. equities, are becoming net sellers in the market instead of net buyers, pushing prices down.

(2) The U.S. population is aging, with citizens over age 65 projected to represent 22% of the population by 2020, compared with just 11% in 1980. All of them will be slowly selling off their retirement assets instead of buying and saving assets for retirement – twice as many people as a generation ago – also pushing prices down.

(3) A major factor in the market rise of the past 40 years was the accumulation of debt and progressively lower interest rates, which flooded the economy with cash and caused rapid stock price appreciation as companies profited from debt-fueled consumer spending – those days are over.

(4) Pension funds are now too big to consistently beat the market, assuming they ever could.

There is a larger question, however. Why is it that unions, and their progressive partners, are so anti-corporate, when it is corporate profits that fuel the high returns of their pension funds? Why is it they urge us to blame pension challenges on banks, when it is the banks that lowered interest rates to literally zero (accounting for inflation), in order to create the asset bubble that keeps their pensions marginally solvent? Why is it they blame corporations for caring more about shareholders than workers, when their pension benefits are dependent on the pension funds reaping massive shareholder benefits from this supposedly misplaced priority?

Ultimately, the solution to the pension crisis facing CalSTRS that is most consistent with progressive principles would be for teachers from now on to collect Social Security instead of pensions, and for existing participants in CalSTRS to collect a pension benefit that is reduced by precisely the amount CalSTRS is underfunded – i.e., a 30% cut to benefits, across the board, to everyone. That solution would epitomize “fairness,” a concept of which they speak so eloquently, and so often.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

 

Great News: Los Angeles Taxpayers Will Save One Billion $$—No Subsidy of Billionaire Owned NFL Team

Finally, the special interest groupies of Los Angeles, crony capitalists and unions, have given up on using one billion dollars of tax money to give to billionaires if only they give the city a professional football team. Instead money will be wasted on remodeling the Convention Center. Much less money to be abused!

“Fed up with waiting for the NFL to make a move, city officials quietly began working up an alternative, known as “Plan B” to revamp the Convention Center, which is seen as inadequate for large-scale conventions.”

ShakingHandsWithMoney

NFL Team Not Going Downtown

By Staff Report, San Fernando Valley Business Times, 5/27/14

Los Angeles city officials on Tuesday officially gave up on the NFL bringing a football team to downtown and instead moved ahead to remodel the Convention Center without a stadium.

For the past four years, L.A. city officials had pushed a plan put forward by Anschutz Entertainment Group to build a stadium in the Convention Center parking lot. As part of the project, AEG would have torn down the west hall of the outmoded Convention Center and build a new wing.

But the National Football League never reached an agreement with AEG and negotiations broke off two years ago.

Fed up with waiting for the NFL to make a move, city officials quietly began working up an alternative, known as “Plan B” to revamp the Convention Center, which is seen as inadequate for large-scale conventions.

On Tuesday, with Mayor Eric Garcetti’s backing, an L.A. City Council committee voted to spend $600,000 in bond money to pay for predesign work for three applicants for the Convention Center remodel.

According to a city report presented Tuesday, the preliminary concept calls for adding 300,000 square feet of new exhibit space, 75,000 square feet of meeting space, a 60,000 square-foot ballroom and various façade upgrades. There will also be space set aside for a 1,000 room hotel to complement the J.W. Marriott/Ritz Carlton hotel complex next to the L.A. Live complex.

“I support moving forward on Plan B,” Garcetti said in a statement. “It’s time to modernize our Convention Center so our city attracts the nation’s largest conventions and the economic benefits they provide.”

 

Phony Campaign Finance Legislation: Loophole Larger Than Grand Canyon

Imagine a California campaign where officeholders could not raise money during the last 100 days of session. So, they could raise money during a primary that would be legal. If I wanted to start a PAC for my favorite State Senator, I could—and he could attend the fund raisers! Nothing would change, this Democrat idea of “campaign finance reform” makes more money for attorneys and CPA’s while pretending to reform finances.

Be serious, as long as there are unions, Charles Munger and other special interests, nothing changes. Money will flow, regardless of who raises the money and the timing of that effort.

“So Padilla proposes to ban campaign contributions to lawmakers during the final 100 days of each legislative session. That’s not as extreme as forbidding donations during the entire session, but the longer ban (legislative sessions run seven or eight months yearly) might be impractical. For sure, outlawing donations for entire sessions could put legislators seeking re-election at a disadvantage against challengers not subject to a ban, while leaving millionaire self-funded candidates with an even bigger advantage than they often enjoy now.”

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Fundraising blackout one small step toward trust: Thomas Elias

By Thomas D. Elias, Long Beach Press Telegram, 5/19/14

With polls showing Californians distrust their state government more than citizens of almost any other state, it’s high time legislators at least began taking small steps toward earning back some of the public faith they have squandered.

One way to start might be to adopt an idea advanced this spring by Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles, now a candidate to become secretary of state, California’s chief elections officer.

Even before the spring corruption indictments of fellow Democratic Sens. Ron Calderon of Montebello and Leland Yee of San Francisco, Padilla realized that one of the least seemly things lawmakers now do is raise campaign dollars right when they are deciding how to vote on important bills.

Even for the rare senator or Assembly member strong enough to heed the half-century-old advice of former Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh (“If you can’t drink their booze, (sleep with) their women, eat their food and then vote against them, you don’t belong in politics.”), decision-time fundraising still looks bad and erodes public trust.

Especially when a legislator then votes precisely the way big-money special interest donors want. It’s often a “which came first, the chicken or the egg” question when trying to determine whether lawmakers attract special interest support because of their own voting proclivities or vote the way they do because of special interest donations. Whichever, the practice stinks and looks terrible.

So Padilla proposes to ban campaign contributions to lawmakers during the final 100 days of each legislative session. That’s not as extreme as forbidding donations during the entire session, but the longer ban (legislative sessions run seven or eight months yearly) might be impractical. For sure, outlawing donations for entire sessions could put legislators seeking re-election at a disadvantage against challengers not subject to a ban, while leaving millionaire self-funded candidates with an even bigger advantage than they often enjoy now.

A shorter, 100-day ban is something incumbents could live with. They usually enjoy huge advantages over challengers in both fund-raising and the name-recognition that’s so important to political survival in a large state where most voters never lay eyes on a candidate.

But some of Sacramento’s most prolific fundraisers say it wouldn’t change much if either fundraising during entire sessions or during the finishing rush were outlawed.

“It’s just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic,” said Dan Weitzman, who gathers funds for major Democrats. “This simply front-loads fundraising. You’d simply tell people on July 1 to mail their checks in on Sept. 1 or Sept. 15 or whenever the session ends. Everyone would know it was coming.”

Adds Democratic consultant Steve Maviglio, a one-time press secretary for ex-Gov. Gray Davis who has worked for three Assembly speakers and run many initiative campaigns, “The concept is great, but the reality is not workable. This would be nothing more than a Band-Aid at best. I favor full disclosure of all donations within 24 hours instead; then everyone will know who’s getting what from whom.”

But past history indicates that even if donations were posted immediately, very few voters would check on them.

Still, it’s clear the public wants some kind of action to clean things up in Sacramento, where almost 3 million Californians today languish with no Senate representation at all because their convicted or indicted representatives are suspended while trying to fight off corruption and perjury charges against them.

So why not start with a small step like Padilla’s proposal? The one thing it would do is keep legislators from staging fundraising events during the times they cast their most important votes. It is conceivable that not having to confront their big donors might make it a little easier for them to get back to basics, and actually vote their consciences or their constituents’ best interests.

Doesn’t sound like much, but it could at least lend a little more of the appearance of propriety to a polluted political environment. That’s better than doing no cleanup at all, which is what has happened so far amid all the pious talk of regaining public confidence.

 

Turlock Sales Tax Increase for Streets: Bait and Switch?

In government money is fungible. Turlock is going to have a sales tax increase on the November ballot. Supposedly it is for streets. Before anyone votes for this they need to ask how Turlock is paying for its pension increase of 50%. Then note this could end in 2017—if the County votes to raise its taxes. Yet, Turlock could continue the tax for roads by saying they have too many needs. Government has too much money and too little honesty. Anybody trust government when money is involved?

Or, Turlock can raise union wages for those involved in its transportation system.

“The city of Turlock road system consists of approximately 251 miles of streets, the majority of which were constructed to the standards and conditions of the early to mid-20th century, with many streets unable to meet today’s traffic demands,” a staff report said.

The council could put a tiny slice of the tax money into the city bus service, which is struggling to meet the fare box income required for federal funding.”

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Turlock considers street tax, district elections

By John Holland, Modesto Bee, 5/25/14

TURLOCK — One proposal before the City Council on Tuesday, district elections, would remake the political landscape. Another, a half-percentage-point increase in the sales tax, would revamp city streets.

The council will consider initial votes to place both measures on the November ballot; final votes could come June 10.

The council has had several discussions over the past several weeks on district elections, which aim to increase Latino representation, and on funding street repairs with the tax increase.

A consultant drafted three options for dividing Turlock into four council districts; the mayor would continue to be elected citywide. Two options would create a southwest district with a large number of voting-age Latino citizens; the third would place this district in and near downtown. The council also could draw a map of its own.

Should voters approve the change, it would take effect with the 2016 and 2018 council elections. City officials have said the change could protect Turlock against expensive legal action under the California Voting Rights Act of 2002.

The sales tax increase, which needs at least two-thirds voter approval, would raise an estimated $5.6 million per year over its seven-year life. It would end earlier if the Stanislaus Council of Governments succeeds with a countywide measure, which was dropped earlier this year but now is possible for 2016.

The agenda packet includes a detailed list of the street work that could be funded, including major and minor routes all over the city.

“The city of Turlock road system consists of approximately 251 miles of streets, the majority of which were constructed to the standards and conditions of the early to mid-20th century, with many streets unable to meet today’s traffic demands,” a staff report said.

The council could put a tiny slice of the tax money into the city bus service, which is struggling to meet the farebox income required for federal funding.|

Also Tuesday, the council will consider a proposal to double the size of a Christmas-season ice rink at Daubenberger Road and Canal Drive. The attraction, which would expand to 9,600 square feet, is part of a complex that also offers a Halloween pumpkin patch and other seasonal activities.

Lack of Adequacy of Doctor Networks Key Issue for Covered California

Under Covered California insurers of Alameda County residents have blackballed San Fran doctors! Need the best hospital for your disease or for treatment—in the county or YOU pay out of pocket, if you can find a doctor willing to take you as a patient?

“She says Alameda County was a hotspot for problems. Some plans forbid people who live in Oakland from seeing doctors across the bridge in San Francisco. And plans did a poor job of pointing this out to consumers before they signed on. “It’s too rigid, and it’s so far from consumers’ expectations and experience,” she said.”

Covered California allowed insurance companies to lie about doctors and hospitals involved with a provider. Now, with about eleven million FREE health care patients, with no new doctors or hospitals, including the illegal aliens recruited (illegally) by Covered California, the health care system is falling apart. Wait ill October when the new rates come out and the names of doctors are listed. Will the media contact the doctors to see if the insurers are again using bait and switch tactics?

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Adequacy of Doctor Networks Key Issue for Covered California

By April Dembosky, California Report, 5/22/14

Contract negotiations are about to begin for health insurance companies that want to sell plans next year through the state marketplace, Covered California. One area of scrutiny by the agency is sure to be adequacy of provider networks offered by insurers.

“Insurers have gotten the message that there’s some consumer dissatisfaction out there.”

Last year, in order to keep premium costs down, insurance companies sold plans with a narrowed list of doctors for customers to choose from. The goal was to offer doctors and other providers more patients in exchange for a lower cost of providing services.

But many more people signed up for Covered California plans than had been anticipated, leaving perhaps too few doctors to see the patients. Many people scrambled to find a doctor. Complaints to the state show that some people were forced to leave a trusted specialist; some women in their third trimester of pregnancy found they’d have to switch to an unknown obstetrician for their birth. 

“It’s unfair and unrealistic,” said Betsy Imholz, an advocate with Consumers’ Union.

She says Alameda County was a hotspot for problems. Some plans forbid people who live in Oakland from seeing doctors across the bridge in San Francisco. And plans did a poor job of pointing this out to consumers before they signed on. “It’s too rigid, and it’s so far from consumers’ expectations and experience,” she said.

Covered California will be negotiating next year’s contracts with insurers over the next several weeks, and health advocates are urging officials to bargain hard on behalf of consumers to expand networks.

At Covered California’s monthly board of directors meeting on Thursday, executive director Peter Lee said the agency was already helping to resolve complaints — including many of the women told they had to change obstetricians. The agency has also asked insurers to expand their networks of doctors.

“We’re doing very active monitoring and in particular in coordination with the Department of Managed Health Care to investigate and assure that plans’ networks are adequate,” he said.

Lee said the three top insurers in the state responded to Covered California’s call to add doctors to their rolls: Anthem, Blue Shield, and Health Net “have done significant work in the last quarter to expand networks,” Lee said.

Anthem said it has added 3,800 doctors to its network since January. Health Net said it has increased its network by 64 percent.

Still, an insurance industry group cautioned the agency not to go too far.

“Tailored networks maintain affordability,” said Athena Chapman, director of regulatory affairs for the California Association of Health Plans.

Lee said that 200 complaints were filed to the Department of Managed Health Care over access to care since January, but acknowledged that the number likely didn’t capture the full extent of problems.

“Most people don’t have the sophistication or the wherewithal to know how to complain to a state agency,” Imholz said. “There may be more people out there who have problems who didn’t file a complaint.”

Brett Johnson, associate director of the California Medical Association’s Center for Medical and Regulatory Policy pointed to Covered California’s own statistics presented at last month’s board meeting indicating the agency was dealing with 40 to 50 access issues every day. His group did a survey of physicians and found 55 percent of them said they had difficulty finding in-network specialists to refer their patients to, particularly in fields like cardiology, oncology, nephrology, and other specialties that treat people with chronic conditions.

“A lot of physicians still don’t know if they’re in or out of these networks,” Johnson added. “Part of that confusion is because, for certain products in California all insurance companies have to do is mail a notice to the doctor, and if they don’t hear back from you, it becomes part of your contract.”

Imholz cautioned that the expanded provider networks may not solve the problem of patients who can’t find doctors.

“We need to dig deeper and find out, are they adding generically, are they adding them in places where we’ve been seeing the problems, are they adding them in all products?” she said. “But insurers have gotten the message that there’s some consumer dissatisfaction out there.”

 

Los Angeles Infrastructure Falling Apart

The streets of Los Angeles have potholes the size of fish ponds. School building need to be retrofitted for earthquakes, but continue waivers for years due to lack of money. The Police headquarters is in such bad shape they are going to demolish it and build a new one. Our streets continue to have sinkholes, swallowing cars, throughout the city. Now we find out even the traffic lights are crumbling.

“Due to a combination of age and weather conditions, 150 of the city’s 500 Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control (ATSAC) cameras at critical intersections have broken down, including the ones at Roscoe and Van Nuys boulevards — considered the most dangerous intersection in the Valley.”

Los Angeles is falling apart—but the very rich do not care and the illegal aliens don’t matter. The middle class sees this and is quickly moving out of town

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image19890499

One-third of traffic-monitoring cameras broken

By Rick Orlov, Los Angeles Daily News, 5/25/14

TO SEE COMPLETE STORY CLICK ON HEADLINE

An emergency $750,000 repair contract was recommended Friday by the City Council’s Public Safety Committee to have the contracting company, Siemens Industry, repair and replace the broken cameras.

The cameras are used by officials to regulate traffic flows around the city by monitoring conditions at the key intersections. Officials would not release the full list of intersections where they have broken.

Dan Walters: Proponents of veterans’ bond issue mislead voters on costs

In the past Veterans Housing Bonds paid for themselves, since the interest on the homes bought paid off the bonds. The 2014 measure headlines Veterans Bonds, it is not the same. This is a social welfare bond for social work for those who are veterans or related to veterans or came within a mile of a veteran. This is a welfare program, not a real housing program. As a Viet Nam vet, I am voting against this fraud by Sacramento—using vets to propose welfare to make more people dependent on government.

““This act doesn’t create new taxes or add new debt to California,” reads the official argument for the measure signed by, among others, former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez.

That assertion is absolutely untrue. It adds new debt because while the bonds were authorized previously, they don’t become debt until they are sold. Proposition 41 would sell them, thus adding $600 million of new debt to a state already some $340 billion in debt, according to a recent study.

And while the measure doesn’t technically “create new taxes,” retiring the new bonds – unlike veterans’ home loan bonds – would cost taxpayers about $50 million a year, according to the Legislature’s budget analyst. That’s money that would be shifted from other purposes.”

Photo courtesy Morning Calm News, flickr

Photo courtesy Morning Calm News, flickr

Dan Walters: Proponents of veterans’ bond issue mislead voters on costs

By Dan Walters, Fresno Bee, 5/26/14

There are just two measures on the June 3 statewide ballot, Propositions 41 and 42, and both were placed there by the Legislature.

Proposition 42 more or less cleans up a decision by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators to save money by no longer paying local governments for some state-mandated services they provide.

Reacting to criticism from open-government advocates, Proposition 42 would place into the state constitution – as if that document isn’t long enough already – a requirement that local governments comply with open-records and open-meeting laws even if the state isn’t reimbursing them.

Proposition 41, however, is a different kettle of fish.

It purports to be a benign, no-cost way of financing housing for homeless and low-income military veterans by using $600 million in previously authorized veterans’ home loan bonds. But its backers are misleading voters about a very significant shift of housing policy.

The decades-old veterans’ home loan program is, by any measure, a rare government program that pays for itself. The state issues general obligation bonds to obtain the lowest-possible interest rates, then lends the money to veterans to buy homes.

The program costs taxpayers nothing because the mortgage payments cover all costs. Sponsors of Proposition 41 would have voters believe that shifting the use of the bonds would be a minor change.

“This act doesn’t create new taxes or add new debt to California,” reads the official argument for the measure signed by, among others, former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez.

That assertion is absolutely untrue. It adds new debt because while the bonds were authorized previously, they don’t become debt until they are sold. Proposition 41 would sell them, thus adding $600 million of new debt to a state already some $340 billion in debt, according to a recent study.

And while the measure doesn’t technically “create new taxes,” retiring the new bonds – unlike veterans’ home loan bonds – would cost taxpayers about $50 million a year, according to the Legislature’s budget analyst. That’s money that would be shifted from other purposes.

Steve Smith of the California Labor Federation, another backer, went even further, writing in a recent online pitch, “The measure doesn’t ask voters for new money. It won’t cost taxpayers a dime.”

That’s a strange – and dead wrong – characterization of something that would cost taxpayers $50 million a year.

These statements continue an insidious trend among politicians of treating bonds as free money when, in fact, repaying them costs taxpayers up to twice as much as their face amounts.

The plight of homeless veterans is certainly worthy of attention.

However, helping them is not the cost-free exercise Proposition 41’s sponsors would have us believe. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise.