A whole generation of trust-fund babies

State Senators Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Robert Dutton, R-Riverside, introduced a bill last week called the California Kids Investment and Development Savings (KIDS) Account Act which would create a $500 state-sponsored savings account for every baby born in California on or after Jan. 1, 2008.

As the national savings rate is at its lowest point since the Great Depression and Americans are carrying record levels of debt, “KIDS Accounts will serve as the springboard for building a culture of savings and financial literacy for all young Californians” says Anne Stuhldreher, a fellow at the New America Foundation, which sponsored SB 752. “First, it will create a platform for lifelong savings for every Californian. Second, it will provide a powerful financial education tool that families can use to teach their children the power and importance of saving.”

The state would open each account with $500, and the children’s families could then contribute throughout childhood. No withdrawals could be made until the child turns 18, when the money could be used to pay for a two- or four-year college, technical, or trade school; for a down payment on a home; or for a retirement savings account. Take it out earlier or for any other purpose, and you’d have to pay $500 back to the state.

Great Britain launch a similar Child Trust Fund program in September 2002 for each of the 700,000 children born there each year. Since then, the percentage of those who electronically deposit monthly savings in bank accounts for children has since doubled, from 20 percent to 40 percent. A similar bill to implement such a program across the United States, the ASPIRE Act, was introduced in Congress in 2005; alas, neither of the lawmakers who carried it — U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Rep. Harold Ford Jr., D-Tenn. — are still in office.

California’s bill puts the price tag for taxpayers at $270,000,000 per year; it notes that this is less than half of 1 percent of the state’s $100 billion annual budget. But it ain’t chicken feed, either. It’s hard to say whether lawmakers — especially Republicans — will be pleased by the idea of giving taxpayer money back to taxpayers’ kids, or irate at a $270 million-per-year budget hit. And at least a few are sure to have a problem with children of illegal immigrants getting the money.

On the plus side, having the next generation of Californians learn the importance of savings would be great; perhaps some of them will grow up, be elected to public office and get the state out of the fiscal bind we’ve put them in with budget deficits, bond debt and unfunded pension liabilities.


Mayor Dellums’ first crisis

In a development that surprised no one, the police union today declared that contract negotiations with city officials had reached an impasse. The city hasn’t responded yet, but the dispute isn’t expected to be resolved for at least a year after arbitration.

That could put a serious crimp in Police Chief Wayne Tucker’s plan to radically reorganize the department in accordance with Mayor Ron Dellums’ demand for real community policing.


Assessor scores interview with Kitty Dukakis

Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer, also the host of a local public access television show called “Friendly Fire,” has interviewed Kitty Dukakis, the wife of former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.

Dukakis is Kramer’s most famous guest to date on his monthly cable show. He usually rounds up local officials or community leaders for the program. Heck, I’ve even been on his show.

Known for her candid nature, Dukakis talked with Kramer in the 30-minute program about the experiences that led her to write her 2006 book, “Shock: The Healing Power of Electroconvulsive Therapy.”

“She was very honest and open about what she goes through and what it’s like to have depression,” Kramer said. “Her message is that people shouldn’t be ashamed of depression. It’s an illness.”

No, “Friendly Fire” hasn’t become a stop on the national book tour.

Kramer scored the interview with the help of former Martinez City Councilman Tim Farley, a close friend of the Dukakis family.She did the interview on Feb. 21 while in the Bay Area to visit her daughter in San Francisco.

The show will air on April 12 and April 19 at 10 a.m. on Comcast Channel 26 in central Contra Costa County, which stretches from Martinez to San Ramon along the I-680 corridor.

In East Contra Costa County, the show will air on Comcast Channel 26 on April 23 and April 30 at 7 p.m.


Coming and going on global warming

nunez.jpgEven as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wraps up his trip to Washington, D.C., today, state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, are on their way there.

They’ll testify Thursday before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works — chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. — about what California is doing to combat global warming. Perata’s office says he’ll talk about the state’s progress; how the federal government can help lead the way in ending our addiction to fossil fuels; and why reducing greenhouses gases is good for the economy.

perata.jpgPerata yesterday had issued a statement applauding the govenor’s signing of a memorandum of understanding with four other Western states to create the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative, a joint strategy to fight global warming.

“The Governor, Assembly Speaker and I are all in agreement that reducing greenhouse gas emissions and countering climate change must continue to be top priorities for the state of California,” Perata had said. “Treaties, MOUs, market mechanisms and long-range targets are all part of the equation, as AB 32 allows. But we must also take immediate steps in our own backyard to clean up our air, reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, and push renewable energy and alternative fuels.”

“I hope the governor will consider Senate Democrats’ package of greenhouse gas reduction bills with the same open-mindedness and enthusiasm he has treaties with other states and countries. The challenge of climate change is so big it requires a full range of solutions.”

But as of last week, it didn’t sound as if the governor was feeling warmly about the Democrat’s proposed bills: Press Secretary Aaron McLear issued a statement saying California’s AB 32 “serves a model that other states are looking to replicate. We cannot abandon AB 32 just seven weeks after it became law. We should work together to reduce climate change by implementing AB 32, not undermining it.”


Schwarzenegger video of the week

This week, we have fun little parody — a mashup of movie clips to create a trailer for our governor’s starring role as Hamlet. It’s a bit long, but satisfying nonetheless:

As Polonius said, “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” Words for any politician to live by, eh?

Previous SVOTWs: February 20, February 13, February 6, January 30.


Watchdog group calls for Doolittle probe

Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer sent a letter today to the House Ethics Committee asking again that its members investigate alleged ethics violations by Rep. John Doolittle, R-Auburn.

To read the full letter, click here:Download file

Democracy 21, an ethics watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., made a similar request last year prior to the Democratic takeover of Congress.

Doolittle has adamently denied all allegations of ethics violations although the issues dogged him throughout the 2006 election and don’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

Democracy 21 seeks a broad probe into a variety of issues including allegations that commission payments made to Doolittle’s wife or his wife’s company were actually contributions raised by Doolittle.

They also asked for an investigation into whether “commission fees paid to Julie Doolittle’s company on contributions made to Doolittle’s political committees by defense contractor Brent Wilkes and his associates were linked to, or appeared to be linked to, official action taken by Doolittle to help Wilkes’ company obtain millions of dollars in government earmarks.”

Wilkes has been indicted in connection with the bribery case that resulted in the conviction of former California congressman Duke Cunningham.

If the ethics drumbeat continues, Doolittle could face another tough re-election campaign in 2008.

Doolittle squeaked out a win by 3 percentage points in 2006 against a relatively unknown Democrat in a district where Republicans enjoy a 17 percentage point registration advantage.