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Archive for January, 2010

Obama, Arnold, Steinberg throw down on taxes

So is it President Obama versus California Democrats, Schwarzenegger versus the truth, or both?

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office this morning sent reporters a missive noting President Obama’s comment in an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer yesterday that “I can guarantee that the worst thing we could do would be to raise taxes when the economy is still this weak.”

Although the President was talking about federal taxes, the governor’s office juxtaposed this with Legislative Democrats’ calls to help close the state’s chronic budget shortfalls and structural deficit with some revenue increases. Among those was this:

Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) Calls For Tax Increase On Independent Contractors.
“Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento said the state could generate a one-time boost of $2 billion simply by requiring tax withholdings on payments to independent contractors.” (Judy Lin, “Schwarzenegger Doesn’t Blame Voters For Ill Will,” The Associated Press, 1/25/10)
Steinberg: “At every opportunity I decry the governor and minority party’s refusal to consider applying the same tax withholding rules to businesses that we apply to working people. The Franchise Tax Board tells us that applying a 3 percent withholding for independent contractors would raise $2 billion.” (Senator Darrell Steinberg, “Schwarzenegger’s Budget Doesn’t Reflect California’s Priorities,” San Jose Mercury News, 1/18/10)

Steinberg’s office shot back a short while ago, accusing the governor of perpetuating his pattern of not letting the facts get in the way of his rhetoric.

Governor Schwarzenegger’s office today released a document stating that Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg’s endorsement of a tax withholding requirement on independent contractors is a tax increase.

That assertion is patently false, and is yet another example of how the Governor refuses to let the facts get in the way of his rhetoric.

Here are the facts. Under existing law, employers are required to deduct and withhold from wages an amount equivalent to an employee’s reasonable tax obligation. Each quarter, employers are then required to remit to the Employment Development Department the total amount of income taxes they withheld. These provisions do not currently apply to payments made for goods and services performed by independent contractors.

In other words, the proposal endorsed by Steinberg does not increase anybody’s taxes; it only proposes that independent contractors pay the taxes they currently owe. Indeed, according to the Franchise Tax Board, such a policy would result in more than $1 billion in revenue for fiscal year 10/11, with ongoing revenues in the hundreds of millions in the following years.

So here’s a question for the Governor: Why do you believe that the law-abiding taxpayers of California should be forced year after year to pick up the slack for tax-dodgers?

Posted on Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, California State Senate, Darrell Steinberg, state budget, taxes | 1 Comment »

Deborah Stark endorses Nadia Lockyer

Alameda County Board of Supervisors District 2 candidate Nadia Lockyer today announced she has the endorsement of Deborah Roderick Stark, whom she described as “a nationally recognized expert in child and family policy” and a First Five Alameda County Commission member.

“As a mother, former adult caregiver, and someone who deals with families everyday as the Executive Director of the Alameda County Family Justice Center, Nadia understands the needs of families and what it takes to keep communities healthy. Nadia Lockyer will be a voice for the children and families of Alameda County when she will serve on the Board of Supervisors, representing the people of District 2,” Stark said in the news release.

The news release delves deeper into both women’s professional bona fides, but doesn’t mention that Lockyer, 38, is the wife of state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, 68, or that Stark, 43, is the wife of Rep. Pete Stark, 78.

The question is: should it?

On one hand, Lockyer might be trying to campaign only on her own qualifications, which seems admirable; on the other hand, her husband’s long political career indisputably enhances her name recognition and political connections. Ditto Stark, to some extent; though she’s certainly a respected child and family policy expert, I find it hard to believe she’s not better known around here as Pete Stark’s wife.

Or is that just because hacks like me keep pointing it out? Does a candidate omit the information with the knowledge (and/or tacit consent) that journalists most likely will report it anyway? And, should we?

I’d argue for it, as I think a person’s marriage is a part of who they are, and newsworthy for those seeking office especially when that marriage has political dimensions; I’d say the same for a famed politician’s husband seeking his own office. Others might argue against it, saying it’s a demeaning implication that the candidate is riding his/her spouse’s coattails. What do you think?

The Board of Supervisors District 2 seat represents parts of Hayward, Newark, Union City, Fremont, and Sunol; incumbent Gail Steele isn’t seeking re-election. Others in the race include former state Sen. Liz Figueroa, D-Sunol; Hayward City Councilman Kevin Dowling; and Union City Mayor Mark Green. The election will be held June 8.

Posted on Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
Under: Alameda County Board of Supervisors | 13 Comments »

Leave No Ape Behind

Though he spends much of his time on issues related to his chairmanship of the House Education and Labor Committee, Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, made time today for members of our wider evolutionary family: gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos, and other great apes.

The House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife held a hearing on Miller’s H.R. 4416, the Great Ape Conservation Reauthorization Amendments Act of 2010, which would reauthorize federal aid to help conserve great ape populations around the world.

“Great apes are our closest non-human relatives on the planet, but the threats they face from people are all too real,” Miller said in a news release. “We have seen the devastation of wild primate populations throughout Africa and Asia. Since the authorization of my great ape bill ten years ago, our relatively small federal investment has been matched by significant local and private funding, boosting efforts to save gorillas and other great apes. We must reauthorize the program to enable these successful programs to flourish.”

Miller authored the original law in 2000 to provide federal funding through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for international great ape habitat conservation efforts, mostly in Africa and Asia. The FWS awarded more than $4.2 million to 59 projects in 2009, leveraging $4.9 million more from other organizations.

great apesToday’s hearing included testimony supporting the legislation from Obama Administration officials and conservation groups. Interior Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Jane Lyder called Miller’s past and present bills “an excellent example of how to produce focused and efficient means to support the conservation of species that are ecologically important and aesthetically invaluable to the American public and people around the world.”

Miller’s office says he intends to meet next month with world-renowned primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall to discuss the status of great apes around the world.

OK, so, $4.2 million for ape conservation; discuss.

Posted on Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
Under: George Miller, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Maldonado’s confirmation hearing scheduled

Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has set a Rules Committee hearing to consider Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s appointment of state Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, as Lieutenant Governor for 1:30 p.m. next Wednesday, Feb. 3 in room 113 of the State Capitol.

Posted on Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
Under: Abel Maldonado, Arnold Schwarzenegger, California State Senate, Darrell Steinberg, Lt. Governor | No Comments »

Medical pot advocates blast Obama’s DEA pick

Michele LeonhartMedical marijuana advocates aren’t happy with President Barack Obama’s announcement yesterday that he’s nominating Michelle Leonhart, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s acting administrator since 2007, to keep the job permanently.

“The retention of this Bush-era holdover is a profound disappointment to all of us who hoped that Obama would bring meaningful change to Washington,” California NORML Director Dale Gieringer said today.

Kris Hermes, spokesman for the Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, noted Leonhart “was the deputy administrator under Karen Tandy when Tandy conducted under the bush administration essentially scores of raids on medical marijuana dispensaries, probably over 200,” and continued the raids after Tandy left through the end of Bush’s tenure.

“If Obama is trying to signal change on medical marijuana, he’s certainly not engendering a lot of trust with the medical marijuana movement by reappointing someone who has engaged in such aggressive tactics,” Hermes said.

Marijuana Policy Project Communications Director Kurt Gardinier agreed that although his group has “been pleased with the change in policy Mr. Holder instituted regarding state medical marijuana laws, we are disappointed that President Obama nominated the person who presided over some of the most egregious DEA activities targeting medical marijuana patients and providers during the Bush administration.”

Hermes and Gieringer both noted Leonhart overruled a DEA administrative law judge’s decision and blocked approval for a University of Massachusetts project to grow research-grade marijuana for use in clinical studies of marijuana’s efficacy as medicine – a major stumbling block on the path toward marijuana’s eventual removal from the Controlled Substances Act’s list of most-restricted drugs.

“If there’s one thing on which supporters and critics of medical marijuana agree, it’s the need for FDA studies,” Gieringer said. “This appointment calls into question whether the administration has any desire to move towards FDA regulation or abandon the bankrupt policies of its predecessors.”

Obama’s nomination of Leonhart is subject to U.S. Senate confirmation. Hermes said “definitely, we are going to urge politicians to scrutinize her history and the appropriateness of her for being in this position.”

I’ve asked for comment from U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and will update if/when I hear from them.

Posted on Tuesday, January 26th, 2010
Under: Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, marijuana, Obama presidency, U.S. Senate | 1 Comment »

Arnold’s veto-message wordplay lives on

(Note: This post was penned by San Jose Mercury News reporter Denis C. Theriault, in the Sacramento bureau.)

Reports of a certain veto message’s death — as in the one with the hidden, four-letter message apparently sent from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to Assemblyman Tom Ammiano — have been exaggerated.

Despite a blog post by the Sacramento Bee last week saying the message had gone “poof,” it’s alive and well for all the world to see over on the governor’s Web site.

The message, you might remember, was issued in response to AB 1176 and seemed to follow the governor’s usual form when rejecting bills. But careful readers, eyeballing the first letter of each line, found something else: a familiar curse word, plus the word “you.”

The discovery kicked off a brief national media storm and saw the governor’s office defending the acrostic as mere coincidence — never mind that Ammiano had only weeks before peppered the governor at an appearance with some choice words of his own.

The Bee, in its post, looked only at the Legislature’s bill-tracking site, leginfo.ca.gov, which formatted the message’s text differently and ended up wiping out the acrostic.

So, after bleak budget forecast after bleak budget forecast, long live one of the lighter pieces of writing to come from the governor’s office last year.

Posted on Tuesday, January 26th, 2010
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Assembly, Tom Ammiano | No Comments »

Corbett moves to expand gift-card law

Got any money left from those holiday-season gift cards? State Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, wants to make it easier still for you to cash them in.

Corbett today unveiled SB 885, which would increase the amount on a gift card that consumers can redeem for cash from up to $10 – the amount set by a Corbett-authored law, SB 250, effective Jan. 1, 2008 – to up to $20; a notice stating the card can be redeemed for cash when its value dips below $20 would have to be printed on the card.

Her new bill also would eliminate dormancy fees; under current law, a gift card valued $5 or less that hasn’t been used for two years can be assessed a $1-per-month fee.

“In these difficult times, consumers must have ready access to all of their assets, including unused gift cards,” Corbett said in her news release. “The remainder on their unused gift cards could make a difference in paying their bills and making ends meet. This bill will enhance consumers’ rights and increase compliance with the law.”

gift cardsNationwide, nearly $5 billion in gift cards go unspent every year. After a few years, the retailer can claim the consumer’s money as profit without supplying a product or even paying sales tax; companies have claimed up to $43 million in profit from unspent gift cards in a single year.

Consumers Union supports this bill, as it and other consumer advocacy groups did Corbett’s earlier gift-card law, saying it gives gift-card holders their due. But opponents of the earlier law including the California Restaurant Association, CTIA – The Wireless Association, the Direct Marketing Association and the National Association of Theaters Owners California/Nevada had argued giving dollar-for-dollar cash value to gift cards increases the likelihood of fraud – for example, letting stolen or fraudulently-obtained credit cards be turned into cash through the purchase of low-denomination gift cards, or through manipulation of the gift cards’ magnetic stripes. They also said it sticks retailers and restaurants with fees from the credit- or debit-card transaction in which the gift card was bought, and/or with fees small retailer might’ve paid to third-party vendors to handle gift-card preparation, tracking and redemption. Watch for these and similar groups to lobby hard against this bill, too.

Posted on Tuesday, January 26th, 2010
Under: California State Senate, Ellen Corbett | 5 Comments »

ABAG: Bay Area’s economic recovery will be slow

The Bay Area economy “will recover slowly, a mirror of the rest of the nation, stabilizing in 2010 with some recovery in 2011,” Association of Bay Area Governments Economist and Research Director Paul Fassinger told ABAG’s 22nd annual regional economic outlook conference today.

ABAG’s news release said Fassinger reports the region’s income isn’t expected to grow appreciably – 0.3 percent this year, 2.5 percent in 2011 – and the Bay Area’s inflation rate for 2010 and 2011 will hover at 2.5 percent. He estimates about 20,000 more jobs will be lost in 2010, but 2011 will show a modest gain of 8,000 jobs.

State Department of Finance Chief Economist Howard Roth told the ABAG conference, at the Joseph P. Bort MetroCenter Auditorium in Oakland, said the recession may be over but the toll has been “horrific,” and recovery will probably be slow as the unemployed seek jobs and people try to get their finances in order. He’s concerned that another wave of less-than-prime adjustable-rate mortgages will reset between 2010 and 2012, perhaps leading to a renewed foreclosure and housing-market crisis.

ABAG Senior Regional Planner Hing Wong reported the region’s consumer spending remains weak; he expects retail sales will grow by only 0.4 percent this year and 2.2 percent in 2011. That’ll mean a nominal taxable sales growth of 1 percent in 2010 and 1.9 percent in 2011.

DataQuick Information Systems analyst Andrew LePage reported some indicators suggest the housing downturn has slowed, with potential for a “fledling recovery.” Vallejo and Antioch had the highest number of foreclosures in 2009 – 1529 and 1455 homes, respectively – while Sausalito and Los Altos showed the lowest foreclosure numbers, five and eight homes, respectively.

Posted on Tuesday, January 26th, 2010
Under: economy | No Comments »

Bill will let you deduct Haiti aid from 2009 taxes

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, said this morning she intends to introduce a bill this week that will provide tax relief to Californians donating money to Haiti earthquake relief efforts in January.

“Giving is one way for people to deal with the enormity of a catastrophe like this,” Bass said. “Many Californians have responded by giving even if it means taking on an extra financial burden in these tough times. This legislation makes it easier for more to give and participate in the relief effort that our neighbors in Haiti desperately need.”

It’ll allow individual and corporate taxpayers making cash contributions this month to eligible charitable organizations for relief Haiti earthquake victims to deduct these contributions in the 2009 tax year. The Legislature passed a similar measure in response to the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004.

Bass yesterday announced that her successor as Speaker, John Perez, D-Los Angeles, will be sworn into his leadership post March 1.

Posted on Tuesday, January 26th, 2010
Under: Assembly, Karen Bass | No Comments »

Campbell, Fiorina weigh in on deficit panel

Republican U.S. Senate candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said this morning she opposes the creation of an 18-member “deficit commission” to study ways to both raise revenue and cut spending to get control of the nation’s rapidly expanding deficit – a proposal on which the Senate is expected to vote today.

“We don’t need a commission to study the federal deficit – what we need is a commitment to cut federal spending. We know why we have a deficit: Congress spends too much money, and for the last 26 years, Barbara Boxer has been complicit in perpetuating that system. It’s Congress’ job to address the deficit, and if they can’t – or won’t – then the people need to replace them with leaders who can fix it.”

“Raising revenue is politician’s code for raising taxes. Giving the government more money is in no way a solution to the deficit; in fact, it will only make the deficit worse. What we need is to cut spending and aggressively go after the waste and abuse in the federal budget, and we need leaders who are not afraid to take the steps to do it, rather than create a commission to avoid it.”

Republican U.S. Senate candidate and former Congressman, state finance director and Cal business school dean Tom Campbell said yesterday he favors creating the commission, so long as it doesn’t raise taxes.

“America’s economy will continue hurting and Americans will continue losing jobs until real action is taken to cut federal spending and dramatically reduce our nation’s $12 trillion federal deficit. Unless this happens, we will have sold our economic soul to other nations and mortgaged future generations of Americans, jeopardizing our national security and our leadership in the world.

“The proper approach is to get agreement on where to cut federal spending, much the way we approached the closure of military bases.

“I was a Member of Congress when the Base Closure and Realignment Commission was constituted and met. Indeed, I was one of the very few Congressmen to testify in favor of the base closures list, even though it included a base in my district — Moffett Naval Air Station. As difficult as this was, I supported it because I knew our nation’s good compelled that we embrace savings.

“The same approach should be taken to achieve savings more generally, throughout the entire federal budget. The idea of a commission is good. The idea of having it report for an up or down vote to the House and Senate is good. But its focus should be on identifying areas to cut spending. As presently proposed, the Commission goes beyond that, and even points to tax increases as part of the solution. I think that’s entirely wrong-headed.

“The solution to the budget deficit at the federal level is to constrain spending, not increase taxes. We should also re-establish the Gramm Rudman Hollings law that automatically cut federal spending across-the-board if Congress did not meet specific deficit-reduction targets.”

I’ve not heard anything on this from U.S. Senate candidate Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, who I see will be in Oakland for a fundraiser tomorrow night; perhaps he’ll be watching President Obama’s State of the Union address there?

UPDATE @ 12:44 P.M.: The Senate rejected the idea.

Posted on Tuesday, January 26th, 2010
Under: Barbara Boxer, Carly Fiorina, Chuck DeVore, Tom Campbell, U.S. Senate | No Comments »