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Archive for April, 2011

Jerry Brown bans most state workers’ travel

Good news for teleconferencers: Gov. Jerry Brown today issued an executive order nixing all travel by state workers unless it’s “mission-critical.”

maybe they'll hitchhike“Our fiscal challenges demand that we take a much closer look at how taxpayer dollars are being spent within state government,” Brown said in a news release. “Now is not the time to attend conferences, travel to meetings or take out-of-state field trips and this Executive Order puts an end to it.”

His order bans state employees from traveling either in-state or out-of-state unless it’s mission-critical or there is no cost to the state. All in-state mission-critical travel must be approved by agency secretaries or department directors who do not report to an agency secretary, and all out-of-state travel must be approved by the Governor’s office.

By “mission-critical,” he means travel that’s directly related to enforcement responsibilities, audits, revenue collection or other duties required by state law, contract or executive directive. This doesn’t include travel to attend conferences, networking opportunities, professional development courses, continuing education classes, meetings that can be conducted by video or teleconference or other non-essential events.

All agencies and departments will have to submit out-of-state travel requests for the next fiscal year directly to the Governor’s office by May 6. In the past, agencies and departments have been allowed to switch previously approved trips with new trips during the fiscal year, but this order won’t allow that.

Requests for out-of-state travel will have to document the trip’s purpose and explain why it’s mission-critical, its destination and length, the projected cost and source of funding, the number of travelers and each individual’s role, the benefit to the state, the impact if the trip is denied, whether the goal of the trip can be met in a less costly manner and whether a traveler’s absence will interfere with regularly assigned duties.

Brown last week ordered state agencies and departments to recover millions of dollars in uncollected salary and travel advances. Earlier, he issued orders that state agencies stop spending taxpayer money on free giveaway “swag” and gift items; cut cell phones and the passenger vehicle fleet in half; and freeze hiring across state government.

UPDATE @ 4:45 P.M.: This just in from California Republican Party Communications Director Mark Standriff:

“Governor Tinkerer has struck again. First, he tinkered with state cell phones, then he tinkered with the state car fleet, and now he’s hit the tinkering trifecta by announcing another big-on-symbolism-but-short-on-substance edict on state employee travel plans. Somebody should tell the governor that if he wants to get tough on ‘non-essential’ expenses, then he should cut back on his pre-fab forays into Republican territory where all he really does is waste time kicking at open doors.

“The simple truth is that Jerry Brown is no closer to a real budget solution than he was in January and his vaunted political skills are consistently coming up short. He refuses to offer one major government reform because the public unions won’t let him and he’s content to protect bureaucrats at the expense of services rather than protect services at the expense of bureaucrats. It’s sad to say it, but Jerry tinkers while California yearns.”

Read the executive order’s text after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, April 26th, 2011
Under: Jerry Brown, state budget | 4 Comments »

Budget/pension poll draws fire from both sides

Today’s new LA Times/USC poll – showing that California voters both want government workers to give up some retirement benefits to help ease the state’s financial problems, and also agree with and want to vote upon Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to continue current tax rates to help close the state budget deficit – is taking fire from both sides.

Dave Low, chairman of Californians for Health Care and Retirement Security – a coalition representing 1.5 million public employees and retirees – said:

“Sadly, this survey demonstrates that Californians are being misled about public employee pensions by special interests seeking to undermine the middle class. California public employees’ contributions to their pensions have climbed from 5 percent to 7 to 10 percent. They are increasing their share of their pension contribution, saving $400 million last year alone in the state budget, and negotiating at the bargaining table in hundreds of jurisdictions around the state right now. Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton even declares: ‘State employee pensions are not to blame for Sacramento’s budget deficit. Not by any math.’

“Meanwhile, despite headlines about the tiny fraction of abuses of the system, the reality is that the average public pension in California is about $26,000 and many retirees are receiving less than $1,000 a month to pay their bills after decades of service teaching our children, protecting our families and keeping our homes safe. Many do not receive social security. Given facts unclouded by politically motivated deception, Californians will reject attempts to weaken the middle class and target retirement security for public workers living on modest incomes.”

Meanwhile, California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro said:

“This poll is a trial lawyer’s dream, judging by the way the respondents were systematically led to the conclusion that higher taxes are the only ‘reasonable’ solution to California’s budget crisis. Jerry Brown’s claim that his budget plan produces $14 billion in cuts is pure fiction and any attempt to use that figure as the major focus for polling is completely disingenuous.”

“The analysis makes it clear: the bills Governor Brown signed total only $7 billion in cuts, and $7.5 billion in funding shifts, cutbacks to planned spending, and other budget gimmicks. On the other hand, there’s no disputing that Jerry’s tax plan calls for $60 billion in new taxes over the next five years while his spending plan will increase the state budget by 30% over the next three years. If the participants had been given all the facts, instead of a few leading questions, this poll would’ve turned out quite differently.

“Even with misleading data and skewed sampling, this poll still could only produce the barest of majorities to agree with its flawed premise, a figure that will not hold up in any true election.”

Posted on Monday, April 25th, 2011
Under: pension reform, state budget, taxes | 9 Comments »

Emerge Calif. hosts Wisconsin senator

Democratic Wisconsin State Sen. Lena Taylor will be the keynote speaker at the Emerge California fundraiser set for May 9 in San Francisco.

Emerge California trains Democratic women to run for local, state and federal office.

Elected in November, Taylor is the second African-American woman to serve in Wisconsin’s Senate. She is the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Corrections, and is in her second term on the budget-writing Joint Committee on Finance. Wisconsin has been ground zero in the fight between labor groups and conservatives seeking to reduce public employee benefits and pensions.

The Emerge California event begins with a reception at 5:30 p.m. followed by Taylor’s speech at 6:35 p.m. It will be held at the Delancey Street Foundation Town Hall Room, 600 Embarcadero St., San Francisco.

Ticket costs start at $100. To RSVP, visit

Posted on Thursday, April 21st, 2011
Under: Political events | No Comments »

Bay Area redistricting hearing set for May 21

Bay Area residents and organizations with something to say about the shape of California’s political districts may speak at a local hearing on May 21 in Oakland.

The Citizens Redistricting Commission will take public input from 2-5 p.m. at Oakland City Council Chambers, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland.

It’s part of a statewide series of redistricting hearings prior to the scheduled June 1 release of the commission’s draft maps. Residents may attend any or all the meetings, of course, but it’s nice to find one a little closer to home.  Click here to access the full schedule.

Voters created the independent, 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission and charged with the decennial drawing of California’s congressional, legislative and Board of Equalization districts. By statute, it must adopt final maps by Aug. 15.

Posted on Thursday, April 21st, 2011
Under: redistricting | 4 Comments »

Presidential debate team makes 2nd visit to Saint Mary’s

Representatives of the Commission on Presidential Debates made a second visit this week to the campus of Saint Mary’s College, one of a dozen universities nationwide competing for the opportunity to host a 2012 presidential or vice presidential candidate debate.

Three event producer-types with clipboards and pencil scoped out the Moraga university’s grounds and facilities, “opening closets, checking out the attic,” said a college source.

Whether or not a second visit is reason for optimism — the college would love to attract the high-profile event — is unclear.  But it sounds good.

The commission is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that stages debates for presidential and vice presidential candidates.

Posted on Thursday, April 21st, 2011
Under: 2012 presidential election | No Comments »

Gavin Newsom has a book deal

The Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), today announced the acquisition of North American rights to a forthcoming book by California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, with publication planned for Winter 2013 – shortly before Newsom will be seeking re-election (or some other office?) in 2014.

Asked how much this book deal is worth, Newsom’s office referred me to longtime Newsom political consultant Peter Ragone. “Basically, we’re not disclosing terms at this time, but we will make appropriate disclosures on our form 700 for this calendar year,” Ragone replied in an e-mail.

The book, the publisher says, “will show how citizens can use social media, technology and available government data to cut through the bureaucratic red tape and redesign government in their own image. This solution-driven book suggests that we are at the dawn of a revolutionary change in the way government and the people interact.”

Penguin Press President and Publisher Ann Godoff, in the news release, said Newsom is “employing what America does best – innovation – and using it to call for many local revolutions that will overcome the epidemic gridlock in our government bureaucracy.”

Said Newsom, in the same release: “Just as Apple’s app store succeeded by tapping into the ingenuity of ordinary Americans, so can government harness the collective intelligence of citizens to help solve our greatest challenges.”

The Chronicle late last month had reported Newsom already “is prepping to run for governor again,” having asked a political insider to help him start raising money. But Newsom a few days later told me there was “nothing unusual” about the request.

“I’m doing what everybody else does, paying down a little debt on the LG’s (lieutenant governor’s campaign) account,” he said. “I’m never going to run against Jerry Brown.”

UPDATE @ 2:27 P.M. FRIDAY: Newsom, at an event this morning in Fremont, reiterated that the public will know how much he’s being paid for the book when he files his next statement of economic interests. “I was blessed,” he said. “I can’t believe it, I didn’t know they do advances. That means it had better be good – they’ve got to earn their money back.”

Posted on Thursday, April 21st, 2011
Under: Gavin Newsom, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Obama fundraising breakfast disrupted by protest

Here’s the pool report filed this morning by the Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci from President Obama’s fundraiser at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco:

A crowd of half a dozen protesters concerned with the Wikileaks story disrupted the Obama event at the St. Regis Hotel, with Oakland activist Naomi Pitcairn organizing the event for the group which calls itself; she personally paid $76,000 total for tickets for the group to gain entry to the high priced fundraiser, she told us.

The progressive group protested what they called the inhumane treatment of Pvt. Bradley Manning in the Wikileaks case. Their protest song — which included lyrics: “We paid our dues..where’s our change?” — was sung in its entirety for Obama, who thanked them at the end of the a capella performance.

Outside, the group said that they were progressives who had worked for Obama and voted for him in 2008, but who were disappointed not only with Manning’s treatment, but with Obama’s policies on war as well.

The protest began when Pitcairn stood up about 5 minutes into the president’s speech as said, “We wrote a song for you, Mr. President.” When he tried to suggest she wait, the group launched into the ditty, and kept singing for several minutes.

Pitcairn took off her outer shirt to reveal a tee shirt in support of Manning.

The president appeared a little set back by the lengthy song, but he thanked the group — and complimented their voices — at the close. “Where was I?” he said, launching back into his stump speech.

Pitcairn was escorted out, but was not arrested or cited by San Francisco police.

Protesters including UC Santa Cruz art professor Elizabeth Stephens, songwriter Craig Casey, activist Jane Sullivan of Santa Cruz, writer Greg Archer, and David Schiller of Berkeley, as well as organizers from Tony’s Circus, all Bay Area locals. Pitcairn said she was happy to pay the tickets for all of them to enter so they could personally address with president with their concerns.

Diners at the breakfast were assembled around tables of 10 in and upstairs dining room, with stage flanked by a backdrop of California and American flags.

Among the 200 guests at the sold out event: U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelsoi, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former San Francsico Mayor Willie Brown, and Governor Jerry Brown.

High end tickets to the Obama Victory Fund breakfast event started at $5,000 and go up to $35,800.

That higher price ticket involves a split between the Organizing for America and the Democratic National Committee. Breakdown of tickets: $5,000 of the cost goes to Organizing for America and represents the maximum legal donation to primary and general election presidential campaign; $30,800 goes to DNC.

DNC would not estimate total raised in the event.

Posted on Thursday, April 21st, 2011
Under: campaign finance, Obama presidency | 10 Comments »

Is a soda tax a good idea?

The California Center for Public Health Advocacy released a county-by-county analysis today showing that a 1-cent per ounce tax on sugary drinks would raise millions of dollars for local schools and pay for anti-obesity initiatives. Contra Costa alone would see $39 million, while Alameda County would collect $51 million.

That sounds mighty sweet for schools and agencies that have watched their budgets drain faster than an ice-cold Coke on a hot summer day.

Read my full story here.

As Americans gain girth and contract costly obesity-related health problems, a good deal of blame has been heaped upon our unending demand for sweetened sodas, vitamin waters, sports drinks and teas. Scientists have found that our bodies don’t register drink-born calories in the place in our brain that tells us we are full at the same rate as solid food, so we drink our calories.

But a soda tax irks some consumers as excessive government nannyism. After all, lots of things are bad for us. Bacon. Red meat. Sourdough bread bowls in downtown San Francisco. Pretty much everything sold at those cinnamon bun stalls at the mall.

Cigarette and booze taxes are tolerated as “sin taxes” but is it sinful to drink a Pepsi?

Soda tax proponents know they face considerable challenges, both in the legislature and with the public. But most social changes take time and they say they aren’t giving up.

Posted on Thursday, April 21st, 2011
Under: taxes | No Comments »

Obama’s second SF fundraiser

President Barack Obama took the stage at Masonic Auditorium at 8:53 p.m. to a standing, screaming ovation from the 2,500 or so people who’d waited hours to see him. He acknowledged his many friends in the city, singling out from the crowd House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Mike Honda, Rep. John Garamendi, Rep. Jerry McNerney, state Controller John Chiang and state Treasurer Bill Lockyer.

“It’s always nice to be back out west in the great state of California,” he said, greeting a crowd that had paid anywhere from $25 to $10,000 each to be there.

Obama said there are extraordinary responsibilities to his job, but certain pleasures as well; coming in on Marine One past the Golden Gate Bridge was among the latter, “one of the greatest views in the world” as he arrived in San Francisco after his town hall meeting at Facebook. He noted he has 19 million Facebook friends, “which only puts me half a million behind SpongeBob Squarepants.”

“The conversation you hear in Washington is just different from the conversation you hear around kitchen tables or around water coolers, and that’s why we decided ours will be the first re-election campaign in modern history based outside of Washington,” he said – it’ll be based back in Chicago. “I want to be hearing from the people who got us here, putting the campaign back in your hands.”

He said he’s older and grayer than the last time around. “That’s alright, you’re still fine!” a woman shouted from the back, bringing cheers from the rest of the crowd.

The President continued that his memory remains strong, especially of his victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park on election night. He remembers promising that if we work together, “we could bring about the chance that we had talked about, the change we had envisioned for our communities, for our kids, for our grandkids – the commitments we had made to each other, because that’s what the campaign was about. The campaign wasn’t about me, it was about what all of us thought our country could be.”

He took office amid the worst recession of our lifetimes, he said, in which millions were left without jobs and/or homes, with many families still grappling with the aftershocks to this day. But after the Recovery Act, he said, we have added jobs at a rate not seen in decades while making the largest investments in history in clean energy, research, education and infrastructure and also reforming healthcare.

The government also reformed student loans, and repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and appointed two women to the Supreme Court, and dealt with pirates and pandemics. “We’ve been very busy, and yet our work is not finished. It’s going to take more than a couple of years. Its going to take more than one term to accomplish what we need to do.”

“When I think about running for re-election, I don’t look backwards, I look forward,” he said. “That’s what this campaign has to be about – about your jobs, about your hopes, about your families, about your dreams. That’s what we’re fighting for… We’ve got to finish what we started.”

Having prevented another Great Depression, we have to look ahead to creating good jobs, investing in education and innovation, rebuilding infrastructure.

Although the Secret Service doesn’t let him pump gas now, “I remember what it was like filling up. You think about a family that has to drive 50 miles to work. They don’t have a choice, that’s where the job is,” he said. They can’t move closer, or afford a hybrid, “and that’s no joke. We gave everybody a tax cut but a lot of that money gets eaten up by high gas prices.”

So we have to invest in clean, alternative energy and stop giving oil companies tax breaks, he said. “Instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s energy,” he said, which also will be good for national security and economic stability.

“Because of you, we finally got health care passed” to make it affordable and accessible for all, he said. “But, you know, there are folks who want to roll it back before it even has a chance to be implemented effectively.”

Wall Street reform was crucial to economic stability as well, but some want to roll that back, too, he said. “We’ve got to protect the changes that have been made and make the changes that still need to come.”

The current debate is about what kind of future we want, he said; he wants a government that’s lean and effective and doesn’t waste taxpayers precious dollars. That means cuts in domestic and defense spending, and “spending in our tax code – we’ve got a whole bunch of loopholes in there that we don’t need.”

“There are going to be some things that would be nice to have, but that we’ll have to do without,” he said, but “I am not going to reduce our deficit by sacrificing the things that made America great” – investments in education, research, highways and airports, clean energy and so on. “I will not sacrifice America’s future. That I will not do.”

It will require shared sacrifice including ending tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, he said, bringing about half the house to its feet in applause. “Because some of you bought my book, I fall in this category,” he quipped.

But better that then asking seniors to give up Medicare or Social Security benefits, or turning children away from Head Start, or so forth, he said. “We can do better than that. We are better than that.”

“I want to make sure a child born in a tough neighborhood has the same chances I had,” he said, not out of a sense of charity but because it makes us all bigger, richer, better.

Some now say today’s deficits and debt, competition from other nations and world crises mean we can’t afford to be what we used to be, he said.

“That’s not a vision of America I want to pass on to Malia and Sasha – I want a vision of America that’s as big and bold as it has ever been,” he said. “A vision where we all share sacrifice, nobody bears the burden alone and we all share the opportunity.”

Whether we came on the Mayflower, through Ellis Island, on slave ships or across the Rio Grande, “we are all connected,” he said.

“This campaign is still in its early stages, but now’s the time when you can shape it, now’s the time to come out of the gate strong,” he said.

“Change is not simple. Everybody likes change in the abstract, but change in the concrete is hard. Not everybody agrees with us. Not everybody agrees in this auditorium about some issues.” But that’s the strength and joy of democracy, he said.

“Sometimes I get frustrated. There are times when I am just so burdened by the fact that there are still so many folks out there who we haven’t gotten the help that they need. And so I understand how you guys feel. But we knew this wouldn’t be easy. We knew that on a journey like this there were going to be setbacks, there were going to be detours, there were going to be times we stumbled.”

He said what keeps him going is that in times of adversity, America pulls through together and makes the changes that it needs, even when it’s hard to do so, citing the end of slavery, the fights for women’s and civil rights. “Somehow we pulled through together. So whenever you hear people say our problems are too big to solve… I just want you to think about all the progress we’ve already made, and all the unfinished business we have ahead.”

The president finished at 9:32 p.m. local time. As the motorcade pulled away at about 9:44, a few protestors outside chanted, “Free Private Manning!”

The motorcade snaked its away around the top of Nob Hill and then down Hyde Street through the Tenderloin and Eighth Street through SOMA, people spilling out of bars and restaurants along the way to take photos and wave, an especially large crowd at Market Street. The motorcade arrived back at the hotel at about 9:55 p.m.

Posted on Wednesday, April 20th, 2011
Under: campaign finance, Obama presidency | 1 Comment »

Obama’s first SF fundraiser

The motorcade left the Intercontinental San Francisco hotel at 6:23, rolling along Howard Street with sparse but noticeable onlookers before turning north; many more crowds at Market Street and through City Center, then back to sparse crowds of enthusiastic wavers the rest of the route. The motorcade arrived about 11 minutes later at the home of CEO Mark Benioff near Walnut and Pacific in Presidio Heights.

About 60 people paid $35,800 each to attend the dinner: $30,800 to the DNC, and then $2500 each to Obama’s primary and general re-election campaigns.

The press corps was ushered into a large tent set up in the courtyard in the middle of Benioff’s block-wide residence, to find Stevie Wonder entertaining the crowd; his final song was a new one composed for the occasion, entitled “Ten Billion Hearts,” about joining together to heal the world.

The President was seated at Benioff’s table; Wonder returned to sit at the President’s side as Benioff introduced POTUS, saying that in a time of many crises, “we have the right person to lead us here.” Recording artist was seated at the same table.

POTUS took the mike at 7:30 p.m., quipping “I know all of you wish Stevie would keep on playing” and explaining that “Talking Book” was the first album he’d ever bought with his own money, at age 10. With headphones on, “I would sit in my room and pretend I was Stevie Wonder,” to the chagrin of his grandparents who had to listen to his singing.

“I’ve got a lot of friends in this room,” Obama said. “Some of you are involved in startups. Well, I was a startup not so very long ago … So many of you took a chance on me, and it was not at all likely I was going to win.”

2008’s campaign was about competing visions of America, ideas of who we are as a people, and despite the unexpectedly steep economic crisis that had set in by the time he was sworn into office, his Administration succeeded in making the largest ever investments in education, clean energy, infrastructure and research while reforming health care, repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and appointing two women to the Supreme Court.

“For all the good work we’ve done, we’re not finished, we have more work to do” and “fundamental choices” to make, he said. “The economy is still not as strong as it needs to be… There are still too many children out there who are in substandard schools” unable to envision prosperous futures working for the kinds of companies founded by tonight’s guests.

Gas is too expensive and Mideast instability underscores the need to move to clean energy despite the climate change deniers in Congress, he said. And the budget debate is “the most fundamental example of the choice we’ll be making” in coming years,” he said. The deficit and debt are real and must be addressed, but “I am a congenital optimist when it comes to this country and I do not accept a vision where America gets small,” he said, where it can’t have the best infrastructure, research, universities and care for the vulnerable and seniors.

“The easiest thing to do is for the rich and powerful to say, ‘we’ve got ours and we don’t care about the rest,’” but that’s not an option, he said – “we started something in 2008” and he wants another term in which to finish it.

He ended at 7:45 p.m. and the press corps was ushered out as he began taking questions from the guests.

Posted on Wednesday, April 20th, 2011
Under: campaign finance, Obama presidency | 1 Comment »