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Archive for April, 2011

War of words over new GOP budget plan

The Republican budget plan rolled out yesterday by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, D-Wisc., has brought a flood of rhetoric from both sides of the aisle, particularly where Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are concerned.

From U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah:

“The status quo is unsustainable. Our over $14 trillion debt is a threat to the future of our nation. Spending has been out-of-control for far too long. Our entitlement programs – Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – look more like an empty promise that our children and grandchildren will pay for, but will never see.

“In February, we saw the White House’s response: a budget that taxes, borrows, and spends too much – demonstrating a complete failure of leadership to confront our spending-fueled debt crisis. In contrast, Paul Ryan has put serious ideas on the table to reform Medicare and Medicaid, streamline our tax code, cut spending, and confront our debt. He rightly includes a proposal to kick Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac off the government dole, fully repeal the budget-busting $2.6 trillion health law, and extend the 2001 and 2003 tax relief permanently, while reducing our corporate tax rate.

“The White House and its Capitol Hill allies need to demonstrate real leadership and join Republicans in working to solve the tremendous fiscal challenges facing our nation. Unfortunately, what we are seeing from the other side is a defense of an unsustainable status quo and political attacks on Republican ideas. That’s not the kind of leadership the American people are asking for.

“As Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, we need to consider all ideas to fix our broken entitlements, cut spending and reform the overly-burdensome tax code. We know that the Medicaid expansion in the $2.6 trillion health law threatens to bankrupt both states and the federal government. We know that cutting over a half-trillion dollars from a nearly bankrupt Medicare system to create new entitlements and expand existing ones is the height of fiscal irresponsibility. We know that Social Security will not exist in the future if we fail to reform it now. We know our tax code is too complex, threatens our ability to compete in the world, and needs to be overhauled.”

Democrats contend future Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security beneficiaries are now being asked to suffer because Republicans have forced the extension of tax cuts for millionaires and because of the nation’s profligate war spending over the past decade.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said Ryan’s plan “would give huge tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires, all paid for by destroying Medicare for our seniors and denying health care to our most vulnerable children.”

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, said Republicans have “reneged on their commitment to Medicare. They don’t believe that senior citizens and people with disabilities have a right to guaranteed health benefits. Instead, they will turn the health of seniors and people with disabilities over to private insurers. Say goodbye to secure health care when you need it most. That’s what this budget means to anyone in America who hopes to grow old.”

Stark’s office today cited an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that says a typical Medicare beneficiary would spend more for health care under Ryan’s plan because private plans would cost more than traditional Medicare and the government’s contribution would grow more slowly than health care costs.

But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said:

“The American people understand we can’t continue spending money we don’t have, especially when doing so is making it harder to create jobs and get our economy back on track. The Administration has put forward a budget for next year that raises taxes by $1.5 trillion and is silent on our debt crisis, a surefire recipe for destroying jobs. Our budget will help spur job creation today, stop spending money we don’t have, and lift the crushing burden of debt that threatens our children’s future. Our budget also recognizes Americans are concerned not just about how much government spends, but how government spends it, and keeps our pledge to set strict budget caps that limit federal spending on annual basis. Most importantly, this budget shows families and small businesses that we’re serious about dealing with America’s spending illness so we can put our country on a path to prosperity.

“Chairman Ryan and the members of the Budget Committee have done an excellent job putting together a budget worthy of the American people. I hope every American concerned about our country’s future will take a look at it.”

More from your local lawmakers, after the jump…
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Posted on Wednesday, April 6th, 2011
Under: Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, George Miller, John Boehner, John Garamendi, Lynn Woolsey, Pete Stark, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | No Comments »

Boldly going where 2 million have gone before

As part of an ongoing effort to connect baby boomers with their Social Security benefits, ‘60s icons George Takei of “Star Trek” fame and Patty Duke have recorded a series of ads promoting the Social Security Administration’s online services.

“Won’t filing for Social Security benefits online be confusing?” Takei, who played Mr. Sulu on the beloved science-fiction series and in six subsequent feature films, asks Duke in one of eight new commercials. “It’s simple and easy,” Patty assures George. “It’s so easy, even Kirk could do it.”

(Cue William Shatner’s angry diatribe.)

But seriously, folks, “Social Security has a great website and the top-rated online services in the U.S.,” says Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue. “We now have a fun new way to get the word out. Having George join forces with Patty will help us reach the millions of people who can take advantage of this convenient way of doing business with Social Security. Boldly go to to plan for your retirement and to apply online so that you too may live long and prosper.”

Aargh. Is there really no copyright infringement issue here?

The point is, those ready to retire, apply for disability benefits or delay retirement and apply only for Medicare, can do so from the comfort of their home or from any computer, the administration says; about 2 million people did so last year. And those already receiving Social Security benefits can go online to notify the agency about a change of address or phone number, to start or change direct deposit, to get a proof of income letter, or replace a lost Medicare card.

And that, apparently, is enough to make “the crankiest Klingon smile.”

Posted on Wednesday, April 6th, 2011
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Newsom: Bring check-cashing biz under control

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom hopes to put a measure on the 2012 ballot asking voters to enact tight controls on check-cashing and payday loan businesses that he said are sucking working people and communities of color dry.

“This would be at the top of my list,” he said this afternoon, and efforts to push such regulations through the Legislature have failed because this industry is “very influential out here in Sacramento.”

“These guys just buy us off” and bills “don’t even get out of committee,” Newsom said, adding he’s “talking to folks” about a ballot measure. “It would be ideal to have it on the 2012 ballot, it would be an interesting debate, an important one.”

Newsom brought this up as we discussed his touting a new online calculator that will help California families determine if they qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a federal tax credit that can boost an individual’s or family’s federal refund by as much as $5,666.

The WEb Connector EZ asks four questions and within minutes lets taxpayers know whether they are eligible for the EITC. When taxpayers finish using the WEb Connector EZ, they can enter their zip code to locate free tax assistance programs available from the IRS and community agencies.

Created in 1975, the EITC is a refundable federal income tax credit for low to moderate income working individuals and families, conceived in part to offset the burden of social security taxes and to provide an incentive to work. When the EITC exceeds the amount of taxes owed, it results in a tax refund to those who claim and qualify for it.

But Newsom said today that more than half of California’s African-American and Latino families don’t have accounts at banks or other credit institutions. Even if they qualify for and get the EITC, what do they do with the money, he asked?

He said he’d like to find a way to expand the Bank on San Francisco free banking program conceived during his mayoral tenure to a statewide level so more Californians can start saving money and building credit ratings. Meanwhile, he said, the nation has as many check-cashing and payday loan businesses as it does McDonalds’ and Starbucks Coffee stores combined, many of them charging percentages that are “devastating working people and poor folks.”

Asked about last week’s Chronicle report that he’s prepping to run for governor again, Newsom insisted “it’s nothing unusual … I’m doing what everybody else does, paying down a little debt on the LG’s (lieutenant governor’s campaign) account.”

“I’m never going to run against Jerry Brown,” he said.

For this week, he’s concentrating on making Californians aware they may be eligible for the EITC so that they don’t leave thousands of dollars they’ve earned on the table as they file their tax returns. He called the EITC “one of the great anti poverty programs in this country – it makes work matter.”

The WEb Connector EZ calculator – created by Intuit Inc., makers of popular products such as TurboTax, and Quicken – is offered by the WE Connect campaign, which aims to empower low-income families to lead healthier and more financially secure lives by connecting them to resources such as the EITC, California’s Healthy Families Program and CalFresh. Founded in 2005 by former California First Lady Maria Shriver and now run by the California Endowment, WE Connect has helped millions of Californians through its community events, web-based tools, public-private partnerships, and publications.

“WE Connect is committed to making it as easy as possible for families struggling during this economic downturn to connect with money-saving programs and services that help bring economic security into the household,” Dr. Robert Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment, said in a news release. “It’s important we help get the word out about these programs so that families can take advantage of them.”

Meanwhile, if you made $49,000 or less last year; if you made $58,000 or less and on active military service; or if you qualify for the EITC, you can come to a free tax preparation event from noon to 6 p.m. this Friday, April 8, at Eastmont Town Center, 7200 Bancroft Ave. in Oakland (enter the building off Foothill Blvd.). To avoid waiting in line, call 866-577-1231 to make a reservation; mention that you’re calling to reserve your spot for the California Free Tax Event, which is co-sponsored by the Earn It! Keep It! Save It! program.

Participants can use TurboTax with help from volunteers and tax experts, and obtain refunds in as few as 12 days. You’ll need to bring a copy of your 2009 tax return, if available; a Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number for each family member; proof of income including W2s and 1099 forms; documentation of deductible expenses; account and routing numbers of checking and savings accounts for direct deposit and a faster refund; child care provider information; and landlord’s information if you’re claiming a renter’s credit.

Posted on Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
Under: ballot measures, Gavin Newsom, taxes | 1 Comment »

The old ‘tough on crime’ is tough on budgets

I co-authored a story in last Friday’s Tribune about how “tough on crime” – a phrase always subject to interpretation, but well-worn enough in modern politics almost to be considered cliché – is in a state of flux as fiscal conservatives start to say that locking them up and throwing away the key doesn’t make sense anymore.

Today, I see more evidence that this is so, and more strange bedfellows as a result. Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, Bush Administration Education Secretary Rod Paige and former American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene will join NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous on Thursday to launch a campaign to influence state budgets and federal policy in order to reduce incarceration.

“We need to be ‘smart on crime’ rather than ‘tough on crime’ and address soaring incarceration rates in this country,” Jealous said in a news release. “Failing schools, college tuition hikes and shrinking state education budgets are narrowing the promise of education for young people all across the country. Meanwhile, allocations for our incarceration system continue to increase, sending our youth the wrong message about their future.”

Thursday’s rollout of the NAACP’s report entitled “Misplaced Priorities: Under Educate, Over Incarcerate” will take place at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a pair of bills into law yesterday that he says will fundamentally change California’s correctional system to halt the costly and inefficient “revolving door” of low-level offenders and parole violators through state prisons.

“For too long, the state’s prison system has been a revolving door for lower-level offenders and parole violators who are released within months—often before they are even transferred out of a reception center,” Brown said in his AB 109 signing message. “Cycling these offenders through state prisons wastes money, aggravates crowded conditions, thwarts rehabilitation, and impedes local law enforcement supervision.”

AB 109 changes the law to realign certain responsibilities for lower level offenders, adult parolees and juvenile offenders from state to local jurisdictions; the governor’s office says it will give local law enforcement the right and the ability to manage offenders in smarter and cost-effective ways. It won’t go into effect until a community corrections grant program is created by statute and funding is appropriated. “I will not sign any legislation that would seek to implement this legislation without the necessary funding,” Brown said.

No strange bedfellows here, however: GOP lawmakers have opposed Brown’s effort to secure funding for this realignment. “In the coming weeks, and for as long as it takes, I will vigorously pursue my plan to balance the state’s budget and prevent reductions to public safety through a constitutional guarantee,” Brown said.

Brown’s office was careful to note that when AB 109 is implemented, no inmates currently in state prison will be released early; all felons sent to state prison will continue to serve their entire sentence; all felons who are convicted of a serious or violent offense — including sex offenders and child molesters — will still go to state prison; and felons who are not eligible for state prison can serve their sentence at the local level.

UPDATE @ 1:47 P.M.: Assembly Budget Committee Vice Chairman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, underscored his caucus’ opposition to this bill with a news release today.

“Governor Brown signed AB 109 after sunset yesterday the so-called Public Safety bill, which is everything but that. It was appropriate that he chose to sign this abominable legislation as dark descended on California.

“This legislation turns California’s Criminal Justice System profoundly, in favor of criminals, and unarguably places all of us and our families at vastly greater risk to become victims of crime.

“Upwards of 68,000 un-rehabilitated, unremorseful criminals will be in our communities, largely unsupervised, without even bare minimum rehabilitative opportunities and greatly diminished, if any, consequences for their continued victimization of Californians.

“The governor signed the bill even though there is no funding to pay local government for the burden being dumped on them.

“It would appear to be a cynical ploy to coerce Legislators and the people of California to support tax increases. In fact, AB109 is now the most compelling reason to oppose these taxes – starving this beast of a bill before it’s unleashed.

“I urge all Californians to speak loudly and long against this ill-conceived travesty of justice.”

But prison-reform advocates aren’t crazy about the bill either.

“This plan is a shell game that would simply shift corrections costs from the state to the counties without addressing the real problem: California is locking up too many people for low-level offenses for too long,” Allen Hopper, police practices director with the ACLU of Northern California, said in a news release. “The massive cost of incarceration is robbing the people of California of vitally needed services, including education and healthcare. What we need is real sentencing reform, such as shortening the sentences for simple possession drug crimes. It’s time for California to stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars incarcerating people who pose no threat to public safety.”

“This plan would allow people to be locked up in local jails for up to three years, triple the current limit. Research consistently shows that longer sentences do not produce better outcomes. In fact, shorter sentences coupled with re-entry and prevention tactics are both more effective and more cost-effective,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director in Southern California for the Drug Policy Alliance. “We’re talking about people convicted of low-level offenses, like drug possession, prostitution and petty theft, often related to a drug problem. But the plan doesn’t include a dime for drug treatment or mental health care. In fact, the governor has proposed reducing funds for those services.”

“Any California corrections reform must include sentencing reform,” said Kris Lev-Twombly, director of programs at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “A felony conviction is a life-long sentence that should not be applied to low-level offenses. No matter how old the conviction, people with a felony on their record will face significantly diminished employment opportunities and much lower lifetime earnings. They may also be prohibited from accessing student loans, food stamps and other public assistance. This works against individual, family and community wellbeing and public safety.”

Posted on Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
Under: education, Jerry Brown, Public safety, state budget, State Prisons | 4 Comments »

Jerry Brown names new worker-safety watchdogs

Gov. Jerry Brown shook up leadership of the state’s worker-safety watchdogs by appointing three Bay Area people to various posts today.

Christine BakerChristine Baker, 61, of Berkeley, was named chief deputy director of the Department of Industrial Relations. Baker has been the executive officer of the Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation since 1994; before that, she was acting deputy director at the Division of Workers’ Compensation from 1990 to 1994, the chief of the Division of Labor Statistics and Research from 1984 to 1989, and a research assistant at the University of California, Berkeley from 1980 to 1982. This position does not require Senate confirmation and the annual salary is $138,000. Baker is registered decline-to-state.

Ellen WidessEllen Widess, 63, of Berkeley, was named chief of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). A self-employed consultant in occupational safety and health and immigration policy since 2010, she earlier was senior program officer for the Rosenberg Foundation from 2000 to 2010; a consultant for the Centers for Disease Control on updated child labor standards from 1998 to 1999; executive director of Lead Safe California from 1994 to 1998; and the director of health policy at the Children’s Advocacy Institute from 1991 to 1994. Widess worked at Cal/OSHA as the chief of the pesticide program from 1978 to 1984. This position requires Senate confirmation and the annual salary is $125,004. Widess is a Democrat.

Art Carter, 69, of San Francisco, was appointed to be a member and chair of the Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board, on which he has served since 2009. Until retiring in 2004, Carter had owned and served as the legislative advocate for Art Carter and Associates since 1984. In 1983, he was the deputy chief administrative officer for the city of San Francisco and from 1976 to 1983 he worked as the chief of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health Administration for the Department of Industrial Relations. Also, Carter, was the secretary-treasurer for the Contra Costa County Central Labor Council from 1967 to 1976. This position requires Senate confirmation and the annual salary is $115,913. Carter is a Democrat.

Brown also today re-appointed two other Bay Area men to state commissions. More on that, after the jump…
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Posted on Monday, April 4th, 2011
Under: Jerry Brown | No Comments »

Two Bay Area schools vie for 2012 prez debate

Two of the dozen colleges and universities under consideration by the Commission on Presidential Debates to host a 2012 general-election presidential debate are here in the Bay Area.

Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga and Dominican University of California in San Rafael both filed applications, the commission announced today.

“Saint Mary’s College of California is enthusiastic about the possibility of hosting a 2012 Presidential Debate as a cornerstone event in our Sesquicentennial Celebration,” that college’s Brother President Ronald Gallagher said in a news release.

The school hosted the September 2010 debate between incumbent U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and Republican senatorial nominee Carly Fiorina. Here’s a video from the college’s application to host a presidential debate:

Dominican hosted the October 2010 debate between Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown and Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman.

Other colleges and universities under consideration include Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.; Centre College in Danville, Ky.; Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Ky.; Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.; Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.; Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.; The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Pomona, N.J.; the University of Denver in Denver; Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Washington University in St. Louis.

UPDATE @ 3:39 P.M.: Dominican University President Joseph Fink said his institution is enthused, too.

“We are particularly excited about the opportunity to involve our students in the democratic process through their first-hand experience of this historic event. Californians are critical to the outcome of the next election. Dominican and our students represent the best that the state has to offer,” he said. “Our students are as diverse, talented, and determined as Californians everywhere, and they are challenging themselves to make a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities. It would be a tremendous responsibility, and one that our institution would wholly embrace, to host a national discourse on the pressing issues that impact our students.”

Posted on Friday, April 1st, 2011
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »