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Lee, Garamendi muster pressure on Obama

Reps. Barbara Lee and John Garamendi joined with two Republicans to lead dozens of House members in writing to President Obama today to urge him to announce a significant, sizeable withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan when he addresses the nation tomorrow.

“We urge a significant and sizable reduction of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan beginning July 2011,” the lawmakers wrote. “With Osama bin Laden killed and Al Qaeda largely driven from Afghanistan, it is time to accelerate the transfer of security responsibilities to the Government of Afghanistan and to reduce the U.S. military footprint there.”

Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said Congress must send a strong message that a token withdrawal is unacceptable.

“Maintaining anywhere near 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, at a cost of $10 billion per month, is an ineffective strategy for fighting terrorism and an unjustified drain on our budget,” he said. “Our brave troops have largely succeeded in driving out Al Qaeda from Afghanistan. Our troops in Afghanistan continue to fight valiantly, but they are now on the wrong mission.”

Lee, D-Oakland, said almost three out of four Americans want to bring our troops home from Afghanistan, and the nation no longer can afford to spend over $100 billion a year on a war without a military solution.

“That why I believe a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan should begin immediately,” she said. “A modest reduction of 30,000 troops should not be considered significant since it would merely return us to 2009 and pre-escalation troop levels. A more ‘significant’ and reasonable goal would be the withdrawal of 50,000 combat troops by the end of this year which is only half of the roughly 100,000 troops currently on the ground.”

Lee and Garamendi joined with Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., in leading the letter effort. Other Bay Area members signing the letter include George Miller, D-Martinez; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.

Read the full text of the letter, after the jump…
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Will East Bay lawmakers feel the money pinch?

With state Controller John Chiang telling lawmakers they won’t get paid because they haven’t passed a balanced budget, it seemed like a good time to see which of our East Bay electeds are most likely to feel the pinch. The Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests filed by public officials each year sheds some light on who has a financial cushion and who doesn’t.

State Senate Marjority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, reported no investments, real property or other income besides gifts and travel costs.

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, reported a 10-percent-or-greater share in the ownership of TR’s Bar and Grill worth somewhere between $10,000 and $100,000, but reported receiving less than $500 in income from it last year.

State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, reported no investments, real property or other income besides gifts and travel costs.

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, reported more than $100,000 in income from her husband’s job as a systems architect at OSI in San Leandro.

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, reported holding more than $1 million in stock in AON Corp., as well as up to $100,000 in JP Morgan Chase stock, up to $10,000 in Bank of America stock, and up to $10,000 in Motorola stock. Buchanan also reported some venture capital participation: she’s a limited partner in Blackrock Global, with up to $100,000 invested, and in the Halo Fund, with up to $10,000 invested. And she has up to $10,000 in a First Eagle mutual fund.

Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley, reported owning a rental property in Castro Valley worth between $100,000 and $1 million, from which she derived between $10,000 and $100,000 in income last year.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, reported no investments, real property or other income besides gifts and travel costs.

Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, reported sole proprietorship of his SRS Associates public relations consulting firm worth up to $10,000, and had somewhere between $1,000 and $10,000 in income from it last year. He also reported sharing in the ownership of the California Legislative Black Caucus Policy Institute, from which he received less than $500 last year, and of the East Bay Conversion and Reinvestment Commission, from which he received less than $500 last year.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, reported a share in the ownership of Crusader LLC financial management group worth between $10,000 and $100,000, as well as his role as president of his legal practice, which he valued between $100,000 and $1 million; he received more than $100,000 from the law practice last year.

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Chiang: Lawmakers won’t get paid

The state budget passed by legislative Democrats but vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown last week was incomplete and unbalanced, according to state Controller John Chiang’s analysis, so lawmakers failed to meet Proposition 25’s requirement of a balanced budget by June 15 and will have to forfeit their pay since that date.

“My office’s careful review of the recently-passed budget found components that were miscalculated, miscounted or unfinished,” Chiang said. “The numbers simply did not add up, and the Legislature will forfeit their pay until a balanced budget is sent to the Governor.”

Chiang’s news release noted nothing in the California Constitution or state law gives the state controller authority to judge the honesty, legitimacy or viability of a budget; the controller can only determine whether the expected revenues will equal or exceed planned expenditures in the budget.

“While the vetoed budget contains solutions of questionable achievability and some to which I am personally opposed, current law provides no authority for my office to second-guess them in my enforcement of Proposition 25,” Chiang said. “My job is not to substitute my policy judgment for that of the Legislature and the Governor, rather it is to be the honest-broker of the numbers.”

Using this standard, Chiang said, his analysis found that the recently-vetoed budget committed the State to $89.75 billion in spending, but only provided $87.9 billion in revenues, leaving an imbalance of $1.85 billion. The largest problem involved the guaranteed level of education funding under Proposition 98. The June 15 budget underfunded education by more than $1.3 billion. Underfunding is not possible without suspending Proposition 98, which would require a supermajority (two-thirds) vote of the Legislature.

The budget also counted on $320 million in hospital fees, $103 million in taxes on managed-care plans, and $300 million in vehicle registration charges. However, the Legislature never passed the bills necessary to collect or spend those funds as part of the State budget.

Click here for a summary of Chiang’s analysis, and check back here as the day goes on for howls of indignation from certain lawmakers…

UPDATE @ 1:39 P.M.: From Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles:

“While I respect the Controller’s efforts to render a decision within the guidelines of our Constitution, I believe he was wrong. I continue to maintain that the Legislature met our constitutional duties in passing the budget last week. We carried out our responsibility to pass a budget reflecting all the options available to close the deficit without new revenues and without cuts so deep as to cost the state jobs and jeopardize our economic recovery. The Controller is, in effect, allowing Legislative Republicans to control the budget process and I believe that’s a very unfortunate outcome that is inconsistent with the intent of Proposition 25. In the coming days, we will be taking additional budget action informed by the Controller’s analysis, and consistent with the values of the budget we passed last week.”

From Gov. Jerry Brown:

“The Controller has made his determination. We should all work together to pass a solid budget.”

UPDATE @ 2:39 P.M.: From California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro:

“In spite of the Assembly Speaker’s whining, the only person controlling the budget is the Governor and he’s avoided doing the right thing since the day he took office. Rather than try to ram through a 27% increase in government spending over the next three years, Jerry Brown needs to drop his massive tax plan, take this year’s revenue increases and present a no-gimmicks, no-tax-increase budget right away.

“If the governor is serious about solving this budget problem today, he should work with Republican leadership and present a workable budget proposal tomorrow.”

UPDATE @ 3:29 P.M.: From state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento:

“The Controller’s decision today sets a dangerous precedent. The impact on legislative members is real, but it pales in comparison to the impact on school children, the elderly, and the men and women who protect our safety. This decision will not change our commitment and obligation to stand for the people we represent.”

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Arnold touts California at Vienna Energy Forum

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger touted California’s energy and environmental accomplishments – from solar roofs to tailpipe emission standards – in a speech today at the the United Nations Industrial Development Organization’s Vienna Energy Forum.

“I love that my homeland of Austria and adopted home of California are global action heroes both proving you can protect the environment and improve the economy at the same time,” he said. “Universal energy access isn’t about just lighting a dark room or cookingon a better stove, it is about the freedom that energy and especially renewable energy gives us.”

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Steinberg raises legal questions over pay issue

Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, made it clear that there are legal implications — lawsuit, anyone? — with the decision on legislative pay that state Controller John Chiang is expected to make Tuesday.

Steinberg suggested that any decision by the Controller would be legally questionable.

The question that got Steinberg reverting back to the lawyer that he is: Will you be able to hold out and negotiate all summer if your members are not being paid.

The unspoken suggestion: that legislators would cave on demands of $2 billion to $6 billion more in cuts to schools, universities and public safety to ensure they get their salary and daily expenses.

“It is a bad precedent for anybody in the executive branch to question the quality of a budget passed by the Legislature,” he told reporters after a quick Senate session Monday. “Because to do so is to shift the balance of power … in a way that is dangerous.

“Think about if there was a governor, a treasurer or controller from the other party and they were unhappy with the quality of the budget the Legislature passed, they would have the ability — if Proposition 25 is interpreted in a way some suggest — to say it’s not good enough, we withhold your pay until you make all of the decisions and and all of the cuts that we believe are appropriate.”

The follow-up question: Could withholding legislators’ pay “tip the balance” to legislators accepting the governor’s cuts?

“If it is an attempt to tip the balance, then it is a conflict of interest like California has never seen,” Steinberg said.

Salary matters are best decided by the Citizens Compensation Commission, Steinberg said, and legislators should not be forced to determine their vote based on whether or not they would be paid.

(Well, that would be news to voters, who indeed voted for Proposition 25 to provide an incentive to legislators to approve a budget on time.)

“We cannot vote on matters on which we have a personal interest,” he said. “So, think about how all that could be tipped on its head here.

“If we have to make a decision on choices that have real impact on the people of California and our own well being, I don’t think the author of Proposition 25 or anyone who might look at and respect the separation of powers would see that as any kind of healthy development for California.

“We ought to make the decisions we make on the level of cuts based on the merits.”

(It could be argued — and has been — that by voting for the budget to meet the June 15 deadline, legislators indeed were voting with their own interests in mind.)

Chiang is mulling the issue of whether legislators fulfilled their requirement to approve a balanced budget by the constitutional deadline, as required by a pair of ballot measures approved by voters — last year’s Proposition 25, which requires a budget to be approved by the June 15 constitutional deadline and Proposition 58 from 2004, which requires a balanced budget.

The only reason that Chiang is considering the issue is that the Department of Finance, which typically scores budgets, did not this year because it was vetoed, said Hallye Jordan, spokeswoman for Chiang.

“The Controller is finishing up his analysis to determine whether projected revenues equal or exceed the expenditures authorized by the Legislature, which is the only test spelled out in the Constitution for determining whether a budget is balanced,” Jordan said.

The Controller’s office will compare projected revenues to expenditures authorized in the budget. But the Controller has no authority to determine how valid those projections or expenditures are, only that they pencil out, Jordan said.

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Swanson’s seismic retrofit bill becomes law

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law today an East Bay lawmaker’s bill that lets local officials use public financing to help private property owners pay for seismic improvements.

AB 184, the Seismic Safety Financing Act, will make retrofits easier to achieve and more affordable by offering a financing option that removes much of the upfront expense, according to its author, Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda.

Unreinforced masonry buildings present a big seismic hazard, and this bill’s state Senate floor analysis noted the Association of Bay Area Governments’ estimate that 26,000 of Oakland’s 163,000 housing units will become uninhabitable when the Hayward Fault has a major earthquake.

“Because commercial loans for earthquake improvements can be expensive, local officials want to accelerate retrofit work on vulnerable buildings by loaning money to private property owners at below-market rates,” the analysis said. “This bill provides local officials with another tool to help property owners pay for structural upgrades that save lives, protect rescue workers, and reduce economic disruption after a major earthquake.”

ABAG supported Swanson’s bill, as did the City of Oakland and the California Association of Realtors. The Assembly passed it on a 49-10 vote in April; the state Senate approved it on a 26-10 vote June 6.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had vetoed Swanson’s earlier incarnation of this bill last September, saying he didn’t support expanding contractual assessment programs – now used for energy and water efficiency improvements – to include seismic retrofits.