Part of the Bay Area News Group

Archive for August, 2011

Legislature posts members’ spending

Bowing to political pressure, the California Legislature has released its members’ office spending numbers, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But the man who started this debate, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, called the reports released by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, a joke.

“If these documents were not posted on the Assembly’s web page, I would think they were an April fool’s joke,” Portantino said in a statement. “Today, Assembly Speaker John Perez released 8 month expenditures that continue to mislead the public on how the Assembly operates. The documents released hide true and accurate accounting of staff budgets and complete staff expenditures. I once again implore Assembly leaders to come clean and open the Assembly to true transparency. The documents released today are an insult to the public.”

Portantino has been feuding with Perez over cuts to his office budget.

Incomplete or not, an examination of the numbers shows that the bulk of the members’ annual expenses are staff salaries. And state senators have office budgets four to five times bigger than assemblymembers.

Interestingly, the Senate GOP Caucus spent more than its Democratic counterparts: $1.58 million for the Republicans vs. $1.52 million for Democrats. The Republican floor leader spent $1 million, while the Democratic floor leader spent $477,161. Aren’t Democrats the majority party?

I was also curious about East Bay members’ spending.

In a sampling of Assembly expenditures of Dec. 1, 2009, through Nov. 30, 2010:

  • Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo:  $322,459 total expenses, of which $171,034 went to salaries. Her second-highest expense was $65,590 for communications.
  • Former Assemblyman Tom Torlakson (now state superintendent of public instruction), D-Antioch: $321,972 total expenses, of which $223,288 went to salaries. His second-highest expense was $52,017 for rent and utilities in his district office.
  • Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley: $278,678 in total expenses, of which $225,820 went to salaries. Her second-highest expense was $28,967 for personal per diem.

Assembly expenditures from Dec. 1, 2010 through July 31, 2011 (eight months):

  • Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord: $257,476 total expenses, of which $178,917 was salaries. Her second-highest expense was $34,217 for rent and utilities at her district office.
  • Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo: $244,868 total expenses, of which $148,267 was salaries. Her second-highest expense was$28,812 for rent and utilities at her district office.
  • Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley: $204,113 total expenses, of which $158,691 was salaries. Her second-highest expense was $24,328 for personal per diem.

Senate expenditures for Nov. 1, 2009, through Nov. 30, 2010:

  • Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord: $1.09 million in total expenditures, of which $847,134 was salaries. His second-highest expense was $63,289 for his district office.
  • Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley: $922,551 in total expenditures, of which $851,505 was salaries. Her second-highest expense was $28,797 for personal per diem.
  • Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro: $983,547 in total expenditures, of which $802,258 was for salaries. Her second-highest expense was $72,592 for her district office.

Posted on Friday, August 26th, 2011
Under: California Assembly, California budget, California Legislature, California Senate | 5 Comments »

Boxer and Baucus bet on bambinos’ blazing bats

Teams from Huntington Beach and Billings, Mont., will face off Saturday for the U.S. championship in the Little League World Series, so U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Max Baucus have laid a friendly wager on the outcome.

Boxer, D-Calif., put up candy from Huntington Beach’s Surf City Candy. “I am so proud of the Ocean View Little League All-Stars of Huntington Beach for their hard work, team spirit and good sportsmanship. I can’t wait to see them put their skills and dedication to the test in the championship against a very talented Billings All-Star team,” she said.

Baucus, D-Mont., wagered one box of Billings’ famous Caramel Cookie Waffles. “I couldn’t be more proud of the Billings All Star team – not just for their historic season on the field, but also for reminding us all what amazing things we can accomplish with teamwork. There’s nowhere I’d rather place my bet than on good, old-fashioned Montana work ethic, and I can’t wait to cheer our boys on to victory Saturday,” he said.

The winner of Saturday’s game will go on to play the winner of the international championship for the World Series title on Sunday.

UPDATE @ 3:04 P.M. MONDAY 8/29: Time for Baucus to pay up.

Posted on Friday, August 26th, 2011
Under: Barbara Boxer, U.S. Senate | 1 Comment »

Albany man to lead Department of Fish & Game

A fisheries conservation expert from the East Bay is the California Department of Fish and Game’s new director.

Gov. Jerry Brown today named Charlton “Chuck” Bonham, 43, of Albany, to the post. Bonham has served in various positions at Trout Unlimited since 2000, including California director and senior attorney.

He was an instructor and trip leader for the Nantahala Outdoor Center from 1994 to 1997, and was a small business development agent for the Peace Corps in Senegal from 1991 to 1993.

Bonham holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia and a law degree from Lewis and Clark College Northwestern School of Law in Portland, Ore. While in law school, he worked as an intern at the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Regional Solicitor’s office.

If confirmed by the state Senate, Bonham, a Democrat, will receive an annual salary of $150,112.

Posted on Friday, August 26th, 2011
Under: Environment, Jerry Brown | No Comments »

Rep. George Miller introduces jobs bill

Rep. George Miller

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, introduced today a jobs bill that would funnel federal dollars into local governments and nonprofits and allow the rehiring of laid-off workers.

Read about the Local Jobs for America Act at his web site here.

It includes two years worth of money to rehire or retain teachers, police officers and firefighters. It also pays for on-the-job training positions in the private sector.

The subject matter fits Miller, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee.

But jobs and job creation has become the top theme coming out of many Democrats’ offices as persistent unemployment continues to plague the country and threaten the party’s hopes for retaking the House of Representatives and re-electing President Barack Obama.

Miller isn’t too worried about his own re-election prospects even though he will have new district boundaries per the maps adopted earlier this month by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.

The veteran lawmaker is running in the reconstituted 11th Congressional District, which consists entirely of Contra Costa County communities stretching from Richmond eastward to Pittsburg and south into the San Ramon Valley. His old 7th District included portions of Solano County and none of the San Ramon Valley towns.  Democrats have a smaller but still very significant party registration edge in Miller’s new district — 24 percentage points in the 11th vs. 35 in the 7th.

Miller’s press release follows. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, August 26th, 2011
Under: 2012 Congressional Election, Congress, George Miller | 16 Comments »

Death row abolition bill yanked, bound for ballot

State Sen. Loni Hancock today abandoned her bill that would’ve abolished California’s death penalty, even as a coalition supporting it vowed to take it to voters as a ballot measure instead.

Hancock, D-Berkeley, withdrew SB 490 from consideration by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which was scheduled to vote on the bill today.

“The votes were not there to support reforming California’s expensive and dysfunctional death penalty system,” she said in her news release. “I had hoped we would take the opportunity to save hundreds of millions of dollars that could be used to support our schools and universities, keep police on our streets and fund essential public institutions like the courts.”

SB 490 would have replaced the death penalty with life imprisonment without possibility of parole for those already condemned and for the future. Hancock chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee as well as the Budget subcommittee that oversees the criminal justice system’s funding. The bill had been opposed by groups including Crime Victims United of California and the California District Attorneys Association.

But California Taxpayers for Justice, which had been backing Hancock’s bill, said it’s far from done.

“If the California Legislature will not act to put an end to California’s death penalty debacle, and to keep California families safe, then we will. We will take immediate steps to file a ballot initiative for the November 2012 general election,” the group said in a news release; more information will be released at a news conference Monday morning in Sacramento.

Stefanie Faucher, a member of California Taxpayers for Justice and associate director of San Francisco-based Death Penalty Focus, said she and her colleagues “are confident that Californians are ready to replace the death penalty.”

Well… maybe.

A July 2010 Field Poll found 70 percent of California voters support capital punishment, up from 67 percent in 2006; this support cut across age, gender, racial, religious and party lines. The survey had a 2.8 percentage point margin of error.

However, a subsample of that same poll found that if given a choice, about as many voters would personally opt to impose a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole — 42 percent — as would choose the death penalty — 41 percent — for someone convicted of first-degree murder. This subsample had a 4.6 percentage point margin of error.

The state Senate Public Safety Committee heard testimony Tuesday from 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Senior Judge Arthur Alarcón and Loyola Law Professor Paula Mitchell, co-authors of the study, “Executing the Will of the Voters? – A Roadmap to Mend or End the California Legislature’s Multi-Billion Dollar Death Penalty Debacle,” published in June. The study had concluded California has “the most expensive and least effective death penalty law in the nation.”

And last week, former California Attorney General John Van de Kamp and Loyola Law Professor Laurie Levenson testified in support of the bill to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Van de Kamp chaired the California Commission of the Fair Administration of Justice, which produced a 2008 report that called the state’s death penalty system dysfunctional and a waste of money.

Posted on Thursday, August 25th, 2011
Under: ballot measures, California State Senate, Loni Hancock, Public safety, state budget, State Prisons | 4 Comments »

State health exchange taps 1st executive director

An Obama Administration official who has been working to shore up federal health programs will come to California later this year to run the state’s new Health Benefit Exchange.

Peter Lee in October will become the HBE’s first executive director. The exchange – created pursuant to last year’s national health care reforms, and set to open in 2014 – will aim to make it easier for individuals and small businesses to compare plans and buy health insurance on the private market through a more stable risk pool, greater purchasing power, more competition among insurers and detailed information regarding about the price, quality and service of health coverage.

Lee currently is deputy director for policy and programs at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, an agency created by the Affordable Care Act to revitalize and sustain Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Exchange chairwoman and California Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley called Lee “a nationally respected leader in health care who has led innovative projects aimed at promoting health, improving care quality and reducing cost in the health care delivery system.”

“His more than 25 years of health policy experience and deep understanding of California’s challenges and opportunities make him the right leader to ensure the success of our new health insurance marketplace,” she said.

Before his current job, Lee was director of delivery system reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Health Reform, supporting implementation of parts of the Affordable Care Act dealing with delivering higher quality, more affordable healthcare.

Earlier yet, Lee was CEO and then executive director for national health policy of the San Francisco-based Pacific Business Group on Health, a coalition of private and public purchasers. Before that, he was executive director of the Center for Health Care Rights, a Los Angeles-based consumer advocacy group. In the 1980s, he worked on healthcare issues in Washington, D.C., including a stint as director of programs for the National AIDS Network. He holds a law degree from the University of Southern California and his undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

“Congratulations to Peter in his new role creating a new consumer-friendly marketplace of the future, to dramatically help Californians to get affordable health coverage,” Health Access California Executive Director Anthony Wright said in a news release. “Peter has been a longtime champion of large purchasers using their bargaining power to get the best value in coverage and care. It’s appropriate he will lead the effort to allow millions of Californians to pool together to bargain for the best price and value with the insurance industry.”

Wright said picking Lee shows the exchange not only has authority to negotiate with insurers for the best value, but plans to actively use it. “Peter Lee will have the opportunity to structure a market where insurers compete based on cost and quality, customer service and wellness, rather than how effectively they avoid people who need care, and confuse the rest of us with the complexity of their benefits.”

Posted on Thursday, August 25th, 2011
Under: healthcare reform | No Comments »

State Auditor to probe MTC’s proposed move to SF

The Legislature’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee today approved state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier’s request for an audit of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s proposal to move its headquarters from downtown Oakland to San Francisco at toll-payers’ expense.

“Bay Area motorists travel some of the busiest bridges in the nation. They pay tolls with the expectation that those moneys are used for transportation and congestion related purposes,” DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said in a news release. “I have serious concerns about using these revenues for real estate deals. When the Legislature created MTC, I do not believe it ever intended MTC to use toll moneys for these kinds of real property investments. This audit will provide some clarity on what the law allows toll moneys to be used for.”

The audit was approved by a unanimous bipartisan vote. The Bureau of State Audits, under the direction of State Auditor Elaine Howle, will conduct the audit.

The MTC unanimously voted last week to rescind its earlier vote approving the move, and decided to have a six-member committee comprised of former commission chairmen, the current chair and vice chair look into the questions and concerns raised by public officials and others opposed to the move. The committee will report back within 60 days.

Posted on Wednesday, August 24th, 2011
Under: California State Senate, Mark DeSaulnier, Transportation | 15 Comments »

Corbett: Facebook changes good, but not enough

An East Bay lawmaker whose online privacy bill was narrowly defeated this summer says Facebook’s new privacy settings are better, but not good enough.

The social media giant rolled out some new protections on photo tagging and streamlined privacy controls yesterday. State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, said that’s good.

“I applaud Facebook for moving to give users clearer explanations and greater control over their privacy settings. It’s crucial that users of social networking sites understand who can access the information they provide to sites and how they can control the privacy of that information,” Corbett said in a news release today.

But while this is a good step, “much more still must be done to protect children and educate adults and children about the dangers of disclosing information on the Internet,” she added. “We know if people are not careful, they can become victims of stalkers, predators, scam artists or identity thieves.

“The pervasiveness of new social media has raised fundamental questions about public safety and privacy that we need to vigilantly explore. As a parent and a legislator, I have serious concerns about protecting children and will continue to work on this issue.”

Corbett had authored SB 242, which would have required that social-networking sites default to hiding information unless users choose to have it shown; that they create a process for new users to set their privacy settings as part of their registration, using plain language; and that they remove personal identifying information in a timely manner upon the user’s request. A violation would have been punishable by a fine of up to $10,000.

SB 242 fell two votes shy of passing the state Senate in early June, after staunch opposition and some hard lobbying by Facebook. Company spokesman Andrew Noyes in late May had said Corbett was threatening California’s internet economy by trying to impose “unnecessary regulations that ignore the extraordinary lengths that companies like ours go to in order to protect individuals’ privacy and give them the tools to determine for themselves how much information they wish to share online.”

But Corbett notes that although federal law prohibits children under the age of 13 from using social networking sites, more than 7.5 million children under the age of 13 have Facebook accounts, according to Consumer Reports magazine – a particularly vulnerable population, often unaware that sharing personal information over the Internet can make them targets for identity theft, financial scams or molestation.

Posted on Wednesday, August 24th, 2011
Under: California State Senate, Ellen Corbett | 2 Comments »

Brown’s new jobs czar will sit on HSR board, too

Michael Rossi, whom Gov. Jerry Brown named as a jobs czar last week, was named by the governor today to also serve on the board of the California High Speed Rail Authority.

Rossi, 67, of Pebble Beach, is a former officer or senior member at financial institutions including Cerberus Capital Management LP, Aozora Bank, GMAC Residential Capital LLC and BankAmerica Corp. This board position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $100 per diem; Rossi is a Democrat.

Brown also last week had named former BART director Dan Richard of Piedmont to serve on the HSR authority’s board. The board is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. tomorrow in Sacramento City Hall.

Posted on Wednesday, August 24th, 2011
Under: Jerry Brown, Transportation | 2 Comments »

State Lands Commission leaves millions on table

California’s State Lands Commission is doing a poor job of managing its more than 4,000 leases, leaving millions of dollars of potential state revenues on the table, the State Auditor’s office reported today.

The commission – which consists of the lieutenant governor, the state controller and the state finance director – is responsible for managing lands that California acquired from the federal government at statehood, including the beds of navigable rivers and lakes, submerged land along the State’s coast, and school lands granted to the State for the benefit of public education.

The audit found the commission has missed chances to generate millions of dollars in revenues for the state’s beleaguered General Fund — as much as $8.2 million for just some of the leases in the sample of 35 reviewed. Specifically, the audit found the commission:

  • lacks policies and procedures specifying steps needed for managing leases and is ineffective or inconsistent in seeking payment from or evicting lessees whose rent is past due; more than 10 percent of the revenue-generating leases were past due on rent and yet some of the lessees have remained on state land without paying rent for up to 22 years.
  • does not take timely action to renew its expired leases, conduct rent reviews, or appraise properties; the commission lost up to an estimated $269,000 for the leases the audit reviewed that have not been extended or renewed.
  • lost $6.3 million in increased rent that it may have been able to receive on a sample of leases because it failed to promptly conduct rent reviews, which frequently result in increased rent amounts.
  • may be losing up to $174,000 each year for a sample of pipeline leases reviewed because it has not updated the rate — established in 1981— to use when calculating rent.
  • is not appropriately tracking the status of some of its leases – its Application Lease Information Database has inaccurate and incomplete data and staff do not always use it to track lease information.
  • lacks a plan for monitoring its revenue-generating leases, in particular those leases that are potentially the most profitable because they involve the extraction of oil and gas from state properties.
  • hasn’t taken sufficient steps to quantify its need for additional staff.
  • “We agree with many of the Bureau’s recommendations and, in fact, are implementing or plan to implement most of them,” commission executive director Curtis Fossum wrote to the auditor’s office Aug. 1. “We do appreciate the efforts of the Bureau in providing constructive criticism and analyses of past and present practices, as well as its recommendations, which we look forward to implementing where feasible and appropriate. Many of the recommendations suggested by the Bureau are practical and achievable if the Commission is provided the opportunity to acquire and retain adequate staff to address these areas.”

    Former state Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, who had chaired a Senate Select Committee on Surplus Property, called for this audit last year, citing various anecdotes of waste. Among those examples was USS-POSCO, a steel company that continued to occupy 490 acres of state-owned land in Pittsburg for 12 years after the lease expired. The property originally was leased at $235,137 per year, but the commission only collected a total of $66,784 in back rent during the 12 year period even as California’s land prices peaked.

    Posted on Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011
    Under: California State Senate, Dave Cogdill, state budget | 2 Comments »