Big Tobacco pouring in the cash in No on 29 campaign

An early March story in the Winston-Salem (North Carolina) Journal reported that fund-raising among tobacco companies had been surpisingly slow for its No on Proposition 29 campaign.

Back then, Californians Against Out-of-Control Taxes and Spending, bankrolled by Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds, had reported “only” $2.6 million in spending with little sign of a big run-up to the June campaign.

The initiative, the California Cancer Research Act, would more than double California’s 87 cent excise tax on tobacco by $1 per pack.

Never fear. Tobacco companies weren’t going to let this one slip by. By the time the April 17 campaign finance reports came out, Big Tobacco had raised $12 million, spent $7.9 million and had $4.53 million cash on hand.

Those reports included all cash raised as of March 17.

In the month since, the two giant tobacco companies and their affiliates have poured in another $8.9 million.

They still have a lot of work left before matching their nearly $70 million campaign of 2006, especially with less than two months to go before the June 5 election.


Brown appears resigned to a ballot full of tax proposals

Gov. Jerry Brown sounded resigned to facing competition with his tax proposal on November’s ballot in comments he made Monday to the Police Chief’s Association and to reporters afterward.

Proponents of two other proposals, the California Federation of Teachers’ so-called Millionaire’s tax and wealthy civil rights attorney Molly Munger’s broad-based tax for schools, have rejected Brown’s entreaties to back off and are actively gathering signatures to get on the ballot.

That’s forced Brown to take his case to the public, arguing before editorial board meetings and various groups that his is the only plan that tames the deficit and seeks to avoid what could be further painful cuts in social services, schools, police and fire services.

“I take the world as we find it,” he told reporters. “Active conversations are going on. But I can tell you the zeal is very intense on those who wish to have their particular measure.”

Brown has expressed fears that having more than one proposal on the ballot could doom them all.

A survey last week by the Public Policy Institute of California showed Brown’s measure losing ground, dropping in support from 67 percent to 52 percent, though Brown said that the lower number tracks with his own internal polling.

“I think we can get it done,” he said. “If I can get most of the newspapers to editorialize for it, if I can get all the major businesses, from health care companies to insurance to Indian tribes, if I can get the Democratic party, if I can get all the trade unions except one, I believe I can pass it, you got a fighting chance. And that’s what I’m going for.

“I’m not going to try therapy sessions for those who have different perspectives,” he added.

In putting together a coalition of labor and business to back his tax proposal, Brown said he’s now got to reach out to “core Democratic voters,” who have been drawn to the more populist Millionaire’s tax.

When asked whether his allies will go on the attack against the two other tax measures, Brown used a little subtlety and some Latin to respond:

“I generally think campaigns don’t always stay on the high ground,” Brown said forebodingly.

He added: “I did mention Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes,” a quote from philosopher Thomas Hobbes, which means “the war of all against all,” though Brown had a slightly different translation on this day, saying it means, “government is needed to bring civilization and harmony to an otherwise fractious crowd, so I think there’ll be a little less harmony and a little more more fraction as we go forward; hopefully not too much.”

He commiserated with the police chiefs group, saying, “you cops know what it is to work in a tough neighborhood. I’m working in a tough neighborhood.”

Brown said he wasn’t surprised that anti-tax groups have backed out on their spending cap initiative, saying “they probably don’t have the money.”

Where they will have the money, and where their efforts will be, is the “paycheck protection” measure, Brown said.

“That will be the state cause of note, and that will probably be the national cause,” he said. “I think that’s where conservatives will put the money.”


Breast cancer victim writes letter to Gov. Brown after he vetoes SB791

Dear Governor Brown,

I am writing in response to your veto message regarding SB 791, the breast density notification bill.

I am the person who brought the idea for the bill to Senator Simitian and the bill had tremendous personal importance to me. My own breast cancer diagnosis was delayed because I was never informed that I have dense breast tissue and was at an increased risk to develop breast cancer. I was also never informed that the annual mammogram screening I underwent had very little chance of detecting cancer due to my high breast density.

In your veto message, you cite the “unnecessary anxiety” that breast density notification would cause. I ask you for a moment to consider the “anxiety” of a late stage cancer diagnosis. As if that isn’t devastating enough, imagine learning that your cancer might very well have been detected at an earlier stage had you received notice that you have a condition that masks breast cancer. There is no comparison between the speculated “anxiety” that breast density notification would cause and the “anxiety” of a late stage cancer diagnosis.

Secondly, you state that you talked with doctors you respect to come to your decision. I wonder why you did not also talk with patients who have suffered the ramifications of lack of notification of their own breast density? Perhaps you could have spoken to their husbands, partners and children? To have a complete and balanced understanding of the issue, why didn’t you talk to the many doctors in California who have been voluntarily informing their patients of their breast density and offering supplementary screenings to them? They would have told you that in their practices, they are doubling the rate of cancer detection by using supplementary methods of imaging. The cancers these physicians are finding (in patients with negative mammogram results) are very small and have not yet traveled to the lymph system – an extremely favorable prognostic finding.

My father, the late Dr. Gene Feldman, was a doctor you respected. In 1976 under your first term as Governor, you appointed him to serve on the Board of Medical Quality Assurance. He proudly served under your leadership until 1983. A pediatrician deeply beloved by his patients and their families, he lived his life devoted to charitable works and public service. He believed in seeing the patient as a whole person and everything that goes along with it, most importantly, educating them to be full partners in their own health surveillance. He believed in every patient’s inherent right to information about their own physiology, especially information that poses a risk. One of his many gifts to me was the pursuit of social justice, and this is what compelled me to try to spare other women from experiencing what I have endured. My father passed away just a few months before my diagnosis and did not have to endure the agony of witnessing his child fight for her life. I can only imagine the sense of injustice he would have felt upon learning that it could have been diagnosed earlier and that a small, but critical piece of information had been withheld from me.

The American Medical Association Code of Ethics Opinion 8.082 states “Withholding medical information from patients without their knowledge or consent is ethically unacceptable”. This issue comes down to the basic right of a woman to know her breast density, information that could save her life. Legislation is necessary is because the medical community has been well aware of the problem for 35 years, yet the information is still not forthcoming. How many more women need to die before that standard changes?

Amy Colton


Dense breast tissue bill goes to the governor

Physicians would be required to inform women who have extreme breast density, a condition that masks potential cancerous tumors in mammograms, under a bill approved by both chambers on the final day of the legislative session Friday.

The legislation now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

The bill, SB 791, (previously SB 173) had been bottled up in the Appropriations committee after heavy lobbying by the California Medical Association and other medical provider groups. It didn’t look good. It appeared as if the power play of a Capitol heavyweight would prevail despite overwhelming support at every stage of the bill’s path through the Legislature.

But Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, made some changes that satisfied Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, and it sailed through the Assembly, 57-6, and, later, in the Senate, 35-1, Friday, the latter vote after midnight.

“It’s two sentences that can save thousands of lives,” Simitian said.

The issue became a flashpoint for supporters, who learned of the story of Amy Colton in a story I wrote last week. Colton had taken mammograms for seven years, reassured each year that her results were fine, until she was told she had an advanced case of breast cancer. Colton later learned that she had extreme breast density, which is known to mask the readings of mammograms.

She also learned that her doctor and radiologist knew of her condition but never told her.

“It took my breath away,” Colton told me.

After the vote was taken at 12:30 a.m. Saturday, Colton wrote me in an email, “unbelievable!!!!!!!”

“I’m THRILLED that the California legislature has demonstrated their overwhelming support of breast density notification,” Colton wrote to me. “Armed with this information women will be able to make fully informed decisions regarding their breast health. Senator Joe Simitian is to be commended for his herculean, successful effort to move this bill forward!”

Simitian said his office received a flood of calls in support of the legislation and forwarded them to Perez’ office all week.

The California Medical Association remained opposed, and leaned on a physician in the Assembly, Linda Halderman, R-Fresno, to argue their case.

“In my practice, I couldn’t offer tests wtihout paying for them myself — MediCal didn’t pay for it,” Halderman, who added that she had to shut down her practice partly because of costs she had to cover to provide patients with ultra sound tests of women with dense breast tissue.

“This is not ready, this is not the place to practice medicine,” Halderman said.

Halderman said that the legislation would increase liabilities for doctors, which would lead to a rise in biopsies, hence more complications.

Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, said that it is “important that women be given information and the tools they need to partner with their physicians. To argue women can’t manage information about their own bodies, that they’ll overreact with too many procedures, is insulting.”


Ma comment raises eyebrows

Interminable Endless debate, grandstanding and hot rhetoric are traditional faire of end-of-session days at the Capitol.

Thankfully, most of the hot air evaporates into thin air, forgotten the moment the words leave their authors’ mouths.

One comment, however, had a little more staying power than most, courtesy of Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, at a news conference announcing a bipartisan agreement to eliminate a $1 billion tax loophole for out-of-state corporations.

It had to do with the ever-shifting recounting by legislators of how the bill to carve out the tax breaks for out-of-state corporations came to be approved in the dead of night at the end of the 2009 legislative session.

It was an agreement hammered out in tough negotiations that resulted in passage of the 2009 tax hikes, which required six Republican votes — three in each chamber.

Just last week, Gov. Jerry Brown off-handedly criticized legislators for approving the loophole to out-of-state corporations without understanding the full implications. But Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, begged to differ, saying he understood perfectly well that he was sending $1 billion out of the state.

It was just that Republicans “had a gun to our heads” as Democrats sought desperately to pass the tax hike Steinberg said.

Ma had an entirely different spin in attempting to explain legislators’ acquiescence to the deal.

The bill was “drafted incorrectly,” she said with a stunning finality. Rather than requiring all corporations to pay taxes based on their sales under a “mandatory single sales factor,” Ma said, legislators simply made a mistake in making tax calculations elective for the out-of-state corporations.

When asked by a member of the Capitol press corps if she was saying she didn’t know what she was voting for, Brown came to the rescue. Sort of.

“I want to step in here,” Brown interjected. “Trying to discern the motives of those legislator who created this is a fool’s errand because they all have a different story.

“I have my own story, my own thoughts, but it’s speculative. … If anybody else can figure out why they did it or if they understood it and what they meant by saying they understood it and what kind of understanding they brought to bear on it,” go ahead and try.


L.A. mayor proposes ‘grand bargain’ that would start with an overhaul of Prop. 13, two-thirds vote on taxes

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa waltzed right into the den of cynicism — the Sacramento Press Club — and unveiled a plan Tuesday to fix California that his strongest supporters might even call quixotic.

He implored politicians to muster the courage to stop shying away from the third rails in California politics, including Prop. 13’s property tax on businesses and the constitutional requirement for a two-thirds vote on taxes.

And he framed it as direct challenge to Gov. Jerry Brown:

“To Governor Brown, I say, we need to have the courage to test the voltage in some of these so-called third-rail issues, beginning with Proposition 13,” Villaraigosa said. “We need to strengthen Proposition 13 and get it back to the original idea of protecting homeowners.”

Villaraigosa is proposing a split roll tax, in which commercial property would be assessed more frequently than current — and property transfers would not be allowed to defray reassessments, as they are for homeowners.

But attempts at tweaking Proposition 13, approved by voters in the so-called 1978 tax revolt, have met with fierce opposition over the years and has become essentially untouchable among politicians who fear voter backlash.

Even labor unions, who are working up a strategy for a tax initiative in 2012, have agreed to steer clear of Proposition 13 for the time being. They’re hoping that political leaders start to broach the subject over the next couple years so that it might be ripe for 2014.

Villaraigosa’s proposal might be the first shot at elevating the issue.

The unintended consequences of Proposition 13, he said, has been the steady decline in funding for schools and infrastructure, by way of corporate tax give-aways.

“Prop. 13 has had the unintended effect of favoring commercial property owners at the expense of homeowners,” he said.

In San Francisco, the share of the property tax paid by commercial owners shrunk from 59 percent to 41 percent since Proposition 13 went into effect, he said.

“It’s time to address the unfairness inherent in a system that allows Wall Street hedge fund managers to devise complex real estate investment trusts that give the super rich a free pass on the taxes every ordinary homeowner in California has to pay,” he said.

“How about recognizing we can’t afford this loophole any longer?”

He said that an overhaul of Proposition 13 should be done in the context of major reforms in California’s tax structure, and said it would require the buy-in of a wide spectrum of “stakeholders” — from business to labor to strike a “grand bargain.”

He recommended that the Legislature assemble a commission to study reforms that might include the elimination of the corporate tax, new service taxes, a reduction in personal income taxes, pension rollbacks.

Part of the “grand bargain” would have to include a rollback of the constitutional requirement for a two-thirds vote on taxes, he said.

“Let’s end the tyranny of the minority in California and give the governor and the Legislature the abiilty to pass a revenue increase by majority vote,” he said.

“I know politically this proposition may sound daunting,” he said. “Let’s not be afraid to make the case. Let’s not be afraid to stand up to the ideologues here in Sacramento, or in Washington, D.C.”

Jon Coupal, president and CEO of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said he doubted there will be much stomach for Villaraigosa’s proposal.

“We would favor eliminating all corporate taxes,” he said. “Now, you give somebody back one of their arms but cut off the other, that would result in a situation where there’d be real winners and losers.

“There would be land intensive businesses like agriculture that will be very much hurt, so I’m not sure he’s totally thought that out.

“We don’t think there’s room for a grand bargain,” Coupal added.

Even as he proposed combining forces with business leaders, Villaraigosa bashed the Tea Party and Sacramento conservatives for their “mindless pursuit of ideology over country.”

“We have to break the mindset that has dominated our budget debates in both Washington and Sacramento,” he said. “We have to be willing to press the case that the way you build wealth is by investing. And yes, that means making a case for new revenue to sustain long-term investment.”

He gave credit to Brown and the Democratic Legislature for putting together a budget that “repaired the rooof in the center of the storm.”

But, he said it only patched leaks, and caused too much pain to too many families.

Schools, for instance, continue to get fewer and fewer resources in an era of what he called the Great Retreat.

Under Ronald Reagan, he said, California spent 5.6 percent of personal income on schools; now, just 3.5 percent, and the schools are 46th in the nation in per pupil spending.

He took aim at Brown, saying, “as a state and nation we have to stop aiming low. We can’t let this be an era of limited thinking.”

Villaraigosa denied his speech was a kickoff to a run for another office, though speculation is mounting that he is considering a run for higher office, such as governor or the U.S. Senate.