Hertzberg turns on reformer’s charm in Walnut Creek

For a little while today, we all forgot that Democrat Bob Hertzberg is no longer the Assembly speaker or even an elected official. (Read the full story here.)

Three days after he officially bowed out of a state senate bid against Sen. Fran Pavely, D-Augoura Hills, Hertzberg was in Walnut Creek stumping for his favorite constitutional amendment, the Government Performance and Accountability Act written by reform group California Forward.

Hertzberg was the main event at Contra Costa Supervisor Karen Mitchoff’s luncheon speaker series on Thursday at the Marriott Hotel in Walnut Creek.

He is undeniably entertaining and he made performance-based budgeting sound like something everyone should run out and buy today. He cracked jokes. He was passionate. He didn’t bury us in technical details.

But the best part of his speech was his story about how he met billionaire Nicolas Berggruen, the founder of the state’s other big reform organization, the Think Long Committee for California.

Click here to watch video of Hertzberg’s comments.

But the story has it all. Mysterious call from a stranger. Overnight flight to Panama. A scruffy but brilliant uber-rich guy.  Aboarding a private plane with an unknown destination.


State reform groups merge and revive ballot measure

Two state reform groups with disparate timelines have combined forces and resurrected a budget  initiative using what every successful ballot measure needs: Cash.

With matching $3 million pledges, eccentric billionaire Nicolas Berggruen and his Think Long Committee will join California Forward, a reform organization led by former Contra Costa Supervisor Sunne Wright McPeak and former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg.

The Think Long Committee last week announced it would postpone its reform initiative until 2014 and California Forward has struggled to find the money to put on an expensive statewide signature gathering effort and mount a campaign.

The merger’s baby is the Government Performance and Accountability Act and its target is the November 2012 election.

The act requires state and local governments to produce budgets that spell out in detail the expected results from every dollar spent and publish an annual account of their performance.

It also allows local governments to band together, write a community strategy plan and if the legislature approve it, the local partnership will receive regulatory relief to carry it out.

“It’s a reboot,” McPeak told 250 community, business and political leaders gathered in Concord today for the Contra Costa Business Council’s annual daylong conference. “California needs a new operating system.”

Read on for the full release. Continue Reading


DeSaulnier to host budget town hall in Concord

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, will host a budget town hall on Feb. 2, where residents may share their concerns and offer ideas for improving statement government operations.

The free event will be held from 7-9 p.m. at Concord City Council Chambers, 1950 Parkside Drive, Concord.

For information, call 925-942-6082.


State budget reform initiative unveiled

The California Forward Action Fund, a state fiscal reform group, has submitted a ballot measure that would substantially alter the state and local government budget process.

The Government Performance and Accountability Act would mandate the adoption of two-year budgets, five-year reviews of every program and the identification of the source of the money for new programs. It would also require the Legislature and local agencies to make their proposed budgets public for at least three days before voting on them.

Among its other provisions, it would permit counties, cities and schools to create a “community strategic action plan” and decide for themselves how to spend state dollars.

According to the action fund, the measure “will make local governments the nexus for action, producing major improvements in government accountability, transparency and responsible budgeting. It is built around a simple idea: Californians need to know what they are getting for their tax dollars.”

“The people of California have told us that they want to fix the state in a long-term meaningful way,” said Action Fund Board co-chairwoman Sunne Wright McPeak, a former Contra Costa County supervisor and the one-time state Business, Transportation and Housing director under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “By assuring performance, participation and results, the Government Performance and Accountability Act encourages local, regional and state groups to work together to achieve positive social gains that are financially sustainable over time.”

Action Fund Board co-chairman Bruce McPherson, the former California Secretary of State, said  “the current system often prohibits cooperation and participation. As a result, Californians no longer share in the bounty the state once promised: good jobs, world class education, affordable health care and safe neighborhoods. It’s time Californians have a government structure that allows for greater local responsibility and authority.”

The California Forward Action Fund says it intends to gather sufficient numbers of signatures in time to place the measure on the November 2012 ballot.





Supreme Court to hear redevelopment case Nov. 10

The California Supreme Court will hear arguments Nov. 10 on a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of state lawmakers’ decision to divert $1.7 billion in redevelopment dollars this fiscal year to help balance the budget.

The California Redevelopment Association and the League of California Cities is bringing the suit. It will be heard in San Francisco at 9 a.m.

The court agreed to fast-track its decision and beat a Jan. 15, 2012, deadline for redevelopment agencies to make their first payment to the state.

Read through for the full release from the California Redevelopment Association.

Continue Reading


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.