Students to push Legislature for oil-extraction tax

Its proposed measure having failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, a student-led group calling for California to implement an oil-extraction tax will try its fortunes with the Legislature again.

Californians for Responsible Economic Development will change its name to Students’ Voice Now, and will soon announce a partnership with two state senators to get a bill or legislatively referred initiative passed in the Legislature next year, spokesman Kevin Singer said.

“The framework of the bill is expected to include an endowment for education, but also may include subsidies for families and businesses to switch to cleaner forms of energy, a rollback of the gas tax, and/or immediate revenue for the specific purpose of decreasing college tuition across California,” Singer wrote in an email.

Singer said that starting in January, as part of pushing for the bill, they’ll keep networking across California’s college campuses and “continue to build relationships with other interest groups, PACs, and legislators who believe that whether oil is drilled or fracked from our soil, Big Oil needs to pay its fair share.”

California is the only oil-producing state that doesn’t have a specific oil-extraction tax, and the proponents estimated the tax contemplated by their now-dead proposed ballot measure would’ve raised $1.5 billion to $2 billion per year.

But any such legislation probably faces a tough road ahead in the Legislature. State Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, this year carried SB 241 to establish an oil-extraction tax, but the bill never made it out of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Gov. Jerry Brown has pledged not to raise or create any taxes without voter approval, and so might push hard against any efforts to create this tax by legislation alone. And he probably won’t want a legislatively directed tax hike on the same ballot in which he’s (presumably) running for re-election in 2014.


Buchanan appointed to chair state reorganization committee

Joan Buchanan

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, has been appointed chairwoman of a special committee that will examine Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive branch reorganization proposal.

Buchanan is more than capable of this task. But sheesh, what did she do to earn this thankless assignment? Hit  Speaker John Perez’ car in the state garage? (Just kidding. About the car.)

Here’s the news release her office just put out:

Assemblymember Joan Buchanan Appointed Chair of Special Committee on Governor’s Reorganization Plan

(Sacramento, CA)—Assemblymember Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo) announced that Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez has appointed her Chair of a new special committee that will assess the Governor’s Reorganization Plan No. 2, a plan that will reorganize several agencies and departments of the executive branch.

“The Governor has presented the Legislature with a broad proposal to streamline the administrative functions of the Executive Branch,” Buchanan stated. “I look forward to our discussions on how to make California state government as efficient, accessible, and responsive to the needs of the public as possible.”

Assemblymember Buchanan is currently the Chair of the Budget Subcommittee on State Administration, which has held a number of hearings in the past few months to evaluate some of Governor Brown’s other proposals to reorganize the executive branch. She is also the Chair of the Select Committee on Government Efficiency, Innovation, and Technology.

The committee membership will include members with diverse expertise in the areas the Governor has proposed to reorganize. Assemblymember Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) will serve as Vice Chair, with Assemblymembers Bill Berryhill (R-Stockton), Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), Linda Halderman (R-Fresno), Isadore Hall (D-Los Angeles), Mary Hayashi (D-Hayward), Alyson Huber (D-El Dorado Hills), Kevin Jeffries (R-Lake Elsinore), Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), V. Manuel Pérez (D-Coachella) and Norma Torres (D-Chino) filling out the rest of the special committee’s membership.


Ballot measure calls for bigger, much bigger, legislature

An initiative just cleared for signature-gathering today that would increase the size of the state legislature by 100-fold. And no, that’s not a misprint.

The measure calls for creating neighborhood-based elected Assembly districts for every 5,000 people and Senate districts for every 10,000 people. Today, a senate district has 1 million people.

Interestingly, analysts say operating the new legislature would cost taxpayers less; the measure includes reduced pay and other costs. But it would drive up election costs by tens of millions of dollars.

I can hear the sound of political consultants rubbing their hands together already.

Read the Secretary of State’s release below.

Legislative Process Initiative Enters Circulation

Legislature Expansion. Legislative Process. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

SACRAMENTO – Secretary of State Debra Bowen today announced that the proponent of a new initiative may begin collecting petition signatures for his measure.

The Attorney General prepares the legal title and summary that is required to appear on initiative petitions. When the official language is complete, the Attorney General forwards it to the proponent and to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State then provides calendar deadlines to the proponent and to county elections officials, and the initiative may be circulated for signatures.  The Attorney General’s official title and summary for the measure is as follows:

LEGISLATURE EXPANSION. LEGISLATIVE PROCESS. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Increases size of Legislature almost 100-fold by dividing current Assembly and Senate districts into neighborhood districts such that each Assemblymember represents about 5,000 persons and each Senator represents about 10,000 persons. Provides for neighborhood district representatives to elect working committees the size of the current Assembly and Senate, 80 Assemblymembers and 40 Senators. Gives working committees the legislative power generally, and sole power to amend bills, but requires approval by appropriate vote of the full membership in each house for passage of any non-urgency bill. Reduces legislators’ pay and expenditures. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Decreased state spending on the Legislature of over $180 million annually. Increased county election costs, potentially in the range of tens of millions of dollars initially and lower amounts annually thereafter. (11-0067.)

The Secretary of State’s tracking number for this measure is 1540 and the Attorney General’s tracking number is 11-0067.

The proponent for this measure, John Cox, must collect signatures of 807,615 registered voters – the number equal to eight percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2010 gubernatorial election – in order to qualify it for the ballot. The proponent has 150 days to circulate petitions for this measure, meaning the signatures must be collected by June 1, 2012.

 The initiative proponent can be reached at (847) 274-8814.

 To sign up for regular ballot measure updates via email, RSS feed, or Twitter, go to www.sos.ca.gov/multimedia.

 To view this and other Secretary of State press releases, go to www.sos.ca.gov/admin/news-releases.htm.


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.


Brown squashes DeSaulnier’s initiative reform bill

Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier,  D-Concord, is displeased with Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto of a bill that would have forced the paid signature gatherers in front of local grocery and discount stores to disclose the fact to the public.

Senate Bill 448 would have required individuals who are paid to circulate an initiative, referendum, or recall petition to wear a badge identifying him or her as a “paid signature gatherer,” according to DeSaulnier’s office. The bill would have had no effect on those who voluntarily circulate petitions.

In his veto message, Brown called the measure “provocative” but not “persuasive.”

But DeSaulnier is “disappointed by Governor Brown’s veto.  Our initiative process is broken and this bill would have taken a modest but important step toward fixing it.”

SB 448 would have required individuals who are paid to circulate an initiative, referendum, or recall petition to wear a badge identifying him or her as a “paid signature gatherer”.  The bill would have had no effect on those who voluntarily circulate petitions.

Signature gatherers are often paid based on the number of signatures they collect and most know little and care even less about the initiatives they hawk.

“Currently, the average voter has no way of knowing whether the person circulating a petition is a civic-minded volunteer or is the employee of a moneyed political operation,” DeSaulnier said in a news release.  “This is not what Governor Hiram Johnson intended when he created the initiative process in 1911.”



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.