Republicans join budget pressure on Guy Houston

Republican and Democratic members of the “Al-Costa Budget Coalition” — self-described as a group of more than 40 schools and nonprofits serving the elderly, people with disabilities, families with health problems and other residents of Contra Costa County and the Tri-Valley area — met this morning with Assemblyman Guy Houston, R-Livermore, to urge a resolution to the state budget impasse.

In a news release, Health Access organizer Jessica Rothhaar said “a growing number of local Republicans believe that the state GOP leadership is behaving irresponsibly by continuing to insist that the budget be balanced through cuts and borrowing alone. He should listen to them.”

Added Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District board member Bill Morrison: “I’m a fiscally conservative Republican, but I cannot see any way out of this big hole we are in without some reasonable tax increases.”

Margo Dutton of Walnut Creek, the CEO of Rehabilitation Services of Northern California — a Pleasant Hill agency serving seniors and people with disabilities — said lawmakers are elected to represent their constituents and make hard decisions. “I come from three generations of Republicans and have supported Republican candidates, but it looks to me like GOP legislators are pursing a partisan agenda at the expense of their constituents. If they want to be fiscally responsible, why would they close down adult day health care centers and force participants into nursing homes that cost four times as much?”

And Mt. Diablo Education Association President Mike Noce, a Republican, said he wants a budget signed as much as anyone “but it makes no sense to pass a budget that just kicks the can down the road to next year, like the Governor said. Assemblyman Houston has to represent his constituents, and polls show that the majority of the people in this district support new revenues.”

It’s not the first time the Al-Costa Budget Coalition has targeted Houston, the Bay Area’s lone Republican lawmaker and now a lame duck, but bringing local Republicans to the fore as it did today is an interesting tactic aimed at weakening Houston’s argument that he’s faithfully representing his base.

Not that I doubt these Republicans’ bona fides (though I see Dutton never actually says she’s a Republican), but it’s worth noting that press for this event was handled by Paschal/Roth Public Affairs, whose current clients include only Together for California’s Future and the Sacramento Rivercats. And since I’m reasonably sure a minor league baseball team isn’t pressuring Houston to give ground on the budget, it would seem the Al-Costa Budget Coalition is a project of a bigger, more-left-leaning coalition of labor unions, anti-poverty organizations and social-service agencies.

UPDATE @ 2:45 P.M.: This just in from Kimberly Cox, Houston’s press secretary, whom I’d contacted earlier about the coalition’s visit: “Mr. Houston does not have any comments.”


Budget impasse spills onto Oakland streets

Californians’ tempers are flaring as the budget deadlock threatens their livelihoods.

About 40 working parents, child-care providers and kids rallied this morning outside the Elihu Harris State Office Building on Oakland’s Clay Street, demanding that the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger get a budget in place immediately. Starting Aug. 1, they noted, thousands of child-care providers won’t receive state payments for child-care services provided to working poor families, leaving these providers and families struggling to stay afloat.

The protest was organized by Parent Voices, LIFETIME, the California Partnership, and the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network. Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland, joined the protest, hoisting a picket sign that said, “Child Care Keeps California Working!”

“Our children deserve our best efforts,” he told the crowd, noting that if we’re to remain one of only three states requiring a two-thirds Legislative majority to pass budgets, “we need to anticipate that the budget will be delayed until that changes.”

Anticipating, he said, means making sure there’s bridge money in place so working families don’t suffer every year. “We forget about the most important part of economic growth — the ability of a family to work depends on child care.”

Agreed Jennifer Greppi of Parent Voices: “Child care is the engine that keeps this economy running.”

An aide read a statement from state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, who said protests such as this “show the Republicans and all Californians how this budget-stalling is hurting real people.” He said Democrats will stick to their philosophy that “those who have benefitted the most from California should pay the most to keep California on track.”

“And that is why we don’t want John McCain!” a man shouted from among the onlookers.

Greppi urged people to call Assemblyman Guy Houston, R-Livermore, and state Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, and demand that they “be leaders, stand up and reach across the aisle… and do what’s right for children living in your district.”

After that, I drove up to the state Department of Motor Vehicles facility on Claremont Avenue in Oakland’s Temescal District, where 10 employees — mostly clad in purple Service Employees International Union t-shirts — were outside with picket signs; about 40 had turned out for a 7:30 a.m. rally, they said. They’re among the state employees who stand to lose pay under Schwarzenegger’s proposed executive order lowering state workers’ salaries to the federal minimum wage of $6.55 per hour.

“With this minimum wage, I’ll go into bankruptcy and lose everything I have… I’m on the edge now already,” said Michelle Freeman, 42, of Antioch, a married mother of two whose husband is a law enforcement officer. She has worked at the DMV for four years, but said “with these gas prices, it wouldn’t be worth me coming to work on minimum wage.”

Sonia Johnson, 40, of Oakland, has been with the DMV for 10 years, and said the pay cut “would really, detrimentally hurt my household because I’m the only working income right now — my husband is recuperating from heart failure, and we have two children.”

Kathy Shipp, 47, of Oakland, said she’s “very upset — we just bought a home last year and we’re just barely scraping by,” she said, adding her husband “just had to switch jobs because of the economy, so he’s still on probationary status” without full pay or benefits yet. A stay-at-home mom of three boys for 15 years before coming to the DMV three years ago, she had to rejoin the workforce to help support her family, and now that support is about to be weakened.

Laura Vincent, 55, of El Cerrito, has worked for the DMV for four years; the former West Contra Costa Unified School District worker said she’s paying off her son’s college loan debts. “I really love my job, I like to help people” as a DMV call center employee, she said, but it’s a “staggering” work load in which one operator can assist up to 200 callers in a single, long day. “I just don’t know any other telephone operator in the private sector who works for minimum wage and has that pressure to perform — our productivity is watched carefully — so I would hope the governor will reconsider.”

I hear as many as 100 SEIU-represented Caltrans workers will be rallying outside the agency’s building at 111 Grand Ave. in Oakland at 11 a.m. tomorrow, Thursday, July 31.


Yacht-tax loophole stays open

Assembly Republicans voted down a bill today which would’ve closed a tax loophole letting those who buy yachts and aircraft avoid paying California taxes.

The Assembly voted 47-18 for SBX3-8, but because tax matters require a two-thirds vote for passage, it failed. All Assembly Democrats voted for it, while 18 Republicans voted against it and 13 more Republicans failed to vote on it despite being present at the State Capitol today.

The bill would extend from 90 days to a full year the amount of time a new yacht or aircraft bought out of state must be stored outside California in order to avoid the state’s sales and use tax. Closing the loophole would bring in an estimated $5 million this year and $21 million next year.

Some might say that’s chump change, and in the context of the state’s $146 billion budget, it’s hard to argue. But critics would argue that while payments to schools are delayed, MediCal provider reimbursements are slashed, welfare cost-of-living increases are postponed, judicial vacancies go unfilled and far more draconian measures are considered to close the state’s enormous budget deficit, why would a fiscal conservative vote to maintain ANY tax loophole for ANYBODY? It’s not about the dollar amount, it’s about the philosophy, about the message it sends to the state.

“We have just had to make serious cuts in health care and education to keep the state solvent,” Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, says in his news release. “For Assembly Republicans to then turn around and cover up for wealthy yacht owners who hide their boats so they’ll pay less tax is nothing short of reckless and callous. The fact that even some Republicans who had previously supported this measure didn’t vote for it today is particularly troubling. Instead of closing ranks Republicans should be closing the yacht loophole. Be assured this matter is not finished: closing the ‘sloophole’ will be the top item I bring up in every budget discussion before any further cuts are to be considered.”

The 18 Assembly Republicans who voted against closing the loophole are Joel Anderson, R-La Mesa; John Benoit, R-Palm Desert; Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto; Mike Duvall, R-Brea; Ted Gaines, R-Roseville; Martin Garrick, R-Carlsbad; Guy Houston, R-San Ramon; Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar; Kevin Jeffries, R-Riverside; Rick Keene, R-Chico; Doug LaMalfa, R-Biggs; Bill Maze, R-Visalia; George Plescia, R-San Diego; Jim Silva, R-Huntington Beach; Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita; Todd Spitzer, R-Orange; Audra Strickland, R-Camarillo; and Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel.

And the 13 Assembly Republicans who Nunez said didn’t vote on the bill despite being in the State Capitol on Tuesday are Republican Leader Mike Villines, R-Clovis; Anthony Adams, R-Hesperia; Greg Aghazarian, R-Stockton; Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo; Paul Cook, R-Yucaipa; Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine; Bill Emmerson, R-Redlands; Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield; Shirley Horton, R-San Diego; Alan Nakanishi, R-Lodi; Roger Niello, R-Sacramento; Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster; and Van Tran, R-Costa Mesa.


Alameda County GOP gets $$$

The Alameda County Republican Party has landed quite a windfall.

The California Republican Party will ante up $2,000 per month toward the cost of a county party’s executive director — a full-timer who can spearhead voter registration, get-out-the-vote campaigns, volunteer efforts and so on — so long as that county matches that amount. But campaign finance reports show the Alameda County GOP had only about $11,600 in its account as of Dec. 31.

dillon.jpgAt the county central committee’s meeting Tuesday night at party headquarters in San Leandro, Luis Buhler — the state GOP’s Bay Area vice chair — announced he’d solicited help from John Dillon, CEO of Navis, an Oakland-based supply-chain software company: Dillon will give $24,000 over two years, or half the county’s cost.

Presenting the committee with Dillon’s first check for $12,000, Buhler said Dillon made the donation because he appreciates the county GOP’s importance in two key races for 2008: the campaign to retake the 11th Congressional District seat from freshman Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, and the campaign to keep the 15th Assembly District seat — now held by Guy Houston, D-San Ramon, who’s termed out next year — in Republican hands.