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Court: Chiang shouldn’t have held lawmakers’ pay

State Controller John Chiang overstepped his legal authority in 2011 by deciding to dock lawmakers’ paychecks because he deemed the budget they had passed to be unbalanced, a state appellate court ruled Friday.

“(W)here the Legislature is the entity acting indisputably within its fundamental constitutional jurisdiction to enact what it designates as a balanced budget, the Controller does not have audit authority to determine whether the budget bill is in fact balanced,” Court of Appeal Associate Justice M. Kathleen Butz wrote; associate justices Cole Blease and William Murray Jr. concurred in this affirmation of a lower court’s 2012 decision.

Proposition 25 of 2010, approved by 55 percent of voters, lets the Legislature approve budges on a simple-majority vote, but it also says lawmakers must forfeit their pay and per diems for each day the state is past its constitutional deadline without a budget.

Chiang announced in June 2011 that his office’s review of the budget, which had been passed on the day it was due, “found components that were miscalculated, miscounted or unfinished. The numbers simply did not add up, and the Legislature will forfeit their pay until a balanced budget is sent to the governor.” He ended up withholding about $583,000 from the lawmakers.

Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, and state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, sued on principle, without seeking recovery of that back pay.

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State & federal calls for relief to Philippines

California and federal officials made urgent pleas Wednesday for more government and private aid for the Philippines, which is reeling in the aftermath of deadly Typhoon Haiyan.

In Sacramento, Assemblyman Rob Bonta – the Legislature’s first Filipino-American member – held a news conference Wednesday with Speaker John Perez and state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, encouraging Californians to support relief efforts.

“California is uniquely affected by the typhoon in that our state is home to the largest Filipino American population in the entire United States,” said Bonta, D-Alameda. “There are approximately 1.5 million Filipino Americans in California; this represents 43 percent of the nation’s entire Filipino American population. Many came to the U.S. within the last decade and still have deep ties to the Philippines. I’m proud that our state leaders stand in solidarity in support of the relief efforts.”

Jaime Ascalon, deputy consul general of the Philippine Consulate in San Francisco, thanked Californians for their help. “It is great to see that when we are in need, California’s greatness, generosity and leadership is without hesitation.”

Pérez, D-Los Angeles, noted Assembly Democrats’ website now has a page directing people to organizations helping to assist typhoon victims. “As Californians, we have had our share of natural disasters, and we understand how horrific the cost can be — not just in dollars and cents, but in human terms. The photos and news reports have shown the devastation… And as with other recent massive disasters in Haiti and Japan, the people of California have been eager to respond.”

Steinberg said the stunning devastation in the Philippines puts Californians’ daily worries in perspective. “The California spirit is to ask what we can do to help and then to follow through. But recovery in such massive disasters will take years. What we cannot forget is that long after the news coverage wanes and the cameras are gone, the suffering and the need for help will remain for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.”

Californians who want to donate to relief efforts also can visit the American Red Cross’s Capital Region website or the CaliforniaVolunteer website.

Haiyan devastation

Meanwhile, two Bay Area House members introduced a joint resolution Wednesday urging Congress to render aid.

“The historical and cultural links between the Philippines and the United States run deeper than any flood waters,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, said in a news release. “I urge my colleagues to support this resolution to show our friends, the good people of the Philippines, that – as they stood with us in World War II – the American people stand with them at this, their time of greatest need. There are so many Filipino families in my district grieving over this and they deserve to know we are doing all we can to help.”

Speier’s 14th Congressional District has the largest population of Filipino Americans of any district in the nation – almost 70,000.

Joining Speier in introducing the resolution was Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, whose 17th Congressional District is the first in the continental U.S. with an Asian-American majority, and who is chairman emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

“Alongside the 60,000 Filipino Americans in my congressional district, as well as the 3.4 million across the country, my heart goes out to the people of the Philippines and all those affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan,” Honda said in the release. “I draw upon the spirit of Bayanihan – where communities join together to uplift their neighbors – and call our global community to action and stand in support and solidarity with the relief and recovery efforts in the Philippines.”

The two lawmakers’ resolution expresses the deepest condolences from the United States to the people of the Philippines affected by the typhoon, which has claimed nearly 1,800 lives and left more than 600,000 people homeless. It also urges additional support for the victims in the recovery and rebuilding process. Despite an initial release of $25 million in U.N. emergency funds, aid workers report medicine shortages and difficulty accessing fresh water and food.

Speier’s office said the U. S. military already is helping the Philippine government with aerial reconnaissance, search and rescue, and supplies and resources. Over 150 troops are on the ground; the USS George Washington nuclear supercarrier will arrive within a few days; and two KC-130 Hercules aircraft were deployed from Japan. More assets are on short notice for deployment depending on the level of need.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Agency for International Development is working with the Philippine government and international relief groups to provide water, food and emergency shelter; it’s estimated that 2.5 million survivors will need food aid for the next six months. The U.S. government is providing $20 million in immediate aid: $10 million from USAID’s office of Foreign Disaster Assistance to provide emergency shelter and hygiene kits for 10,000 families, and $10 million from USAID’s Food for Peace program. About 55 metric tons of nutrition are expected to arrive on Thursday to feed about 20,000 children and 15,000 adults for five days; 1,000 metric tons of rice shipped from Sri Lanka is expected to arrive in early December and will feed 60,000 people for one month.

Speier will hold a telephone town hall at 6 p.m. Thursday with 100 Filipino-Americans from her district who are concerned for relatives or friends affected by the typhoon; representatives from the federal government and the Red Cross will be on the call, too. “Nothing can ease the pain of those who have lost loved ones or are uncertain if their loved ones are alive, but we will not spare any efforts to help the survivors rebuild their lives,” Speier said.

More, after the jump…
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Assembly Speaker Perez to run for controller

Assembly Speaker John Pérez formally announced Wednesday that he’ll run for state controller next year.

John PerezPérez, D-Los Angeles, said “California has made great strides in its path to recovery, but our work is far from complete.

“I’m running for Controller to ensure our government reflects the values of the people of California and increases prosperity, by managing our finances smartly, efficiently and effectively,” he said.

Current state Controller John Chiang will be term-limited out in 2014. Pérez’s decision to seek the seat must’ve been made easier by state Treasurer Bill Lockyer’s announcement in June that he won’t seek it; with $2.2 million already banked for such a campaign, Lockyer – who has won four statewide elections before – would’ve been a presumptive favorite.

But Pérez, D-Los Angeles, joins a crowded Democratic field nonetheless. Those with active campaign committees for this office include former Assemblyman Dario Frommer of La Canada Flintridge, who had $675,000 banked as of June 30; Board of Equalization member Betty Yee of Alameda, who had about $472,000 at midyear; and state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, whose Capitol office was raided by the FBI in June but had about $26,000 in the bank for this race.

Pérez noted that when he first joined the Assembly, California’s budget deficit was more than $60 billion, over half the state budget for the year. “Fiscal restraint has been crucial to putting our finances back in the black, and will remain vital to ensuring a prosperous future for our state,” he said.

“Balancing our books is essential, but this job is about even more,” he said of the controller’s office. “It’s about promoting the financial stability that can offer every Californian the opportunity to succeed and contribute to our state’s prosperity. I will continue to advance smart investment decisions that help businesses, create jobs and unleash California’s full potential.”

Pérez has been Assembly Speaker since 2010, and in announcing his candidacy Wednesday he touted the balanced, on-time budgets passed in the past three years – the first time California has had such a run in 30 years. He also pointed to enactment of his bill to create GoBiz, a program to improve the state’s efforts to attract new businesses and investments in California.

And Pérez said the Assembly under his leadership has boosted the state’s minimum wage to $10 per hour; enacted his bill to create middle-class higher-education scholarships; and expanded access to health care with implementation of the new national health insurance law.

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Brown, some lawmakers unveil state prison plan

Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle – most of them, anyway – rolled out a plan today to satisfy a federal court order to limit the state’s prison population while avoiding the early release of thousands of prisoners.

In the short term, the plan is: Lock ‘em up somewhere else.

The plan unveiled by Brown, Assembly Speaker John Perez, Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff and Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway calls for quickly leasing in-state and out-of-state prison capacity, including county jails, and contracting with community corrections facilities; suspending the closure of the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco; and spending up to $315 million to make it all happen.

“This legislation will protect public safety and give us time to work with public officials and interested parties to make thoughtful changes in the overall criminal justice system,” Brown said in a news release.

But while state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he agrees with preventing any early inmate releases, he said Brown’s plan has “no promise and no hope.”

“As the population of California grows, it’s only a short matter of time until new prison cells overflow and the Court demands mass releases again,” Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said in his own news release. “For every 10 prisoners finishing their sentences, nearly seven of them will commit another crime after release and end up back behind bars.”

“More money for more prison cells alone is not a durable solution; it is not a fiscally responsible solution; and it is not a safe solution,” he said, announcing he’ll unveil Senate Democrats’ alternative plan at 10 a.m. Wednesday. “We must invest in a durable criminal justice strategy, which reduces both crime and prison overcrowding.”

The state is under a federal court’s order to reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity by the end of this year. California already has reduced its prison population by more than 40,000 since 2006 – more than half of which was via 2011’s “realignment,” which spun some offenders out to county jails instead of state prisons.

Brown, Perez, Huff and Conway said they’re also seeking long-term solutions.

“This process will leave no stone unturned as we investigate what can work to make improvements,” Perez, D-Los Angeles, said in the news release. “We will consider every option from updating sentencing laws; to giving local governments and law enforcement the necessary tools. And certainly we will examine broader policy questions that prevent crime, like improving education from preschool to higher education and on programs that break the cycle of poverty.”

Huff, R-Brea, said Senate Republicans will support the plan “because we believe the safety of California families should be our first and foremost priority” and allowing the early release of so many inmates “is simply unacceptable.”

Conway, R-Visalia, said today’s plan incorporates some ideas that Republican lawmakers had put forward. “We will continue to work with the Governor and the Speaker to find sustainable solutions that will honor the court’s demands, while keeping Californians safe.”

Activists who’d like to see the prison population reduced, not just moved around, are disappointed.

“Gov. Brown has turned his back on his own earlier proposals to the court, which detailed smart, sustainable alternatives for California to reach the court order,” said Courage Campaign executive chairman Dr. Paul Song. “Instead, the Governor is choosing to throw hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars down the black hole that is California’s broken prison system. This wasteful spending will prevent the restoration of funding to education and other vital services, which continue to suffer from devastating cuts made during the Great Recession. Funding those services would do more to keep Californians safe than further expansion of the prison-industrial complex.”

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Musical chairs for three local Assembly members

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, will take over as chairwoman of the Assembly Budget Committee, Speaker John Perez has just announced.

Perez, D-Los Angeles, named Skinner to replacy Bob Blumenfield, D-San Fernando Valley, who was elected to the Los Angeles City Council.

That sets the dominoes a-fallin’, of course. Perez also announced that Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, will replace Skinner as chairman of the Assembly Rules Committee, and Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, will replace Gordon as chairwoman of the Assembly Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee.

The appointments take effect July 3.

UPDATE @ 6:30 P.M.: Aaaaaaaand, everybody’s happy!

“I thank Speaker Pérez for appointing me chair of the Budget Committee,” Skinner said. “I look forward to taking on this new and challenging role. Filling the shoes of Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield, whose leadership and vision has helped California pass a balanced on-time budget for a third year in a row, is an honor. As budget chair, I look forward to putting education first, delivering essential services and strengthening California’s economic prosperity.”

“It is an honor to be appointed to Chair the Assembly Rules Committee, and I thank the Speaker for entrusting me with this responsibility,” Gordon said. “I plan to continue the good work of my predecessor, Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that the Assembly continues to be a strong and vibrant institution.”

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3 from Bay Area on budget conference committee

The Bay Area is well-represented on the joint legislative committee tasked with hammering out a state budget deal.

The Joint Conference Committee on the Budget has four assemblymembers and four state senators who’ll reconcile differences over the budget between the two houses of the Legislature.

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has named state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, as a co-chair of the committee, and the other senate appointees are Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley; Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles; and Bill Emmerson, R-Redlands.

On the Assembly side, Speaker John Perez named Bob Blumenfield, D-San Fernando Valley, who will serve as co-chair; Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley; Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, and Holly Mitchell, D-Culver City.

“For the first time in years, we are headed into budget negotiations without the dire need to cut billions from the budget, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to celebrate,” Pérez said in a news release. “It is time to assure our citizens that we are putting the state on a path to avoid future devastating cuts to state-provided services and education. I have confidence that the Conference Committee will craft the best budget possible for the people of California.”