Speaker Bass urges passage of May 19 ballot measures

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, invited me to sit down with her for about a half-hour this afternoon between her Bay Area events.

After Bass accepted an award from Girls Inc. for her work with youth, we met in the oddly named “Bridal Room” at the new downtown Oakland Catholic cathedral. (We’re pretty sure it’s a room intended for brides and their bridesmaids to prepare for a wedding.)

As expected, Bass focused heavily on her campaign to persuade Californians to pass the six ballot measures on the May 19 special election she helped negotiate. The measures were part of the Legislature’s protracted and difficult budget settlement early this year. (Click here to link to the independent Legislative Analysts Office’ conclusions about the measures.)

“If we don’t pass these measures, when we begin to negotiate next year’s budget, we will have a $14 billion hole instead of an $8 billion hole,” Bass said.

People have become confused, she said, over critics’ statements that measures 1D and 1E will take money from children and mental health programs funded through Props. 10 and 63. Bass said the new measures will tap into the prior propositions’ reserve funds and divert the money into very same programs that the propositions were intended to serve: core children and mental health programs.

“If these measure fail, we will have to cut children and mental health programs,” Bass said. “We are not using all the reserves but some of that money, which will otherwise just sit in the reserves.”

She also defended some of the proposed corporate tax credits that critics have said will cost the state tens of millions of dollars such as the Hollywood movie tax credit.

“I can’t defend all the tax credits we negotiated,” Bass said.

But the movie industry has been slowing moving out of California, she said, and the state needs to take action or lose it in the same way it lost the the aerospace industry.

While the measures contain plenty for everyone to criticize, she compared the state’s fiscal morass to a house on fire.

“When the house is on fire, the first thing you do is put out the flames before you start trying to rebuild the house,” she said.

Bass also emphasized a need for the Legislature to tackle some of the state’s other big problems such as water, healthcare, the tax code, energy and the prison system.

She and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg issued a joint statement earlier today and vowed to work on comprehensive plan to solve the state’s water crisis, particularly the problems of the California Delta.

And Bass says she will pursue the creation of independent commissions to study and recommend reforms of the state’s parole system and its criminal laws. As an example, she wants to see reforms of laws that criminalize and label as sex offenders teen-agers who engage in so-called “sexting.”

On her personal legislative agenda, Bass has introduced a bill that would extend publicly funded services to foster youth through age 21. The current law cuts foster children off at age 18, a time when very few young people are ready support themselves.

She also plans to work on a ballot measure in 2010 that would create a special fund to fully pay for foster care services. The money would come from new taxes on candy and snack foods, which would generate an estimated $500 million a year.

Bass is running out time to finish her agenda. She terms out in 2010 and has no other publicly elected position on her radar.

“But I will be involved in public policy somehow,” she said. “I have been involved in public policy all of my life.”


Hayashi: Stimulus can buy greener state buildings

Even as Oakland author/activist Van Jones heads to Washington to become President Barack Obama’s “green jobs czar,” the Assembly is looking at ways to use federal economic-stimulus money to create some green jobs by renovating state government buildings.

The Assembly Business and Professions Committee, chaired by Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley, heard from Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor and Deputy State Architect Roy McBrayer today. “This comes at a critical time-with 1.9 million Californians out of work; we can invest in green jobs and put people back to work,” Hayashi said in a statement issued afterward.

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, had directed Hayashi to hold the hearing. “The energy efficiency improvements the President’s stimulus package is helping California make to its state buildings will not only help us lead the fight against global warming, they will lead to greater energy independence,” she said.

According to Taylor, California could get up to $239 million in State Energy Program funding and $22 million from Energy Efficiency and Conservation block grants designed to create jobs that support clean energy and improve the state’s infrastructure. State buildings now consume more than $500 million worth of electricity per year, and California has set a goal to reduce grid-based energy purchases for its state-owned buildings at least 20 percent by 2015.

“If you’re looking for a poster child for how to spend one-time federal funds, this is as good as it gets,” Taylor said.


Karen Bass, Darrell Steinberg on the budget deal

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles:

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento:


Criticism for Arnold’s plan to cut mental health

Mental health advocates said today that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to divert almost $227 million from the Mental Health Services Fund for which California voters earmarked it just four years ago is – well, insane.

Schwarzenegger’s proposed 2009-10 budget calls for redirecting the money – raised by Proposition 63 of 2004, which enacted a 1 percent income tax on incomes of over $1 million to bankroll a Mental Health Services Fund – to instead fund the state’s Mental Health Managed Care program.

Well, it’s still going to mental health, right? That’s not the point – Schwarzenegger wants to use the money to backfill the state’s share of counties’ bill for caring for the Medi-Cal-eligible mentally ill, rather than for creation and expansion of community-based mental health programs, children’s services, preventative measures, workforce and training services and so forth for which Proposition 63 was intended. Net result: Less money for mental health.

The 54 percent of voters who approved that ballot measure “recognized the dire need to address decades of inadequate funding for mental health programs,” California Mental Health Directors Association executive director Patricia Ryan told reporters on a conference call this morning. Schwarzenegger’s proposal would roll back that progress, amounting to “a misguided attack on people living with mental illness who literally have no other option for shelter and healthcare” and causing “immediate harm to the most vulnerable in our state.”

More after the jump… Continue Reading


Politicos cheer Obama’s EPA waiver memo

California politicos’ joyful statements are piling up today, now that President Barack Obama has ordered a re-examination of whether California and other states should be allowed to have tougher auto tailpipe emission standards than those set by the federal government.

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

“For eight years the Bush Administration stood in the way of progress on energy independence. Today, President Obama made a bold move in our fight to end our dependence on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, ordering the review of the Bush Administration’s decision to unjustifiably block California’s efforts to combat global warming and promote the use of cleaner, more efficient vehicles on their roads.

“As a longtime supporter of California’s bold agenda to reduce greenhouse gas emissions I am pleased by today’s announcement, which sends a clear signal from the Obama Administration regarding their commitment to work in concert with pioneering efforts at the municipal and state level in the fight against climate change.

“We have long recognized the real danger that global warming poses to all of us. Today’s move by the Obama Administration demonstrated that we will no longer put corporate interests before the health and well-being of the people of this country. I am hopeful that an accurate review of this decision by the EPA will provide a growing number of states the much-needed authority to implement stricter emissions standards that are needed to set our country on the path to a greener and more energy secure future.”

More, after the jump… Continue Reading


Does Schwarzenegger’s veto rationale hold up?

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is holding a news conference in Fresno right now “to highlight the economic ramifications of the legislature’s failure to pass a real budget solution that would create jobs and provide mortgage relief.” Yesterday, he vowed to veto bills sent to him by the Legislature which would’ve narrowed the state’s staggering budget gap by about 18 billion.

“By exploiting a legal loophole over the definition of taxes vs. fees, Democrats had hoped to sidestep the state’s two-thirds majority hurdle for raising taxes,” my colleague Mike Zapler put it in his article today. “But the part of the package that offended the governor most did not involve the end-run on taxes; instead, Schwarzenegger said the proposal did not go far enough to trim spending and stimulate the economy.”

The governor yesterday accused the Legislature of “playing games.” Hmmm.

“I think the governor is sort of disrespecting the difficulty that both the Senate Pro Tem and the Speaker have had within their caucuses holding together a coalition of agreement over some very difficult choices,” Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, told me this morning.

Like many Democrats, he said, he wasn’t entirely comfortable with provisions to expedite California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) reviews to speed up infrastructure construction projects, or with the $2.5 billion in education cuts (though it’s better than the Republicans “draconian $10 billion cut,” he noted).

So this plan “was extremely difficult to put together,” Swanson said, and the governor has some nerve trying to “push this package further to his liking and still have confidence that leadership can still hold its caucuses together without the governor bringing any votes to the table.”

And this wasn’t meant to be a complete fix, Swanson noted – only a stop-gap measure to keep the state’s cash flow moving, with negotiations to continue over the remaining $28 billion gap. If Schwarzenegger vetoes this, he said, the governor will just have to come back not only with a timely counterproposal, but also with a larger package that addresses the whole problem plus three Republican Assembly votes and two Republican state Senate votes.

“He’s playing Russian roulette with the lives of so many working people in the state of California and California’s economy itself,” Swanson warned. “I really think this is a legacy moment from the governor.”

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, noted in a statement the bills sent to the governor “did $3 billion worth of bond acceleration to get job-creating infrastructure projects moving for transportation, drought relief, park restoration and green technologies;” Swanson had noted to me that every billion in infrastructure spending creates an estimated 18,000 jobs.

But California’s Pooled Money Investment Board has just pulled the plug on 2,000 transportation projects in the state because of the state’s cash crisis, which can’t be solved without a balanced budget in place.

“California’s Treasurer warned today that there would be further dire consequences from Wall Street if Governor Schwarzenegger threw away the solutions passed by the legislature. I am surprised that warning alone didn’t give the governor pause enough to thoughtfully consider bills that haven’t even reached his desk yet,” Bass said. “The governor’s haste is a waste of $18 billion in solutions that could have helped with our cash crisis and our budget deficit. The governor claims he wants to negotiate but then says things must be exactly as he wants. That is astonishing given the crisis we face. We are now waiting anxiously to see what the next step will be from a governor who has consistently been unable to produce even a single vote for a single budget solution.”

And state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said Democrats acted responsibly when nobody else has been willing to do so, and while “it would be easy to fire back at the Governor for his insults,” he remains “damn proud of what the Legislature did today.”

The California Employment Development Department this morning announced that the state’s unemployment rate rose to 8.4 percent in November, up from 8.2 percent in October and well above November’s national rate of 6.7 percent. Schwarzenegger quickly issued a statement saying this “reinforces the need for the state legislature to pass a real budget solution that includes aggressive economic stimulus — because we must do everything in our power to help Californians affected by the economic downturn get back to work. I’ve said countless times that any budget plan sent to my desk must include real stimulus that creates jobs, keeps Californians in their homes and provides strong, long-term recovery solutions for our state’s diverse economy.”

Yet it seems part of a solution was sent to him yesterday, and he turned his back on it. So who’s playing games?

UPDATE @ 12:02 P.M. FRIDAY: “It would be absolutely impossible to create jobs in 2009 from infrastructure projects with what they sent us,” Schwarzenegger spokesman Matt David insisted to me just now. “What they replaced CEQA with was more stringent and more burdensome than CEQA.”

“On public-private partnerships, the same thing – they added a line that would’ve led to countless, endless lawsuits over public-private partnerships and made it impossible to expedite any of these state projects,” he added. “They absolutely refused to eliminate any state holidays, even though state workers have 14 holidays – which is, I would guess, more than any private citizen in California gets. They left $300 million in CalWORKs cuts that the governor asked for on the table. They left about $800 million in cuts on the table when it comes to dealing with state workforce, and over $100 million in IHSS (In-Home Supportive Services) cuts.”

I asked him about the fact that Legislative Democrats already agreed to deep cuts to break this summer’s budget deadlock in September, and have agreed to more since, without any meaningful movement from Republicans. He maintained that “a fair package from the Democrats can’t be to increase the amount of revenues in taxes and fees, reduce the amount of cuts and water down the economic stimulus the governor is asking for and do nothing for mortgage relief. That’s unacceptable to the governor.”