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Lawmakers sing ‘Kum-Ba-Yah’ on rainy-day fund

It’s a rare “Kum-Ba-Yah” day under the State Capitol dome, as the Legislature in unanimously approved a new ballot measure to modify the state budget’s rainy-day fund.

The proposal voters will consider in November would double the reserve’s size from 5 percent to 10 percent of the General Fund; the state would set aside 1.5 percent of the general fund each year, and supplement that with extra capital-gains revenue. For the next 15 years, half of what’s set aside would help pay down the state’s debt and unfunded liabilities, including public employee pensions and retiree health care.

The votes were 75-0 in the Assembly and 36-0 in the state Senate.

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

“This compromise agreement between legislative leaders of both parties and the Governor balances the needs of fiscal stability and planning for the future. It will help attenuate cuts in vital services during economic downturns, aggressively pay down state liabilities and indebtedness, and still maintain the room that we need for investing in California and its people. This is a formula we should embrace not only in the future, but also for the 2014-15 State Budget we’re negotiating now.”

“We always must have a balance. I have long believed we should approach budgeting in a way people can readily understand; one-third of our excess revenue to pay down debt, one-third to put away for a ‘rainy day,’ and one-third left to invest and reinvest in California and its people. By using this agreement as our approach in debating the upcoming budget, we can make sure there is room left for some investment to meet the needs of our children and families who are still struggling to recover from the cuts we were forced to make during the recession.”

From Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Brea:

“I think it demonstrates to the people of California that when you have a robust bipartisan discussion, you can make things better because we all bring something to the table… To that end, we wanted to make sure that it’s truly a rainy day fund, and not an everyday fund.”

From Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro:

“Following today’s bipartisan vote in the California State Senate, I am pleased that legislative colleagues on both sides of the aisle voted to affirm this important Rainy Day Fund proposal that seeks to ensure greater long term economic security for California. Our state can and should save for the future so that we can minimize the potential for future drastic cuts to education, health, human services and other critical programs, while also paying down debt. This new reserve fund, if approved by voters, will be an important step to help secure California’s economic future.”

“California’s economy is one of the largest in the world and is certainly an important driving force within the United States. It makes sense for state elected officials to support efforts that will continue to encourage California’s growth and future economic strength. Just as families must prepare for unexpected job losses or expenses, so too must the state prudently prepare for if and when another recession occurs.”

From Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford:

“This is exactly why I came to Sacramento – to work on bipartisan measures that benefit the people of California. I hope this is the first of many historic agreements. Let this be an example of how we can work across the aisle on a water bond.”

From Assembly Speaker Emeritus John Perez, D-Los Angeles:

“This is a strong proposal for the voters to consider, and I am very proud of the work we have done on a bipartisan basis to take another monumental step forward in making California a model for fiscal responsibility across the country. By putting a genuine Rainy Day Fund before the voters, we can break the bad habits of the past where we overspend in good years and overcut in tough years, and this measure will ensure that we maintain the health of California’s finances in the years to come.”

Posted on Thursday, May 15th, 2014
Under: Assembly, Bob Huff, California State Senate, Darrell Steinberg, Ellen Corbett, John Perez, state budget | 1 Comment »

Transit strike ban bill dies on party-line vote

A bill to ban all California public transit workers from going on strike died on a party-line committee vote Monday.

SB 423 by state Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Brea, had gone first to the Senate Public Employees and Retirement Committee. There, senators Jim Beall, D-San Jose; Leland Yee, D-San Francisco; and Marty Block, D-San Diego, all voted against it, while senators Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel, and Ted Gaines, R-Granite Bay, voted for it.

BART strike (AP photo)Huff suggested in a news release that the bill should’ve been heard first by the Senate Transportation Committee, since it’s all about making sure our transit systems actually work for the public.”

“But instead it was sent to the committee that focuses on the concerns of public workers,” he said. “That should tell you something about the priorities of the majority party.”

“Last year Californians witnessed the Bay Area come to a screeching halt not once, but twice, as leaders of the BART employee union called strikes and BART trains went dark,” Huff said in a news release. “Hundreds of thousands of Bay Area residents could not get to work, go to school, see the doctor, or visit with family and friends and it cost the region $73 million each day. We have made the public rely on public transit, but as a legislature, we have failed to make public transit reliable. That’s a major failure. Californians deserve a government that works for everyone but today they were let down.”

Huff in September had gutted and amended SB 423 to compel BART workers to honor the no-strike clause in their contracts even after those contracts expire. But he only amended the bill on the last working day of the legislative session, so no action was taken.

He later amended the bill further to ban strikes by all California public transit workers, with anyone who violates the ban subject to removal or other disciplinary action. Huff said the bill provided “a fair violation determination process” for such workers, but if a violation is found, such workers would lose two days of pay for every day of strike. Public transit unions similarly would have been banned from instigating strikes, and if the Public Employee Relations Board found a violation, that union’s rights would have been forfeited for an indefinite period; after three years of forfeiture, an employee organization could have sought reinstatement by the Legislature.

UPDATE @ 1:11 P.M.: Beall says he voted against the bill because it “just was not solution-oriented. It offered nothing to resolve the underlying bargaining issues that separate employees and management or to keep both sides at the table, such as binding arbitration.”

Posted on Tuesday, January 14th, 2014
Under: Bob Huff, California State Senate, Jim Beall, Leland Yee, Mimi Walters, Transportation | 3 Comments »

Senate GOP leader offers new transit-strike ban

All public transit employees in California would be prohibited from striking, under a bill rolled out Monday by the state Senate’s Republican leader.

State Sen. Bob Huff, R-Brea, pitched the reworked bill during an interview with Ronn Owens on KGO Radio.

Bob Huff“If we’re going to make the people of California reliant on public transit systems, then we also have an obligation to make sure those systems can be relied on,” Huff said. “Shutting down public transit is neither safe nor fair. Police officers and fire fighters aren’t allowed to strike because they provide a vital public service. The same reason applies here. Public transit is a vital public service and it’s too important to be used as a bargaining chip against the needs of the people.”

Huff in September had gutted and amended SB 423 to compel BART workers to honor the no-strike clause in their contracts even after those contracts expire. But he only amended the bill on the last working day of the legislative session, so no action was taken.

When BART workers did go on strike, it cost the Bay Area about $70 million per day, according to the Bay Area Council, and public opinion weighed heavily against the striking workers.

“There are approximately 400 public transit agencies in California serving 1.35 billion riders each year and when union contracts are up, threats of strikes increase dramatically,” said Huff. “Workers for the two largest transit systems in California – San Francisco and Los Angeles – have combined to strike nine times since 1976. Management is just as responsible for creating these situations, and enough is enough.”

Yet Huff’s new bill would control and penalize only workers and unions, not management.

Huff’s newly amended SB 423 would ban strikes by all California public transit workers, with anyone who violates the ban subject to removal or other disciplinary action. Huff says the bill provides “a fair violation determination process” for such workers, but if a violation is found, such workers would lose two days of pay for every day of strike.

Public transit unions similarly would be banned from instigating strikes, and if the Public Employee Relations Board finds a violation, that union’s rights would be forfeited for an indefinite period; after three years of forfeiture, an employee organization could seek reinstatement by the Legislature.

BART’s biggest unions didn’t immediately respond to phone calls or emails seeking comment.

Posted on Monday, December 9th, 2013
Under: Bob Huff, California State Senate, Labor politics, Transportation | 14 Comments »

More calls for Legislature to nix BART strike

With little or no progress apparent at the bargaining table, calls are growing louder for the Legislature to throw an obstacle on tracks as BART rolls toward another strike as early as Oct. 11.

Steve Glazer16th Assembly District candidate Steve Glazer, a Democrat who also is an Orinda councilman and a political adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown, will be at the Orinda BART station Thursday morning to hand out fliers to commuters and meet the press regarding his online petition drive urging the Legislature to ban BART strikes.

“A BART strike will cripple our economy, hurt workers getting to their jobs, limit access to schools and health care, and damage our environment,” his petition says. “The impact of a BART strike will be felt across the state. It should not be in the hands of a regional BART board. We need a statewide law.”

Glazer is running to succeed Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, who’ll be term-limited out of office next year. Also seeking that seat are Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich and Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti – both Democrats – and attorney Catharine Baker, a Republican from Dublin.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Brown on Wednesday urging him to call an emergency legislative session in order to act on SB 423, which would compel BART unions to honor the no-strike clause in their expired contracts. Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Brea, introduced the legislation by gutting and amending another bill on the last day of the regular legislative session, and started touting it a few days later.

“The hundreds of thousands of Bay Area residents who rely upon BART to get to work or school each day deserve peace of mind that they can get to where they need to go without the threat of a strike,” Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, R-Visalia, said in a news release Wednesday. “We call upon the governor to take swift action to ensure that this labor dispute does not create a transportation nightmare.”

Posted on Wednesday, September 25th, 2013
Under: Assembly, Bob Huff, California State Senate, Connie Conway, Transportation | 5 Comments »

Senate GOP leader wants to prohibit BART strike

BART employees would be compelled to honor the no-strike clause in their contract, under a bill introduced by state Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff.

Bob HuffHuff, R-Brea, also has written a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown asking him to call a special session of the Legislature in time to pass his SB 423 and head off a possible BART strike next month.

“The bill is very clear,” Huff said in a news release. “It simply compels the BART unions to honor the no-strike clause in their existing contract. Time is of the essence. With millions of dollars at stake, it’s time for the governor to step up and bring the Legislature back to Sacramento to resolve this pending strike before the governor’s cooling-off period closes.”

Huff notes that Section 1.6 of the Amalgamated Transit Union Unit 1555′s current 2009-2013 contract includes the following language:

NO STRIKES AND NO LOCKOUTS; A. It is the intent of the District and the Unions to assure uninterrupted transit service to the public during the life of this Agreement. Accordingly, No employee or Unions signatory hereto shall engage in, cause or encourage any strike, slowdown, picketing, concerted refusal to work, or other interruption of the District’s operations for the duration of this Agreement as a result of any labor dispute;

Existing contracts with AFSCME LOCAL 3993 and Service Employees International Union, Local 1021 also contain similar No-Strike clauses.

The unions were about to go on strike in August when Brown, via the courts, imposed a 60-day cooling off period. Negotiations resumed only a week ago.

Huff said the unions have been offered a sweet deal while many California families are still struggling, and a strike would cause havoc for the Bay Area’s economy.

“We can’t lose this opportunity. The law doesn’t allow for a second cooling-off period,” he said. “The window of opportunity is closing rapidly, because BART union employees repeatedly shout they will strike, unless their demands are met. The governor and Legislature have the responsibility to act now to resolve this labor dispute before October 11th, when the 60-day cooling-off period the governor imposed expires.”

Posted on Monday, September 16th, 2013
Under: Bob Huff, California State Senate, Jerry Brown, Transportation | 13 Comments »

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.”

Posted on Tuesday, August 27th, 2013
Under: Assembly, Bob Huff, California State Senate, Connie Conway, Darrell Steinberg, Jerry Brown, John Perez, State Prisons | 6 Comments »