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Baked-goods protest planned at Houston’s office

Oatmeal raisin or chocolate chip?

The Shasta-Diablo chapter of Planned Parenthood will sell cookies Thursday on the doorstep of GOP Assemblyman Guy Houston’s office in Walnut Creek in a show of support for increased state payments to those who provide health services to the state’s poorest residents.

The state hasn’t increased the reimbursement rate to clinics and doctors that care for people who qualify for Medicare and Medicaid since 1994. Groups such as Planned Parenthood are lobbying state legislators for a hike in provider rates, saying medical costs have risen 300 percent since 1994.

Planned Parenthood clinicians offer a variety of family planning services to the poor, including cancer screenings, PAP smears and birth control.

Planned Parenthood is staging “Bake Sales for Family Planning” at the offices of various legislative leaders. It’s last confection-laden demonstration took place on the doorstep of Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata. (Hey, Democrats and Republicans eat cookies.)

“Our clinics are turning away more than 10,000 patients each month because we don’t have the staff to serve them and without an increase in these rates, we won’ be able to serve them – or thousands more,” said Planned Parenthood President Heather Saunders Estes in a press release. “That’s 10,000 Californians who won’t get birth control, or breast and cervical cancer screenings, who will have no access to testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases or HIV/AIDS. That’s not a reproductive health care crisis … that’s a public health care crisis.”’

If you’re hankering for a chocolate chip cookie frosted with a political message, head to 1666 N. Main Street in Walnut Creek between noon and 1 p.m.

Posted on Wednesday, June 6th, 2007
Under: State politics | No Comments »

Leaders seek to name new Benicia span after Miller

Several Bay Area legislators and transportation officials want to name the new Benicia span, set to open to traffic in late August or early September, after Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez.

It makes sense.

The existing Benicia bridge between Martinez and Benicia, built in 1962 and widened in 1991, is named after Miller’s father, the late state Sen. George Miller Jr.

Naming a state-owned bridge requires approval by the Legislature and Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, is working on a bill.

The congressman, however, is reportedly not jumping up out of his seat over the idea.

Miller is known for his humble, down-to-earth personality and, unlike many veteran elected officials, his ego remains thoroughly under control.

If the moniker should become official, “Congressman Miller would be honored to have the new Benicia bridge bear his name, when the traffic is running smoothly, of course,” said Miller’s chief of staff, Danny Weiss.

But Miller, a lifelong union advocate, also favors “dedicating the bridge to all of the construction workers and engineers who built it and the local community that is paying for it,” Weiss said. “The bridge project has been a great team effort at all levels of government and will be a boost to area commuters.”

Of course, naming it the Miller bridge probably won’t change the ubiquitous radio traffic reports and newspaper references to the span as the “Benicia bridge.” The Contra Costa Times’ official stylebook mandates that we call it the “Benicia bridge.”

Contrary to the insistence of some folks in Martinez, the bridge’s full name is the “Benicia-Martinez Bridge,” ostensibly because the toll plaza is located on the Benicia side of the span. There’s even been some loose talk that the order of the cities ought to change after the new span opens because the new toll plaza is on the Martinez side.

But that naming protocol only seems to apply only to the Benicia and the Richmond-San Rafael span, where the toll plaza is on the Richmond shoreline. It also works on the Antioch bridge, mostly because there’s no town on the other shoreline.

The toll plaza on the San Mateo-Hayward bridge is in Hayward. And we all know, from those long minutes we sat looking at the Oakland skyline, where the Bay Bridge’s toll plaza is located — it’s full name is the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

The Carquinez bridge, which links Crockett and Vallejo, bears neither name although the new span was named after the late famed bridgeworker Al Zampa.

The Dumbarton bridge, according to Wikipedia, is named after nearby Dumbarton Point, which was named after a town in Scotland. Who knew?

Posted on Friday, June 1st, 2007
Under: California Legislature, State politics, Transportation | No Comments »

Schwarzenegger headed to St. Mary’s

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is scheduled to speak June 2 at the commencement ceremony for Moraga-based St. Mary’s College’s School of Extended Education but the school probably isn’t a model the governor will promote.

It’s the school’s last graduation ceremony. The college is shutting it down after suffering a series of financial setbacks brought on by too few students. School leaders voted in 2005 to stop admitting new students to the program after its faculty objected to the subsidies from other programs required to keep it going.

The extended education school was designed to allow working professionals to pursue degrees while keeping their day jobs, a formula that commercial organizations such as the University of Phoenix later marketed to far greater success than St. Mary’s College.

UPDATE:
OK, now it all makes sense. Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, is graduating from the School of Extended Education on June 2, hence the reason for her boss’ appearance at its commencement ceremony. One did wonder why the governor would show up to celebrate the graduation of a school on its last leg.

Posted on Thursday, May 24th, 2007
Under: State politics | No Comments »

California taxpayer watchdog visits Pleasant Hill

California’s top taxpayer watchdog, Jon Coupal with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation, tried to sound upbeat in his speech today to the members of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association.

But it’s not easy to put on a happy face about taxes.

Coupal laid out a half-dozen challenges facing tax watchdogs in California in the battle to keep one step ahead of lawmakers the activist describes as addicted to spending public money.

He liken the Legislature to an adage of former President Ronald Reagan’s, which, paraphrased compared government to an infant: It has a healthy appetite on one end and no responsibility for what happens on the other end.

Coupal’s list of challenges included the education of the state’s young people about tax issues, many of whom are too young to remember Prop. 13, the state’s hallmark property rights measure. It severely limited property tax increases and mandated a two-thirds vote of the people for hikes beyond the caps.

Coupal also said citizens must continue to fight erosions of Prop. 13 such as lawmakers’ efforts to label taxes as fees. A fee is not subject to the two-thirds vote requirement.

Among his other points, he said the state continues to spend more than it takes in faces the repayment of $42 billion in bonds that voters approved last November for infrastructure.

“We appreciate the focus on infrastructure,” Coupal said, “but debt is a burden on future generations.”

Coupal warned against the strong influence of the state’s public employee unions on the costs of operating government services such as prisons and schools.

And he spoke unfavorably about the League of Cities, a coalition of local elected leaders, recent entry into the political arena with a heavily funded political action committee. The league spent money last November to help defeat Proposition 90, a property rights initiative that Coupal’s organization supported.

Coupal told the audience of largely conservative local leaders and elected officials that his organization submitted earlier this week a new property rights initiative that would strip government of its ability to use eminent domain for the purposes of taking private property and giving it to other private entities. (To read the submittal, click here for the California Secretary of State initiative web site. Coupal’s initiative is No. 07-0003.)

Finally, Coupal spoke of the urgent need to reform the way the state draws its political boundaries, a process called redistricting. Several options are under discussion, including an initiatives by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, that would turn over the map-making to the Little Hoover Commission.

Continuing to allow the Legislature to draw its own district lines is a “travesty of the Democratic process,” Coupal said. “We need to have an independent commission.”

Coupal spoke at the 70th annual meeting of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association, held at Zio Fredos in Pleasant Hill.

In the audience were Contra Costa County supervisors Mary Piepho and Gayle Uilkema, chief administrator John Cullen, Assessor Gus Kramer, Treasurer Bill Pollacek and former Assemblyman and supervisor Joe Canciamilla.

Local elected city and town councilmembers on hand included Sue Rainey and Charlie Abrams of Walnut Creek, Helen Allen of Concord, Dave Hudson of San Ramon, Candace Andersen of Danville and Arne Simonsen of Antioch.

And not to miss a gathering of the county’s Republicans, four potential GOP primary candidates for Assembly District 15 worked the room, including Judy Biviano Lloyd, Robert Rao, San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson and Livermore Park and Recreation District Director Scott Kamena.

Posted on Thursday, May 3rd, 2007
Under: Contra Costa politics, State politics | No Comments »

Term limit reform headed to the ballot

An initiative that would allow state lawmakers termed out in 2008 to stay on the job as long as six more years is headed for the ballot.

An unusual, bipartisan coalition today submitted the “Term Limits and Legislative Reform Act” to the Attorney General’s Office. Once the language has been approved, proponents will gather signatures. The measure could show up on the expected February 2008 presidential primary election.

If the makes it onto the ballot and voters concur, lawmakers could serve 12 years in either the Assembly or the Senate. Current law limits service to six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate.

The measure also allows lawmakers termed out in 2008 to serve as many as 12 years in their current house. That would allow Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata to serve another four years and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez could say six more years.

It also solves a thorny problem for Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch. He terms out next year and planned to run for a single term in Assembly District 11 before running for state superintendent of schools in 2010. (He had served only two of the three Assembly terms allowed before he successfully ran for the Senate.)

But the District 11 incumbent Assemblyman is political ally Mark DeSaulnier, elected just three months ago. In order to avoid running against his friend, DeSaulnier has little choice but to plan a Senate campaign just months into his first term in the Assembly.

If Torlakson could stay in the Senate, where he would likely win re-election, that shift would no longer be necessary.

The term limit extension would also allow Assemblyman Guy Houston, R-San Ramon, to run for re-election rather than jump into a hotly contested congressional fight. Houston is considering running for the seat that Republican Richard Pombo lost in November to Democrat Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton. Both parties are expected to fight hard for that seat.

Except for a return to local politics, the former Dublin mayor had nowhere else to go if he wanted to stay in public office. As a termed out Republican in the last Republican legislative seat in the Bay Area, Houston has little chance of success in Contra Costa County’s heavily Democratic senate district.

Whether or not voters will embrace a modification to their beloved term limits remains an open question, especially if the shift benefits lawmakers currently in office.

It also speaks volumes that the Legislature itself has apparently abdicated term limit reform to outside groups which which it has close ties.

Proponents of the measure include the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Teachers Association, which have been on the opposite side of many issues in the state.

The political team leading the effort is an unlikely partnership, as well.

Veteran Democratic and labor political strategist Gale Kaufman will work with Matthew Dowd, a GOP political consultant for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s overwhelming 2006 win.

For those interested in Kaufman’s press release, here is the text:

LEGISLATIVE REFORM MEASURE SUBMITTED TO ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE; SIGNATURE COLLECTION TO BEGIN

Sacramento – Today a bipartisan legislative reform measure, the “Term Limits and Legislative Reform Act,” has been submitted to the California Attorney General. Once approved by the AG’s office, the measure will go to California ‘s voters for signatures.

The measure reduces the total time a member can serve in the California Legislature from 14 to 12 years, while allowing members to gain more experience in one body of the Legislature.

Proponents say the measure will reduce partisanship, help put an end to the constant campaign cycle and empower legislators to work more effectively together across partisan lines. By allowing legislators to become more experienced in one house, the measure also serves to reduce the undue influence of outside special interests that aren’t directly accountable to California ‘s voters.

“We need to reform the current system so that California has a stable legislature that is focused on solving the state’s growing challenges rather than the next election,” said Allan Zaremberg, President of CalChamber. “In the spirit of California ’s original term limits law, the Term Limits and Legislative Reform Act prevents career politicians – even shortening the total time legislators may serve – while allowing each chamber to benefit fully from the expertise developed during a legislator’s early service.”

The stated purpose of the measure is to provide greater stability and expertise to the Legislature’s policymaking process.

“The California Teachers Association believes California voters should have the right to support or oppose any candidate for political office and should not be denied the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice because of artificial barriers such as term limits,” said CTA President Barbara E. Kerr. “The current system makes it difficult for lawmakers to gain the experience and knowledge they need to really help our public schools and kids.”

U.C. Berkeley political scientist Bruce Cain has written extensive reports on the impact of term limits, including one for the Public Policy Institute of California, which was also published in a series of studies by the National Conference of State Legislators.

“One of the most important findings in our PPIC report on term limits is that there is a pressing need to hold the executive branch accountable, particularly in the budget process, to ensure that taxpayer money isn’t being wasted,” Cain said. “Amending term limits to give legislators more time and incentives to develop expertise will be an important step toward making state agencies, and the executive branch as a whole, more accountable. This is an important reform – it’s a basic issue of checks and balances.”

“California ‘s term limit law is not working for its citizens in terms of the complexity of the issues the legislature must confront. The proposed change would solve that problem while providing for continuing turnover in the legislature,” said Bill Hauck, President of the California Business Roundtable and former Chairman of the California Constitution Revision Commission. “It’s time to modify the arbitrary limits in current law and stop the exodus of qualified and talented elected leaders.”

Posted on Thursday, February 15th, 2007
Under: State politics | No Comments »

Governor appoints McPeak’s successor

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has appointed a Los Angeles man and attorney Dale Bonner to succeed former Contra Costa County Supervisor Sunne Wright McPeak as the state’s secretary of the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency.

McPeak left the governor’s cabinet last November to head up the California Emerging Technology Fund.

Link to Bonner’s profile here.

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Here’s the governor’s press release:

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today announced the appointment of Dale E. Bonner as the secretary of the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency (BT&H).

“Last November, California voters approved the historic $37.3 billion Strategic Growth Plan bonds to rebuild California and in my State of the State address, I proposed additional investments in transportation along with implementing more public-private partnerships. Dale’s commitment to public service and background in both state government and the private sector are tremendous assets as we invest in California’s future,” said Governor Schwarzenegger

Bonner has served as a partner in the law firm Epstein Becker & Green since 2002, where he specializes in government contracts, health care law and represents domestic and foreign technology and services firms in state and local procurement matters. From 1999 to 2002, he was of counsel to the law firm Hogan & Hartson. Prior to going into private practice, Bonner served in the public sector as commissioner for the California Department of Corporations from 1998 to 1999 and deputy secretary and general counsel for BT&H from 1996 to 1998. At the Department of Corporations, he was responsible for overseeing the regulation of California’s corporate securities, financial services and managed care industries. Bonner previously was deputy legal affairs secretary in the Office of Governor Pete Wilson from 1992 to 1996. He serves on the California Science Center Board of Directors and is a past member of the BT&H Expert Review Panel, Los Angeles City Ethics Commission and California Performance Review Commission. He became a member of the California State Bar in 1991.

“I have had a life-long interest in public service and am honored Governor Schwarzenegger has chosen me for this position,” said Bonner. “I look forward to working with the Governor, who has been visionary in his efforts to rebuild California’s infrastructure and stimulate our economy.”

Bonner, 41, of Los Angeles, earned a Juris Doctorate degree from Georgetown University Law Center and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Southern California. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $157,000. Bonner is a Republican.

The state Business, Transportation and Housing Agency (BTH) oversees the activities of 13 departments consisting of more than 42,000 employees, a budget greater than $11 billion, plus several economic development programs and commissions. Its operations address financial services, transportation, affordable housing, real estate, managed health care plans and public safety.

Posted on Wednesday, February 14th, 2007
Under: State politics | No Comments »

Got bond questions?

This just in from the Legislative Analyst’s Office:

The office has a follow-up to its a report, “Implementing the 2006 Bond Package,” aimed at helping the Legislature in overseeing the spending of the $43 billion in bond funds just approved by the voters. This new report, “Frequently Asked Questions About Bond Financing,: answers questions about the state’s use of bonds to finance its infrastructure.

The report is available in several formats:

HTML:

Adobe Acrobat:

A video summary of an earlier report, “Implementing the 2006 Bond Package,” also is available on the LAO web site using this link:

Posted on Monday, February 5th, 2007
Under: State politics | No Comments »