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Poll: More back Brown’s tax plan than Munger’s

Almost two-thirds of California’s likely voters favor raising income taxes for the state’s wealthiest residents to pay for public schools, but most oppose increasing the state sales tax for the same purpose, according to a new Public Policy Institute of California poll.

Both are elements of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed ballot measure for this November.

The PPIC poll found 65 percent of likely voters favor raising the top rate of state income tax paid by the wealthiest Californians, while 34 percent oppose it. But only 46 percent support raising the state sales tax while 52 percent oppose that.

When read the ballot title and a brief summary of Brown’s proposed measure, 54 percent of likely voters say they would vote for it while 39 percent would vote against it – about the same numbers as were found last month. Unsurprisingly, there’s a sharp partisan divide – 75 percent of Democrats support it, 65 percent of Republicans oppose it – but independents favor it 53 percent to 43 percent. Public school parents support it widely: 60 percent yes, 36 percent no.

Brown has said that if voters reject his measure, there’ll be automatic budget cuts for public schools; 78 percent of likely voters oppose such cuts.

Another proposed measure, bankrolled by Molly Munger, would raise income taxes on most Californians. The poll found 57 percent of likely voters oppose this, with 40 percent in support.

Brown’s own approval rating is holding steady, the poll shows: 47 percent of likely voters approve of his job performance, 40 percent disapprove and 12 percent don’t know, similar to one year ago (46 percent approval, 32 percent disapproval, 21 percent don’t know). And the Legislature remains unloved: Only 15 percent of likely voters approve of its job performance, while only 10 percent approve of its handling of K-12 education.

Lots more slicing and dicing, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, April 25th, 2012
Under: ballot measures, education, Jerry Brown, polls, taxes | 11 Comments »

Reactions to Senate’s rejection of ‘Buffett Rule’

The U.S. Senate today rejected consideration of “the Buffett Rule,” which would impose a minimum tax rate on those making more than $1 million a year, on a 51-45 vote.

The rule is a key weapon in Democrats’ election-year arsenal, leveraging the income-disparity narrative that’s striking a chord with many Americans. It was bound to be a total non-starter in the Republican-dominated House, just as a Republican plan is sure to be doomed later this week in the Democrat-dominated Senate.

Sixty Senate votes were needed to invoke cloture, end debate and bring the measure to a simple majority vote. The vote was largely along party lines, although Susan Collins, R-Maine, voted with most Democrats for closure while Mark Pryor, D-Ark., voted with most Republicans against it.

Though the outcome was no surprise, Bay Area Democrats dutifully voiced outrage.

“Republicans have once again shown that their No. 1 priority is protecting the wealthiest Americans from paying their fair share,” U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in a statement. “Why else would they have voted against legislation to ensure that middle-class families don’t pay a higher effective tax rate than millionaires and billionaires?”

“Tonight, Senate Republicans voted against the so-called ‘Buffett rule’ which would restore fairness by fixing a stark tax inequity,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said in a statement. “Tomorrow, House Republicans will again pass their devastating budget that gives massive tax breaks to millionaires and ends the Medicare guarantee. Later this week, House Republicans will act to benefit their special interest friends by putting forward legislation that adds $46 billion to the deficit and does not require the creation of one single job. Once again, Republicans are giving away billions of dollars to millionaires at the expense of middle-class Americans.”

The White House issued a statement calling the rejected rule “common sense.”

“At a time when we have significant deficits to close and serious investments to make to strengthen our economy, we simply cannot afford to keep spending money on tax cuts that the wealthiest Americans don’t need and didn’t ask for,” the White House statement said. “But it’s also about basic fairness – it’s just plain wrong that millions of middle-class Americans pay a higher share of their income in taxes than some millionaires and billionaires. America prospers when we’re all in it together and everyone has the opportunity to succeed.”

On the other side, California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro issued a statement saying the Senate “did the right thing today to put an end to an unnecessary distraction and a roadblock to real tax reform.

“Imposing job killing taxes is no way to encourage entrepreneurship in our state or our nation,” he said. “Today’s vote was a small victory for the American people, and for Californians who are woefully overtaxed on this ‘Tax Day’ eve.”

Posted on Monday, April 16th, 2012
Under: Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi, taxes, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 4 Comments »

Taking it to the streets for Tax Day

Tomorrow is Tax Day, and as usual that’ll bring people out onto the streets.

The Health and Human Services Network of California will have activists outside Post Office branches at 201 13th St. in Oakland at 3 p.m.; 1390 Market St. in San Francisco at noon; and more than a dozen other California cities to thank taxpayers while demanding that corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share. They’ll also be gathering signatures on petitions to put Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax measure – which would hike taxes on the wealthiest Californians while temporarily raising the sales tax rate by a quarter of a percent – on November’s ballot. At risk, they say, are vital needs such as food for hungry families, children’s health care, services for the elderly and disabled, and child care for working parents. activists will be preaching a similar sermon from 4 to 5 p.m. tomorrow at the Post Office at 20283 Santa Maria Ave. in Castro Valley. “Big corporations, like the Bank of America and Wells Fargo Bank, continue to get away with dodging taxes while their millionaire CEO’s get a fat tax refund every year, thanks to the Bush tax cuts,” said Dave Siegel, co-council coordinator for MoveOn’s Southern Alameda County Council. “It’s every American’s duty to pay their fair share in taxes – no exceptions!”

Though many procrastinate as Tax Day approaches, anti-tax Tea Party activists got their protests done early. They rallied Saturday in San Francisco’s Justin Herman Plaza and at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, and Sunday in San Jose’s Plaza de Cesar Chavez, to reiterate that they’re “Taxed Enough Already.”

Posted on Monday, April 16th, 2012
Under: taxes, tea party | 3 Comments »

Chevron appeal decision set for Monday in Contra Costa

The Contra Costa County Assessment Appeals board will release its decision Monday on Chevron’s challenge of its Richmond refinery values.

The oil giant seeks refunds worth up to $73 million in property taxes it paid from 2007 through 2009, or slightly more than half of what the company was assessed.

The county and cities, along with fire, parks and other dozens of other special districts, will bear the burden of any repayment at a time when most public agencies have already experienced years of declining budgets.

The three-member appeals board heard dozens of hours of testimony over the winter on the complex challenge from the county’s largest property taxpayer.

Chevron argued that Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer and his staff failed to document how they derived the values and intentionally miscalculated the final numbers. (Read an excerpt of Chevron’s brief filed with the Assessment Appeals Board here.)

In response, Kramer accuses the deep-pocketed oil company of systematically bullying the county with unsubstantiated and costly appeals and lawsuits in an effort to lower its taxes.

If the board sides with Chevron, it will be the refinery’s second victory in its nearly eight-year fight with Kramer over its taxable worth.

The panel in 2010 ordered a repayment of $17.8 million on the refinery’s 2004-2006 property assessment appeal, a figure far short of what the company sought. Chevron subsequently filed a lawsuit, which is still pending.

Chevron has also appealed its 2010 and 2011 property values.

Refinery spokesman Dean O’Hair said the company remains eager to negotiate with the county a settlement of all the appeals and the lawsuit.

If the appeals board orders a refund, O’Hair said Chevron will again work with the county to minimize the financial impact on the public agencies including a phased-in repayment schedule and a waiver of interest.

The public appeals board hearing begins at 9 a.m. in the Contra Costa County administration building, 651 Pine St., Martinez.


Posted on Friday, March 30th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics, Richmond, taxes | 1 Comment »

Oakland firm owes state $16.6m, but may be gone

An importing company with an Oakland address now holds second place on the state Board of Equalization’s updated Top 500 list of sales and use tax delinquencies.

The list, mandated by state law, encourages those who owe the delinquent taxes to pay their delinquencies by publicly posting the 500 largest unpaid sales and use tax debts online. The money owed to the state by these top 500 deadbeats totals $555.7 million.

But what if there’s no “there” there?

C & JD USA Inc., listed at an Oakland address, places second on the list with a $16,618,135 debt, first liened by the state in August 2010 and reported here three months later. By all indications, the company just isn’t there; the Oakland phone number is disconnected, and there’s no phone associated with the Torrance address shown in the Secretary of State’s business entities database.

Although the Secretary of State’s database lists the business as active, “they’re not active to us – they have a closed, invalid seller’s permit and obviously they’re not paying their debts,” said Brian Miller, spokesman for the Board of Equalization.

In fact, Miller said, the permit was closed more than a year before the August 2010 lien; he couldn’t say if there’s been any direct contact with the firm or its principals since then.

Posted on Friday, March 2nd, 2012
Under: taxes | 1 Comment »

How they voted on the payroll tax cut extension

The Bay Area’s House delegation wasn’t in lockstep on today’s 293-132 vote approving a compromise to extend the payroll tax cut: Most felt it was a vital move, but a few said it’s just not good enough.

Among those voting for the bill were Reps. George Miller, D-Martinez; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. Here’s what Miller said:

“Passage of this bill is critical for working families in our country; people who will get to keep on average an extra $1,000 in their paycheck this year, the unemployed who will continue to get insurance benefits, and for Medicare patients who will continue to see the doctor of their choice. Republicans opposed extending the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits but in the end they succumbed to public pressure. But this is not a perfect bill. Democrats fought for a small increase in taxes on people who earn more than $1 million per year to help pay for the cost of this bill. The Republicans refused – once again – to ask people who earn more than one million dollars a year to shoulder any burden in our struggling economy. Democrats will continue to fight for a fair and balanced solution to our economic problems, but today’s bill is an important victory for working families, the middle class, and seniors. We’ve got a lot of work to do to rebuild the economy so everyone benefits and this bill keeps us on that path.”

Honda seemed more conflicted:

honda.jpg“Today, I was faced with one of the more difficult votes in my Congressional career. While our economy is fragile, and Congress must use every tool within our arsenal to keep the recovery on the right track, we are faced with the realities of a split Congress and a Republican controlled House of Representatives. Months ago, Democrats put forth a proposal to extend the payroll tax holiday, unemployment insurance, and SGR for the entire year by simply asking the wealthiest among us to pay a fraction more. Republicans, bent on ideological extremism, did not allow this bill to go through. That is how we got to today’s vote.

“The compromise deal before me today was supported by 9 Democrats and 8 Republicans of the conference committee. In order to move forward, each party had to accept provisions that we oppose. I was particularly disappointed to see offsets that imposed additional costs on federal employees and curtailed health care access. A Democratically-controlled Congress would have not relied on services and benefits for lower and middle class Americans to move our economy forward. Make no mistake; these are the aims of Republicans in Congress, and they were placed in the conference report because of a Tea Party agenda; one that continues to finance short-term solutions by cutting long-term programs that critically affect the future of our nation. I remain committed to fighting for all Americans, both private and public sector employees. I remain committed to affordable health care, for families of all economic backgrounds. And I remain committed to strong economic recovery.

“Today’s vote puts $1,000 in the pockets of 160 million American workers, extends unemployment benefits for millions of those that have lost their job through no fault of their own, and ensures that millions of seniors will have access to their doctor through Medicare. It will also finally authorize much needed spectrum auctions that will provide essential space to innovative Silicon Valley companies to create a new generation of technologies. Governing requires tough decisions, and on the whole, this tough decision required me to support this bipartisan deal, even when there were portions with which I vehemently disagreed.”

But Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, voted against the deal. Here’s what Lee said:

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“Today, I voted against the conference report for H.R. 3630 because it reduces unemployment benefits, cuts preventative health care programs, and unfairly targets federal employees’ retirement. This bill was intended to provide relief to American families by allowing workers to keep more of their paychecks. This bill was intended to provide support to the unemployed by extending critical unemployment benefits. I have grave concerns that this deeply flawed and disappointing package of extensions does not do enough during these tough economic times. While I believe we must approve vital extensions of unemployment benefits, quickly extend the payroll tax holiday, and extend the Medicare SGR fix so that millions of seniors will continue to have access to their doctors, this proposal is a step in the wrong direction.

“In fact, this bill makes significant cuts to struggling families. Instead of scaling back unemployment benefits we need to be adding weeks to help people get by when there continues to be four workers in line for each job. Instead of a temporary fix to Medicare physician reimbursement we should have a permanent fix that fairly compensates doctors who care for our seniors. Instead of raiding the pensions of hard working federal employees we should be standing up for these workers. Instead of cutting preventive and healthcare programs we should be supporting them.

“We cannot cut our way to prosperity and recovery. We must make smart investments in education, infrastructure and in the American people to grow our economy and restore a pathway to opportunity, prosperity and economic mobility for our future generations. We can and should do better than this.”

Posted on Friday, February 17th, 2012
Under: Barbara Lee, George Miller, Mike Honda, taxes, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Pete Stark jabs at Gingrich with ‘NEWT Act’

Rep. Pete Stark gave Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich a political poke in the eye today by introducing a bill to close a loophole that lets certain self-employed people – including lobbyists – lower their Medicare payroll tax liability by calling their earnings profits or dividends rather than wages.

Pete StarkStark, D-Fremont – the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, which oversees Medicare – calls it the Narrowing Exceptions for Withholding Taxes Act.

Yes, that’s right: The NEWT Act.

The bill, Stark says, was inspired by Gingrich’s recently released 2010 tax returns, which showed he used the loophole to save an estimated $69,000 in Medicare taxes.

“It seems Gingrich is continuing to do his part — in his own infamous words — to let Medicare ‘wither on the vine.’” Stark said in a news release. “By taking full advantage of a tax loophole often used by wealthy self-employed lawyers and lobbyists to slash their tax liability, Gingrich is happy to undermine Medicare. This tax dodge throws cold water on his feigned concern for the future of Medicare.”

This provision passed the House of Representatives in 2009 as part of HR 4213, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010; at the time, the Joint Commission on Taxation estimated that closing this loophole would save taxpayers $11.2 billion over ten years.

Newt GingrichAll earners are subject to a 2.9 percent tax on wages, which helps fund Medicare, but employee-shareholders at S corporations can use an existing loophole to shield earnings from the Medicare tax by classifying them as profits or dividends instead of as wages. For 2010, Gingrich reported $444,327 of his earnings as wages from Gingrich Holdings, Inc. and Gingrich Productions. By classifying another $2.4 million in profits or dividends he avoided paying an estimated $69,000 in Medicare taxes.

Stark’s NEWT Act would expand the income categories that are subject to Medicare payroll taxes so employee-shareholders of S corporations could no longer avoid paying this tax by reporting artificially low wage income and correspondingly higher dividends or profits. Certain employee-shareholders of S corporations would have to calculate their Medicare payroll tax obligation based on their share of the S corporation’s profits or dividends, not just income reported as wages. The individuals subject to the provision are the employee-shareholders of a professional service business where the principal assets of that business are the skills and reputations of three or fewer individuals.

The bill targets the S corporations that have been identified as the most likely to abuse the system, Stark said: professional service businesses engaged in health, lobbying, law, engineering, architecture, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, brokerage services, or investment advice or management.

The Government Accountability Office estimates that in the 2003 and 2004 tax years, individuals who used S corporations underreported more than $23 billion in wage income; the median misreported amount was $20,127.

Stark’s news release cited a New York Times article to illustrate that it’s a bipartisan problem: Former U.S. Senator and 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards used the same method to avoid $591,112 in Medicare payroll taxes over four years in the late 1990s.

Posted on Tuesday, January 31st, 2012
Under: 2012 presidential election, Pete Stark, taxes, U.S. House | 7 Comments »

California, meet Propositions 28 and 29

Secretary of State Debra Bowen has announced the numbers for the two measures set to appear on the June 5 ballot, and interested Californians now can submit arguments to be considered for inclusion in the state’s official voter information guide.

Here are the ballot measures, with their official titles and summaries as written by the state attorney general’s office:

Proposition 28 – Limits on Legislators’ Terms in Office. Initiative Constitutional Amendment. Reduces the total amount of time a person may serve in the state legislature from 14 years to 12 years. Allows a person to serve a total of 12 years either in the Assembly, the Senate, or a combination of both. Applies only to legislators first elected after the measure is passed. Provides that legislators elected before the measure is passed continue to be subject to existing term limits. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: No direct fiscal effect on state or local governments. (09-0048)

Proposition 29 – Imposes Additional Tax on Cigarettes for Cancer Research. Initiative Statute. Imposes additional five cent tax on each cigarette distributed ($1.00 per pack), and an equivalent tax increase on other tobacco products, to fund cancer research and other specified purposes. Requires tax revenues be deposited into a special fund to finance research and research facilities focused on detecting, preventing, treating, and curing cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and other tobacco-related diseases, and to finance prevention programs. Creates nine-member committee charged with administering the fund. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Increase in new cigarette tax revenues of about $855 million annually by 2011-12, declining slightly annually thereafter, for various health research and tobacco-related programs. Increase of about $45 million annually to existing health, natural resources, and research programs funded by existing tobacco taxes. Increase in state and local sales taxes of about $32 million annually. (09-0097.)

People can submit arguments for or against any measure, and those selected for the official ballot guide will be on public display from Feb. 21 through March 12.

State law gives first priority to arguments written by the initiative’s proponents, and then to bona fide citizen associations, and then to individuals. No more than three signers are allowed to appear with an argument or rebuttal to an argument. Ballot arguments can’t exceed 500 words and rebuttals can’t exceed 250 words; all submissions should be typed and double-spaced, and can be hand-delivered to the Secretary of State’s Elections Division at 1500 11th Street, 5th Floor, Sacramento, California 95814; faxed to (916) 653-3214; or emailed to If faxed or emailed, the original copies must be received within 72 hours. The deadline for ballot arguments is 5 p.m. next Tuesday, Feb. 7; the deadline for rebuttals is 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16.

Posted on Monday, January 30th, 2012
Under: ballot measures, taxes | 5 Comments »

The full text of Jerry Brown’s ‘State of the State’

Gov. Jerry Brown has just delivered his annual State of the State address to the Legislature, saying the state is “on the mend” and laying out an economic agenda for the coming year.

My esteemed colleague Steve Harmon will be writing the story on this today, but if you’d like a double-barreled blast of Jerry right here and now, you can read the speech as prepared, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
Under: economy, Jerry Brown, taxes | 6 Comments »

‘Think Long Committee’ won’t go for 2012 ballot

The Think Long Committee for California – a panel of experts funded by an itinerant billionaire that had developed plans for tax reform and a citizens’ oversight committee – will delay putting its plans to voters from 2012 to 2014.

The committee, which released its report in November, issued a statement today sying it has been “vigorously discussing and developing a viable action plan and timeline for implementing our broad range of proposals ever since.”

“Consistent with our collective view that California needs to think, plan and act for the long term, we’ve been guided by the cardinal rule that it is far more important to get our reforms done ‘right’ than ‘right away,’” the committee said.

The committee had proposed broadening the state’s tax base while raising $10 billion per year in new revenue by extending the state sales tax to services such as auto repair, dry cleaning, legal work and accounting (but not health care or education), while lowering the sales tax on goods, reducing personal income tax rates and reducing the corporate tax rate.

It also proposed creating an “independent, impartial and nonpartisan” Citizens Council for Government Accountability. That council would have 13 members — including nine named by the governor — to oversee government functions and conduct long-term planning. It would have power to place measures directly on the ballot without collecting signatures, and to have the secretary of state publish its comments and positions on measures in the state voters’ guide. It also would have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents.

Members of the committee include former Gov. Gray Davis; former Assembly speaker and San Francisco mayor Willie Brown; former U.S. secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and George Shultz; GOP power broker Gerald Parsky; Google Chairman Eric Schmidt; and many others. Committee founder and funder Nicolas Berggruen had promised to put up at least $20 million to convince voters to implement these plans as ballot measures in 2012.

Although the proposals had seemed to meet with muted, if not negative reactions from many current politicos, the committee’s statement today says it was “gratified by the overwhelming interest from elected leaders in both parties, including Governor Brown, stakeholders and everyday citizens in these bold, broad-based changes.”

California is “hungry for real reform and are more willing than ever to support a sweeping plan that is fair and will put an end to California’s perpetual financial volatility and suffocating wall of debt,” the committee said.

“At the same time, we recognize the practical constraints of the 2012 election calendar – and have come to the conclusion that it will take more time to perfect these proposals, eliminate unintended consequences and provide every stakeholder and everyday Californians a meaningful voice in that process,” it said.

And so the committee will keep trying to sell the plan with hopes of putting it to voters on the November 2014 ballot.

“In the meantime, a high-turnout election is a terrible thing to waste. California voters deserve the opportunity in 2012 to begin the long process of reforming state government,” the committee’s statement said. “Therefore, in the coming days, we will be announcing our intention to partner with other organizations by generously supporting one or more reform measures that have already been filed for the 2012 elections, consistent with our Blueprint.”

The statement doesn’t specify which measures the committee will back.

The committee said it also will co-sponsor the California Economic Summit in May to develop a statewide job creation and competitiveness implementation plan; support regulatory reform, including that of the California Environmental Quality Act, to maintain the state’s environmental leadership while speeding up permissions for job-creating projects; and work with the governor and other state, federal and local officials to create “plug-and-play” pre-permitted zones to attract new investment to California.

UPDATE @ 3:40 P.M.: Gov. Jerry Brown just issued this statement: “Think Long is doing very important work and I look forward to working with them on the critical issue of more permanent tax reform.”

Posted on Tuesday, January 17th, 2012
Under: ballot measures, taxes | 1 Comment »