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Activists seek ‘Robin Hood tax’ upon Wall Street

Activists organized in part by the California Nurses Association rallied Friday at congressional offices in 22 cities – including four in Northern California – to call for a tax on Wall Street speculation to relieve economic inequality and address basic needs.

The Oakland-based union scheduled the events for Friday because it’s the 46th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who at the time of his death was amid a campaign for economic justice that included anti-poverty and worker-rights issues.

Supporters of HR 1579 – authored by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and cosponsored by local lawmakers including Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and John Garamendi, D-Fairfield – sometimes call it the “Robin Hood tax.”

The bill would levy a tax of 50 cents on every $100 of stock trades and smaller amounts on transactions of bonds and derivatives. Its goal to reduce harmful financial market speculation; discourage high-volume, high-speed trading; and slow down proliferation of complex derivatives while raising hundreds of billions of dollars per year for jobs, health care, education, the fights against HIV/AIDS and climate change, and more.

Several dozen countries have similar taxes, and the United States had one until 1966. Business leaders including Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs, Robert Pollin, and Larry Summers have recommended adopting a financial transaction tax, and after Wall Street’s crash 1987, such a tax was endorsed by President George H.W. Bush and U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan. And former Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, carried a similar bill in 2010.

There’s no chance the Republican-led House will ever advance this bill.

Still, Northern California activists rallied Friday at the offices of congressmen George Miller in Concord, Mike Honda in San Jose, Ami Bera in Rancho Cordova and Jeff Denham in Modesto – three Democrats and a Republican, respectively.

“My patients are trying to heal from an illness or surgery and when they go home they are forced to make a decision between buying medication or food,” California Nurses Association co-president Malinda Markowitz, an RN at San Jose’s Good Samaritan Hospital, said in a news release. “That’s why I want Rep. Mike Honda to support the people of this community by supporting the Robin Hood Tax.”

The nurses’ union notes King once said, “This is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have nots. The question is whether America will do it.”

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Fitch upgrades California bonds from ‘A-‘ to ‘A’

Fitch Ratings today announced it has upgraded the rating on $72 billion in California general-obligation bonds from “A-” to “A” and upgraded the rating outlook from “stable” to “positive” – another sign of Wall Street’s resurgent confidence in the Golden State.

Fitch’s move, the first upgrade the state has seen in three years, follows similar action from Standard & Poor’s in January.

Gov. Jerry Brown tweeted Tuesday afternoon that it’s “a further move toward greater fiscal stability;” spokesman Evan Westrup said it’s a sign that Brown’s approach is working, and underscores the need for continued budgetary discipline.

“The upgrade is based on institutionalized changes to fiscal management in recent years, which combined with the ongoing economic and revenue recovery have enabled the state to materially improve its overall fiscal standing,” according to Fitch’s statement. “Notable progress includes timely, more structurally sound budgets, spending restraint, and sizable reductions in budgetary debt.”

Fitch said California’s economy is “wealthy and unmatched among U.S. states in its size and diversity. After severe, widespread recessionary conditions, growth has resumed, including in California’s housing market.” Meanwhile, “tax-supported debt is moderate, although it has grown in the last decade for infrastructure needs and budgetary borrowing. Pension funded ratios have declined and contributions to the teacher system remain inadequate, but the state has instituted some benefit reforms.”

It ain’t all roses. Fitch reports California’s finances “are subject to periodic, severe budget and cash flow stress due to economic cyclicality, revenue volatility tied to personal income taxes, carried over structural imbalances, a lack of reserves and institutional inflexibility.” But the state “expanded its ability to manage cash flow weakness during the last downturn, and other progress made to date can be expected to make the effects of future downturns more manageable,” the rating agency found.

“Deep recurring spending cuts in recent adopted budgets and a restrained approach to restoring past cuts have significantly lowered the state’s structural imbalance,” the statement says. “Nevertheless, the state carries a heavy burden of budgetary borrowing from the last two fiscal crises and its historical difficulty achieving and sustaining budgetary solutions poses an ongoing risk.”

Fitch also cautioned that voter initiatives “have reduced the state’s discretion to effectively manage budgetary challenges over time. However, more recent initiatives authorizing a simple legislative majority to approve spending and temporarily raising tax revenues have been instrumental to current fiscal progress.”

“Although California’s fiscal situation has improved significantly, Fitch views the state as being a long way from a full recovery from the effects of two fiscal crises over a little more than a decade,” the rating agency found. “Budgetary borrowing in the form of deferrals, internal loans and deficit bonds will remain a drag on current resources for several years even under optimistic scenarios. Despite the institutional reforms of recent years, unmet needs to address unemployment borrowing, underfunding of teacher pensions, and prisons represent material risks.”

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Ellen Tauscher introduces anti-foreclosure bill

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, introduced a bill Wednesday that would let the California Housing Finance Agency issue an estimated $10 billion in new bonds to help refinance “underwater” mortgages and jump-start growth in neighborhoods devastated by home foreclosures.

The bill also would grant CalHFA the power to use Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) money to help families refinance their homes at a price they can afford in order to avoid foreclosure.

“Foreclosures are decimating neighborhoods from Fairfield to Antioch and Oakley,” Tauscher said in her news release. “This legislation will help families in the hardest hit areas get the additional resources they need to stay in their homes and keep these vibrant communities from disappearing.”

Tauscher’s co-authors on the bill are Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater; Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.; and Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y.

Cardoza’s Central Valley district includes more than half of the city of Stockton, which has been rocked by one of the nation’s highest foreclosure rates. “As I have continued to say, the foreclosure crisis remains at the heart of our nation’s economic crisis. It is imperative that we pursue all means to address this problem and ensure that taxpayer funds are being used in the most responsible way,” he said.

UPDATE @ 8:36 A.M. THURSDAY: Click here for a copy of the bill.

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This week in big-time campaign cash

Topping this week’s roundup of big ($25,000 or more) spenders on California campaigns and committees is Arizona education and communications magnate Peter Sperling‘s $1.75 million Thursday for Proposition 7, which would require California utilities to procure half of their power from renewable resources by 2025. This brings Sperling’s stake in the measure to $9 million so far.

Bob Wilson of Brooklyn, N.Y., gave $1.4 million Tuesday to the campaign for Proposition 5, which would expand state funding and oversight for treatment and rehab programs for nonviolent drug offenders and parolees while reducing criminal penalties and limiting courts’ authority to lock up offenders who violate probation or parole. (This donation double’s Wilson’s prior investment in the measure to a total of $2.8 million so far; I’m pretty sure this Bob Wilson is the same retired hedge fund manager and philanthropist Robert W. Wilson who has given substantially to the campaign against Proposition 8.) Meanwhile, the Police Officers Research Association of Califorina (PORAC) political action committee put up $50,000 Wednesday to oppose Proposition 5.

Natural gas giant Chesapeake Energy of Oklahoma City, Okla., put up $1 million Tuesday to support Proposition 10, a $5 billion bond measure called the California Alternative Fuels Initiative that would provide cash incentives to buyers of certain high-fuel-economy and alternative-fuel vehicles as well as to companies researching and developing renewable energy and cleaner cars.

Ponying up this week for the campaign against Proposition 2 — which would prohibit confinement of certain farm animals in ways that don’t let them turn freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs — were Demler Enterprises of Wasco, with $182,827.10 Monday; the Demler-owned Pine Hill Egg Ranch of Ramona, with $105,000 Monday; the Washington, D.C.-based American Farm Bureau Federation, with $50,000 Wednesday; Norco Ranch Inc. of Norco, with $35,967.95 Tuesday; and McAnally Enterprises of Norco, with $25,631.74 Tuesday. Meanwhile, the San Francisco-based Caufield Family Foundation gave $50,000 Wednesday and the New York City-based Humane Society of the United States gave another $33,000 Monday to support Proposition 2.

Healthcare supply heir and billionaire philanthropist Jon Stryker of Kalamazoo, Mich., gave $200,000 Wednesday (bringing his total so far to $550,000); UNITE HERE‘s New York City-based issues fund put up $100,000 Saturday; the Oakland-based Service Employees International Union United Health Workers West PAC coughed up $100,000 Wednesday; Jonathan Lewis of Coral Gables, Fla., gave $100,000 Wednesday; “Grey’s Anatomy” star T.R. Knight of New York City sent $50,000 Tuesday; the PAC of SEIU Local 1000, representing state workers, gave $50,000 Wednesday; and firedoglake.com editor Susan McIntosh of Menlo Park gave $30,000 Wednesday for the campaign against Proposition 8, the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Equality California shifted $500,000 it had collected into the main “No on 8” fund Thursday. Meanwhile, Dr. Josephine Templeton of Bryn Mawr, Pa., gave $100,000 Tuesday and Laguna Niguel businessman Richard Jordan gave $25,000 Tuesday to support Proposition 8.

The Democratic State Central Committee of California gave $185,000 Monday to Manuel Perez’s 80th Assembly District campaign; $184,000 Tuesday to Fran Florez’s 30th Assembly District campaign; and $35,960.42 Wednesday to former Assemblywoman Hannah Beth Jackson‘s 19th State Senate District campaign. The Merced County Democratic Central Committee kicked in $60,000 Tuesday to Jackson’s campaign, too, and the San Diego County Democratic Party gave her $50,000 Wednesday. The Yolo County Democratic Central Committee gave $50,000 Wednesday to Assemblywoman Lois Wolk’s 5th State Senate District campaign.

Across the aisle, the California Republican Party gave $100,000 Thursday — after the Republican Central Committee of Orange County had given $30,200 and the Republican Party of Riverside County had given $27,600, both Tuesday — to former Assemblyman Tony Strickland‘s 19th State Senate District campaign. The state GOP also handed over $90,000 today for Gary Jeandron’s 80th Assembly District campaign; the Fresno County Republican Central Committee had given Jeandron $30,000 Tuesday. And Livermore businessman and rancher Robert Rao must’ve had some debt left over from his unsuccessful bid in the 15th Assembly District’s GOP primary, because he put $93,818.19 of his own money into his campaign fund Tuesday.

The construction industry’s California Alliance for Jobs Rebuild California Committee gave $300,000 Thursday to support Proposition 1A, the $10 billion bond measure for high-speed rail.

Crime Victims United of California gave $100,000 Saturday to the campaign for Proposition 6, a tough-on-crime package including adult prosecution for gang-related criminals 14 and up; annual criminal background checks for public housing residents; harsher bail conditions and penalties for certain crimes; and so on. Meanwhile, the California School Employees Association‘s political action committee put up $50,000 Tuesday to the joint campaign against Proposition 6 and Proposition 9, the latter of which would expand crime victims’ rights including restitution.

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles gave $107,900 Tuesday and the UCSF Foundation in San Francisco gave $35,000 Saturday to support Proposition 3, the Children’s Hospital Bond Act, which would authorize almost $1 billion in bonds to be repaid from state’s General Fund to pay for construction, expansion, remodeling, renovation, furnishing and equipping of children’s hospitals. Also, the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems dumped $83,333 into its own issues fund Wednesday, presumably on its way somewhere else… wanna bet where?

Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla of Portola Valley gave $50,000 Wednesday and Judith Koch of Mountain View gave $25,000 Tuesday to oppose Proposition 4, the proposed state constitutional amendment which would require doctors to inform the parent or guardian of a minor 48 hours before providing an abortion to that minor.