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What does California need? Reform, reform, reform

Sunne Wright McPeak

Sunne Wright McPeak

California’s increasingly precarious financial predicament will require major reforms of a wide variety, agreed  state leaders and former elected officials who spoke to the Contra Costa Council this morning during its annual CCUSA conference in Concord.

They blamed — not in equal parts — term limits, the two-thirds voting threshhold for budgets and taxes, campaign finance reform, partisan primaries, polemic politics in Sacramento and the Legislature’s inability to focus on solutions that work.

Ex=Business, Transportatoin and Housing Secretary Sunne Wright McPeak even went so far as to diss her former boss, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, calling his decision to roll back the vehicle license fee a terrible one that has helped contribute to at least $6 billion of the state’s structural deficit. McPeak has in the past been very circumspect in her comments about the governor and the three years she worked for him.

Asked how she woudl fix the $41 billion state budget gap, McPeak told the audience she would take three years in order to avoid irreparable damage to schools and social services. But she would hike the sales tax for two or three years and reinstate the vehicle license fee and permanently dedicate it to city and county governments.

McPeak called it a distraction to focus on the two-thirds requirement in the legislature to pass a budget or a tax hike.

“I don’t want ot get to a bad budget faster,” she said.

Instead, McPeak said she would shift the state’s full attention to growing the economy as a means to restore public funds in conjunction with a full analysis of existing state programs’ effectiveness.

Willie Brown

Willie Brown

Former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown’s reform ideas included an end to term limits and called it absurd that the two-thirds voting requirements have been imposed by a majority vote given the fact that these rules would never receive a two-thirds vote.

As for campaign finance, he called for a repeal of much of what he referred to as “so-called” reforms.

“In my time in public office, there were no such things as independent expenditures, he said. ” I was the independent expenditure. The public is entitled ot know who gave money and how much and how it was spent. These modern campaign reforms are bullshit. It conceals what is really happening and never really know the source of the money.”

Click through to next page for recommendations offered by anothe speaker, former Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla of Pittsburg.

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Contra Costa launches “Stop the Cuts” tour

Contra Costa area health and human services advocates plan a two-day “Stop the Cuts” tour on Thursday and Friday intended to illuminate the impacts of proposed cuts in the as-yet-approved state budget.

It’s yet another sign of frustration in California as state lawmakers remain deadlocked in Sacramento over how to jump the financial equivalent of the Grand Canyon with a bicycle.

The van starts at the Food Bank in Concord at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, and over the course of two days, advocates with Health Access will visit a rape crisis center in San Pablo, an adult daycare center in Pleasant Hill and a childcare center in Antioch.

The group has invited a number of elected officials to join them including county supervisors and local mayors.

But the advocates specifically target Assemblyman Guy Houston, R-San Ramon, in their tour announcement, calling on the sole Bay Area Republican lawmaker to see for himself the impacts of the governor’s proposed cuts. For example, Health Access estimates that 900 Contra Costa seniors and people with disabilities will lose the financial support they need to stay in their homes.

Democrats and Republicans are stymied in Sacramento over how to close a $15 billion deficit in the next fiscal year budget, which actually started July 1.

Democrats favor tax increases combined with cuts, while Republicans vow to fight tax hikes. Adding to the political pressure cooker, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vowed to cut to minimum wage the salaries of 200,000 state workers beginning Thursday as the state runs out money to pay its bills.

Lawmakers will eventually cut a deal — we hope — but most of their options are bad and the outcome is likely to please no one.

Click here to read the full press release and view the tour schedule.

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Dems blast budget cuts for elderly in Oakland

Bay Area Legislative Democrats did the latest installment of their roadshow this morning in Oakland to critique Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget-cut proposals.

Last month they were at Highland Hospital to highlight how the cuts will affect emergency medical care; they’ve also done events at local schools to underscore the impact of proposed education cuts. These are being replicated all over California as Democrats try to drive home the need for more tax revenue to help close the state’s $17 billion budget deficit.

Today they were at Las Bougainvilleas Senior Housing in Oakland’s Fruitvale District to talk about social services for the elderly, including a cut to the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on which many seniors depend on to remain independent and in their homes.

Among those on hand were state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland; state Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro; Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland; Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley; and Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley.

Swanson afterward issued a news release saying the governor’s budget plan “will inflict irreparable harm on human service programs vital to many in California. his amounts to turning our backs on the elderly, the disabled, and the most vulnerable in our society. Such cuts are not only a bad moral decision, but a bad economic decision as well.”

Swanson’s release repeated one of the talking points from the Perata news release which had announced today’s event:

One program set to receive deep cuts is In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), which is set to be reduced by $266 million. IHSS provides medical care to low-income, disabled and aged Californians in their homes, which allows them to avoid more expensive nursing home care. The Governor’s planned cuts would result in reduced State reimbursement of wages for IHSS workers and lower hours of provided care, eliminating IHSS for an estimated 83,000 recipients.

Aaron McLear, Schwarzenegger’s press secretary, begs to differ.

“That is inaccurate – it will not eliminate anyone from the program,” he told me a short while ago. “It will however reduce hours for about 83,000 recipients.”

McLear said state officials went case-by-case through the hundreds of thousands of Californians who rely on IHSS, identifying about 83,000 who could have their hours rolled back; on average, he said, the decrease would be from about 74 hours per month of in-home aid to about 52 hours per month. “But no one is being eliminated, and a vast majority of folks are not going to see a change in their service hours at all.”

McLear noted a quarter of IHSS funding comes from the state and a quarter from counties, with federal matching funds filling the rest. Counties could choose to step up and fill the gap left by state cuts, he suggested; I replied he’s risking angry phone calls from every cash-strapped county Board of Supervisors in California.

But IHSS has doubled in size over the past decade, he said, and couldn’t be entirely spared as the state grapples with its gargantuan deficit: “We can only spend the money we have, and this is a program that he reduced in his budget but we did it in a way that mitigated the effects of the cuts.”

As with all cuts, he said, “We don’t want to do this but we have to live within our means. This is exactly why we need budget reform – so we don’t have to go through this cyclical instability of the budget year after year.”

But Swanson said there’s not only a moral imperative to preserve IHSS – there’s an economic imperative as well. “As Chair of the Assembly Labor & Employment Committee, I am concerned about the effect of the Governor’s proposed cuts on jobs in our state. IHSS allows families to care for loved ones who need medical assistance, without jeopardizing their own ability to work. Furthermore, cuts to health services in general would force mass layoffs of health care workers. Such a move will further damage California’s economy at the absolute worst possible time.”

UPDATE @ 5:52 P.M. MONDAY: Here’s video of today’s event in Oakland:

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Political Haiku, Vol. 2

Perata can’t pick
between successors, backs both.
Vote Lonma Chancock!

DNC decides
to seat delegates in half.
Clinton’s goose is cooked.

Still McNerney waits,
his superdelegate vote
so soon safely moot.

Schwarzenegger comes
to Oakland to flog budget.
Dellums begs for cops.

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Lawmakers, governor spar on health budget

perata.jpgState Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland; Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley; and others were at Alameda County Medical Center’s Highland Hospital in Oakland for a news conference this morning denouncing the governor’s proposed budget cuts.

This latest of Perata’s budget roadshow appearances brought doctors and nurses to the fore, talking about how the cuts will jeopardize the availability and quality of emergency medical care for all Californians.

“Hospitals and emergency rooms across California are feeling the squeeze,” Perata said. “The bottom line is these budget cuts would weaken the emergency medical care system and put all the lives it protects at greater risk.”

hancock.jpgSaid Hancock: “Balancing the state’s budget on the backs of poor people isn’t the solution. The Governor’s proposed budget cuts will cause irreversible damage to our state. Slashing billions of dollars out of our healthcare system endangers the fiscal health of hospitals and the well-being of seniors and children.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s revised budget proposal recommends reducing hospital funding by $100 million and taking health insurance away from 470,000 children and 429,000 adults, the lawmakers say; as it is, the state already has a shortage of hospital beds, increasing emergency-room waiting times and fewer emergency rooms.

Aaron McLear, Schwarzenegger’s press secretary, said Perata should tone down the rhetoric and start working on a compromise solution.

“The governor has said he would love to provide more money to health and human servicess and education and parks and everything else, but we can’t spent money we don’t have,” McLear said to me this afternoon, adding the governor must provide a balanced budget proposal and “he doesn’t believe we ought to be raising taxes… The governor believes his May revision is the best we can do given that we’re $17 billion short.”

“We’re anxious to get started on hearing more than rhetoric, on hearing solutions from the Legislature,” McLear continued, noting he considers lawmakers his partners in this crisis and wants to work with them. “But the process doesn’t move forward if all you have is the leaders of the legislature out there doing press conferences.”

Of course, the Democrats’ news conferences are a tactic not only to build public pressure on the governor and Republican lawmakers to back off their no-tax-hikes pledge and fully fund hospitals, schools and the like, but also to build support for the bigger political goal of doing away with the requirement that budget and tax bills pass both Legislative houses with two-thirds majorities rather than just simple 50-percent-plus-one majorities.

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New ad blasts GOP for yacht-tax loophole

Here’s the Courage Campaign‘s new television ad “re-branding California Republicans as the ‘Yacht Party’ for refusing to close a ‘yacht tax’ loophole despite an initial $16 billion state budget deficit.”

United Healthcare Workers-West and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, are joining with more than 550 small donors to air the ads in Sacramento and San Francisco today and Thursday, and in Walnut Creek, Palm Springs, and other areas at times not yet determined.

The “Yacht Party” concept began on Calitics, a state politics blog. Netroots activists there came up with the term and then produced a one-minute YouTube video, created by blogger David Dayen; that video inspired this ad.

UPDATE @ 3:20 P.M. WEDNESDAY: Man, they make it TOO easy. This just in from the California Democratic Party:

Perhaps the fumes from the engines on their power yachts finally got to them. That’s the only logical explanation we can think of as to why the Assembly Republicans, breaking their own record for political tone-deafness, would have chosen the swanky new boutique hotel Le Rivage as the location for their caucus retreat.

Nestled into the banks of the Sacramento River, Le Rivage offers “elegant surroundings, select accommodations, impeccable service, and unique amenities combine to create the finest luxury hotel in California’s capital.” What unique amenities, you ask?

How about – you guessed it — “luxury yacht parking, long term and short term.”

According to the hotel’s website: Le Rivage Hotel proudly hosts Sacramento’s premier yacht parking. Conveniently located adjacent to the luxury hotel and on The Sacramento River. Le Rivage Marina includes

  • 25 permanent slips from 36-100ft vessels
  • Dual 50 amp service
  • Pump-out station
  • Boat catering
  • Short-term parking
  • Yacht sales
  • Use of hotel pool, whirlpool, and fitness center with berth rental

  • What better way for Assembly Republicans to celebrate their crowning legislative accomplishment of the new session thus far – their killing of the bill to close the “sloophole”?