UC Regents urged to finish gun industry divestment

Activists preparing to mark Saturday’s anniversary of last year’s murderous rampage in Isla Vista, in which six UC Santa Barbara students were killed and 13 were wounded, urged the UC Board of Regents on Thursday to finish divesting the system from any investments in the firearm industry.

Thousands of petition signatures were delivered to the board’s meeting at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus by Allie Clement, a 2012 UC Santa Barbara graduate who hails from Newtown, Conn. — the site of 2012’s schoolhouse massacre. “I couldn’t believe that both my hometown and my college town were affected by gun violence.”

Bob Weiss of Thousand Oaks described to the board how his 19-year-old daughter, Veronika, was among those gunned down by Elliot Rodger that awful day.

“If this body is invested in the gun industry, that means you’re in the gun business, and if you’re in the gun business, I’m in the gun business. I don’t want to be in the gun business,” Weiss said, his voice breaking. “I don’t know how any of you can sleep at night with all of the students who have been killed.”

UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein said the system divested itself of any direct gun-industry investments in 2013, and is now combing through its vast portfolio to see if any of its mutual funds have such stakes; any that are found will be sold, she said.


Senators will urge pension funds to shun Russia

In a move that could have a lot more impact than a vodka boycott, state Senate Democrats intend to introduce a resolution urging California’s massive public pension funds not to invest future resources in Russia.

Mark Leno“The anti-gay laws recently passed in Russia are an unconscionable affront to LGBT people across the world, not just those who live in that country,” state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said in a news release. “Californians cannot silently sit back and tacitly condone these practices by continuing to invest in and support Russian enterprises. CalPERS and CalSTRS are well placed to use their economic clout to make a strong statement that it’s unacceptable to persecute and discriminate against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Leno – joined by sate Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento; Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach; and bill sponsor Equality California – will offer a resolution – urging the California Public Employees Retirement System and the California State Teachers Retirement System to cease making direct future investments in Russia, and to encourage companies in which employee retirement funds are invested and that are doing business in Russia not to enable human rights violations.

It also will call on the International Olympic Committee to seek a written guarantee from the Russian government that athletes and other visitors to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi will not be prosecuted under the anti-gay laws; urges NBC Universal to discuss the negative impact of these laws on-air during its broadcast of the games; and calls upon the president, Congress, and the State Department to increase efforts to encourage the decriminalization of homosexuality in countries around the world.

Russian President Vladimir Putin enacted a new law June 30 that threatens arrest, detainment and imprisonment for up to 15 days for individuals or groups found to be publicly supportive of LGBT equality. Punishable offenses could include public acknowledgment of one’s orientation, displays of affection between same-sex partners, statements in support of LGBT rights, and the use of symbols such as rainbows that are attributed to the LGBT community. Hate crimes and public persecution of gays have increased in the months following the enactment of these extreme measures.

“What’s happening in Russia is an outrageous violation of basic human rights, and history has taught us time and time again what can happen when we remain silent in the face of such persecution,” Steinberg said in the news release. “It’s imperative that we stand strong with our LGBT brothers and sisters by clearly condemning these homophobic laws and policies. Through the world stage of next year’s Winter Olympics and through adherence to socially responsible investment practices, we can help put an end to this aggressive discrimination.


California parents value college but aren’t saving

California parents value a college education more than a good-paying job for their kids, but most have not started saving to help pay for that education, according to a new survey conducted for ScholarShare, the state’s “529” college savings plan.

“The good news is parents realize the importance of a college degree to their kids’ future and economic prosperity,” State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who chairs the ScholarShare Investment Board, said in a news release. “The bad news is higher education costs continue to rise, and most parents have not been able to start making preparations to help ensure their family can afford those costs. A ScholarShare account can help fill that critical financial need.”

Named for the section of the IRS code under which they were created, 529 plans let earnings on investments grow tax-deferred, and disbursements, when used for tuition and other qualified higher education expenses, are federal and state tax-free. ScholarShare accounts can be opened with as little as $25, or $15 when combined with regular, automatic monthly contributions of at least $15. The program has no annual account maintenance fee, no income limit and offers a high maximum contribution cap of $350,000. ScholarShare now holds more than $4.4 billion in assets in about 250,000 accounts.

The survey conducted by Hart Research Associates found 84 percent of parents considered it “very important” that their children attend college. That’s a higher percentage than those who prioritized having a good-paying job (75 percent) or owning a home (69 percent). Latino (93 percent), black (88 percent) and Asian (90 percent) parents said attending college was “very important” at significantly higher rates than white parents (72 percent). And 78 percent of parents overall said a college education was more important now than it was 10 years ago.

The survey also that when asked what they would be willing to do to improve their current financial situation, 65 percent of parents would be willing to delay their retirement and 46 percent would be willing to save less for their retirement. But only 45 percent said they would delay saving for their kids’ college education and 40 percent said they would save less for their kids’ education.

Yet most parents worry about being able to afford their kids’ tuition: 53 percent said they’re “very concerned” about their ability to pay.

Only 43 percent of parents have a college savings account. Parents who have been saving more than 10 years have set aside an average of $25,193, compared to $14,733 for those saving 6-10 years and $4,663 for those saving five years or less.

Fifty-nine percent of parents surveyed said it’s certain or very likely their children will attend a University of California or California State University school; 51 percent said it was certain or very likely their children would go to a community college; and only 26 percent said it was certain or very likely their children would attend a private university. (That adds up to more than 100 percent because the “very likelies” have some either-or.)

And 44 percent of parents said they expected scholarships or grants to cover at least half of their children’s higher education costs; 35 percent said cost coverage would come from their own savings and income, and 28 percent said it would come from student loans. (That adds up to more than 100 percent because parents expect to use more than one funding source.)


Will East Bay lawmakers feel the money pinch?

With state Controller John Chiang telling lawmakers they won’t get paid because they haven’t passed a balanced budget, it seemed like a good time to see which of our East Bay electeds are most likely to feel the pinch. The Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests filed by public officials each year sheds some light on who has a financial cushion and who doesn’t.

State Senate Marjority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, reported no investments, real property or other income besides gifts and travel costs.

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, reported a 10-percent-or-greater share in the ownership of TR’s Bar and Grill worth somewhere between $10,000 and $100,000, but reported receiving less than $500 in income from it last year.

State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, reported no investments, real property or other income besides gifts and travel costs.

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, reported more than $100,000 in income from her husband’s job as a systems architect at OSI in San Leandro.

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, reported holding more than $1 million in stock in AON Corp., as well as up to $100,000 in JP Morgan Chase stock, up to $10,000 in Bank of America stock, and up to $10,000 in Motorola stock. Buchanan also reported some venture capital participation: she’s a limited partner in Blackrock Global, with up to $100,000 invested, and in the Halo Fund, with up to $10,000 invested. And she has up to $10,000 in a First Eagle mutual fund.

Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley, reported owning a rental property in Castro Valley worth between $100,000 and $1 million, from which she derived between $10,000 and $100,000 in income last year.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, reported no investments, real property or other income besides gifts and travel costs.

Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, reported sole proprietorship of his SRS Associates public relations consulting firm worth up to $10,000, and had somewhere between $1,000 and $10,000 in income from it last year. He also reported sharing in the ownership of the California Legislative Black Caucus Policy Institute, from which he received less than $500 last year, and of the East Bay Conversion and Reinvestment Commission, from which he received less than $500 last year.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, reported a share in the ownership of Crusader LLC financial management group worth between $10,000 and $100,000, as well as his role as president of his legal practice, which he valued between $100,000 and $1 million; he received more than $100,000 from the law practice last year.


Eshoo floats TARP payback for local governments

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, today introduced a “Restitution for Local Government Act of 2010” to help counties and other public entities get back some of the more than $1.7 billion they lost when Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008.

Eshoo’s bill would require the Treasury Department to buy Lehman’s assets from these municipalities using profits from the sale of any future Troubled Asset Relief Program assets.

“The purpose of TARP was to prevent the collapse of financial institutions and mitigate the damage of their reckless behavior on the American people. More than 40 municipalities, including San Mateo County in my Congressional District, invested over a billion dollars in the purportedly stable and safe financial products of Lehman Brothers,” she said in her news release. “When Lehman collapsed, San Mateo County and other public agencies across the country were crippled, and we owe them some relief.”

Across California, 28 cities and counties lost a total of about $250 million, with San Mateo County’s loss by far the biggest – $155 million between the county, its cities and its school districts – resulting in teachers being laid off, road and school repairs being canceled, and construction of new buildings being halted. A report commissioned by the county estimated more than 1,500 jobs were lost or not created because of the loss of taxpayer dollars.

The East Bay saw losses too, including Alameda County’s $5 million and Fremont’s $4 million.

“By selling TARP assets, the federal government has already made more than ten times the amount of money that public institutions lost when Lehman collapsed,” Eshoo said. “My legislation will require the Secretary of the Treasury to provide relief to these institutions with any future profit.”

The Treasury Department has earned $15.4 billion from dividends, interest, and the sale of bank stock which it bought through TARP, and expects another $7.5 billion from the sale of its 27-percent stake in Citigroup. Eshoo’s bill would use some future TARP profits to buy up Lehman securities, bonds and other instruments held by dozens of local governments across the nation when the global financial-services firm went belly up in 2008. Local governments receiving these funds would have to report back to the federal government on how the money is used and to show job creation, retention, and economic activity equal to the amount of funds they received.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, is the bill’s first cosponsor. “Lehman Brothers’ financial practices were mired in deceit and deception,” Speier said in Eshoo’s release. “The ensuing investment losses have fallen directly on the shoulders of my constituents who have to bear the burden of reduced educational, health and public safety services. It is imperative that this measure be enacted to protect the welfare of residents of all the municipalities stung by the Lehman Brothers’ shell game.”