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Poll: Brown, Props 1 & 2 look good; 45 & 46 lagging

Gov. Jerry Brown is cruising to re-election and the ballot measures he supports are looking good, while voters aren’t sure about two other, more contentious measures, according to the Hoover Institution’s Golden State Poll.

The survey, administered by the survey research firm YouGov from Oct. 3-17, sampled 1,273 California adults, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.65 percent for the full sample.

“The poll’s numbers reflect a California election that contains little in the way of political intrigue or public enthusiasm,” Hoover fellow Bill Whalen, a California politics expert who leads question development for the Golden State Poll, said in a news release. “However, there are signs of trouble on the horizon. The public isn’t sold on some contentious tax and social issues.”

Brown leads Republican challenger Neel Kashkari 48 percent to 31 percent among registered voters – a 17-point gap not unlike the average of four other recent polls. Yet Brown, seeking an unprecedented fourth term, doesn’t achieve majority support in this poll.

43 percent of voters planning to cast ballots in this election said strengthening California’s economy should be the governor’s top priority next year; 17 percent said balancing the state’s budget should be the top priority; 16 percent said improving the state’s public education system should be the top priority; 10 percent reducing the state’s long-term debt burden should take precedence; 7 percent said improving roads, bridges and public transportation is most important; and 6 percent said protecting the environment is most important.

Voters planning to cast ballots in this election are split on what to do with Proposition 30, Brown’s 2012 ballot measure that temporarily raised income taxes on the rich and increased sales taxes by a quarter-cent. The poll found 21 percent want it made permanent; 9 percent would extend it for six to 10 years beyond its scheduled expiration in 2018; 17 percent would extended it for one to five years; 17 percent would let it expire; and 29 percent would repeal it as soon as possible, while 8 percent weren’t sure.

Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond, is supported by 52 percent of voters planning to cast ballots in this election and opposed by 22 percent, with 26 percent unsure.

Proposition 2, to beef up the state budget’s “rainy day” reserve fund, is supported by 47 percent and opposed by 19 percent, with 34 percent unsure.

Proposition 45, to grant the insurance commissioner authority to reject unreasonable health insurance rate hikes, is supported by 42 percent and opposed by 30 percent, with 29 percent unsure.

Proposition 46 – to raise the cap on non-economic medical malpractice lawsuit damages, require drug testing of doctors, and require use of a state database to avoid “doctor shopping” by drug abusers – is supported by 34 percent and opposed by 37 percent, with 30 percent unsure.

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California’s budget finished 2013-14 in the black

California finished its fiscal year in the black for the first time since 2007, state Controller John Chiang confirmed Thursday.

California in the blackThat means the state had funds available to meet all of its payment obligations without needing to borrow from Wall Street or from the $23.8 billion available in its more than 700 internal special funds and accounts.

“While this is welcome news after seven years of record-high borrowing just to pay our everyday bills, we still have much work to do,” Chiang said in a news release. “We should remain laser-focused on paying down the Wall of Debt, reversing the many accounting gimmicks to which we’ve become addicted and keeping the State as liquid as possible to avoid experiencing the payment delays and IOUs that plagued our State during the Great Recession.”

The economy inevitably will decline again sooner or later, he noted. “We should be vigilant about preparing for that day while we celebrate the great progress we’ve made to date.”

Chiang’s report found the General Fund had $1.9 billion in cash on June 30, marking the first time it has ended the fiscal year in the black since 2007, when it ended the year with $2.5 billion in the bank.

For the 2013-14 fiscal year, revenues came in at $101.6 billion, or $2.1 billion (2.1 percent) more than projected in the Governor’s budget released in January. Personal income taxes totaled $66.2 billion, coming in $1.7 billion above the January estimates (2.6 percent). Corporate taxes totaled $8.5 billion, which was $725 million more than expected (9.3 percent). Retail sales and use taxes came in at $22.2 billion, or $415 million under (1.8 percent) the estimates.

Revenues for June alone totaled $14.8 billion, beating estimates in the 2014-15 Governor’s Budget by $304 million (2.1 percent). Income tax collections for the month of June came in $635 million (7.4 percent) above estimates. Corporate taxes topped estimates by $289 million (13.2 percent). Sales taxes came in short of estimates by $265.8 million (11.6 percent).

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Lawmakers sing ‘Kum-Ba-Yah’ on rainy-day fund

It’s a rare “Kum-Ba-Yah” day under the State Capitol dome, as the Legislature in unanimously approved a new ballot measure to modify the state budget’s rainy-day fund.

The proposal voters will consider in November would double the reserve’s size from 5 percent to 10 percent of the General Fund; the state would set aside 1.5 percent of the general fund each year, and supplement that with extra capital-gains revenue. For the next 15 years, half of what’s set aside would help pay down the state’s debt and unfunded liabilities, including public employee pensions and retiree health care.

The votes were 75-0 in the Assembly and 36-0 in the state Senate.

From Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento:

“This compromise agreement between legislative leaders of both parties and the Governor balances the needs of fiscal stability and planning for the future. It will help attenuate cuts in vital services during economic downturns, aggressively pay down state liabilities and indebtedness, and still maintain the room that we need for investing in California and its people. This is a formula we should embrace not only in the future, but also for the 2014-15 State Budget we’re negotiating now.”

“We always must have a balance. I have long believed we should approach budgeting in a way people can readily understand; one-third of our excess revenue to pay down debt, one-third to put away for a ‘rainy day,’ and one-third left to invest and reinvest in California and its people. By using this agreement as our approach in debating the upcoming budget, we can make sure there is room left for some investment to meet the needs of our children and families who are still struggling to recover from the cuts we were forced to make during the recession.”

From Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Brea:

“I think it demonstrates to the people of California that when you have a robust bipartisan discussion, you can make things better because we all bring something to the table… To that end, we wanted to make sure that it’s truly a rainy day fund, and not an everyday fund.”

From Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro:

“Following today’s bipartisan vote in the California State Senate, I am pleased that legislative colleagues on both sides of the aisle voted to affirm this important Rainy Day Fund proposal that seeks to ensure greater long term economic security for California. Our state can and should save for the future so that we can minimize the potential for future drastic cuts to education, health, human services and other critical programs, while also paying down debt. This new reserve fund, if approved by voters, will be an important step to help secure California’s economic future.”

“California’s economy is one of the largest in the world and is certainly an important driving force within the United States. It makes sense for state elected officials to support efforts that will continue to encourage California’s growth and future economic strength. Just as families must prepare for unexpected job losses or expenses, so too must the state prudently prepare for if and when another recession occurs.”

From Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford:

“This is exactly why I came to Sacramento – to work on bipartisan measures that benefit the people of California. I hope this is the first of many historic agreements. Let this be an example of how we can work across the aisle on a water bond.”

From Assembly Speaker Emeritus John Perez, D-Los Angeles:

“This is a strong proposal for the voters to consider, and I am very proud of the work we have done on a bipartisan basis to take another monumental step forward in making California a model for fiscal responsibility across the country. By putting a genuine Rainy Day Fund before the voters, we can break the bad habits of the past where we overspend in good years and overcut in tough years, and this measure will ensure that we maintain the health of California’s finances in the years to come.”

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What they’re saying about Brown’s budget

We’ve included some reactions to Gov. Jerry Brown’s May budget revision in our main story, but here are some more.

From Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego:

Toni Atkins“The Governor’s revised budget provides a solid starting point for the final phase of our deliberations. I am particularly pleased the Governor has built upon the framework Assembly Democrats proposed for a STRS solution earlier this year. That, and the Rainy Day Fund we are poised to pass this week, are two great steps forward to ensure California’s economic stability. As we finalize the budget over the next few weeks, we will also look to expand opportunity by combatting child poverty, improving access to higher education, increasing funding for transportation projects, and taking strides to expand affordable housing. Based on the Governor’s May revision and the more than 50 hearings the Assembly has already held, I am confident we are on track for another on-time, balanced budget – one that will help solidify the state’s fiscal position for years to come.”

From State Senate Budget Committee Vice Chair Jim Nielsen, R-Chico:

Jim Nielsen“The Governor should be commended for proposing to set aside $1.6 billion for the Rainy Day fund; and to pay down $11 billion in debt but this is a mere 3 percent of the state’s $340 billion debt.

“Unfortunately, his budget also includes increased spending on permanent programs that will inevitably take us back to deficit spending.

“More money needs to be set aside for the Rainy Day Fund and for emergencies like wildfires, natural disasters and public safety.

“State revenues are forecast to increase by $2.4 billion. While this appears to be good news, this is a veneer generated by a temporary tax that was promised for education and public safety; and will expire in three years.

“The high speed rail from Merced to Bakersfield is a boondoggle not worthy of precious taxpayers’ dollars.

“In the coming months, the Legislature must rectify the Governor’s failure to help counties protect their citizens by providing more funding for realignment. Counties need money for rehabilitation, inmate housing and supervision, and court costs.

“The administration is releasing the second class of realignment prisoners, making our communities more dangerous. State leaders shouldn’t wait for a catastrophe before we fix this ill-conceived program.”

From state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro:

Ellen Corbett“Coupled with last week’s bipartisan Rainy Day Fund agreement, today’s budget revision further sets California on track to fiscal health and economic growth so that all Californians may benefit from our state’s improving economy.”

“I praise the Governor’s short and long term commitment to supporting education at all levels, including career technical education at our state’s community colleges and high speed internet access at our K-12 schools that need it the most. California’s future depends largely on our continued investment in today’s students, so we must ensure that California’s education system is strong and offers students the needed preparatory tools to enter an increasingly global and technological job market.”

“I also thank the Governor for committing to help ensure the long term solvency of the teacher pension system. It is critical that we help secure the retirements of California’s educators.”

“I am pleased that the Governor’s revised budget also proposes significantly increased access to health care for millions of Californians through Medi-Cal and Covered California. We must certainly continue to restore the frayed safety net upon which many of my 10th State Senate District constituents rely during these still tough economic times.”

From State Board of Equalization member George Runner:

“The Governor is on the right track in proposing a budget that has no new taxes, contains ongoing expenses, pays down debt and begins to address the state’s growing pension costs.

“I just wish the Governor would repeal the fire tax and stop the bullet train.

“In addition, California continues to rank as the worst state to do business in an annual survey of business leaders.

“The next test for the Governor will be how he deals with legislators who want to raise taxes and spend billions more. Will he hold the line?”

More, after the jump…
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Signatures sent in for Medi-Cal funding measure

Health care providers and community groups have gathered and are submitting 1.3 million signatures to put a measure on November’s ballot that they say will provide stable funding for health care for children and, through Medi-Cal, for seniors and low-income residents.

“California voters will get the chance this fall to strengthen this critically important law, and improve access to quality affordable medical care for those who need it most,” California Hospital Association President and CEO C. Duane Dauner said in a news release.

The Medi-Cal Funding and Accountability Act of 2014 “will ensure California receives ongoing access to approximately $3 billion annually in federal matching funds,” Dauner said. “This is California’s fair share, money that would otherwise be left on the table in Washington, D.C.”

California’s hospitals for the past several years have taxed themselves to get access to the federal funds, but the budget-crunched state at times has diverted some of that money to its general fund. Last year’s SB 239, passed by the Legislature without any opposing votes and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, extended this fee through 2017 and specified how the money could be spent.

This measure would make that law permanent, and would require that “any changes in the program or to how the money is spent would have to be approved by voters first,” Christopher Dawes, president and CEO of Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and Stanford Children’s Health, noted in the release.

Patients aren’t assessed any fees, and there are no new or increased taxes.

“We don’t have a single voice of opposition – this is a win-win for everybody… and it doesn’t cost a dime to California taxpayers,” said Anne McLeod, the California Hospital Association’s senior vice president of health policy.

The money must be spent to provide health care services to children and, through Medi-Cal, to elderly and low-income Californians. Without the federal funds, money would have to come from privately insured patients; the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office finds the measure would save state taxpayers $500 million for children’s health coverage starting in 2016-17, growing to more than $1 billion per year by 2019-20.

Dauner said people with private insurance shouldn’t face higher rates to subsidize unpaid Medi-Cal bills if federal money is available to cover the cost. “The Act is a common-sense answer to helping people provide health care to those who need it most, at great benefit to California taxpayers.”

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Ellen Corbett named to Senate Budget Committee

State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett will serve out her final year in the Legislature with a seat on one of its most vital committees.

Ellen CorbettCorbett, D-San Leandro, was named to the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee on Wednesday, and will chair its Health and Human Services subcommittee; the appointment made by the Senate Rules Committee takes effect immediately. The 16-member committee must analyze the state budget proposal that Gov. Jerry Brown offered this month.

“I look forward to working closely with all stakeholders to ensure that the state budget process continues to be transparent and constituent-oriented,” Corbett said in a news release.

She said she’s confident she and her colleagues can produce a final budget “that is both reasonable and ensures that the best interests of Californians are protected,” particularly in her subcommittee’s area. “After previous years of cuts to important health and human services programs, I look forward to approving a budget that minimizes the short- and long-term impacts to the most vulnerable segments of our population, including children, seniors and adults with developmental and other disabilities.”

Corbett also is campaigning this year to unseat fellow Democrat Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, in the East Bay’s 15th Congressional District.