Torrico: Raise car fees to put cops on campus

Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico – locked in a six-way battle for the Democratic nomination for state Attorney General – will roll out legislation next week to put a uniformed police officer at each of 100 California high schools in areas with the highest crime rates.

Torrico, D-Newark, will unveil his “Cops on Campus Grant Program” in a press conference next Tuesday at Independence High School in San Jose; he’ll be joined by his brothers Fabian Torrico, a veteran San Jose Police Department officer, and Cesar Torrico, principal at the city’s Franklin Elementary School.

“Every student, teacher, and school employee in California deserves a safe and secure learning environment,” Torrico said in his news release. “A uniformed police officer dedicated to school safety, like my brother Fabian who has dedicated his career in law enforcement to protect South Bay residents, will help make our high schools a better place to learn.”

His bill would establish a grant program, overseen by the California Department of Education, to which school districts can apply for funding to pay for the officer. It’s to be funded by what Torrico calls “a minor restoration” in the Vehicle License Fee for vehicles valued at $50,000 or more, which would raise about $10 million per year.

Torrico is also pushing his AB 656, the Fair Share for Fair Tuition bill, which discusses a 12.5 percent oil-severance tax toraise more than $2 billion to help control the state’s skyrocketing higher-education tuition fees. “It is our responsibility to ensure our high schools remain safe and the opportunity to a higher education is in reach,” he said.

Actually, I checked and saw that AB 656 in its current iteration merely asks the Board of Equalization to report back to the Legislature on how much such a tax would raise; Torrico spokesman Jeff Barbosa said this morning that Torrico will continue exploring the possibility of actually trying to implement such a tax.

Also in the Democratic primary race for Attorney General are San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris; former Facebook chief privacy officer Chris Kelly; Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-Torrance; Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara; and former Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo.


Curb the ideology, fix the budget

I just got off a conference call with California Budget Project executive director Jean Ross, who said the governor’s budget-crisis proposal has some good points but won’t get the job done.

“If you look at the overwhelming body of economic research, it tells you that cutting spending is absolutely the worst thing you can do in a down economy. Why? Because public dollars that go out through state budgets, county budgets, school district budgets… immediately recycle through local economies,” whether by public workers’ paychecks or by payments to vendors and contractors, she said. “When we cut back spending it has a very direct impact on local economies.”

In contrast, she said, a carefully targeted tax hike for California’s richest residents – she’s talking about married couples making $321,000 or more per year and individuals making $160,500 or more per year – is less likely to impact the local economy, as these people are both more likely to have savings and more likely to spend money out of state. Such a tax hike also shifts some of the burden to the federal government, she noted, as these Californians will be able to deduct more from their federal tax returns.

That’s not the case with the governor’s proposed sales-tax hike, Ross continued – not only would it not provide a federal deduction, but it’s regressive, meaning it takes a higher percentage of household income from the poor than from the rich. Ross did say she likes Schwarzenegger’s plan to widen the sales tax to services such as car repairs, veterinary services and even golf greens fees, as it spreads the sales-tax burden more fairly throughout the economy.

And Ross said the governor is also on the right track by proposing an oil severance tax; California is the only jurisdiction in the world that produces oil but doesn’t tax it as it’s drilled from the ground, she said, and there’s ample evidence that the cost won’t be passed along to consumers because oil prices are set on a world market.

Now, the California Budget Project isn’t completely impartial – it’s nonpartisan and nonprofit, but its goal is “improving public policies affecting the economic and social well-being of low- and middle-income Californians.” Still, what Ross is saying seems to make some sense.

Let’s review. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office says we’re looking at a $28 billion budget deficit by June 2010, including $11.2 billion in the current fiscal year.

This year’s long-delayed budget – already blasted by many as woefully inadequate, and already so badly in deficit – projects $103.3 billion in general fund spending, of which more than half goes to K-12 ($41.6 billion) and higher ($12.1 billion) education; the next-biggest sector is health and human services ($31.1 billion), and after that, prisons and corrections ($10.3 billion).

The high-bracket income tax increase Ross advocates, proposed earlier this year by Legislative Democrats, would pump $5.6 billion per year into California’s coffers; that’s more in one fell swoop than the $4.7 billion that would be raised by all of Schwarzenegger’s proposed hikes.

Legislative Republicans still say any tax increases at all are unacceptable, and under California’s requirement that all budget and tax bills win two-thirds majorities in the Assembly and in the Senate – a requirement to which only we, Arkansas and Rhode Island subject ourselves – they can stop such bills dead.

Whether that’s legislative malpractice is for you to decide. But hear this: Anyone telling you that California can resist all tax increases, rely only on spending cuts and still maintain anything close to its current quality of life in the next few years is lying to you.

The question comes down to this – what are Californians willing to give up? Decent schools? The hope of a college education for those who want it? Healthy children and senior citizens? Constitutionally adequate prisons for the world’s seventh-largest inmate population? Roads and bridges that aren’t crumbling? What else?

Or do we return high-bracket income tax levels to where they were in the early ‘90s under Republican Pete Wilson? Or restore the vehicle license fee that Schwarzenegger rolled back as soon as he was sworn in, fixing its previously regressive nature by tying it more closely to the vehicle’s value? Or – dare I say it? – revisit the idea of a split-roll property tax, leaving Proposition 13’s protections in place for homeowners but reassessing commercial property more often? I know that one’s a long-shot, especially in a down economy, but desperate times call for desperate measures – nothing should be beyond discussion, and no lawmaker’s head should remain buried in the sand of ideology.


Schwarzenegger becomes a budget ‘stunt’ man

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said today he’s going to cross his arms, stomp his foot, hold his breath and turn blue until the Legislature sends him a budget he likes.

Well, not exactly, but close:

“At this point, nothing in this building is more important than a responsible budget and to fix our broken budget system and to create an economic stimulus package, so until the Legislature passes a budget that I can sign, I will not sign any bills that reach my desk,” he said. “That means that some good bills will fail, yes, but we do not have the luxury of stretching this process any longer. The only thing that the Legislature should be focusing on is reaching a budget compromise immediately.”

For context, California’s budget hasn’t been signed by the June 15 constitutional deadline since 1986; a quick search shows me the past 10 budgets were signed on these dates:

  • 2007: Aug. 24
  • 2006: June 30
  • 2005: July 11
  • 2004: July 31
  • 2003: Aug. 2
  • 2002: Sept. 5
  • 2001: July 25
  • 2000: June 30
  • 1999: June 29
  • 1998: Aug. 21
  • So this late date isn’t new, although we are facing a much bigger deficit than usual. But state Controller John Chiang earlier today said that’s not as much of a worry as the governor would have us believe:

    “On Monday, I testified to the Senate Governmental Organization Committee that June revenues provided us with more than $4.2 billion in reserves at the end of September, which is well above the $2.5 billion my office considers a prudent cash cushion. Although I will release the actual cash flow figures in my monthly report later this week, the preliminary numbers from July show that our cash position has further improved, providing added assurance that the State will have the resources to meet its payment obligations for all of September and into October.

    “The Governor based his executive order to cut employees’ salaries to the federal minimum wage on a faulty premise that it would conserve the cash needed to pay our bills next month. Two consecutive months of improved revenues and decreased spending have rendered his executive order to be nothing more than a solution to a problem that does not exist in the immediate future.

    “I have been working with commercial and investment bankers for the past several months to ensure the State can borrow to meet all of our payment obligations, and this news delays our need to borrow by several weeks. In light of our cash flow improvements, I respectfully urge the Governor to reconsider his executive order. To not do so would needlessly subject hundreds of thousands of hard-working public servants to financial harm and add more strain to our already fragile economy.

    “Although the last two months of revenue performance are welcome news, it will not alleviate the need for California to engage in expensive and risky Wall Street borrowing later this year. The only way to avoid this borrowing is with a budget that contains sound revenue and expenditure solutions that are free from get-out-of-town gimmicks.”

    A get-out-of-town gimmick is exactly what this blanket-veto threat seems to be, hot on the heels of his possibly-toothless order to cut state workers’ pay to the federal minimum wage. He’s sounding increasingly petulant as legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle fail to cave to the pressure he tries to exert. It’s a stunt I think people are likely to see worthy of one of his action films, but not of a governor.

    Even his movement off his no-tax-hikes rhetoric — although at least denoting some movement — seems misguided. His proposal to raise the state sales tax by a penny on the dollar for three years would bring in about $5 billion a year, which isn’t even close to the $6.1 billion the state would have in its coffers this year had Schwarzenegger not repealed the Vehicle License Fee back in 2003. And the sales tax is more regressive than the VLF, meaning it has a more disproportionate impact on the poor: The California Budget Project says the state’s poorest 20 percent spent 8.4 percent of their pay on sales tax last year, while the richest 20 percent spent no more than 3.3 percent. And that’s to say nothing of the havoc the governor’s proposal might play with constitutionally mandated Proposition 98 education funding when the sales-tax hike sunsets after three years.

    First he tried to hold state workers hostage, now he’s putting a gun to the head of the very business of government, seeking a budget deal as ransom. If I had to guess, I’d think he’s uncomfortable with giving people any more time to realize how absurd it is that California is one of only three states (Arkansas and Rhode Island are the others) requiring the Legislature’s supermajority support (two-thirds of each chamber voting yes) to pass its budget or tax increases, rather than a simple majority.

    The governor clearly wants the budget done fast. The question is, does he want it done right?