A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento
For the week ending August 25, 2007
Key bills and issues we've been following during
the past week and beyond:
On Friday the Governor signed the budget and used his "blue pencil" to cut important social programs for the neediest Californians, while protecting yacht, airplane and recreational vehicle owners from having to step forward and contribute to the common good.
With the budget now over, the legislature and Governor get to push for their pet projects during the last three weeks of the legislative session, including the important but going-south debate on health care reform.
And it seems the ostensible winner from the budget mess may just be Attorney General Jerry Brown who is making substantial noises again about running for Governor of the State when Schwarzenegger is termed out in 2010.
Lots more to mention, so here's the scoop on this past week:
After an incomprehensible 52 day holdout, the Republicans let their leader cast the deciding, and only 2nd Senate Republican vote on the budget. Obtaining very few concessions of any kind, the budget battle is now at rest until next year's budget battle begins.
The Budget-- On the 52nd day, the legislature rested and the impasse that no one could quite explain ended with the Senate passing the 2007/08 budget. Alas, two days after ending their month-long recess, the Reps. finally let their ostensible "leader" Dick Ackerman, cast the final vote necessary to break the logjam that seems inevitable with the state's requirement of a 2/3 vote of each house to get a budget.
It's pretty much the same budget that conjured a bipartisan vote in the Assembly, but the one glaring concession that should offend just about everyone who isn't rich enough to own a yacht is the one Ackerman himself was able to achieve for yacht owners like himself.
Remembering that the budget is the state's moral document and is supposed to reflect the moral values of its people, this budget provides for a $45 million tax break for yacht owners who now can buy a yacht in California, take it out of state for 90 days, bring it back and NOT have to pay sales tax on the purchase. If that alone is not offensive enough, the trade off was made yesterday when the Governor blue-penciled, and thus completely eliminated, an extremely important and successful program to house the mentally ill.
This program had been lauded by mental health experts as helping break the cycle of homelessness that included hospitalization, jails and life on the streets. Among the many ironies in abolishing a program that actually saves the state millions of dollars beyond its cost, this was the same measure the Gov. went out of his way to praise only three years ago.
Clearly, the ultra-conservatives who dominate the Republican Party today think it's great to serve their wealthy masters at our expense, so let's put a face on who will now suffer. One Paul Culp, the LA Times reports, is a college graduate who suffers from untreated bipolar disorder and was living on the streets. Two years into this program, he was reunited with his children and is now supporting himself. Now the program is gone. Where will Paul Culp end up? And does anybody care---after all we've saved more than enough to allow yacht owners to buy their million dollar toys without having to pay the sales tax that you and I must on our less indulgent purchases. Moral document indeed.
Check out this excellent LA Times piece on this shameful Schwarzenegger veto, and this
Mercury News article.
The holdout Reps were complaining that Jerry Brown was causing problems for developers by wanting protections against growth that didn't take into account the mandate of AB 32, the Global Warming measure. At the end of the day, the Reps got just about nothing for their whining but certainly enhanced the image and reputation of Attorney General Brown. If there was a winner in all this, the SacBee reports, it may very well be the AG himself. Ever the wily politician, Brown positioned himself as the champion of the global warming issue by forcing the County of San Bernardino to consider the mandates of AB 32 in its revised General Plan. Although Brown has not been a champion of the environment for years, he has raised his environmental credentials geometrically with this aggressive interpretation, one of the most popular and highly visible environmental legislation to come out of California in many years. Watch for another Jerry Brown gubernatorial candidacy in 2010 when Schwarzenegger is termed-out. For more, check out this SacBee story online.
As we've mentioned numerous times in our weekly updates and other blogs, it's time for the state to end this 2/3 vote requirement. The priorities of the majority of Californians aren't reflected in this budget. Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata clearly agrees. Fed up with the games and bad faith of the "gang of 14" Republican Senators who unnecessarily held up the budget, Perata this week called on the Governor to convene a summit to fix the system he referred to as "fatally broken." He wants a bipartisan panel to develop a plan that will ensure on-time budgets in the future and that rethinks how we collect our taxes, from where and how we spend them. See the SacBee story for more on this issue, as well as Frank Russo's California Progress Report article.
Others are calling for an initiative that will end the undemocratic 2/3 budget requirement, a proposal being advanced by state Senator Tom Torlekson and dicussed further in this Mercury News article.
With the Republicans holding the power position because of the super majority requirement, they're able to wreak havoc with the state's priorities. This latest budget is just such an example. It's time we ditch this undemocratic system and come back in step with all the states except for Rhode Island and Arkansas. It's time the majority party was accountable for the budget so that if the public is dissatisfied with the way they're running things, they can (and should) be voted out. That's the principle of democracy and that's what we need back in California.
SB840/Universal Health Care and AB8
Now that the budget is history, the Governor and legislative leadership is looking to address the health care mess that exists in California and nationwide. It doesn't take a rocket-scientist to know that the current system is broken, however it does take someone outside the health insurance business to know that we need to remove them from the debate. Although the Gov. continues to insist that we talk about insuring everyone, he is actually trying to protect his big contributors in the health insurance industry. He claims that everyone will get care, yet doesn't mention it will be provided by private companies whose only interest is making money. Ironically, they make money by denying care, not providing it.
The Gov.'s approach is to make everyone pay into the insurance companies---employers, hospitals, docs and employees. The Dems say, "no way". Senator Kuehl's universal plan, which is the only truly comprehensive health care reform on the table, says once we take the insurance companies out of the equation, we can provide health care for everyone, without having 35 cents of every dollar in premiums going to the health insurance gluttons. And we all get to choose our own doctors to boot!
AB 8 is sort of a half-way proposal. It includes a minimum employer contribution but expands public programs for children and their families, and tries to curb insurance company abuses and other tweaks around the outside of a cancerous middle called the for-profit health insurance business. Check out Julia Rosen's Working Californian's article for more information.
The debate has been heating up all week, with the Gov. saying he won't sign AB 8 or SB840 (which he vetoed last year as well). Following the SacBee's coverage, we see as the week ended, Speaker Nunez has called the Gov.'s bluff, saying he would put Schwarzenegger's proposal in a bill and have a vote on the floor. A 2/3 vote would be required because there is a tax increase included, and if the Reps stay true to their blind allegiance to their mantra, "no new taxes", the Gov.'s proposal will go down in flying defeat. Remember, too, that this Governor doesn't have many admirers on his own side of the aisle, so this could be an interesting, albeit dangerous, game of chicken Nunez may be setting up.
Latest report shows wage gap widening
Not surprisingly, if you checked your bank account balance recently, the wage gap is widening in California with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
The highly respected California Budget Project released a new report this week, "A Generation of Widening Inequality: The State of Working California, 1979 to 2006." Its findings are not surprising. The wealthiest continue to gain capital and the poorest continue to lose purchasing power with wages that barely keep pace with inflation. Interestingly, the gap between low-wage and high-wage workers has widened more in California than in the country as a whole. California's high wage workers are doing better than most, but our low-wage workers are doing worse than their US counterparts. And what is happening to the middle class? It's simply disappearing. Of course, now is the time to go out and buy that yacht and airplane, but then again, only the wealthy can afford them---and don't have to pay into the public treasury to boot! The good news for them is that they're getting rich enough to be able to afford one of each, while working Californians continue to struggle, with the bottom pay range having dropped 7.2% and 43% of new jobs paying less than $11 an hour.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, the economic recovery of the past decade has not provided the historic broad increase in the standard of living for workers but instead has created "skyrocketing corporate profits". So much for the right-wing's much ballyhooed "trickle down" economics.
The good news in this report, such as it is? The value of a college degree has gone up and the disparity between men and women has gone down. But Latinos have lost ground.
Initiatives and More Initiatives filling up the 2008 ballot
We've been following the trail of initiative announcements and the march from signature gathering to qualifying for the ballot. With virtually dozens of such measures in some stage of the process, we'll be looking carefully at them all as they qualify for the ballot in either February, June, or November 2008.
At this point in time, it seems that the topic which will be most closely followed revolves around the sneaky effort by the Republicans to rig our Presidential vote in a way that ensures their party's occupation of the White House in 2008. As we've reported previously on our website and on our blogpost, the Reps want to divvy-up the state's massive 55 votes by congressional district, thus insuring them of additional electoral votes similar in number to those within states the size of Ohio or Florida. No need for chads or hacking into insecure Diebold voting machines, as the thinking goes, all we have to do is split California's votes and regain the White House we've lost through our miserable, corrupt and incompetent stewardship over the past 6 ½ years.
The Dems are coming back swinging this time. This past week they introduced two proposed initiatives of their own that will reform the antiquated Electoral College system of electing a President. It calls for a national approach which will commit California to a plan that declares the winner of the national popular vote, President. Under the Democrats plan, this process would go into effect once the majority of states holding 270 cumulative electoral votes support such a measure.
Although a recent Field Poll released Tuesday, August 21, 2007 shows initial support for the Rep proposal (the Democratic response was not included in the poll because it had not yet been introduced), it did not have over 50 % support. Without a big lead to start, these kinds of initiatives rarely pass after a long and expensive battle which will undoubtedly ensue. You can be sure this measure will attract lots of national attention for its potential consequences for whoever takes the White House in November 2008. We'll be covering this one very closely.
The Rest of the Story
Our blogging offerings for the week
During the past week, we've featured Women's Equality Day, as we celebrate the 78th anniversary of women finally getting the vote:
Women's Equality- How far have we come?
Celebrating Women's Equality through Workforce Justice
What do working women and their families want?
To read and comment on these entries, just go to: www.speakoutca.org/weblog/
With only a few weeks left in the first year of this legislative session, there will be a flurry of activity and key bills we'll be watching over the next several editions of our weekly update. We welcome your comments and suggestions and hope you will send this newsletter to your friends and other like-minded progressives. Urge them to sign up to Speak Out California and keep the progressive voice alive!
Until next week,
Hannah-Beth Jackson and the Speak Out California Team