A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento
For the week ending September 22, 2007
Key bills and issues we've been following during the
past week and beyond
Now that the regular session of the legislature has ended and a variety of bills are waiting the Governor's approval or veto, the special session is in full gear. The big battles over water and health care reform have taken over the stage front- and -center. And with Hillary Clinton's unveiling of her version of healthcare reform, the issue has become even more prevalent in political debate not only in California, but nationwide.
With a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California coming out this week as well, we've seen how the failure to produce meaningful healthcare reform and a swift resolution of the annual budget stand-off has impacted the popularity of our Governor and the legislature. Not good news for either side.
Talk of ballot initiatives already moving along, plus threats of new ones emerging for 2008 continue to gain public attention and comment. With the veto last week by the Governor of the Iraq War initiative, which would have allowed Californians to register their opinion on that military and political fiasco, some of the interest has been muted in the early measures, but there is still enough out there (not the least of which are the Presidential primaries) to keep the public interested for the next several months.
We here at Speak Out California hope to be able to keep you up-to-date on all of this in the weeks and months ahead, so
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And now for the week's goings-on :
SB840/Universal Health Care and AB8 and the Governor's Special Session
The latest polling from the well-respected Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) confirms what most of those in the political world have long-known: healthcare is just about at the top of the heap when it comes to the public's interest in state policy. Although trailing immigration by about a point or two among likely voters ( 19% say immigration is the top issue facing the state, healthcare comes in at 18%) the debate has intensified as the healthcare crisis in California and nation-wide continues to escalate. The poll shows that almost 1/2 of Californians are following the healthcare debate closely.
Another non-surprise is the demand by Californians for major reform in the healthcare system. Regardless of party affiliation, the people of our state want major changes. And for those of us who like numbers to go with claims, 69% want major changes- with 77% of Dems and 63% Reps. calling for major changes. Add to the mix that 68% who identify as "independents" want to see major reforms to the system.
Unfortunately, the rest of the poll on the subject of whose reforms the public supports is inadequate and incomplete. The poll only asks for comparison of the Governor's proposal and the legislative leaderships AB8, a bill that the gov has already said he will veto. Can't have an honest analysis without bringing into the debate the question of a single payor, or Medi-care type system where there is a single agency that takes in the money and pays it out. No insurance companies, no profits, just one agency that oversees payments. That allows everyone to choose their own docs and healthcare providers who will be able to practice without insurance company interference, get paid a fair fee and discard all the bureaucratic tape of having to deal with the thousands of different plans in California alone. For a comparison of the three major reform options for California, check out this article here. For a look at the most recent offerings from the PPIC, check out their site here .
While the real universal health care measure, SB 840 languishes, the Clinton campaign this week unveiled its own national plan for health care reform. Her proposal, entitled "American Health Choices Plan" rolled-out this week to great fanfare. Although the other leading Democratic contenders have submitted proposals as well, it was expected that Hillary's ideas would hold the greatest weight, since she has been studying and leading the charge for healthcare reform since her ill-fated universal healthcare proposal back in the early 90's. While the jury is still out on this plan, many on the progressive side are disappointed she, too, includes the insurance companies in the play. Her plan does, however, set up a variety of options that will allow all people to have insurance. It's quite a mishmash, but tries to cover as many options as possible. For more on her plan, check out this LA Times article .
Special Session--California's Perennial Water Problems
California politics, like life, cannot exist without addressing our inherent water problems. This state was never meant to house millions upon millions of people in its semi-arid Southern portion. Its Central Valley provides enormous amounts of agriculture requiring huge amounts of quality water. Add to the challenges are antiquated and inadequate systems that exist to protect the Delta regions from flooding their banks and destroying everything in their way.
The economic history of California is the history of gold, railroads and water. Unfortunately, the first two are much more interesting and have captured the state's and its leaderships imagination much more effectively. The subject is, admittedly, somewhat arcane but is nonetheless, quite important.
So we'll try to boil this dispute down to its essence: We know we need water, we know we need to shore up our levees and we know we must restore the important Delta area. The battle is over how and how much. Both sides agree the money will have to come from bonds that the voters have already passed and amounts that they believe must be further allocated through additional bonds. Although we've already passed over $14.8 billion in water bonds since 2000, it's simply not enough to address our state's water crisis.
The Governor wants to follow the old-fashioned, overwhelmingly discredited and outmoded approach . He is proposing to put an additional $9 billion bond request on the February, 2008 ballot and build more dams for water storage (over $5.1 billion for that purpose.)
Senator Perata has introduced two measures that provide a comprehensive package to address the Delta crisis. The first of Perata's measures addresses the existing bond allocation and maximizes those funds to ensure they are used to stabilize the Delta, following the strategies outlined in the California Water Plan (conservation over concrete). The second calls for a bond in the amount of $ 5.8 billion to develop new regional water supplies and apply advanced technologies leading to conservation, recycling, and other known effective measures that are less harmful and more cost-effective than pouring concrete and holding a media extravaganza to unveil billions of dollars worth of concrete.
The big battle here is that Schwarzenegger wants to concrete the problem---building two huge and expensive dams and spending additional billions to expand one dam in Contra Costa County. Dams are the last resort for environmentalists who see them as harmful to ecosystems and not cost efficient or effective. In this case, the feds and state agencies have also found these dams are neither cost-effective nor environmentally sound.
The California Water Plan, on the other hand, calls for developing new regional water supplies by doing things such as water recycling, water conservation, groundwater cleanup, groundwater protection and stormwater capture. By increasing the water supplies within each region of the state, we reduce reliance on the fragile Delta and the unsustainable burden we put on exporting its water throughout the state (and particularly to the 21 plus million people in Southern California who rely upon it for their drinking water).
Not surprisingly, groups like the Sierra Club are calling for more emphasis on conservation, which has proven to be the cheapest and most effective way to deal with our water problems in California. Check out this article by Gary A. Patton, Executive Director of the environmental stalwart, the Planning and Conservation League.
This battle is far from over. But with time deadlines and expectations that progress must be made before the area collapses from floods, drought, overuse and simple neglect, we can expect to see the level of frenzy and debate ramp up quickly...at least for those who are listening.
Bills, Vetoes and other Legislative Offerings:
Although the time period within which to pass regular year legislation has ended, the real work comes for those bills that have landed on the Governor's desk. Just because it's a good bill, has bipartisan support, makes sense, protects the public (or God's other creatures), it doesn't mean it's going to become law. What stands in the way is Arnold Schwarzenegger and often numerous well-heeled corporate special interests out to kill what they couldn't kill in the legislative process itself. This is where the real rubber hits-the-road. The Gov gets to pay back his campaign contributors, grandstand for the media and the public, and try to redefine the issues that comprise the legislation itself. At the same time, legislators fight feverishly to posture their bills in the best possible light, and we try to engender public support that will overcome any other obstacles that haven't been put to bed during the nine months that the legislation has been pending, amended, amended again, rewritten or hijacked.
What gets signed and what doesn't is still a mystery in many instances. What will not be a mystery this year is the governor's stated commitment to vetoing, yet again, Mark Leno's AB 43, the Gay marriage initiative. With the state slowly but irretrievably moving in the direction of tolerance in granting gays and lesbians equal rights, this governor has stated that he will not sign a gay marriage bill, period. Although the push-back on both sides continues, the church-based groups who continue to contact the gov on speed re-dial continue to prevail. Interestingly, however, although the city of San Diego is not known as a bastion of liberalism, its mayor, Jerry Sanders, came out this week in favor of equal rights and treatment for gays, having been enlightened because his own daughter, whom he clearly loves and respects, is a lesbian. In a heartfelt and moving press conference, the Mayor of San Diego showed courage and integrity in the face of potential political consequences. His words are worth repeating here, just in case the governor is listening:
"I've decided to lead with my heart, which is probably obvious right now, to do what I think is right and to take a stand on behalf of equality and social justice"
If only the tough-guy Governator could do the same...
Speak Out California continues to highlight bills we think need your support. Most recently, we asked for your help in urging that the Governor signs SB 94 (Senator Kuehl) which is critical legislation to ensure that low income women and men have access to family planning services. To send a letter to the Governor, click here.
We'll be highlighting a number of other bills in the days ahead and hope you'll join our action-alert campaign to ensure we see meaningful legislation signed into law and not thwarted from the big corporate interests or ideologues trying to undermine important public policy that will protect the people of our state.
Shenanigans and other Goings-on
The UC Irvine Law School story has a happy ending. As we predicted once the outcries and fury of Chancelor Michael V. Davis ill-conceived retraction came to light, Davis has re-signed Erwin Chemerinsky as the new dean of the Law School, thus proving that sometimes the right thing can happen with enough public outcry.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the powers that control the decision-making for the California State University system. This week the governing Board of Trustees approved an 18% increase in the pay for Chancellor Charles Reed. In addition, they agreed to increase the executive compensation for the state's 23 campus presidents and Reed's four top deputies anywhere from 9 to 18%. To add insult to injury to the students whose fees and costs are going through the roof, they announced their intention to raise executive salaries about 46% over the next 4 years. It's hard to believe these folks don't realize the terrible message they're sending to our future leaders---you, who have very little must pay more so that those who have a lot can receive more. The rationale for these huge increases in salary to these highly paid administrators? We need to increase their salaries and benefits to stay competitive. Competitive with whom? While Reed will be pulling in $421,500 next year (plus a $30,000 annual retirement bonus), the Governor of the state of California makes about 1/2 that amount. Who would have thought the job of CSU head was more important than being the leader of the entire state of California! Check out Jim Doyle's report in the SF Chronicle here.
New Initiatives on the Horizon
The right-wing continues to attack the eminent domain issue, but never through the front-door. While almost fooling an unsuspecting public in 2006 with Proposition 90, the anti-environmentalists are at it again. They're planning to bring forth another measure that will limit state and local government from controlling land use decisions that protect the public and maintain some level of sanity in how our communities grow and function. In response, those who believe in some government oversight are getting two counter-offerings ready for the initiative pipelines, most likely for the June ballot. We'll have more on those as they evolve.
The Rest of the Story
Our blogging offerings for the week:
What ever happened to the right to dissent?--A response to the firings, floggings and attacks on those with whom we happen to disagree
If I had a hammer--nostalgia with the great Peter Paul & Mary
To read and comment on these entries, just go to: www.speakoutca.org/weblog/
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Until next week,
Hannah-Beth Jackson and the Speak Out California Team