October 2009 Archives


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Is the private sector more efficient than government?  Do they do better work?  Here is a letter to the editor in the San Jose News this morning:

Private contractors' work often shoddy

Be careful what you wish for. As a municipal employee, I spent 20 years redoing and fixing work done by private contractors. They cut corners everywhere the contract allows. When inspectors aren't looking, they do whatever they think they can get away with. The end result is frequent and early failures that cost more to fix than it would have cost to do it correctly with quality parts when it was built. The municipal employee has to live with the work he does, so he tries to make it maintainable and reliable.

When you lay off government employees and contract out you are dealing with companies that wants to make a profit.  This can lead to cutting corners, cutting quality, cutting worker pay and benefits, trying to get around environmental rules, etc.  So privatizing can cut both ways.  Maybe you can save some money, maybe not.  But this idea that the private sector always does things better than We, the People just ain't necessarily so.

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This is a guest post by Senator Loni Hancock. 
Senator Hancock.jpg

Editor's note:  Senator Loni Hancock, who represents the 9th State Senate District, has long been an advocate for good government and transparency. As chair of the Senate Committee on Elections, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments, she has worked tirelessly to bring accountability and governance reform to assure California meets the challenges of the 21st century.

She is passionate about campaign finance reform and getting corporate money out of the electoral process to ensure candidates and legislative leaders represent their constituents and not the big campaign contributors who buy far too much of their own self-interest at the expense of the public.

So it was a natural for Senator Hancock to be selected to serve on this newly established Assembly and Senate "Select Committee on Improving State Government" and she's a natural to comment on her thoughts, priorities and observations about the need to fix and reform several critical aspects of how state government should be operating to meet the needs of the people of California:

These days, just about everyone agrees that change is needed in Sacramento.

This year's state budget set the record for being the latest, and probably the worst, in California's history.  It has created severe strains on local governments and school districts, and threatens to cut the heart out of education and undermine programs that help  those most in need.  It's time for change and that change needs to happen now.

The good news is that we are finally seeing movement for change in Sacramento.  Today, the newly-created "Assembly and Senate Select Committee on Improving State Government," will hold the first in a series of open, public hearings throughout the state. The Committee is charged with developing specific proposals to reform state government.  It will investigate obstacles that stand in the way of government that meets the needs of the people of California, and recommend action to remove those obstacles.

I believe there are three major reforms needed to get California back on track:

(1) We must remove the 2/3rds requirement to pass a state budget. California is one of only three states with a 2/3 budget rule requirement.  This has allowed a few legislators to hold the entire state budget hostage.  The U.S. Congress and 47 states require a simple majority to pass a budget.  We need to give the majority party, Republican or Democratic, the ability to do its job and then hold them accountable.  That's what democracy is all about.

(2) We need to reform term limits. Legislators with a lack of experience or institutional memory are dealing with increasingly complex challenges and a dysfunctional governance system.  More than one-third of the Assembly is brand-new every two years,

(3)  We need to reduce the influence of money in politics.  Public financing of campaigns in California would change the playing field considerably.  Candidates would no longer have to raise campaign funds from special interests with legislation pending before the Legislature; they would owe their election only to the people they represent.

The Joint Committee on Improving State Government will hold four hearings throughout the state.  In addition to today's hearing in Sacramento, the Committee will hold open, pubic hearings in the Bay Area on November 12th; in Los Angeles on December 3rd; and in the Central Valley on December 15th.  Specific details of time and location are still being worked out.

I highly encourage you to attend one of these hearings - your voices and your concerns must be part of the process if we are to truly restore democracy and ensure a brighter future for our state.

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Dan Walters asks, When U.S. economy recovers, will California be left behind?  Walters talks about "the business climate" which usually is interpreted to mean do we tax and regulate  businesses.

Well here is a business problem: many businesses say that recovery will be delayed in California because there just are not enough trained workers ready to compete in a 21st-century economy.  And the infrastructure is in terrible shape, and courts take too long to hear cases, etc.

These problems are not because of high taxes. Instead they are problems because we have cut taxes and government and now there is not enough government to educate workers, fix roads and bridges, hear court cares, etc.

We need to get our priorities back where they belong and get our government back to educating our kids and workforce and fixing roads and hearing court cases, etc., so businesses want to come here and stay here and thrive and provide the 21st century jobs that we need.

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BNRT--Not a European Vacation

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Assemblymember and Budget Chair Noreen Evans has been commenting on the "work" of the COTCE Commission which was created to try to deal with California's revenue creation issues that have been blamed for the annual budget problems here in California.
While there is clearly room for improvement in how we collect the revenues necessary to invest in our state and its future, the suggestions by Gerald Parsky and the Governor who appointed him to head this work are really a subterfuge for giving more tax relief to the wealthiest Californians at the expense of the rest of us.

We know that the real answers call for closing billions in tax loopholes for the rich and large corporations, correcting a split roll for real estate taxes so that big commercial properties don't short=change our communities and realizing that as a 21st century economy,we're primarily a service-based and technology-based economy where revenues should be coming from services and internet sales. 

Here are Assemblymember Evans observations on the half-baked proposal by Parsky and his crew to misdirect our attention away from what we should be considering and lessening the responsibilities on those who have benefited the most and stand to gain the most from this ill-conceived and transparent attempt to give the rich even more." -- HBJ

BNRT--Not a European Vacation

by Assemblymember and Budget Chair Noreen Evans

The proposal by the Commission on the 21st Century Economy (COTCE--rhymes with "gotcha") to scrap the California tax system and replace it with the Business Net Receipts Tax (BNRT) is riddled with problems and full of questions without answers. It begs the question--how stupid do they think we really are?

Few people understand how the BNRT works and no one knows how it will impact 
California. Some compare the BNRT with the European Union's Value Added Tax (VAT). That's like saying the Oakland Raiders and Manchester United both play football.

On the surface, both tax systems sound similar. The proposed BNRT would be imposed as a percentage of a business' gross receipts from the sale of goods and services, minus the business' purchases of goods and services from other businesses (which have already been taxed). A VAT is a tax on manufacturers at each stage of production on the amount of value an additional producer adds to a product. This cost is typically passed on to the consumer in the end.

A key distinction between the VAT and BNRT lies in the fact that 
California is a state, not a sovereign nation. So, the BNRT lacks a critical element of Europe's VAT--the border adjustment. The United States Constitution prevents California from implementing a border adjustment because that interferes with interstate commerce, which can only be regulated by the federal government.

This creates an enormous problem for 
California businesses. Europe's VAT system ensures that products made in Europe are taxed at the same rate as products made abroad by placing the VAT on products entering Europe and rebating the tax for those products leaving Europe. However, under the United States Constitution, businesses without a nexus to California cannot be taxed by California. Thus, California products will be subject to the BNRT while products made elsewhere will enjoy a competitive tax advantage.

The BNRT's problems don't end there. Most importantly, the BNRT reduces incentives to create jobs in California. 

The Commission's proposal provides a tax deduction for payments to independent contractors, but not for employee wages. It's almost as if the Commission was trying to find a way to punish 
California workers. Under this proposal, California businesses would be taxed for keeping employees on their payroll. The logical result is that Californiabusinesses will turn to out-of-state labor contractors who hire workers in California and then contract them out to California businesses. Thus, Californians will have even less stable employment and we would see fewer jobs created here.

Adopting the untested BNRT proposal requires blind faith in the Commission's promises that it will somehow benefit 
California, despite all the evidence to the contrary. It's like quitting your dull, but reliable job because a late night commercial promises you can make $100,000 working from home.

Who benefits from this proposal? 
California workers don't benefit. California's small businesses don't benefit. California corporations don't benefit. Any benefit to California's taxpayers is entirely speculative. The only certain beneficiaries from this proposal are out-of-state businesses, large, multi-state or multi-national businesses, and out-of-state labor contractors. Was this really the purpose of the Commission on the 21st Century Economy?

Many economists love 
Europe's VAT and extol its benefits to the European economy. But don't be tricked into believing that the proposed BNRT will bring these or similar benefits to California. The greatest lessons Californians can learn from Europe regarding the BNRT are the lessons learned the hard way in the casinos of Monte Carlo.

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Just so you know, the Governor vetoed several pro-consumer bills, including one prohibiting retailers from selling out-of-date baby food and medicine, and another requiring financial institutions to tell you if your identity has been stolen.  He also signed several anti-consumer bills.

From the Consumer Federation of California:

"Pro" Consumer Bills Vetoed by the Governor

AB 1512 (Lieu) - would have prohibited a retailer from selling baby food, infant formula, and over the counter medicine after the "use by" date on its packaging. Citing the need for the bill, CFC stated, "California consumers should have the right to purchase medications that are safe and effective and parents and children deserve assurances that their baby food is nutritional and healthy."

SB 20 (Simitian) - would have required financial privacy security breach notices to inform potential victims of identity theft about the nature of the beach, and to include contact information for credit reporting agencies.

AB 943 (Mendoza) - would have prohibited a prospective employer from using consumer credit reports in the hiring process unless the report is related to job duties.

AB 261 (Salas) - would have clarified that California students' privacy rights allow limited access to student records by law enforcement and election officials to further juvenile justice and voter registration.

AB 811 (John Perez) - would have prohibited check-cashers from manufacturing and selling false identification cards, or identification cards that closely resemble a state drivers' license card.

"Anti" Consumer Bills Signed by the Governor

AB 48 (Portantino) - will reinstate responsibility for oversight of for-profit post-secondary educational institutions to an agency unsuited for the task, and would establish standards that would permit fraud on students.

AB 1200 (Hayashi) - weakens California's "anti-steering" law by allowing automobile insurance companies to persuade policy holders who have chosen a repair shop to switch to a shop that may use inferior parts or procedures.

SB 98 (Calderon) - Regulates life settlement industry, but requires biased disclosures that do not inform insurance policy holders that they may have better alternatives to surrendering a policy or allowing a life insurance policy to lapse.

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Modern Governoring

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What does it mean to be a "governor?"  What does it mean to "govern?"

In the news, the Governor has threatened to veto 700 bills in an attempt to force the legislature to do his bidding on water policy.

700 important items all held hostage, trying to stampede and scare the legislature to do something in a hurry, while terrible scare stories circulate on talk radio and throughout corporate media.  Does this sound like a familiar tactic?

Water policy is complicated because over many decades wealthy real estate developers bought permission to build huge swaths of housing in dry area, so water needed and needs to be piped in from  ... somewhere else.  And huge agricultural interests make a lot of money using water that used to be heavily subsidized, meaning the people paid for the water and a few wealthy corporate interests pocketed the profits.

At the same time there is less water to go around.  We have had three years of below-average rainfall, which is possibly a permanent condition because of climate change (which Republicans deny is happening).  And the destruction of the environment and fisheries and groundwater caused by past bad practices is catching up, so hard choices must be made.  Does our government protect the people, the environment, corporate profits?

So on one side of this we have giant corporations and the short-term profits they suck out of our communities and state, and of people who are where they are after being lured there for the sake of those short-term profits, and who eat the way they do because government had been "persuaded" (paid) to subsidize the water for the sake of those short-term profits.  People need water to drink even if they do live in a desert and need to eat and have gotten used to food that costs less because the water has been subsidized.  (But maybe they don't need to water their driveways and nice lawns.) 

On the other side we have the long-term interests of most of the people and of the environment.  See if you can guess which side the Republicans and the Governor are on?

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Who is Roman Polanski?

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Here in California, we take our celebrities very seriously. We love it when they become immersed in controversy perhaps because it provides a diversion from some of the other more complex and difficult issues of the day. Here we have a controversy that does both. Although it has been decades since the crime and acknowledgement of it by Roman Polanski, he used his money and fame to skirt any consequence until now. His predicament has brought out many of Hollywood's top celebrities to his defense. At the same time, the issue of violence against women, and sexual violence in particular continues to be a serious concern in our society. 

We at Speak Out California are committed to women's equality and dignity. It is one of the fundamental principles of a just and equal society. Women's rights advocate and friend of Speak Out California, Janice Rocco, has today's guest column on the subject.

Who is Roman Polanski?

A guest post by Janice Rocco of California National Organization for Women.
Who is Roman Polanski and what should the consequences of his actions be? That question seems to have a surprisingly different answer depending on one's vantage point. To more than 100 in the international film community who signed a petition demanding his "immediate release", he is apparently first and foremost "one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers" whose freedom should not be taken away. To me, a women who was a child growing up in Los Angeles when Roman Polanski pled guilty to a sex crime against a child, he is a rapist who fled justice and has yet to take responsibility for a crime that harmed a 13 year old girl, her family and the rest of us who have watched him evade justice and thumb his nose at the legal system for more than three decades.

The fact that violence against women is commonplace in this country and around the globe does not make it acceptable or mean that when a talented celebrity is the perpetrator that we should ignore that a serious crime took place. The fact that in popular culture, including many films, women are often portrayed in demeaning ways and violence is often sexualized does not mean that women and their families and friends aren't devastated by the crime of rape each and every day.

How many women in this country and others, especially women who have survived a sexual assault, watched the Academy Awards the year that Polanski won the best director award and felt anger, pain or disgust as an audience full of his colleagues in the film industry cheered for this man who still doesn't have the decency to turn himself in?

Though a lot of people have been educated about rape since 1977 when Polanski pled guilty to raping a 13 year old girl, some still want to believe that rape is something that only takes place in a dark alley and is committed by a stranger. Reality is that the majority of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. That doesn't make the crime any less traumatic or mean that anything less than a prison sentence is appropriate for those who commit this violent crime.

One shouldn't have to read the grand jury testimony of a 13 year old girl to understand the seriousness of what occurred back in 1977. Polanski was charged with giving a drug to a minor, committing a lewd act upon a person less than 14, rape of a minor, rape by use of a drug, oral copulation and sodomy. All the charges were felonies. He was allowed to plead guilty to the charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor in order to spare the young woman the difficulty of having to testify publicly when her identity was not yet known to the public.

Thirty-two years have passed since Polanski's guilty plea and he hadn't spent a day in jail since fleeing this country until authorities in Switzerland took Polanski into custody last weekend. The number of years that a rich and powerful man has successfully evaded justice, should be considered when he is sentenced for his crime, but only from the standpoint that his evasion of justice should bring a more severe penalty than he would have received three decades ago for what already was a very serious crime.

There are those who say that since the woman who survived this rape over thirty years ago has forgiven Polanski and wants to put this behind her, he should not be punished by the legal system. Those people forget that this is a case of The People of the State of California vs. Roman Polanski and that justice has yet to be served. If Roman Polanski wants to help put this behind the woman who he harmed so many years ago, he should stop fighting extradition and return to California for his sentencing hearing for the crime to which he pled guilty.

Justice is rarely done when celebrities commit crimes. The victims are generally re-victimized by the media coverage and often the perpetrators receive little in the way of punishment for their crimes. It is long past time that Roman Polanski faces the consequences for his crimes. Justice should not be delayed even one more day.

- Janice Rocco, Southwest Regional Director of the National Organization for Women (NOW)

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This page is an archive of entries from October 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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