A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento
For the week ending July 21, 2007
Key bills and issues we’ve been following during the past week and beyond
The Budget — week three but with an end in sight???
This is the week that the budget discussions heated up to the boiling point and the Assembly, for the first time in recent memory, beat the Senate to the punch by passing a budget and closing up shop for its annual Summer recess. Usually it’s the Senate that passes the budget first and heads out-of-town, leaving the Assembly holding the bag. Not so this time!
Unfortunately, as we send this out to you, the Senate has ungraciously failed to finalize its vote so we’re simply not able to give you much more than where the budget is now. But the Legislature has never been appreciative of press/blog deadlines — even for this former colleague who’s trying to give our readers the story on how California plans to spend $140 billion during the next fiscal year.
What we do know is this:
The Assembly passed a budget at 4:30 a.m. on Friday morning by a vote of 56 to 23. If you are wondering how in the world anyone can be clear-headed at that hour, I can tell you from experience that most members haven’t much focus on what they’re voting on at that hour. They certainly don’t know what is included in the last minute “trailer” bills. They’re actually limited to relying on the work of the Legislative Counsel’s Office to draft what they think the deal is that must be reflected in the budget bills that are passed.
The Budget bill itself gave the Republicans about $1.4 billion of the $2 billion in cuts they were demanding in order to vote for the budget. They succeeded by removing over $1.2 billion in public transit funding. If this feels like we’re moving backwards on the global warming and smog issues we have in this state, you’re right.
Additional “savings” are coming in the form of delaying cost-of-living adjustments for the aged, blind and disabled. This means that the weakest and neediest among us won’t see any increases in their measly support until May of 2008, rather than starting in January. This should make the Republican leadership very proud.
Another proud accomplishment for the Reps must be the reduction of funding for Proposition 36 — the drug rehabilitation programs that the voters of California overwhelmingly supported as a way to reduce the incarceration (and thus cost) of putting non-violent drug offenders in prison for their addictions. The voters, with much better vision and common sense, passed an initiative to try treatment and rehabilitation first before incarceration, a policy not only more humane, but likely to create enormous savings. Unfortunately, this program has never been properly funded, so the Reps want us to fund it even less. Not smart and not even good politics.
On the bragging rights portion of this budget, the deficit was reduced down to $700 million for the upcoming year and a $3.4 billion reserve was established, purportedly making this the largest reserve in several decades. The Assembly also added $2.5 billion in early bond repayments, over $1 billion more than the Governor had requested.
To the education community, K-12 will be fully funded. Unless the Senate comes through, however, the Governor will have succeeded in adding back the truly absurd standardized testing of seven-year-olds If you haven’t already sent a letter to members of the State Senate to demand they remove this requirement from the budget, click here and sign our action alert. Since the Senate is still debating the issue, there is still time to tell them it is wrong to force seven year olds to take this test. For more on this issue, see Jackie Goldberg’s blog
No Second Grade Testing for our Children!.
So educational funding has been protected and it is always good to pay down the debt and save for a rainy day. However, this year it was done at the expense of the poorest and neediest. But none of this matches the outrageous and shameful effort to provide tax credits to some of the wealthiest businesses and industries. This last minute and previously unmentioned Republican-generated boondoggle came as a surprise to many legislators and political observers, as it had never even been discussed before it showed up in the budget’s trailer bills. It seems that a separate “trailer” bill came out of the clear blue providing a package of five tax credits to out-of-state corporations doing business in California.
The movie industry was also included as part of this “sweetener” to get Republican support for the budget — it will change the way the tax obligations of many national corporations are computed. Estimated cost to the state and savings to the big business interests from out-of-state: $600 million a year! Will we ever learn that corporations have to pay taxes, just like the rest of us — or are we going to turn our heads while the rich get even more gluttonous and greedy? To make this even worse, these tax breaks were acceptable while the Reps successfully insisted again on sacrificing again $185 million in teacher tax credits.
The good news is that the Senate leadership announced these $600 Million per year of goodies as going nowhere. Senate President Don Perata said they wouldn’t even put this idea up for a vote. However, the main budget bill has now been voted on in the Senate — with all Dems going up on it and no Reps. Thus, the stalemate at the moment is that no Republicans will support the budget as passed by the Assembly, and therefore the 2/3 requirement needs two votes to pass.
As we send this week’s version of “While California Dreams”, the Senate has announced its intention to work through the weekend until it passes the budget. At this moment, all the Dems have voted “aye” without a single Rep vote, so it’s looking like an impasse since Senator Perata says he’s through negotiating and it’s time for the Reps to put up their votes.
With all efforts focused on the budget, and with proposed legislation having had its deadline last week, there is little to report in the way of legislative activity; instread, we’ll take a look at a few other key highlights on the political front that we’ve been following.
Global Warming and implementation of AB 32.
This was the week of the Senate’s confirmation hearings for Mary Nichols, nominated by the Governor to serve as head of the California Air Resources Board. The key issue for the Dems is whether she’ll implement AB 32 as written, or try to inject the Governor’s will that ignores the requirement that strong and effective regulations be proposed and adopted before we start playing cutesie with the free marketeers love affair with “cap and trade”. That fancy phrase allows big polluters to continue polluting by buying pollution credits from companies that have reduced their polluting below their allowed amounts. It’s actually a zero sum game, and we’re not going to put a serious dent in the global warming problem as long as we seek this approach first.
Many of us who have watched this Governor and don’t trust him to keep his word were concerned that he would renege on his commitment to honor the tough regulatory approach. He confirmed our fears when he fired the former, very highly respected Chair of the CARB. Predictably, highly-respected Ms. Nichols assuaged the concerns of Democratic leaders in the Senate when she reaffirmed CARB’s commitment to set new regulations as its top priority. Now it’s up to her to deliver as promised. We’ll be watching to see if she’s allowed to do her job or the Governor will interfere yet again with this important work. For more on this story, see the San Francisco Chronicle article here.
Another interesting item on this front comes from the Legislature’s minority caucuses which were trying to delete funding for new judges from the budget. Their reason for this rather hostile move? It seems that the governor has a pretty poor record on appointing judges reflective of the state’s diverse population.
Recent appointments followed a similar pattern that the Governor has established during his tenure. With 260 judicial appointments, he’s appointed 8.5% Latinos, 4.6% Asian Americans and 5.8% African Americans. Since the population of the state is comprised of 44% whites, 35% Latinos, 12% Asians and 6.7% African American (according to the U.S. Census Bureau), the minority caucuses argue there is a strong need to make the judiciary more reflective of that diversity.
The problems? According to the Judicial Councel, more than 70% of the state’s judiciary is white and close to 73% is men. While the Governor has acknowledged a paltry record on reaching parity, he cites the fact that almost 85% of California attorneys are white and and almost 67% are male. Another source of the Governor’s problems is that he, like his predecessors, prefers to appoint prosecutors to the bench. Of his recent 26 appointments, 17 were former prosecutors.
Although the debate is unlikely to hold up the budget now that it’s in the Senate, it is a subject that has been closely watched by women’s organizations and the communities of color. This debate will continue long after the budget discussions to determine whether the Governor will try to make the face of the justice system look more like the face of California.
Initiatives to watch out for
We’ve been following possible initiatives for next year, another sneaky and dishonest possibility emerges from the bowels of Big Businesses’ dislike of accountability. This one is being explored by the mis-named Civil Justice groups, a real front for the oil and tobacco industries, the car manufacturers, drug companies and other self-serving behemoths who don’t want the little guy to have the ability to sue them for producing dangerous products, violating environmental, labor or other workplace protections. This one deserves to be tanked before it’s qualified for the ballot, but with the billions of dollars these companies have raked in from their sleazy business practices, they’ll likely get this on the ballot for June 2008–you know, the election where the people won’t be paying attention as they seek a breather from the February Presidential primary and the November Presidential election. For more on this Big Business effort to beat up some more on the little guy, go to our blogpost of July 20th by clicking here
The Rest of the Story
Our blogging offerings for the week
During the past week, we’ve posted the following stories:
No Second Grade Testing for Children– plea by former Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg to stop the inhuman practice of requiring standardized testing of 7 year olds
The Big Corporate Bullies are at it Again— The effort by Corporate Fat-cats to reduce their accountability for their bad behavior.
Lightblueline: Sending out an SOS— One community’s creative response to the Global Warming challenge in Al Gore’s terrific An Inconvenient Truth
To read and comment on these entries, just go to: www.speakoutca.org/weblog/
We’ll continue looking at these and other issues as the legislature finalizes the budget that will direct California’s priorities for the coming year. 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
A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento