A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento
For the week ending January 5, 2008
Key bills and issues we’ve been following during the
Past week and beyond
Happy New Year! And welcome to Speak Out California’s second year of weekly updates we’ve entitled, While California Dreams. We hope you have enjoyed our regular analysis of the highlights and lowlights of our state’s political goings-on and look forward to providing you with our summaries and analysis in the coming year. But we can’t do it without your help.
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So now for the news…
It is certainly hard to believe that we’ve rounded the corner of 2007 and are heading fast and furiously into 2008, but with a Presidential primary election only days away, the political pulse of California has quickened dramatically over what is normally a slow-starting time of year.
But this year starts off quite different from most. First off, we will have three elections to contend with in this year alone. The first is virtually upon us and includes not only choices for President, but a number of expensive and hard-edged ballot measures. While the election is technically 30 days away, with absentee ballots about to hit mailboxes throughout the state, the election essentially starts now.
Even though our state’s solons have yet to return to Sacramento, there is much talk about the budget mess, the as yet unresolved health care measure pieced together at the end of the year and the still left unfinished water storage and delivery crisis. For many pundits the year looks like it will be a series of crises and they may very well be correct. With the budget seriously out-of-whack for the umpteenth time and the economy looking like a national recession is headed our way, we face an enormously difficult year in this state.
Our economy is teetering, thanks in no small measure to the greedy and failed sub-prime home mortgage debacle that is bringing down many other portions of the economy. In addition, we must resolve the water delivery system conflict if we are going to repair and protect the important delta and agricultural water systems of our state. The issue of immigration sits high on Californians list of crises that need to be addressed, as do real reform of the health care system and the poor grades that our education system continues to generate.
The Presidential Primary and ballot battles begin in just a few days
With the Iowa caucus resulting in a surprise overwhelming victory for the Obama theme of “change” and the New Hampshire primary turning into a virtual horserace, look for the California primary to hold greater significance as the main candidates fight for the victory in our delegate-rich state. Although our primary is February 5th, our “vote-by-mail” voters will play a much more significant role in this election as their ballots will start being mailed as early as this Tuesday, January 8th. It is anticipated that as many as two million Californians will cast absentee ballots this February. This translates into a much earlier campaign than would occur if voters simply go to the polls on election day, February 5th.
In addition to the presidential primaries, there are seven ballot measures to contend with, all but one of them quite controversial and much in play. We’ve already seen early television commercials on the Indian Gaming Compacts that are being driven by competing gambling interests in the state. Propositions 94,95,96,97 pit four wealthy California tribes against competing tribes, unions and horseracing interests who are opposed to extending the opportunity of these four tribes to expand their slot machine business.
We’ve already seen key politicos like the Governor stumping in support of the compacts on television. But watch for the opponents to rev-up their ads as more and more voters vote early through the vote-by-mail/absentee ballots that are rapidly replacing the traditional polling place voting on Election Day. For more on this, check out the LA Times story, and the Sac Bee article and its Capitol Alert coverage.
Also on the ballot and very much in play are Props 92, a measure by the Community Colleges to lock in their funding and Prop 93, the term limits/extension initiative being supported by the legislature and a number of unions while being opposed by various business and “good government” groups. Although we’ve written about these initiatives in prior updates, we’ll continue to update the discussion in future articles.
The Continuing Budget Mess: The gap is expected to hit $14 Billion or more
In mid-December, the Governor used his power to declare a fiscal emergency in light of the projected fiscal shortfall for the coming year. This will allow him to demand the Legislature act on any budget proposals within 45 days and provide him with the ability to make mid-year cuts in programs and take other steps to slow the bleeding.
Predictably, the Reps have already signaled their intent to call only for cuts and not look to new revenue sources, like closing tax loopholes for the ultra-wealthy and the multi-national corporations who skirt their financial responsibilities. The Dems have indicated all options should be on the table, including re-instating the Vehicle License Fee that generates billions into the General Fund, along with closing the corporate loopholes, like the infamous tax-credits given to yacht and private airplane buyers.
The Governor, on his part, has announced he will seek to obtain even greater power to control the budget process, rekindling his ill-advised special election power-grab in 2005 in spite of the sound rebuke he received from the people. Using the popular mantra of “reform”, it appears Schwarzenegger is again trying to wrest control of the budget from the legislature before offering real options or compromise. There are certainly other ways to achieve this goal, like getting rid of the 2/3 requirement to pass a budget, a dinosaur relic which exists in only two other states in the country. For more details, check out the Bee story .
Universal health care or universal health insurance???
At years end, a patchwork measure had been put together by the state Assembly and voted out by a democrat-only majority. Although supported by the Governor and a number of labor organizations, the Nunez bill awaits an uncertain future in the Senate where President Pro Tem Perata says he’s not going to bite until he gets a report from the Legislative Analyst on the financial implications of this form of universal health insurance mandate to the state. Given the grave financial predicament that already exists, it is hard to fathom that the public will go ahead and support a measure that is expected to require an additional $14 billion to fund it . Without even getting into the philosophical issues, the cost alone is generating a heavy buzz for those looking at the challenge of closing the budget’s already daunting $14 billion hole. For a discussion on the substantive issues, see our prior analysis in our weekly update here .
The issue of healthcare reform is on the minds of most Californians and Americans these days. With the focus of the political season moving westward into California during the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see if there is a serious and specific discussion on the different proposals to fix this terribly broken system. Will real discussion be the order of the day, or will the insurance industry spin-masters continue to confuse and obfuscate on making healthcare really work for the people and not simply for the massive health insurance moguls? We’ll be watching this debate carefully- both for California and the country at large.
Lawsuits and rulings of the week:
California sues US EPA for rejecting waiver to curb greenhouse gas emissions
Continuing a five year battle with the Bush administration, California joined with 15 other states in filing a lawsuit to allow the state to regulate carbon dioxide and other pollutants involved in global warming. Numerous lawsuits have been filed to get this anti-environmental administration to allow California to do what it has been doing for decades under both Republican and Democratic administrations in Washington prior to this renegade administration.
So we’re back in court to fight against what even Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called an “unconscionable” position taken by the EPA in denying what would be California’s 54th waiver under the federal Clean Air Act. That law specifically allows California to enact stricter air pollution laws than those imposed by the Feds, upon receipt of a waiver by the U.S. EPA. For more on this story, check out the LA Times article here.
The Rest of the Story
The Presidential primaries take front and center:
We here at Speak Out California are watching with great interest, how the primary election will play out in our state and nation. With much to gain and lose by who wins our state-rich delegates, we will try to remain as current as possible on all the goings-on from the progressive perspective. In a year where we have an embarrassment of riches in our candidates, there are many aspects of the campaigns which are both encouraging to our progressive values and agenda and cause for further debate and analysis. While Barak Obama rides a big wave from Iowa (who knew there were waves in Iowa???), the other three candidates also offer important qualities that we should consider in deciding for whom to cast our precious votes. With Hillary Clinton we would see the first woman president who would clearly bring competence and experience that has been sorely lacking over the last seven years. With John Edwards, we’re hearing in elegant prose, the need and a strong commitment, to take out the corporate influences that have taken over Washington and Sacramento. With Barak Obama we’re seeing a massive movement of young people back into the political process and an enthusiasm for politics that is reminiscent of the sixties. With Bill Richardson we are looking at the first serious Latino candidate who also possesses significant foreign-policy expertise. All-in-all, it’s an exciting season and we’ll be providing our insights as we move into this election period. Watch for more comments in our blogs and updates.
Our blogging offerings for the week:
Will California’s leader lead in 2008?- With so much at stake, will we see real change and political courage in the year ahead?
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