Friday, May 29, 2009



California needs a state constitutional convention: Rebooting Sacramento by rewriting the state's Constitution seems to be the only way to move beyond financially broke and politically broken.

Editorial from the Los Angeles Times

May 21, 2009 - California is stuck. Schools are about to lay off teachers. Prisons are about to release inmates. Historic assets are on the block. Initiatives confuse. Revolts fail. No amount of electing and reelecting people who promise to fix things seems able to move us forward. It's time to reboot.

There have been calls for months now to convene a state constitutional convention and, in essence, start over. It's a good idea. The state Constitution runs to two fat volumes in print and is padded each year by new voter initiatives or legislative propositions. In the end, it's just a document. It's not the enemy. But retooling is one necessary step to make the state function better.

Of course, all kinds of things can go wrong. How would delegates be picked? Would unions control a convention, or union-busters, or Proposition 8 advocates or opponents? A poorly structured convention or one populated by self-interested fringe delegates could do more harm than good. Every care must be given to the details, and it is essential to include in the initiative that authorizes a convention -- alas, there must be a ballot measure -- restrictions on what it would be allowed to address.

One benefit: A convention could push the Legislature to accept deeper, more far-reaching reforms than it might otherwise. One provocative notion being floated by the reform group California Forward would devolve decision-making on taxing and spending back to counties and cities, realigning the relationship between state and local government. In another year, lawmakers might scoff at the prospect. Fear of a convention may encourage ingenuity.

The Bay Area Council, which is leading the charge for a convention, has put "proportional representation" in the Legislature at the top of its wish list. Interesting choice. We're curious to see whether voters already angry at Tuesday's barely comprehensible ballot measures will embrace something quite so cutting-edge.

No convention -- in fact, no statewide fix -- will work if it consists simply of one interest group's shopping list. The Times has made no secret of its position against the two-thirds legislative threshold for tax increases and budgets, and we will keep pushing to overturn it. But the point is to get more ideas on the table.

Prepare for the season of reform and reinvention. A tax reform commission is to release its report in July. Political parties and candidates will focus on next year's gubernatorial election. It's not time to back away from government; it's time to engage it, and change it. Over the coming weeks and months, this page will not be shy about asking questions and offering suggestions. Bring on the ideas. Bring on the convention.


A CALIFORNIA CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION: Despite what the pundits say, such a effort isn't the answer to the state's structural problems. It would take too long, be complicated and controversial, and likely lead to a dead end.

By Erwin Chemerinsky – Opinion From the Los Angeles Times

May 28, 2009 - Since the defeat of the budget initiatives on May 19, the pressure has been mounting for a constitutional convention to deal with the state's underlying structural problems. As California plunges further into fiscal crisis, this newspaper and others, as well as pundits across the state, have endorsed the idea. But I believe it's a false hope.

My experience as chairman of a similar convention -- an elected commission created in 1997 to propose a new Los Angeles city charter -- makes me skeptical that a constitutional convention can provide a solution to the serious problems that face the state.

It's not that I disagree about the roots of the crisis. The California Constitution is deeply flawed and desperately needs revision. The requirement that the budget as well as any tax hikes must be approved by a two-thirds vote in the Legislature ensures legislative gridlock and is a large part of why the state is now in such desperate financial shape. The overused initiative process has led to a host of unfunded, voter-passed programs that distort the state's spending priorities. Term limits have robbed the Legislature of experienced leaders and legislators.

But is a constitutional convention the best path to a solution? Even if there is a constitutional convention, and even if it does come up with a coherent and meaningful package of proposed changes, it's uncertain that that package would ever be adopted. There are countless controversial issues that could doom it. For example, if the revised constitution protects a right to marriage equality for gays and lesbians, a significant number of voters will oppose it on that basis alone. But if the new constitution does not protect a right to marriage equality, others will vote against it for that reason. The same impasse could arise over abortion rights, affirmative action or benefits for undocumented immigrants.

Even if the constitutional convention were narrowly limited to issues related to the state's fiscal problems, this difficulty would not go away. For example, Proposition 13, which limits property taxes, has a greatly distorting effect on the state's tax structure, and I would certainly argue that it should be repealed or, at least, reformed. But simple politics tells us that a proposal to repeal Proposition 13 would be enormously controversial and could doom any constitutional reform. The same goes for repeal of the two-thirds requirement for passing budgets.

Such controversies are unavoidable. That is why several efforts at charter reform were defeated in Los Angeles before there was finally approval of a new charter in 1999. And in order to ensure passage, the charter that was ultimately proposed had to stay away from some essential reforms, such as increasing the size of the Los Angeles City Council. Even a modest increase from the current 15 council districts was seen as likely to doom the whole proposal.

Moreover, during the charter reform process, there was no consensus on any issue concerning the structure of city government. Then-Mayor Richard Riordan had his views, City Council members had theirs, the city attorney and city controller had theirs, business groups had theirs, unions had theirs, homeowners had theirs, and so on. Many of these stakeholders had the power and resources to defeat any proposed new charter if they chose to.

The result was that everything had to be a careful compromise. But a compromise document can go only so far in providing innovative solutions to serious problems. For instance, an impasse over the role of neighborhood councils was only resolved after we drafted fairly ambiguous provisions that created a weak system.

Rewriting the state Constitution will also take time. First, the voters must approve a constitutional convention at the ballot box, and then the convention's delegates must be selected. They will need a significant amount of time to study the issues and to begin to draft the new constitution. When and if they finish battling over what their proposal should be, it would need to be approved at the polls. That could take years -- and frankly, the state needs a faster solution.

I have no real objection to a convention. I just don't believe we can count on it to solve our problems -- and certainly not in a timely fashion. Therefore, even if convention proponents continue to move toward establishing one, action must still be taken now to address California's most serious problems.

For example, an initiative should be placed on the ballot as quickly as possible to eliminate the two-thirds requirement for passage of the state budget and of new taxes. Only two other states in the country have such an antidemocratic requirement, and it is an enormous obstacle to responsible budgeting. The current crisis hopefully will provide the impetus for passage of this reform. But if such an initiative cannot get approved, there is little reason to believe that a new constitution that includes this change could get approved either.

No one in California can deny the seriousness of the state's problems or that the California Constitution needs major revision, if not replacement. But it is unrealistic to pin hopes on something that is so difficult and time-consuming to achieve.

Erwin Chemerinsky is dean of the law school at UC Irvine.

Patt Morrison

Patt Morrison:

California needs a constitutional convention: Only by starting over can we engineer a fresh start.

Patt Morrison | LA Times Columnist 

March 5, 2009  - Heck, yeah, California should throw a constitutional convention.

I love political conventions -- the open bars, the zany outfits, the gaudy, overpriced souvenirs. Eureka and party on, say I!

Oh, a constitutional convention isn't that kind of convention? It's supposed to be sober and ponderous? Says you. We could make it anything we want it to be.

But we'd just better make it good.

California's only begun to crawl out of the smoking wreckage of a five-car political smashup, and all of us were at the wheel. The budget disaster crashed into term limits and redistricting and our tax-and-spend habits and the simple bullheadedness of voters and the people we elect.

A constitutional convention -- assigned to rewrite the operating manual for the state -- could be the only way to fix the mess we've already voted ourselves into. Anybody who thinks that the budget standoff was a stellar example of democracy at work is either a masochist or a saboteur from New York.

Arnold Schwarzenegger wants a constitutional convention. Public policy wonks and worried budgeteers want one. The Legislature may not want one -- another reason to convene it.

At this point, we've been running on the same basic chassis we've had since Edison invented the phonograph.

We made it so easy to overload the vehicle of state with amendments that we have nearly 500 of them. The U.S. Constitution has 27, and it had about a 60-year head start on us.

California's Constitution is apparently the second longest in the country, after Louisiana's, and we all know what a model of governance Louisiana is.

Robert Stern probably wouldn't accept, but I'd think I'd give him the gavel at a constitutional convention. He's the president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Government Studies in Los Angeles, and he makes it his business to think these things through.

"We should," he says, "be having such a debate every 10 or 20 years, not every 100 years."

At our first such convention, in 1849, 48 delegates put together a Constitution in six weeks. They wanted California to be a state, so they banned slavery. To entice more women to come here, they gave wives the right to own their own property. They banned anyone who had fought a duel with deadly weapons from voting or holding public office, and declared that no duly-made marriage contract could be invalidated for religious reasons.

Some Southern California delegates fought statehood because they didn't want to pay the taxes. And when the Constitution came to a vote, only 12% of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot. Haven't changed much, have we?

The second, convened in 1878, brought together farm interests, left-wingers and right-wingers, and what they did agree on was dis- empowering the Legislature, which meant the Constitution got longer and longer as it did the lawmaking work it took away from Sacramento.

The third convention wasn't a formal convention at all but the profound 1911 progressive reforms that gave us the initiative, the recall and the referendum.

Three major runs at getting it right: the founding of California, the reengineering of government in California and the reform of California.

A constitutional convention has the potential of deteriorating into a "Kumbaya" chorus or a knife fight. Most likely a knife fight.

A convention is, in the end, about redistributing power, taking it out of some hands and putting it into others. Everybody wants power, and nobody wants to give it up.

What should it address?

How about making it harder to amend the state Constitution and -- slightly -- easier to pass a state budget. Changing Proposition 13 to reflect the tax differences between commercial property and our homes. Making it easier to oust bullheaded lawmakers and keep the reasonable. In short, we need a constitutional convention to help us end the misrule of our own making.

Maybe it'll come to nothing. If all the requirements can be met and the hurdles surmounted, and a convention is called, it has to deliver on the right changes. And then those changes have to be put to the rest of us.

The convention could labor mightily and still, as Stern says, "possibly nothing will be approved by the voters." For my money, that would make us the first state to commit suicide by OD-ing on what we tell ourselves is democracy.

Go ahead, hold the convention. Can we at least all vote in favor of getting some cool souvenirs out of it?


Capitol Alert

SacBee: The latest on California politics and government

Posted by Jim Sanders

May 28, 2009 - With California facing fiscal calamity, the assessor for one of the state's largest cities has launched a long-term, grass-roots campaign to increase state revenue by altering Proposition 13 property tax restrictions.

San Francisco Assessor Philip Y. Ting filed documents this week with the secretary of state's office to create the "Close the Proposition 13 Loophole" committee, which now can begin soliciting donations.

The effort is intended to increase future state revenue, but not soon enough to ease next year's projected $24.3 billion shortfall.

Ting said his committee plans to solicit minimal sums initially, startup costs, but added, "We're really building a grass-roots movement around this issue with perhaps the long-term idea of going to the ballot."

Jesse Mainardi and Kevin Heneghan, attorneys for The Sutton Law Firm, are listed as officers of the committee. Mainardi formerly worked for the state Fair Political Practices Commission and Heneghan for a public policy law firm, Nielsen Merksamer.

Ting is not pushing a specific proposal, but he wants to see Proposition 13 altered to allow creation of a "split roll" that would increase taxes on commercial property, perhaps when it is sold.

The idea of a split roll has been gaining steam among Democratic lawmakers and interest groups that would like to see the state's fiscal problems solved by generating more revenue, not solely by program cuts.

Ting said there are many "split roll" possibilities, including creating a different tax rate for commercial property, reassessing it more often, or allowing it to increase at a faster annual pace than homes.

Ting said he launched the new political committee at the urging of numerous private individuals in the Bay Area and Northern California, but that he did not act at the behest of lawmakers or Capitol interest groups.

"I really felt strongly that change was going to come from the grass-roots level first, and if we started by working with all the Sacramento insiders first, that wasn't going to be the recipe for change," he said.

Ting said he does not believe that California voters, by rejecting five of six ballot measures last week, sent a clear message opposing new revenue generation by the state in years to come.

"I don't think people voted against spending so much," he said. "They voted against the fact that there wasn't any reform in those ballot measures. People are starving for systematic reform, which I think is very hard, it's very tough.

"It means that that we're going to have to talk about issues that a lot of people considered sacred cows. (Proposition 13) is obviously one of the most sacred cows in the state."

Categories: State budget

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government
May 26, 2009
Governor proposes eliminating CalWORKS

posted by Dan Walters

The Schwarzenegger administration today proposed $5.6 billion in additional spending reductions to narrow the state budget deficit in lieu of floating additional short-term loans, including elimination of the state's welfare-to-work program known as CalWORKS.

Dropping CalWORKS would save an estimated $1.3 billion next year and is the largest single piece of a 25-item list of additional spending cuts given to a two-house committee working on the budget deficit.

The deficit has been pegged at $24.3 billion by the Legislature's budget analyst and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had wanted to cover part of it with some loans known as "revenue anticipation warrants" or RAWs, but abandoned that strategy last week after learning that the federal government wouldn't back the loans. Without those guarantees, obtaining financing from private lenders was uncertain.

Whacking the state prison budget by an additional $788.5 million is the second largest item on the list. The complete list may be found following.


Additional General Fund Reduction Proposals for 2009-10 May Revision
(Dollars in Millions)
Impact on GF Reserve
# Title and Short Description 2008-09
and Prior
2009-10 2010-11
1 Rural Health Care Equity Program- Eliminate funding for certain health care reimbursements currently provided to state employees who do not have access to health maintenance organizations. $0.0 $15.7 $15.7
2 Furloughs - Assume savings if the proposed labor agreements with Service Employees International Union Local 1000 are not ratified by the Legislature and a 2-day furlough is maintained for all employees. 60.0 150.0 0.0
3 CalPERS PPO - Surplus reserves in PPO will fund a premium holiday for 2 months 0.0 100.0 0.0
4 Reduce UC and CSU Budgets--This option further reduces the segments to the Federal State Fiscal Stabilization Fund maintenance of effort level. 415.0 335.0 335.0
5 Phase out Calgrants--This eliminates new awards for the High School Entitlement and Community College Transfer Entitlement programs and CalGrant C program. The amount is the net remaining cost of new CalGrant awards after previous cost containnment measures, including proposals to eliminate new awards for the CalGrant Competitive program and lower costs of other new awards for UC, CSU and private colleges. 0.0 173.0 450.0
6 Complete Decoupling of Cal Grant Renewals--This eliminates the increase in award amounts for renewals associated with UC and CSU fee increases. The amount is net of the Partial Decoupling proposal included in the Governor's Budget. 0.0 28.0 28.0
7 Eliminate Funding for Hastings College of Law--Reduces to the minimum level prescribed in statute (EC 92212) without having to pay back to the heirs of S.C. Hastings, with accumulated interest, the original $100,000 bequest. 0.0 10.3 10.3
8 Eliminate funding for CALFIRE Equipment Replacement--One time elimination of funding for equipment replacement. 0.0 17.0 0.0
9 Eliminate General Fund funding for State Parks--Eliminate all General Fund support and require department to operate on fee revenue and special funding. 0.0 70.0 143.4
10 Special Projects--Eliminate the Multipurpose Senior Services Program and Community-Based Service programs. Funding for Adult Day Health Care will continue in support of the California Department of Aging's responsibility for Medi-Cal certification of program providers. 0.0 24.2 35.3
11 Medi-Cal - Eliminating Certain State Only Programs--Services include: Undocumented non-emergency services (breast and cervical cancer treatment and postpartum care, and excluding prenatal and long term care), Institutions for Mental Disease ancillary services payments, dialysis, non-digestive nutrition, and breast and cervical cancer treatment for women over 65, and men. 0.0 34.4 57.8
12 Medi-Cal--Assume Additional Savings from Federal Flexibility--This policy increases the amount of relief from federal requirements previously proposed to enable California to secure essential program flexibilities to slow the rate of program growth and manage program costs within available resources. 0.0 250.0 500.0
13 Medi-Cal - Skilled Nursing Facility COLA--Suspend an estimated 5.0 percent cost of living increase effective August 1, 2009, for skilled nursing facilities (AB1629 and non-AB1629). 0.0 67.1 109.8
14 Reduce General Fund for AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) and for other Office of AIDS program. Specific proposals include: expanding client cost sharing and limiting the formulary in the AIDS Drug Assistance Program; and reducing and eliminating other HIV/AIDS programs such as HIV Counseling and Testing, Epidemiologic Studies/Surveillance, Therapeutic Monitoring Program, and Home and Community Based Care. 0.0 55.5 58.9
15 Eliminate Healthy Families Program--This option eliminates remaining funding for the program (see related reductions proposed previously). Estimate assumes that the program phases out as quickly as possible after providing notice to beneficiaries and providers. 0.0 247.8 322.4
16 Reduce Mental Health Managed Care Services and Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment Services (EPSDT). Mental Health Managed Care services retained include acute inpatient services and prescription drugs for Medi-Cal enrollees only. EPSDT savings result from eliminating GF support for county programs identified as new programs in 2007-08 and 2008-09. 0.0 92.0 92.0
17 Eliminate California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids Program 0.0 1,309.1 1,765.2
18 Eliminate State Funding for Community Care Licensing--This reduction in expenditures would be partially offset by a fee increase to maintain critical health and safety standards. 0.0 19.5 39.0
19 Offset GF Highway bond debt service with local share of gas tax--Reduce local share from $1.05 billion to $300 million and redirect $750 million to pay current and prior year debt service on highway bonds. The amount is 25 percent of total fuel tax revenues as allowed under Article XIX, Sec. 5. 0.0 744.0 745.0
20 Reduce GF Support for Courts by Another 10 percent and Require Electronic Court Reporting 0.0 181.6 190.8
21 Additional Reduction to Prison Population--Commute sentences of nonviolent, non-serious, non-sex offenders one year early. 0.0 120.5 0.0
22 Reduce Corrections Contract Expenditures, Reduce Rehabilitation Program and Make Other Reductions to CDCR. Impacted programs include a range of rehabilitative services, such as substance abuse counseling, vocational training, and educational programs. In addition, funding for building maintenance is being eliminated on a one-time basis in 2009-10 and other operational savings will be achieved. 0.0 788.5 914.4
23 Eliminate Funding for Various Community Clinic Programs--This proposal eliminates funding for Indian Health, Seasonal and Agricultural and Migratory Workers, Rural Health Services Development, and Expanded Access to Primary Care. 0 34.2 34.2
24 Eliminate Remaining General Fund in Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health--This is in additon to the General Fund reduction included in the "Contingency Reductions" in the May Revision. 0 10.2 10.2
25 Reduce Financing Costs by Implementing Additional Cash Solutions--Reduce size of external financing by adopting cash solutions that would reduce the imbalance in timing of receipts and disbursements throughout the fiscal year. 0 210.0 210.0
Totals $475.0 $5,087.6 $6,067.4
Total of 2008-09 and 2009-10 $5,562.6

Monday, May 25, 2009

ALL SMOKE & MIRRORS: Schwarzenegger missed his golden opportunity to give Californians the truth

He promised to make it work by cutting 'waste, fraud and abuse.' It was never that easy. The real solutions are obvious, though.

Michael Hiltzik

Michael Hiltzik: from the LA Times



Gov. Schwarzenegger

Mark Wilson / Getty Images | California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger talks to the media in Washington. He says he will ask President Obama for flexibility in the cuts that California needs to make.

May 21, 2009  - Page One/Column One - Marx Brothers fans will recall that the political philosophy of Rufus T. Firefly in "Duck Soup" boiled down to this:

"If you think this country's bad off now, just wait 'til I get through with it."

I've often considered that to be the secret slogan of Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration. (Just substitute "this state" for "this country.") After Tuesday's election, it's no longer a secret.

Schwarzenegger had the kind of voter support in 2003 that would have allowed him to tell the voters the harsh but necessary truths about California governance and force real reforms down their throats.

Instead, he uttered the same lies about state government and proposed the same nostrums as many of his predecessors: Californians are overtaxed and underserved, the budget can be balanced by cutting waste, fraud and abuse, etc. Like everyone else who has made these claims, he never delivered on his promise.

His cut in the car tax cost the state $3.6 billion per year, making him directly responsible for pretty much all of today's $21-billion budget deficit.

He hoped he could avoid reaping the whirlwind sown by these cliches. Unfortunately, Tuesday was Harvest Day.

Let's list a few of the lies he and our other political leaders have peddled about California's government and examine how they contributed to this week's debacle at the ballot box.

The most onerous lie is that Californians are burdened by the highest state taxes in the nation. The truth, according to 2006 figures derived from the U.S. Census, is that as a percentage of all personal income, California's tax and fee schedule ranks 18th in the country.

Then there's the canard that we unfairly soak our rich. This is supposedly a no-no, because the rich might flee, taking with them their sterling job-creating potential.

The dirty little secret, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, a left-leaning nonprofit group, is that California's wealthiest residents shoulder the lightest burden of any income group in the state. The top 1% of California income-earners (average 2007 income: $2.3 million) paid 7.4% of their income in various state taxes last year, counting the federal deduction for state taxes. The highest rate was paid by the poorest residents. Those earning $20,000 or less, with average income of $12,600, forked over 10.2% of their earnings in sales, excise, property and other levies.

This year's budget deal increased the disparity, raising the effective rate on the rich to 7.8%, but that on the poor to 11.1%.

The theme of the ballot campaign was that the state's chronic budget gridlock could be solved by more gridlock and more borrowing. All lies.

By no means does the governor deserve all the blame for the budget fiasco. Democrats and Republicans alike have abandoned any claim to statesmanship in Sacramento.

And what of the business community? Big corporations, entrepreneurs and mom-and-pop stores all have a huge stake in functional state government.

Yet the state Chamber of Commerce traditionally has offered one nostrum for California's budget ills: Cut taxes. But since it also claims to support better education and improved infrastructure, its approach has simply amounted to throwing the hard challenges back into the laps of a nonfunctional political establishment.

The truth is that real solutions to the budget crisis are obvious.

One: Eliminate, or at least loosen substantially, the two-thirds legislative requirement to pass a budget or raise taxes.

This rule has allowed a small Republican minority to hold up all budget progress unless its reactionary program is incorporated in the deal. If the supermajority were pared back even to 60%, the minority lawmakers would be unable to block a budget unless they could enlist at least a few moderates in their cause. The improvement in the tone of legislating would be immediate.

Two: Remove legislative term limits. This ridiculous provision has reduced the Capitol to a nursery full of would-be legislators needing afternoon naps. Worse, it has sapped legislative leadership of its vigor.

Since mid-1995, there have been nine speakers of the Assembly. Over the previous 20 years, there were two, including Willie Brown, the original target of the term-limit movement. You want to tell me that government in Sacramento has improved since then? As long as term limits exist, we'll never have a 21st-century state government.

Three is the Big One: Revise Proposition 13. Prop 13 is often described as a tax-cutting measure, but that scarcely does justice to the damage it has caused.

By rendering the property tax useless as a revenue device, Prop 13 hit local governments especially hard. Key budgeting authority devolved from cities and counties up to Sacramento, where they have to compete with the state government for money. You want your streets paved or more teachers for your third grade? Stand in line behind the health department, or the corrections department, or Caltrans.

So city streets deteriorate and local schools get worse. Police and firefighters are laid off. All the places where the voters come into face-to-face contact with their governments crumble.

The result? Voters get more cynical, more convinced that government is expensive and useless. It's a vicious circle -- the more government is unable to do the things voters want it to do, the less faith the voters have in government and the less they're willing to spend on it. Which leaves it with less money to do the things voters want. And on and on.

Reversing the worst effects of Proposition 13 doesn't take rocket science. Commercial property should be subject to regular reassessment -- the "split roll" that, inexplicably, can't gain traction in Sacramento. Cash-strapped homeowners can be provisionally protected from the burden of higher residential assessments -- say by allowing some assessments to be deferred until the home is sold.

Plainly, local government needs to recover its authority to collect revenue directly. That would help our political leadership make the case that, considering the quality of the services and institutions state and local government provide, Californians aren't overtaxed but undertaxed -- and the wealthy are the most undertaxed of all.

If Tuesday's election proves anything, it's that California's political sacred cows all need to be herded into the abattoir and dismembered, once and for all.

Breaking the cycle that has brought us to this pass will take political courage and real statesmanship. California's voters have been trained for too long to think they can have roads, schools, universities, clean air and other amenities without paying their true cost. The task of our next generation of leaders will be to show that California is not ungovernable -- it's just been ungoverned.