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Dan Walters

Big quake just 1 threat to state

Gov. Jerry Brown says California’s drought and the wildfires it has spawned are wake-up calls about the potentially cataclysmic effects of climate change. That may be true. But they are not the only indications of potential disaster that could devastate a state perched, however precariously, on the continent’s western edge. California has been experiencing a […]

Bill shows cynicism of teachers union, lawmakers alike

There are many other unworthy contenders, but Senate Bill 858 may be the most pointlessly cynical legislative act of this still-young century. It was drafted in the dead of night and hastily enacted as a budget “trailer bill” last year with no more than a cursory gesture toward public notice. It stands as a prime […]

3 issues loom large with Legislature back in session

The Legislature reconvened Monday after a monthlong summer recess and immediately focused on what most members like best: spending money. The 2015-16 state budget was enacted in June, but three big financial issues were postponed – raising and spending billions of dollars on transportation, raising and spending billions more on the Medi-Cal program of health […]

Gas prices make for illogical political strategy

Tom Steyer is obviously an intelligent and rational man, given his demonstrated ability to amass great wealth through capitalistic investments. But since it’s difficult to rationally grasp his periodic rants about California’s gasoline prices, they only make sense in a purely political – i.e., illogical – context. Steyer apparently believes that complaining about California’s fuel […]

August 19, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged , | 1 Reply

Pension measure summary stretches read of its intent

Kamala Harris is not only California’s attorney general, but a very ambitious politician who hopes to become a U.S. senator. As attorney general, her office prepares the official “title and summary” for every proposed ballot measure. This week, she issued a summary for a measure that would empower voters to approve any increases in public […]

Top-two voting not the panacea report describes

California’s top-two primary election system emerged from one of the oddest events in the state’s political history. In 2009, Republican state Sen. Abel Maldonado withheld his vote on a state budget that included new taxes until legislative leaders promised, with obvious reluctance, to put the landmark election change on the ballot. Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was […]

Debt payoff a time to reflect

California’s politicians love to affix catchy names and acronyms to their nostrums. Were their labels subject to truth-in-advertising laws, however, many would be forcibly discarded. Examples are legion, but the biggest whopper of recent vintage was calling a $15 billion bond issue “economic recovery bonds.” That was newly inaugurated Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s doing as he and […]

Modern-day gladiator games spawn political circus

Nearly two millennia ago, satirical poet Juvenal decried the civic disengagement of his fellow Romans, to wit: “Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the people have abdicated our duties; for the people who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions – everything – now […]

Eye care focus of big-dollar legislative fight

This is a tale about high-powered politics, big money and even sex – a tale, believe it or not, about eyeglasses and contact lenses. Research by the Vision Council of America indicates that about three-quarters of Americans wear corrective eyewear of some kind. If one applies that statistic to California, it translates into nearly 30 […]

August 02, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged , | 1 Reply

Labor unions flex political muscle in Legislature

Only a sixth of California’s wage earners are members of labor unions, but they carry a very big stick in politics. Unions are the largest single source of legislative campaign funds, a recent Sacramento Bee compilation revealed, and among Democrats, their hegemony is even more pronounced. Not surprisingly, therefore, a Legislature dominated by labor-backed Democrats […]

July 29, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

Good job best medicine to cure ills of poverty

When the Census Bureau began calculating poverty a half-century ago — as a “war on poverty” became a hot issue in Washington — it devised a rather simple formula. The formula defined income that would be counted — excluding noncash income such as food stamps and housing subsidies — and applied it to a narrow […]

July 26, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

Legislature slides down slippery slope of moral impurity

The 2015 legislative session may – or may not – be otherwise memorable, but certainly will be known for symbolic gestures that drift into censorship. Earlier in the year, the Senate voted to remove the statue of Junipero Serra, the 18th century Spanish missionary who brought Christianity to California and built the first of the […]

July 22, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

Vaccine debate latest chapter in phobia politics

A woman holding a hand-lettered sign urging the Legislature to repeal Senate Bill 277 stood by the entrance to the Capitol’s garage Thursday morning. It was a forlorn echo of an issue that generated the highest level of emotional energy seen in the Capitol in decades – whether public and private school students, with few […]

July 19, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

Voters should expect hot fight over public worker pensions

It’s likely that California voters will be treated – or subjected – next year to a vitriolic campaign over public employee pensions. Backers of a proposed ballot measure, which would require voter approval of future pension increases, contend that too-generous benefits are diverting money from other vital public services such as police and fire protection. […]

July 15, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

Industry mounts effort to counter appellate court ruling

“Gut-and-amend” has a harsh ring, which may be appropriate, since it refers to a rather harsh legislative maneuver. A moribund bill is “gutted” – its contents are stripped away, leaving only a number – and “amended” with entirely new language. It short-circuits the laborious legislative process that might make passage difficult – at best unseemly, […]

July 12, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

State budget set; road work funding not

The Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown have passed a new state budget, and that’s that, right? Not on your sweet bippy, to channel comedian Dick Martin. The Capitol’s politicians left three major budgetary issues undone – highway maintenance, financing for the Medi-Cal program and spending $2-plus billion in “cap-and-trade” fees. The latter two are fairly […]

July 08, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

High court case hits union dues

California figured prominently, albeit indirectly, in the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent high-profile decisions on Obamacare, same-sex marriages and congressional redistricting. Justice Antonin Scalia even scornfully singled out California in his dissent on the marriage case. Scalia and his colleagues are not, however, done with California. As the court recessed this week, it accepted a landmark […]

July 05, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

Drought shows need to untangle water rights

There is absolutely nothing in California government – or its politics – more complicated and contentious than water rights. Who has what rights to extract and use how much water from which California rivers and aquifers is an almost impenetrable thicket of state laws, regulatory decisions, judicial actions and, in some cases, royal decrees dating […]

July 01, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

Pols move in right direction, but not far enough

Capitol politicians are patting themselves on the back for opening an escape hatch for millions of motorists whose licenses have been suspended for failure to pay past-due tickets. A budget “trailer bill” gives drivers whose licenses were suspended due to nonpayment in 2012 or earlier a window to settle up with discounts – 50 percent […]

June 28, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

State’s roadway conditions a civic embarrassment

There was a time when California was teaching the world how to build first-class highway systems. Our highway engineers were loaned to other nations eager to emulate California’s network of highways and freeways. Today, California’s state highways and local streets and roads are – or should be – a civic embarrassment, ranking at or near […]

June 24, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

State on sidelines in US Supreme Court’s ACA review

The Supreme Court will soon decide whether residents of states that refused to implement the Affordable Care Act are entitled to federal insurance subsidies. Whatever it decides, the court’s decree will not affect California because no state was more eager to embrace the iconic program. Previously, California had one of the nation’s highest proportions of […]

June 21, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

Capitol a ripe lab for anthropologists

Anthropologists probe the evolution of primitive societies, which makes the Capitol a perfect laboratory. It’s an isolated island occupied by two tribes with distinct cultural attributes. Sometimes they cooperate to pursue common goals but often are rivals. You might think this description refers to Democrats and Republicans. But it’s really about the Assembly and the […]

June 17, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

Brown’s ‘wall of debt’ remains a concern

Three years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown added “wall of debt” to the political lexicon. As he defined it, the wall was $33 billion in debt that the state had accumulated over the previous half-decade to cover state budget deficits and still had not repaid. The biggest chunk, $13.8 billion, was owed to schools and community […]

June 14, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

State’s economic numbers present mixed bag

California’s economy is recovering from its worst recession since the Great Depression – more or less. The announcement that California had added 29,500 jobs in April and regained 1.9 million jobs since the Great Recession hit bottom five years ago fuels a sense that the Golden State has regained its luster. Even California’s more skeptical […]

June 10, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

Pension solution may soon rest with state’s voters

California’s seemingly endless debate over public employee pensions may be approaching a climax. The state’s voters will be asked to decide whether, as naysayers contend, pensions are too generous, forcing ever-higher pension trust fund contributions that are “crowding out” vital public services. Two former city officials who fought local pension battles, San Diego Republican Carl […]

June 07, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

Tax credit plan represents de facto new entitlement

Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed an “earned income tax credit” for California’s working poor. When reporters asked for details, Brown termed it “reasonable” and quickly added, “This is not an entitlement. This is a commitment each year.” Working poor families could claim the “refundable credit” only when a governor and legislators appropriate money to administer […]

June 03, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

Unions pay heady price due to new voting reality

Steve Glazer, who took his seat in the state Senate on Thursday, is the $10 million man of California politics. That’s about what he, his opponents, special interest groups and wealthy individuals spent on two special elections to fill the 7th Senate District seat that Mark DeSaulnier vacated upon being elected to Congress last November. […]

May 31, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

Income taxes a volatile yet growing share of state revenue

During the first year of Jerry Brown’s first governorship, 40 years ago, the state collected $9 billion in general fund revenues and the sales tax was the biggest source at $3.7 billion. This year, the state is collecting more than $110 billion in general fund revenues and two-thirds of it comes from the personal income […]

May 27, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

Court ruling undercuts UFW

Thirteen years ago, the Capitol’s Democrats tried to resuscitate the United Farm Workers Union’s moribund efforts to organize California agriculture by enacting a union-friendly mediation process. The bills that Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson and Senate President Pro Tem John Burton carried and Gov. Gray Davis signed empowered the Agricultural Labor Relations Board to order mandatory […]

May 24, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

Brown correct not to squander windfall cash

The state’s revenue system is, as we should all know by now, increasingly dependent on taxes from a relative handful of high-income Californians. When they generate big returns on investments, state revenue soars, and when capital markets slow, revenue plunges. The Capitol tends to spend like the proverbial drunken sailor when money pours in and […]

May 20, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,
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