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Dan Walters

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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. […]

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, […]

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 […]

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 , | 1 Reply

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 ,

Poverty center stage in Capitol

The Legislature’s majority Democrats have claimed poverty as this year’s spotlight issue – with good reason. By the Census Bureau’s alternative poverty measure, California has by far the nation’s highest rate with nearly a quarter of its 39 million residents impoverished. The high poverty rate is the product of two powerful economic trends – stagnation, […]

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

May to bring state budget picture into better focus

Every state budget cycle has its own narrative, but this year’s version is in a class by itself. An expanding state economy and a temporary sales and income tax increase are flooding the state treasury with money, at least $4-plus billion more than the current budget assumes, and maybe even $5-plus billion. Through April – […]

May 13, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

War over taxes may be in the works

A political war over taxes that’s been brewing for nearly four decades finally erupted Thursday – maybe. A union-led coalition of liberal groups launched a campaign to change Proposition 13, the iconic 1978 property tax limit, seeking billions more in revenue from commercial and industrial property owners. The coalition, Make It Fair, declared its intention […]

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

GOP’s Huff off key as he beats transportation drum

Republican leader Bob Huff and other GOP senators have been beating the drums lately about a seemingly nefarious diversion of a billion dollars a year from badly needed highway construction and maintenance projects. Huff and anti-tax groups staged a news conference last week at a busy freeway interchange in Diamond Bar to demand that the […]

May 06, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

Bay Area vote could swing Senate sentiment against business

Seasonal rituals abound in the state Capitol and one, publication of the California Chamber of Commerce’s annual list of “job killer” bills, is anticipated with both glee and dread. They are measures that CalChamber and other business groups consider to be the most burdensome – and generally those that labor unions, environmentalists, consumer advocates and […]

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

Some ‘taxapalooza’ options hit low-income residents hard

It’s fairly certain that the 2016 California ballot will include at least one, and perhaps several, tax increase measures. It will be a presidential election with a relatively high turnout of voters, which would increase the odds of passing new taxes. The centerpiece of what some have dubbed “taxapalooza” is likely to be an extension of […]

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

Primary challenge could force Harris’ hand

It’s always perilous for politicians to tell the truth, as President Barack Obama discovered when he commented on Kamala Harris’ good looks in 2013. “You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who […]

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

Income disparity study results ironic

Income disparity — the divide between those at the top of the economic ladder and those stuck on lower rungs – is the era’s most explosive political issue. It has, however, an ironic twist. As a recent report from the Brookings Institution reveals, income disparities are widest in the nation’s bluest – most liberal – […]

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

Brown support of ag water ruffles feathers

It was somewhat incongruous to watch Gov. Jerry Brown defend California’s farmers and their water use on national television April 5. In imposing mandatory cutbacks on water use the prior week, the governor had exempted farmers, generating sharp criticism, especially from Brown’s usual allies in the environmental movement. Under pointed questioning by ABC’s Martha Raddatz, […]

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