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Dan Walters

State tinkers with power system at peril of ratepayers

When California’s electric power system went into a virtual meltdown 15 years ago, one might think it would have cured politicians’ urges to fiddle with its operations. After all, it was caused by a know-it-all overhaul of the system four years earlier by then-Gov. Pete Wilson and the Legislature, and successor Gray Davis’ mishandling of […]

Poor acts contribute to malaise

California has, as noted in this space previously, a severe civic malady – a sharp decline in voting. Politicians have been scrambling to find fixes, such as automatically registering voters as they contact the Department of Motor Vehicles. However, Public Policy Institute of California polling has found, in essence, that the reason so many Californians […]

October 04, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged , | 2 Replies

Cultures clash as court weighs in on school funding, accountability

The epic war between California’s education establishment and a loose coalition of school reform and civil rights groups rages on many fronts. Combatants clash in the Legislature, in the state Board of Education, in local school board meetings, in school district, legislative and statewide elections, and, ultimately, in the courts. One of their many specific […]

Intraparty fights take shape for 2016

Toni Atkins probably would prefer to remain the Democratic speaker of the state Assembly indefinitely, but she can’t. Although the state’s term-limit law has been amended to provide more flexibility, she’s bound by the earlier version that limits someone to three terms in the Assembly. Atkins still has eight years of state Senate eligibility. But […]

Brown’s actions tarnish his legacy

Jerry Brown’s political modus operandi has become well established in the second half of his two-part governorship. He declares something to be vitally important, then often settles for a half-a-loaf “solution” or an initial gesture that allows him to check it off his political bucket list. And if the issue seems to require too much […]

Split tax role subject of political debate

What’s in a word? How about billions of dollars? Make It Fair is a labor-union-backed organization that wants to change Proposition 13, California’s landmark property tax limit. It has been circulating a chart claiming that since it passed in 1978, the proportion of property taxes paid on “commercial” property has declined from 45 percent to […]

September 20, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged , | 4 Replies

Legislature ends session with a whimper

As the final fortnight of the 2015 legislative session began, Capitol handicappers were predicting a concluding cascade of landmark legislation. The Legislature did take significant steps on medical marijuana regulation and the right of terminally ill patients to end their lives. However, as the biggest measures stalled one-by-one, the session ended early Saturday with a […]

No surprise: Common Core tests yield lackluster results

It was no surprise that California’s first academic tests tied to new Common Core English and mathematics standards revealed lackluster achievement. Overall, just 44 percent of the 3.2 million students in the third through eighth grades and 11th grade met or exceeded standards in English, and that dropped to 33 percent in mathematics. State education […]

September 13, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged , | 9 Replies

Unions active as legislative session continues

Only a sixth of California’s 15 million wage and salary workers belong to labor unions, most of them government workers. During Labor Day week, it would be fair to say that without public employees, California’s 16.3 percent unionization rate, a bit above the national average, would be more like Oklahoma’s 6 percent. While union members […]

September 09, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

Reports hint that schools not following state funding law

California school districts were granted extraordinary flexibility in implementing a historic overhaul of public education finance to provide more help to “high-needs” poor and English-learner students. Gov. Jerry Brown cited “subsidiarity” as his principle, defining it as trusting local school officials to use extra money from the Local Control Funding Formula wisely within broad state […]

September 02, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

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 […]

August 30, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

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 […]

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

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 […]

August 23, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

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 ,

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 […]

August 16, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

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 […]

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

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 […]

August 09, 2015 | Posted in State, national columnists | Tagged ,

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 […]

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

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 ,

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 ,
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