In 2010, one of PG&E's main gas lines exploded, killing 8 people, and injuring many more. Since that time, we have discovered that PG&E hadn't properly inspected the lines, and continued to resist the real work that was necessary to maintain system safety.
The CPUC has proposed that the company be fined $2.25 billion, with administrative law judges scheduled to rule on that soon. The Commission is rather fed up with PG&E at this point. Director of Consumer Safety Jack Hagan had this to say:
PG&E's brief on penalties displays a chilling lack of remorse for the many failures that led up to the tragedy in San Bruno. I believe the lack of remorse by PG&E in its brief only serves to reinforce the need for the Commission to impose the very substantial $2.25 billion penalty I have proposed.
PG&E's lack of remorse is particularly evident in the section of its brief entitled "Severity of the Offense." Although PG&E commences that section of the brief with a statement of "regret" for the incident in San Bruno, the gist of PG&E's argument is "don't blame us." ... PG&E's statements of "regret" ring hollow in the face of this continuing lack of any sincere remorse whatsoever for the Company's past shortcomings. If there was ever any doubt about the need for a very large penalty in this case, any such doubt is removed by the unrepentant tone of PG&E's brief. It is time to throw the book at PG&E(H/t to KCET)
Now, this "fine" is rather misleading. Even if they would be fined that large amount, the current proposal is for the money to be required to spend on safety improvements. And as a bonus, the company would get about $900 million back of that in tax benefits. Now, normally PG&E likes to charge customers for these kinds of expenses, but given that the system needs far more than $2.25 billion of safety improvements, this is hardly the end of the world for them. They can still try to recoup some of the other safety costs and the money really goes back on to their system.
Newspaper editorializes against Denham's anti-rail stance
by Brian Leubitz
California's High Speed Rail system isn't very popular among California Republicans. Or Republicans in general. But one thing you don't often see: a Congressman telling the federal government to move money from his own district to another part of the country. That's just what Jeff Denham has done:
"Given that there are over 11.4 million Amtrak riders and over 200 million commuters that use the Northeast Corridor every year, it would be an investment in an area where we have proven ridership," Denham said at a hearing at the site of the future Moynihan Station in New York, which is intended to replace the cramped Penn Station across the street...(McClatchy)
Now, as Robert pointed out in the HSR Blog, this doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. The federal government can provide funds for both projects. But this call to move money out of California also means moving jobs out of California. That's what the Bee thought improper:
In the Central Valley -- where unemployment averages more than 15%, more than 40% in some cities -- the project would bring jobs and better connections with the coastal economies. It would relieve traffic congestion on roads and at airports.
But Denham's having none of it. He laments that construction on the first 29 miles of track between Madera and Fresno will start soon.
Denham's constituents and residents across the state should demand more from their congressman. He should be representing the Central Valley, California and the transportation interests of the nation -- not pitting the Northeast region against all others.(FresnoBee)
A busy few days for the Legislature as they move forward on important priorities
by Brian Leubitz
The Legislative leaders and the Governor agreed to a framework for the budget at the beginning of last week, but on Friday, the plan was sealed and sent to the Governor. He promptly signed it and tweeted the accomplishment:
After two and a half years of struggle and difficult times, California's budget is balanced and sustainable into the future.
The total budget is at $96.3bln, a spending total that should give the state some breathing room. If the revenue totals are higher, as the LAO predicts, Governor Brown intends to put much of it into reserve. There was a trailer bill for some welfare restoration and the partial restoration of some dental services within MediCal. The dental restoration wasn't everything, but it was a good start:
"The elimination of adult dental in 2009 was one of the most visible examples of the harm caused by the recession, the 42 billion dollar California budget deficit," says Steinberg.
Lawmakers were pressured by many groups to restore public services. A broad coalition wanted to stop doctor payment cuts in Medi-Cal. That didn't happen.
"We can't restore everything, or nearly everything that has been lost," Steinberg says. " But we can pick a few targeted areas where people have suffered the most. And for me, dental care was at the top of the list."
So Denti-Cal will be restored - to most of what it was before. Patients will be able to have their cavities filled, get crowns on broken teeth, and bridge work. They won't be getting partial dentures or implants, and Steinberg says they won't be getting any care right away.
"It's going to take some time to rebuild the program since it's been gone now for over four years," adds Steinberg.(CapRadio)
Indeed, the Legislature would still like to restore additional funding that was not included in this round. But, for the time being that will wait until additional revenue comes in and an argument that will sway Gov. Brown.
On MediCal, the Legislature also took some time to authorize the build out of that System along the lines envisioned in the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare). The new system will make a million more Californians elibile and streamline the application process.
To some politicians, economic development means giving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to strip clubs, fast food joints and retail giants like Walmart. Gov. Brown, thankfully, has a better idea. Today, the Governor announced a broad coalition of labor, business and others in support of his good jobs plan that will flip the broken enterprise zone program into real incentives for creating quality, middle-class jobs.
California's 30-year-old Enterprise Zone program is not enterprising, it's wasteful. It's inefficient and not giving taxpayers the biggest bang for their buck. There's a better way and it will help encourage manufacturing in California.
Study after study has shown that the enterprise zone program is a waste of taxpayer dollars. The California Labor Federation has been sounding the alarm on this broken program for several years, and now there's strong momentum for reform.
California Labor Federation leader Art Pulaski:
The Governor's plan wisely targets our tax dollars to good jobs that build the middle class and strengthen communities. California workers stand with the Governor in his efforts to create good jobs that will spur our state's economic growth.
The Governor's plan directs tax credits to businesses that are actually creating new, quality jobs -- something the broken enterprise zone program has failed miserably in achieving. The Governor outlined his program today in a release to media:
The Governor's plan, proposed in the May Revision, builds on the framework of existing, targeted programs by redirecting approximately $750 million annually from the current flawed Enterprise Zone program to three new economic development programs:
Sales tax exemption: A statewide sales tax exemption on manufacturing equipment or research and development equipment purchases by firms engaged in manufacturing or biotechnology research and development. The proposal is estimated to provide sales tax exemptions worth over $400 million annually.
Hiring credit: A hiring credit targeted to businesses located in areas with the highest unemployment rate and poverty. This credit will be available for the hiring of long-term unemployed workers, unemployed veterans and people receiving the federal earned income tax credit. The credit will only be allowed to taxpayers who have a net increase in jobs. The proposal is expected to provide approximately $100 million annually in hiring credits.
Investment incentive: The California Competes Credit based on specified criteria including the number of jobs to be created or retained and a set job retention period. This component of the proposal is expected to provide between $100 million and $200 million per year in tax credits.
New report praises commission, commissioners for process, results
by Brian Leubitz
The redistricting commission wasn't particularly popular when it passed. Nor were great results predicted by many, including myself. However, I've thoroughly changed my tune, and acknowledge the solid work done by the 14 commissioners and staff in creating a new system with transparency and openness.
Now a new report sponsored by the League of Women Voters finds that the system was popular statewide, and really did their job. (h/t Josh Richman)
A new report "When the People Draw the Lines," finds that California's first citizen-led redistricting commission successfully democratized redistricting in the state. In fact, among the estimated 1/3 of the voters who were familiar with the work of the commission, over 66% of the public approved of the CRC district maps.
The report, commissioned by the League of Women Voters of California in partnership with The James Irvine Foundation, found that the commission made a concerted effort to make the process more democratic and nonpartisan. In particular, the commission effectively gathered input from Californians through developing a statewide campaign with public meetings, open databases and online engagement.
Nobody can accuse the commission of not holding enough meetings. Having attended a few of them myself, I have to congratulate them on sitting through all that. Many of the speakers provided excellent input, some not so much. But they held 34 public meetings around the state, and listened to over 2700 speakers. Impressive indeed.
The report also made a few suggestions on how to improve. Most notably, the report suggested the process begin earlier to give the commissioners more time to do their job. Near the end of the process, meetings got squished together and probably could have benefited from a bit of extra deliberation.
The report also noted that having all 14 members at all of the hearings was a bit resource intensive. Having smaller subpanels would speed up the process and reduce travel costs. And while a lot of effort and resources were spent on selection of the commissioners, more time should have gone into training them.
The redistricting panels would probably be a good model for other states, but as of right now, more Democratic leaning states have moved to them than Republican states. As shown with the redistricting debacle in Texas, Republicans aren't so keen on giving up their mapping authority. But having seen the process first hand, it is probably best for the people to not have politicians choosing their own districts.
Legislature Agrees to Deal with Governor, Set to Pass Soon
by Brian Leubitz
It turns out representative democracy works. It really works! When you let the majority party do its job, they tend to get it done. It doesn't hurt that the Governor is of the same party as well, of course. However, in the end, the Governor got most of what he wanted, this is primarily a budget with limited restorations of persistent funding. And he mostly got his way on school funding as well. From John Myers:
The proposal, which still must be put into actual bill form by week's end, gives legislative Democrats from both houses a smattering of their priorities, from money for mental health programs to new dollars for career technical education and a new scholarship program aimed at college students from middle-class families.
For the governor, the budget includes most of what he wanted in a major education funding plan to earmark money for disadvantaged students. The proposal tinkers with, but retains the structure, of the formulas first demanded by Brown in January -- including extra cash for school districts with higher concentrations of poor and English learner students. (John Myers / News10)
There are still plenty of smaller details to work out, but the budget is looking like it will be passed on time for a third straight year. It is no coincidence that it has been three years since the majority vote ballot measure was passed.
On the other hand, this budget is far from all that could be desired from a progressive standpoint. There are big holes that should be filled sooner rather than later. We are still leaving some of our most vulnerable Californians without the services that they desperately need. We are still underfunding the supposedly co-equal judicial branch. We are still underfuning health care services.
The budget uses Brown's more conservative estimates of revenue over the LAO's estimates of $3B extra, but perhaps that caution could lead to a more sustainable future for state services.
We are heading into the last few weeks of the Supreme Court's session, which typically ends in the last few days of June. June 24 is the last calendared day, but it is not uncommon to see the close of the session drift a few days back. With that in mind, a few folks are summarizing what could happen. Howard Mintz has a quick such article in today's SJ Merc.
We win on the merits. This is the best case scenario and could possibly end most of the litigation surrounding marriage equality. In short, that would be the U.S. Supreme Court reaching the merits of Proposition 8's constitutionality and affirming the Ninth Circuit decision invalidating California's measure. Any victory on the merits restores marriage equality in California. But, of course it isn't that simple, there are a couple options within this scenario.
Beyond California, the Court could hold that all state bans on same-sex marriage are invalid (i.e., legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide);
Separate but unequal: Court could rule that states with civil union and domestic partnership laws must require full recognition for marriage rights for same-sex couples (i.e., legalizing same-sex marriage in several more states, including: Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, and Oregon).
Punting the case: The Supreme Court 'DIGs' the case. In the next scenario, the U.S. Supreme Court dismisses the case, leaving the Ninth Circuit's ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional as the final, binding decision. In lawyer parlance, this outcome is called a "DIG" -- for "Dismissed as Improvidently Granted" -- and it occurs when at least five justices agree that the petition for certiorari (or review) should never have been granted (it takes only four of the nine justices to grant review). Though DIGs aren't typical, it's notable that Justices Kennedy, Breyer and Sotomajor all questioned in oral arguments whether review should have been granted. This outcome would apply solely to California. But it would remove any prospect that a party hostile to marriage equality would challenge whether the ruling applies statewide.
Standing: The Supreme Court holds that Prop 8 backers lacked standing. In the next scenario, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Prop 8 proponents lacked standing under federal law to appeal the U.S. District Court's decision. Such a decision would vacate the Ninth Circuit opinion, leaving U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional as the final, binding decision. Prop 8 is held unconstitutional in this scenario, but parties hostile to marriage equality might seek to litigate over whether the District Court ruling applies statewide. Already, Prop 8 proponents and some ill-informed pundits have argued that such a ruling on standing should limit the judgment to only the two couples (who are named plaintiffs in the suit), or to the Counties of Alameda and Los Angeles (which are named as defendants in the suit). Those arguments are wrong, but certain to get litigated if the case is dismissed for standing in this fashion.
Losing: Here, a majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices agree to reverse the Ninth Circuit, upholding Proposition 8 as valid under the U.S. Constitution's equal protection guarantees. This would settle the legal question about Prop 8, though the larger debate about marriage equality in California would likely shift from the legal arena to the political realm.
We all know that working for Walmart is no picnic. They pay low wages, they slash hours, they offer little or no job security, they exploit and intimidate workers and they use sweatshop labor. That's why Walmart workers are on strike this week, to protest the corporation's greedy behavior and shady business practices. Learn more about the strike here.
Many of these striking workers earn so little that they're eligible for public assistance, like food stamps and Medicaid. And that's no accident; it's exactly the way Walmart likes it. We as taxpayers foot the bill for their workers, and the corporate head honchos get even richer.
According to a new report released today by the California Works Foundation:
Walmart workers use 40% more public health care assistance than the retail average. The company's use of public assistance costs California $86 million per year, including $32 million for health care. The 19% of Wal-mart workers who are uninsured cost the state $10 million and the country $202 million. If other companies followed Wal-mart's practices, it could cost the state $410 million.
And these figures could skyrocket next year when the Affordable Care Act goes into full effect. The law is intended to ensure shared responsibility between workers, employers and the government. But thanks to the "Walmart loophole" in the ACA, big corporations can easily skirt their responsibility by forcing workers onto Medi-Cal. From the report:
Under the ACA, there is no penalty for employers whose employees receive coverage through Medi-Cal or responsibility to offer coverage to part-time workers. When employers fail to share the responsibility for health care, they shift the burden to the individuals who are least able to pay for their own care or insurance, and taxpayers, who pay the costs of insurance through Medicaid and safety net health services at the county level.
According to the report, it's the biggest and most profitable corporations that are the worst offenders when it comes to slashing wages and hours to dump workers onto Medi-Cal. Walmart isn't the only one -- Papa John's, Regal Entertainment Group, Krispy Kreme, Darden Restaurants (the owner of Red Lobster and Olive Garden), Burger King, McDonald's, KFC, Dunkin' Donuts, Taco Bell and Wendy's have all publicly announced plans to cut hours and reduce employment in order to skirt their responsibility under the ACA.
And since the ACA also includes a major expansion of Medi-Cal for working families up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Line (which translates to $15,856 for a single individual and $32,499 for a family of four in 2013), even more low-wage workers at huge corporations will be eligible for Medi-Cal, and we as taxpayers will be footing an even bigger bill.
The report concludes:
If large employers add their employees to the Medi-Cal program, the costs can quickly add up for the state and federal government. On average, a non-disabled adults on Medicaid spent $4,362 in 2011. Under the ACA, they would be able to shift their costs to the government program without penalty.
Employers' conversion of jobs from full-time to part-time has been a driving force behind the increase in the uninsured population over the last two decades. Now with the ACA about to take effect, they stand to benefit even further from the expansion of Medi-Cal and the state's outreach and education to inform low-income Californians of their health options.
Most employers and individuals will fulfill their responsibilities to provide or obtain coverage, but some large employers-those who are most able to contribute to health care coverage-are seeking an advantage at the expense of taxpayers and low income residents-those who are least able to afford the cost of health care-by pushing even more of their employees onto the Medi-Cal system. This will only add to the challenges facing the state in successfully implementing the new health care law.
The following article, written by Occidental College Professor Peter Dreier, is part of a series called Next L.A. from Frying Pan News:
Eric Garcetti has enormous potential to be one of L.A.'s great mayors. He is young (just 42), full of energy, experienced in politics and government, passionate about L.A., brimming with policy ideas, compassionate toward the disadvantaged and a great communicator and explainer. I saw many of these traits up-close when I co-taught a course with him at Occidental College in 2000, and have watched him blossom as he joined the City Council and served as its president.
Now he faces the daunting challenges of running America's second-biggest, and most diverse, city.
No mayor can succeed unless he or she attends to the routine civic housekeeping tasks that residents expect from municipal governments - fix the potholes, keep traffic flowing, maintain public safety, keep the parks and playgrounds clean and in good repair.
But Garcetti didn't run for mayor just to be a caretaker. He promised more. He can build on some of the successes of his predecessor but also stake out new directions.
Former Congressman was convicted on bribery related charges
By Brian Leubitz
Well, the Duke-Stir is looking to make his way in the big world, after he gets out of the joint today.
Cunningham, 71, is due to be released Tuesday. He told a federal judge last year that he planned to live near his mother and brother in a remote part of Arkansas, writing books in a small cabin. But in a brief interview with The Associated Press in April, he said he might settle with military friends in Florida, where he would write his memoirs.(AP)
It's been a while since we heard all the lurid details of cunningham's bribery filed exploits. But with the bulk of the former congressman's district by freshman Rep Scott Peters, the district is probably getting much better representation.
Friend of Calitics David Dayen takes a look at the California budget process and finds one cut that should be restored:
Perhaps the most critical is restoring dental care for the 3 million adults currently on Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid system.
Like many other states during the Great Recession, California eliminated its adult dental program for Medicaid in 2009, without the legislature ever voting to cut it (the Medi-Cal reductions came as part of a "trigger," which got pulled when revenues failed to materialize). In a given year, over 300,000 poor Medi-Cal recipients would have used dental services. Instead, they either go without, letting serious dental problems fester, or they use the emergency room as their dentist, ringing up massive costs in uncompensated care. "People show up to the ER for root canals, abscesses, everything," explained Anthony Wright, the executive director of Health Access California. "It's far more expensive to the state to have a patient spend 2-3 days in the hospital than to pay for their checkup." (David Dayen / Salon)
It's been a long time since California actually executed anybody. 2006 to be precise, and we've only executed 13 people since 1976. Even if I were to support the death penalty, it is not hard to call this a broken system. We spend billions of dollars in legal challenges, extra security, suicide watch, etc, to keep these inmates alive long enough to kill them.
But the biggest reason that we haven't executed anybody since 2006 is that we haven't had approval from the courts. After federal courts struck down our lethal injection procedure in 2006, the case has been bouncing back and forth in both state and federal courts. The prison system released a new protocol two years ago. That didn't turn out well, as we found out yesterday:
In a 28-page ruling, the 1st District Court of Appeal found that state prison officials failed to comply with administrative rules when crafting new regulations more than two years ago.
The appeals court upheld a Marin County judge, who faulted the prison department for a variety of procedural missteps, including offering no public explanation for why San Quentin officials opted to continue with a three-drug lethal injection method instead of a single-drug execution option being embraced by a number of other states. (Howard Mintz / BANG)
So, it is back to the drawing board for the prison system, as they'll have to either appeal to the state Supreme Court or go through the process properly. Gov. Brown will ultimately have to make the call on the appeal, but certainly the question of how long we will have the death penalty is still open. Prop 34 to end it entirely only failed by 47-53 last year. It is not the toxic issue that it once was. With all the other spending priorities, does it really make sense to spend billions of dollars on a punishment that is simply not effective at reducing crime:
In my view deterrence plays no part whatsoever. Persons contemplating murder do not sit around the kitchen table and say I won't commit this murder if I face the death penalty, but I will do it if the penalty is life without parole. I do not believe persons contemplating or committing murder plan to get caught or weigh the consequences. Statistics demonstrate that states without the death penalty have consistently lower murder rates than states with it, but frankly I think those statistics are immaterial and coincidental. Fear of the death penalty may cause a few to hesitate, but certainly not enough to keep it in force, and the truth is that there is no way of ever knowing whether or not the death penalty deters. (Judge H Lee Sarokin)
My baby Mia died in a hospital at just 6 weeks of age from whooping cough in the middle of a whooping cough epidemic because doctors didn't give her a simple test.
A 38-year-old law says her life is only worth $250,000 - that is the value of a child in California when they're harmed by the health care industry. It's wrong, and it's the reason medical negligence is so common today - there's little price to pay when something goes wrong.
We should not have to put up a billboard in Sacramento to get the Legislature's attention to change the law, but we did. It's on Highway I-80 so state legislators will consider updating the antiquated law that for the past 38 years has put a discriminatory limit on the value of a precious life like Mia's.
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Posted by Alejandra Gonzalez-Chavez, Special to Consumer Watchdog. Follow Consumer Watchdog online on Facebook and Twitter.
But here is where I buried the lede in yesterday's PPIC poll post. The poll included a question on the subject:
But one proposed reform gets majority support: 58 percent of adults and 56 percent of likely voters favor a split-roll property tax, which would tax commercial properties according to their current market value. But less than half of Californians (46% adults, 42% likely voters) favor another proposed reform, which would lower the vote threshold from two-thirds to 55 percent to pass local special taxes. (PPIC)
Now, this isn't exactly all that progressives would want, but split role is a pretty good start. And leaders like San Francisco Assembly Members Ting and Ammiano have at least brought up the issue. Now it awaits a move up the food chain as legislative leaders need to take up the cause before it can really advance.
But what progressives are arguing for is that Prop 13 has fundamentally skewed our property taxes. By gaining consistency over time, we gave up equality between different owners. As this image illustrates, tax patterns have varied wildly. Corporations are able to fudge around the edges with structuring deals in order to avoid reassesments, while homeowners are always stuck with the latest sale price. That means there has been a huge shift from commercial property bearing a strong majority of the property tax burden to residential properties now far outweighing commercial taxes. (See these graphs; the picture to the right is the 2010 residential percentage of property taxes from that page.)
Proposed Assembly Bill 26 claims to advance climate protection and worker rights, but a provision snuck into this bill after it was proposed would do just the opposite for California's heaviest industrial polluters-oil refineries.
The provision (§ 39714 (c)) would define refinery maintenance as "public works." It would give oil companies public money that is supposed to be used for climate protection in places hardest hit by industrial pollution, to keep refineries that do too little to curb their emissions running, and insist that they use contractors instead of the existing refinery workers to do all that maintenance work.
Perhaps something can be changed in the Senate to make the bill more palatable and less of a subsidy to oil companies. After all, Chevron played fast and loose with workplace safety and the integrity of our environment in Richmond. Why are we subsidizing Big Oil to do what they should be doing anyway?
It will be a pretty busy day on the floor of the Assembly, but much of the really tough process of pushing bills is done at the other house. That's where you will see the big lobbying pushes for and against potential legislation.