Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sacramento Bee: California Peace Officers Compete for Pay and Respect

California Highway Patrol, prison officers compete for pay, respect

Published: Tuesday, May. 31, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
The "pony riders" vs. "thugs" feud goes back a half-century, long before state workers unionized.
Ostensibly, the battle between the California Association of Highway Patrolmen and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association is about money. It's really always been about what money represents: respect.

"It's like sitting in a bar with guys in the Army and the Marines when the conversation turns to, 'Who's the toughest?' " said Tim Hodson, who heads the Center for California Studies at California State University, Sacramento. "Who's more macho?"

Take the new contract negotiated by the correctional officers and signed this month by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Critics have blasted the deal as the comeback governor's valentine to the union that spent nearly $2 million to help him win the election.

But when prison officers look at their patrol counterparts, they still aren't satisfied.

"Longevity pay, bilingual pay, uniform pay … There are a lot of areas where we'd like to close the gap," said CCPOA president Mike Jimenez.

Talk with either side about the tussle, and conversation starts with compliments.

Jimenez: "We respect the CHP as a brother law enforcement agency."

Jon Hamm, CEO of the California Association of Highway Patrolmen: "I respect and appreciate the work that correctional officers do."

But the derogatory shorthand each group has for the other is well-known: Prison officers are "thugs," "prison guards" and "knuckle draggers." Patrol officers are "traffic officers," "AAA with a gun" and "pony riders," a reference to their horseback patrols around the Capitol.

Hamm acknowledged that a rivalry exists, and that it can get ugly.

"The fact that everyone knows about this rift, I'm not proud of it," he said. "I really don't want correctional officers to believe that we think less of them for what they do. That's not what this is about."

Or is it? The CCPOA's motto, "the toughest beat," implies that all other public safety groups – including CHP officers – have easier jobs.

Ian Pickett, a Kern Valley State Prison sergeant, said he has "the utmost respect for what the CHP does," and recognizes that every freeway stop is a potential shootout.

"With that said, the CHP often walks up to a window and finds a little old lady with a lead foot," Pickett said, "whereas correctional officers always walk up to convicted, often violent felons."

CHP officers tend to see corrections as the state's version of local jailers: an entry-level position that isn't about enforcing the law.

"The California Highway Patrol has always thought of itself as the elite," said Glen Craig, CHP's commissioner from 1975 to 1983. "And they've always been competing at the bargaining table and in the Legislature (with the CCPOA) for pay and benefits for their people."

Pay for correctional officers and cadets ranges from $3,050 to $6,144 per month, 25 percent less than the pay of their patrol counterparts.

Their new contract includes one unpaid day off per month. The patrol contract signed last year doesn't.
The disparities run the other way, too.

The CCPOA contract eliminates the 640-hour limit on leave time that correctional officers can accrue. Those hours can be cashed out at the employee's final pay rate when he or she quits or retires, an exit nest egg that can be worth tens of thousands of dollars.

The state has always winked at leave caps in general and for prison officers in particular because institutions are short-staffed. Two years of furloughs aggravated the problem.

The result: CCPOA members average 19 weeks of leave on the books, worth a collective $610 million, a state analysis shows.

The patrol officers' deal still has a leave cap, and an edict to adhere to it has upset some CHP officers and managers.

"We're enforcing excess leave cap as best we can," said CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader.

Long fight for equality

Most of the time, the prison officers have been on the bottom looking up.

In the 1950s, correctional officers complained that they earned less than fish feeders at San Francisco's Steinhart Aquarium, according to Joshua Page, a University of Minnesota sociology professor who has studied the union.

In the 1960s, the CCPOA's forerunner, the California Correctional Officers Association, sought legislation to enhance member retirements. The Highway Patrol group fought them.

"There was real resentment that the patrol didn't help," said Page, whose new book, "The Toughest Beat," details the episode. "The correctional officers have always felt like CHP got all the respect and didn't have to do much to get it."

State prison officers in 1977 earned between $1,097 and $1,260 per month, about $200 less than CHP officers.

Not long after that, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that allowed state employees to organize.

Prison officers brushed off overtures from the Teamsters and other unions and organized themselves. They wanted to create an association focused on their unique interests, much like the Highway Patrol's.

Under the leadership of Don Novey, the CCPOA became a formidable player in Sacramento by leveraging millions of dollars from members' dues to reward its friends and punish its enemies.

It established an informal link between its members' wages and patrol officers' pay by waiting until the Highway Patrol's union settled on a contract, Hamm said, then using the patrol deal to argue for prison officer pay.

"I complained about it for years," Hamm said. "I literally couldn't negotiate for my members because we were negotiating for their members, too. Everyone knew it. It was a joke."

Although by law the patrol wages were supposed to be based on what police and sheriffs' deputies earn in five large law enforcement departments around California, the state ignored the statute for many years.
The CAHP sued to re-establish the link and lost. Then Gov. Gray Davis formally recognized the tie in a five-year contract with the CAHP.

Symbolic victory

From 2001 to 2006, state figures show, correctional officers' salaries rose by about one-third – right along with their patrol counterparts' pay.

"That was a material victory, but it was also very symbolic," Page said. "It meant that correctional officers were as valued as the CHP."

The CCPOA's deal expired in 2006 and with it the contractual tie to CHP officers' earnings. Talks with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger deadlocked. Frustrated, the union a year later sponsored a bill to preserve the pay connection.

Hamm saw it as a make-or-break moment. If the bill passed, the state would forever calibrate his 6,100-member union's contracts by what the deals would cost to cover the 30,000-member CCPOA.

After heavy lobbying on both sides, the measure stalled.

"People said we won," Hamm said. "I didn't see it that way. We were fighting for survival, not to defeat somebody."

With talks at an impasse and the pay legislation dead, Schwarzenegger imposed terms on the CCPOA.
The "knuckle draggers" were on the bottom. Again.

Now, after several years without raises or even the increased employer contributions to health insurance given to all other state workers, the CCPOA is on the rebound.

Schwarzenegger, who once famously cracked that the only difference between prisoners and prison guards is which side of the bars they're on, is gone.

"Maria's not much happier to be rid of him than I am," Jimenez said, referring to the former governor's split with his wife.

His union is at peace with the Brown administration. Its new contract, which runs to July 2013, brings its members to health insurance parity in two years.

Jimenez, who turns 50 next month, had considered retiring. Now he's hoping for re-election in August to a third and final three-year term – and to negotiate one last contract.

Asked about re-establishing the pay link with CHP, Jimenez said: "I'd like to do better."

Meanwhile, the CCPOA and Davis agreed to set prison officers' pay based on what CHP officers made. The deal fixed CCPOA members' base wages at $666 per month less than what their patrol counterparts earned.The competition for pay and respect goes back decades to an era before the unionized state work force, when prison and patrol officers belonged to fraternal groups.

SF Chronicle: San Francisco Budget Process Expected to be Calm

S.F. budget season expected to be less turbulent

Maxima Simpliciano, 83, listens to a discussion on the budget during the first of Mayor Ed Lee's town hall meetings on the fiscal plan at Tenderloin Community School on March 16.

It's a new budget era in San Francisco - for one year, at least.

Substantial cuts will still be a reality when Mayor Ed Lee rolls out his first budget Wednesday. Just don't expect widespread layoffs, closed fire stations or a month of political jousting between the mayor and the Board of Supervisors, culminating in a late-night budget deal before the fiscal year starts July 1.

Better-than-expected tax revenue in a slowly rebounding economy has blunted the need for the most draconian cuts as the mayor closes a $306 million deficit, city officials say. And "consensus" has been the catchphrase of Lee's first five months in office since the board appointed him to serve out the final year of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom's term as mayor.

"The big difference is having an interim mayor, a caretaker mayor, who has not created political hurdles in crafting the budget," said Supervisor John Avalos, a former budget committee chair and a member of the board's most liberal faction, which often clashed with Newsom, a San Francisco-style moderate.

"The problem with Gavin Newsom was he rammed things down our throats during budget season," Avalos said.

Newsom defends his budget moves, saying he was trying to get structural reform, like contracting out jail medical services, to safeguard the city's economic health.

With a more moderate board in place, Lee has so far skirted confrontation on budget priorities. He used the last several months to confer with supervisors and hold 10 budget town hall meetings across the city in an effort to reach a broad consensus right out of the gate.

Lee is even taking the symbolic step of presenting his budget to supervisors in the board chambers at City Hall, a custom Newsom had done away with.

"This is the month where it used to be: 'God, I hate the mayor's office,' " Lee said in an interview. "What they're telling me today is: 'Man, it's a pretty good process.' "

Board President David Chiu, who with other supervisors had asked for more collaboration, called it "an extremely different experience."

Ultimately, the proof will be what's in the budget - and how people react to what isn't.

Lee has to close the deficit and present a balanced budget - the current one is $6.6 billion - to the board.
About $71 million in already-found savings and 10 percent cuts to departmental budgets aren't enough to bridge the gap. Even with an additional 10 percent in "contingency" cuts, which some officials warned would mean slashing programs like homeless services and laying off 171 police officers, San Francisco was still looking at a $65 million hole just last month.

Surplus over projections

But the fiscal picture has brightened in recent weeks, with the city controller reporting an almost $47 million surplus over budget projections thanks to unforeseen increases in tax revenue, primarily from the sale of large commercial property. The city also expects an extra $15 million in property tax revenue not included in the report, Deputy City Controller Monique Zmuda told the board's budget committee May 18.

Lee called the developments good news but not enough.

"We do have to make some cuts," he said. "At this point, we don't anticipate major layoffs."

Cuts are expected to be broad but not as deep as the contingency plans. Transitional housing for the homeless is expected to get trimmed 10 percent, for example, with support programs for families in crisis cut 20 percent. Co-payments for home health care are expected to go up from $3 to $10, and police academy classes remain on hold, officials said.

Lee is holding talks with police union officials about deferring $14.5 million in pay raises officers are due to start receiving July 1. Forgoing the raises, coupled with the better economy, could avert the layoffs that then-acting Police Chief Jeff Godown warned about in April, the mayor said. He's also in talks with the firefighters union on $9 million in raises their members are due and is seeking concessions from the nurses union.

"Police and fire, we still have numbers ... that they have to help us with," the mayor said before the talks. "But we don't believe that the conversation is any longer that only layoffs can do it."

Ending instant opposition

Lee also hopes to dramatically reduce the "addback" process, which occurs when the board's budget analyst, Harvey Rose, finds savings in the mayor's budget. Hundreds of advocates, city employees and nonprofit staff then stream into City Hall, forecasting doom if their funding is cut. Supervisors then restore money to programs they support.

Lee predicts half those people won't turn out because funding for their programs is set.

"I think we've got maybe four-fifths of the budget solved," Lee said.

Rather than the bare-knuckle political fights over the budget under Newsom - where the mayor and the board's progressives both used ballot measures as bargaining chips - Lee said his budget won't include proposals that face instant opposition.

The new budget approach may be short-lived, though. Lee took the mayor's job pledging that he wouldn't run for a full term in November. He also has incentive to work with supervisors that the next mayor may not, because Lee needs board confirmation to get his old job back as city administrator.

"I'm trying it out," Lee said of his budget style, "to see if it works better."

This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Studying or examining state and local government - Does this Blog help?

The semester is over but I see a number of readers from around the world interested in State and Local government issues?

Does this blog help? Should it continue?

Should we change the discussion or issues we focus on?


Monday, May 30, 2011

Sacramento Bee Column: Proposed Arena Impacts Proposed Transit Center

Back-seat Driver: Would new Sacramento arena shove transit center aside?

Published: Monday, May. 30, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
As they rush to plan a new arena for the Sacramento Kings and major concerts, are city officials putting a long-planned downtown transit center at risk?

Plans unveiled last week for an 18,000-seat arena on city land behind the downtown depot have some transit advocates worried.

The drawings show the big oval-shaped arena plunked down right where the city is preparing to put a new train complex. It's as if the transit center had been squashed by a flying saucer.

Is there room to squeeze the arena and the transit project on the same site? If not, does the transit center go someplace else? Where?

City transportation head Jerry Way and Councilman Steve Cohn said they are not sounding the alarm but acknowledge the arena design poses serious questions about the future of the transit complex.

A new transit center in the railyard has long been one of the city's top priority civic projects. It would replace the current train depot, and include room for possible bullet trains in the future.

Transportation chief Way says the next 100 days will be crucial. That is when city and regional officials will look at details about how to build a sports and entertainment facility, including what it means for the transit center. "We'll drill into the details and see how we can shoehorn this in there."

An arena proposal last year indicated an arena and transit center could be merged into one joint-use building. That has worked in other cities, giving train and transit users easy access to the entertainment facility.

But the detailed drawings shown to city officials last week make no accommodations for a transit center. Developer David Taylor, one of the architects of the arena proposal, said his group and city officials are committed nevertheless to figuring out the transit center puzzle in the next few months.

A joint facility is possible, he said, but may be difficult because there are restrictions on the use of government transportation funds.

If the transit center doesn't fit on the site, the city may be forced to give an estimated $21 million or more in Measure A transportation sales tax funds back to regional authorities – at least temporarily.

The city was allocated that money to help buy the depot-area site to build the transit center.

The city, however, retains rights to that money. It can reclaim the funds, for instance, to buy another parcel of land for a transit center, officials say. But land options are limited.

On the plus side, the new arena, as drawn, melds well with plans for light rail. It's oriented so that a light-rail stop sits just outside the front door. That rail line would connect to North Sacramento, south Sacramento, Folsom, and possibly eventually to the airport, giving thousands of ticket buyers front-door service to concerts and ballgames.

Sacramento Bee: Larger Lation Population Plays Big Redistricting Role

The Buzz: Larger Latino numbers play big role in redrawing California's districts

State's Latino population surges – political power, too

California's Latino population grew nearly three times as much as the state as a whole in the past decade, making it home to more than a quarter of the nation's Latinos, according to a new Census Bureau report.

While the Golden State's population grew by 10 percent in the past decade, the Latino growth was 27.6 percent, accounting for more than 90 percent of the state's population gain overall.

Latinos now are 37.6 percent of all Californians, up more than five percentage points since 2000, according to the census.

That percentage is exactly the same as that of Texas, with both states trailing only New Mexico, at 46.3 percent.

Latinos accounted for more than half of the nation's growth during the decade and now make up 16.3 percent of the U.S. population.

Many states have seen higher Latino growth rates than California, some nearly 150 percent, such as
Alabama and South Carolina.

Latinos now trail non-Latino whites in California by about four percentage points. They are expected to become its largest ethnic group by mid-decade.

Those numbers are playing a major role in redrawing legislative and congressional districts, and maps now being drawn are expected to result in a sharp increase in Latino officeholders.

The Citizens Redistricting Commission is set to release its preliminary maps on June 10.

LA Times: Positive Signs in Anemic US Economic Recovery

Positive signs in an anemic U.S. recovery

Consumers are saving more and reducing debt, behavior that could lead to a more sustainable economy.

Consumer financial trends a short-term drag on economy
Many experts blame weaker spending on fuel prices. But the cost of gas has fallen in recent days. Above, Anthony Vargas at a gas station in Valencia. (Damian Dovarganes, Associated Press / May 27, 2011)

May 30, 2011

Signs of slower growth in the United States, coupled with rising fears over the European debt crisis and other unsettling developments, are fueling concern about whether the sputtering U.S. recovery could stall or even enter a new downturn.

But beneath the surface, some key factors contributing to the anemic recovery are actually positive; long-sought changes in Americans' financial behavior could point toward a stronger, more sustainable economy in the future.

In contrast to the unconstrained spending of the past, U.S. consumers are building up their savings at rates not seen in years. They're also doing more to pay down credit cards and other debt. Higher savings rates and lower debts tend to slow economic growth in the short term but stimulate it in the longer term. And future growth based on personal savings and smaller debts is less likely to produce dangerous bubbles.

Even if some consumers are tempted to return to their old ways, new federal regulations and tougher standards that the nation's banks have imposed on credit card applicants and other borrowers are creating pressure to curb debt and save more.

Also, the continuing refusal of most lenders to write down soured home mortgages — and the failure of government programs to help significant numbers of homeowners — have kept foreclosures high. Painful as that is for tens of thousands of Americans, many economists say neither the housing market nor other important sectors of the economy can recover until the country works off the burden of bad mortgages.

There are still an estimated 3.6 million home borrowers who are in foreclosure or at least 120 days behind in payment.

Even the current battle in Washington over the federal deficit, while currently paralyzed by political gamesmanship, may ultimately force the nation to confront difficult choices, establish priorities and make changes that, taken together, could put the government's financial house in better order for the future.

None of this gives much comfort to those focused on the wobbly state of the economy right now.

Analysts worry that interest rates will rise after the Federal Reserve's massive bond buying program, aimed at spurring growth, comes to an end in June. There are concerns about further cutbacks from budget-strapped state and local governments. And last week's disappointing economic reports — unemployment claims rose and first-quarter consumer spending was softer than previously thought — prompted more forecasters to take out their erasers and lower their economic and job projections.

The slowdown is reminiscent of last year's spring doldrums, when Europe's debt troubles flared, hiring stalled, and the Dow Jones industrial average tumbled 13.6% to its low in July from its high in April.

But the stock market appears to have a different take this time around. Although share prices have fallen in May, the losses have been modest overall. The Dow, at 12,442 on Friday, is down 2.9% from its three-year high reached April 29.

"There's a lot more confidence that this is a 'soft patch' and not the start of a double-dip" in the economy, said Phil Orlando, chief equity strategist at money manager Federated Investors Inc. in New York.

He and other optimists believe that much of the economy's slowdown stems from temporary factors — terrible winter and spring weather in much of the country, the jump in gas prices and global factory-production disruptions tied to Japan's earthquake in March.

Many of these analysts also believe that the labor market turned the corner this year, and that more employers will find they can no longer put off adding staff after keeping payrolls extremely lean for the last three years.

Carl Riccadonna, senior U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank in New York, noted that U.S. business productivity grew at a 1.6% annualized rate in the first quarter, down from 2.9% in the fourth quarter. That decline signals that companies' ability to squeeze more production from their current labor force is waning, he said, and "the pace of hiring should accelerate."

The view on Main Street is far less sanguine. Melanie Pauley, a 26-year-old in Roanoke, Va., sees plenty of foreclosures in her community. Her friends and neighbors are still scratching for work. Her husband's pay as a nurse has barely gone up over the last year. And she worries whether there will be enough jobs to absorb new workers, including herself. She's studying for a career in healthcare.

"It's not horrible here, but I don't know what to expect," said the second-year nursing student. "I'm just not sure, I don't have a lot of faith in the economy."

That lack of confidence has the Pauleys clamping down on spending. They don't drive as much. The couple now grow their own tomatoes and peppers in their basement. What extra savings they have go toward bigger payments every month on their home and car loans.

"We're just not buying as much," she said, "and when we do buy, we use cash more."
That approach is reflected in national data. Since the summer of 2008, when the recession was deepening, U.S. consumer debts have fallen by more than $1 trillion.

A large part of that reduction was the result of lenders writing off bad mortgages and other loans. But even after stripping out charge-offs, total credit card and other non-mortgage debt — which increased an average $200 billion annually from 2000 to 2007 — fell $13 billion in 2009 and went up a mere $35 billion last year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The change in consumer behavior is also reflected in the nation's savings rate. In the years just before the recession, individuals were socking away just 1% to 2% of their after-tax incomes; that's gone up to 5% to 6%.

Some experts think the savings rate will rise further, although others doubt Americans have truly learned lessons from the recession. Signs already point to credit card balances rising, says Odysseas Papadimitriou, whose Card Hub website compares credit card rates. At the same time, he says, banks have gotten smarter about extending credit.

New regulations are also likely to help keep consumers from going wild with debt. The Federal Reserve will require lenders this fall to evaluate incomes of individual applicants instead of earnings of households, making it tougher for nonworking spouses to qualify for new cards.

When that change takes effect, "credit capacity will be diminished," said Marina Norville, a spokeswoman for American Express Co. Reflecting the improved consumer finances, American Express' credit losses fell to an all-time low in the first quarter. People are spending more, Norville says, but customer payment rates are up as well. "They're managing their finances carefully," she said.

Over time, consumers' stronger financial shape should help drive spending. Economist Scott Hoyt, who tracks consumer activity for Moody's Analytics, says many people have delayed purchases of big-ticket items such as cars, appliances and furniture. "We're still building pent-up demand," he said.

Just how quickly and how much of that demand gets unleashed will depend largely on jobs and income growth — and perceptions of workers' future prospects. Thanks to recent job gains, consumer confidence jumped in May, according to a monthly survey by Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan.

Yet survey director Richard Curtin says most people remain pessimistic about their earnings, with just 1 in 10 expecting their incomes to outpace inflation this year.

Many experts attribute the weaker consumer sentiment and spending on the psychological and financial pain of surging fuel prices. But the cost of gas has been easing in recent days; U.S. crude prices have fallen to about $100 a barrel from $114 in late April. The national average for unleaded regular gasoline was $3.81 a gallon Friday, 9 cents less than a week earlier, according to AAA.

"If gas stays down, it's going to provide a significant tailwind for consumption going into the summer," said Deutsche Bank's Riccadonna.

Robert Callari of West Palm Beach, Fla., lost his $65,000-a-year job as a restaurant manager about four months ago. Since then, the 49-year-old has been collecting jobless benefits and dipping into saving. Callari isn't underwater in his home mortgage, but he's put off redoing the kitchen and filling the pond on his yard. He hasn't traveled anywhere in months, and on Memorial Day weekend, he is staying home and watching TV — without the premium channels because he cut cable service down to basic.

Callari doesn't have any immediate prospects for a new job, but he knows exactly what he would do when that day comes and he gets his first paycheck:

"I wouldn't buy anything," he said. "I want to start saving again."

Contra Costa Times: Unions Lobbying in State GOP Districts

Labor group reaches into GOP districts

By Steven Harmon
Contra Costa Times© Copyright 2011, Bay Area News Group

SACRAMENTO -- The last group you'd think would sway Republican voters is a public employee labor union.

But David Kieffer, the political director of the Service Employees International Union, believes he has the tools and the approach to persuade GOP voters to support its highest political priority: extending the current level of sales, income and auto taxes to help close the state's $10 billion deficit.

It is a multimillion-dollar experiment for the SEIU, the largest public employee union in California, with 700,000 members. Kieffer has targeted 10 Republican legislators' districts with TV, radio and newspaper ads, fliers and billboards over the past two weeks. The TV and radio campaign has reached 2.6 million viewers and listeners in five markets: Sacramento, Fresno, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Palm Springs.

The campaign has two purposes: to provide cover for some Republicans who are considering voting for taxes, or at least voting to put tax extensions on the ballot as legislators work toward the June 15 budget deadline; and to harangue other Republicans who may be vulnerable to accusations that they are blocking reasonable compromise solutions.

"Republicans who want to do the right thing will know they will have the political backing to do it," Kieffer said. "They don't have to worry about right-wing attacks in a primary. We'll have their backs if they stand up to an all-cuts budget."

A short-term objective is to help persuade four Republicans to vote for tax extensions this year; a long-term goal is to elect moderate, pro-government Republicans in newly drawn districts in 2012 and beyond under the new top-two primary system, in which two members of the same party could face each other in a general election.

A draft of newly drawn legislative seats is expected to be published June 10.

Some are skeptical about the SEIU's ability to pressure incumbents to vote in favor of taxes this year.
"The threat from the SEIU is far less likely to result in Republicans going up on taxes this year than to result in putting Republicans in the Legislature next year who may vote for taxes," said Jon Fleischman, the state's most influential conservative blogger.

"But all Republicans should be concerned because I think it could be a very effective long-term strategy.

They may find Republican candidates willing to raise taxes -- a former fireman or police officer who supports public pensions, and that would be unfortunate. To have a hostile force influence which Republicans get elected is not desirable but is a predictable outcome of Proposition 14."

Proposition 14, approved by voters last year, will allow the top two candidates in a race to face each other in the general election, regardless of party. That, combined with newly drawn district lines that are supposed to avoid gerrymandering practices that protected incumbents in the past, could result in voters electing more moderate candidates in some Republican districts because Democrats could cross party lines.

A key to his strategy, Kieffer said, is to change the terms of the debate, and present the choice as protecting services that Republicans care for, such as public safety, education and in-home care for the elderly, rather than whether they support tax extensions.

Republicans considering taxes, however, are worried that they will face the wrath of anti-tax groups and conservative talk show hosts. The fear of being targeted for recall efforts is also real, though no Republican who voted for taxes or to put them on the ballot in 2009 was ever recalled. Of the six who voted for taxes that year, only one was defeated in a GOP primary.

But Republican voters can be reached with another message that steers from the typical anti-tax rants, Kieffer said. His polling -- done purposely by Republican pollster Bob Moore to ensure as accurate a picture of GOP sentiment as possible -- showed that 80 percent of Republicans in the targeted districts do not want cuts in education, public safety, or even home care services for the elderly. Framed simply as a fight over tax extensions, and the support drops precipitously.

One feature to work with: The SEIU has a sizable number of Republicans among its ranks, 87,000 of its 466,000 registered voters.

"If we can figure out how to position this discussion so it's about stopping layoffs to cops and firefighters and saving in-home services for the elderly before Republicans take their vote," Kieffer said, "that would make it easier on them to defend their vote."

In one of his more Byzantine ventures, Kieffer targeted three GOP incumbents in the Modesto area: Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, R-Stockton; Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto; and Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Stanislaus.

The Berryhill brothers have been involved in discussions on tax extensions with Gov. Jerry Brown, while Olsen has been a vocal opponent of taxes. Kieffer has sent fliers into Stanislaus County with an image of Olsen superimposed in front of what looks like a prisoner transport bus filled with convicts.

"Why won't Assemblymember Olsen stop police layoffs and protect public safety?" the flier asks. "She and a handful of legislators can help solve the state budget without making extreme cuts to public safety."
At the same time, the SEIU distributed fliers with a more encouraging tone for Tom Berryhill.

"We're counting on Tom Berryhill," the flier reads. "Sen. Tom Berryhill knows that divisive politics and partisan bickering won't fix our schools, keep our neighborhoods safe or balance the state budget. But some extremists have threatened to attack Sen. Berryhill with negative ads, demanding he support a drastic 'all-cuts' budget."

Kieffer has only addressed the issue generically in Bill Berryhill's district -- calculating that using his name would only rub him the wrong way. But the attacks on Olsen -- as well as the friendlier nudges to his brother -- could serve Bill Berryhill's interests, and make him more amenable to a vote for taxes, Kieffer said.
Under newly drawn districts and a top-two primary, Bill Berryhill and Olsen could face each other in a general election next year.

"So, when they get stuck in an election against each other, she starts in with her anti-tax mantra and people will go, 'Yeah, but she wanted to lay off cops and firefighters,'" Kieffer said. "We're just laying the groundwork."

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Contra Costa Times: Some County Jails Have Space, No Money For State

East Bay sheriffs say jails have space but no money for state's excess inmates

East Bay jails have beds but no cash to take on the hundreds of inmates the state is expected to divert to counties as California tries to meet court-ordered prison population reductions.

"Counties have been promised money from the state before and have not always received the money as promised," said Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern.¿ "We are looking for full funding and constitutional guarantees of continued funding."

Sheriffs are "literally meeting every week with (Gov. Jerry Brown) and his staff to make sure there is going to be adequate funding to absorb these prisoners into the local jails," said Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston.

Last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision launched Ahern and Livingston, who oversee a combined 6,700 jail beds, into the front line of accelerated talks over how California will resolve its pernicious prison overcrowding problem.

The justices ruled that the state's glutted prisons constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Brown this year introduced what he called "realignment," shifting responsibility from the state to counties starting July 1 to jail and monitor low-level, nonviolent felons to save the state money and to ease prison overpopulation.

Counties could also receive some offenders in state custody. The state must shed 33,000 inmates over the next two years in order to meet the court ruling.

The Legislature adopted realignment as part of the state budget But without highly disputed extensions of the vehicle license fee and sales tax, there will be no money to implement it.

Without a constitutional guarantee of funding, the next Legislature faced with deficits could raid the realignment account and leave counties paying for hundreds or thousands of inmates.

That's the sticking point for sheriffs such as Livingston and Ahern.

Without money, they cannot afford the added inmates. Recessionary budget cuts have already stressed their departments.

But if they don't take the offenders, the courts could order their immediate release.
Dozens of felons could return to the East Bay, but largely without the benefit of re-entry and rehabilitation programs that help them find and qualify for jobs and avoid returning to prison.

Alameda and Contra Costa counties have room for more inmates but realignment would push them close to their capacities.

Contra Costa has 1,900 beds in three jails -- Martinez, Marsh Creek and Richmond -- and an average daily population of 1,700. Realignment would bump that number by as many as 250.
Alameda County has 4,800 beds in its Dublin and Oakland jails, and an average daily population of 4,000.

The county estimates its share of new inmates will range from 300 to 800 in the next 18 months.

The state proposes a reimbursement rate of $68 a day per inmate, a figure Ahern describes as inadequate. Livingston views it slightly more favorably.

California pays counties $77 a day to hold state inmates during court hearings. Many of the 600 to 750 state inmates in Alameda County jails, for example, are convicted felons rearrested on parole violations who await hearings.

"The $77 a day is only 90 percent of what it costs to house the inmates and provide medical care," Ahern said.

The rate doesn't cover facility maintenance, security equipment such as cameras and computers and groundskeeping.

It also doesn't pay for re-entry programs that reduce recidivism, a major contributor to the state's overpopulated prisons. Without effective rehabilitation, the state prison overcrowding problem will simply move into county jails.

Alameda County jails will be at capacity in three years if no effective re-entry programs are in place for the added inmates, Ahern said.

Contra Costa County recently adopted a re-entry strategy to reduce the numbers of convicted criminals who re-offend but it has no money to implement it.

Neither sheriff anticipates increased jail security problems as a result of mingling state and jail inmates.

Sacramento Bee: Where are Key Players on the Tax Extension Proposal?

Brown's Countdown, Day 140: Taxes anyone?

Published: Sunday, May. 29, 2011 - 12:00 am
Gov. Jerry Brown originally called for a special election in June to ask voters to extend taxes to help balance the state budget, but that became impossible once talks ended in March. Now players at the Capitol are all over the map about whether ­ or when ­ to take the tax question to voters.

• Wants a special election as soon as possible, which realistically means September if the Legislature agrees on a budget by June.
• To balance the budget until an election, he wants lawmakers to extend sales and vehicle taxes from July 1 until the election.
• He backed off his original call for a retroactive extension of an income tax surcharge for 2011, though he still wants a smaller dependent tax credit.

Senate President Pro Tem DARRELL STEINBERG, D-Sacramento
Wants to balance the 2011-12 budget by having the Legislature approve a one-year extension in taxes.
• Wants the electorate to vote on extending the taxes for four more years some- time in 2012.

• Opposes tax extensions and opposes an election, other than one on pension reductions and a spending cap.
• Issued a plan that relies on cuts such as a 10 percent reduction in state worker compensation and taking funds from First 5 and mental health programs, as well as Brown's projection of unexpected tax revenue.

Assembly Speaker JOHN A. PÉREZ, D-Los Angeles
Believes the Legislature should approve taxes on its own but says he is open to a "ratification" by voters at some later date.

The most recent public polls show broad support for an election, though that doesn't translate into broad support for taxes. This includes Republicans who say they want a special election so they can vote against the taxes.

Legislative Analyst MAC TAYLOR
Recommends that lawmakers, if they decide they need voter approval, wait to hold a special election until late in the 2011-12 fiscal year to avoid funding disruptions for schools and local governments.

State Treasurer BILL LOCKYER
Says that if lawmakers agree to a special election, they will also need to enact spending cuts that would be "triggered" if voters reject taxes at the ballot. Without such cuts he says the state will not be able to pursue its normal $10 billion in short-term borrowing to pay bills.

Say that if a midyear election is part of the solution, the state needs to approve "trigger" cuts ahead of time that will take effect if voters reject the taxes. Otherwise, the state will face complications in paying its bills.

Wants the Legislature to approve tax extensions in the Capitol without going to the electorate. Says a tax election and possible midyear cut would be disruptive to schools.

SEIU California
Wants the Legislature to approve tax extensions in the Capitol without going to the electorate. David Kieffer, head of SEIU California, says, "It's irresponsible for everyone to come together to find a solution to get the budget done and then put everything at risk by having an election."

Sent Brown a letter Tuesday calling for an election as soon as possible so counties can have guaranteed funding under the governor's plan to transfer state responsibilities.

Says a vote to place taxes on the ballot would violate its anti-tax pledge signed by all but two GOP lawmakers. The group's director of state affairs, Patrick M. Gleason, called placing a tax measure on the ballot "an assist in the effort to raise taxes."

Friday, May 27, 2011

Sac Bee Capitol Alert: Legislative Fiscal Committee Deadlines Today

Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

Today's the last day for fiscal committees to move bills to the floor, and the Assembly Appropriations Committee needs to work through about 350 measures to beat the deadline.

The committee chairman, Democratic Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes of Sylmar, put out a news release yesterday estimating in effect that if all those bills became law, they'd increase state spending by about $1.7 billion.

That meeting starts at approximately 1 p.m. in the Capitol's Room 4202. Several bills would increase local government oversight. (Think the city of Bell.) Two other bills in the stack:
• Assembly Bill 131, the second part of the California Dream Act, which would expand state-financed student financial aid.

• Assembly Bill 1151, a CalSTRS-opposed bill that would require CalSTRS and CalPERS to divest all holdings from Iran.

Earlier under the dome, both the Assembly and the Senate are holding floor sessions at 9 a.m. Budget subcommittees in both houses will also consider Gov. Jerry Brown's revised plan.

Orange County Register: California Moves Toward Popular-Vote President

The state Assembly approved a bill earlier this month that would award the state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the nation's popular vote.
Seven states and the District of Columbia, with a combined 77 electoral votes, have approved similar measures. The law will not be activated until states totaling 270 electoral votes – the majority needed to elect a president – approve the change.
Article Tab : Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel, is one of the few Republicans in the state legislature who favors a proposed bill to elect the president by popular - rather than electoral college - vote. Register file photo.
Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel, is one of the few Republicans in the state legislature who favors a proposed bill to elect the president by popular - rather than electoral college - vote. Register file photo.

The state-by-state effort is designed to circumvent the constitutional mandate that the electoral college choose the president, since it appears unlikely Congress will amend that provision. California's bill passed in a 51-21 vote, with just four Republicans joining 47 Democrats in voting aye. If signed into law, it would add 55 electoral votes to the national compact.

The most obvious argument for a popular vote is the fact that three presidents who were seated despite being out-polled: George W. Bush, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison - all Republicans. In all but two states, the winner among the state's voters receives all that state's electoral votes – a system that led to these three anomalies.

The bill's author, Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-South San Francisco, also points out that while presidential candidates are quick to visit California to raise funds, they do little campaigning here and once elected pay more attention to swing states. If they won based on the national popular vote, they'd likely spend more time – and campaign money – in the state.

GOP foes

Republican opponents note that the states that have passed a National Popular Vote bill so far are all controlled by Democrats. Some say that the provision would strengthen Democrats' hand because they could focus voter drives in urban areas, which are typically blue.

"That means that Republicans within the L.A. media market will have a much harder time getting elected," wrote California Republican Party Chairman Tom del Beccaro in an article opposing the change. "The bottom line is that Democrats will run more ads in the Los Angeles area to run up their vote totals and that will harm the chances of any Republicans within range of that media market."

Additionally, some GOP foes have also questioned the constitutionality of the state-by-state approach.
Outspoken Republican advocates for the measure include state Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel. In a co-authored article, she disputes del Beccaro's analysis, which she says "assumes that the hundreds of millions of union dollars that have been spent on political campaigns in the past couple years and tens of thousands of union workers that have turned-out Democrat voters have had no effect on our elections.

"This argument fails to take into consideration the fact that media prices in urban areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco are the most expensive in the world and generate the smallest return on the investment. On the other hand, Republican voters tend to live in suburban and rural areas of the state where media prices are dramatically less. In other words, Republicans will be able to turn-out more voters for less money."

But Walters goes farther than that, calling the National Popular Vote "the California Republican Party's only remaining hope if it intends to resurrect itself during our lifetimes."

"Because presidential candidates will be forced to campaign in our state, campaign funds raised here will actually be used to rebuild California's Republican Party infrastructure," Walters writes.

The bill pending in Sacramento is expected to pass the Senate – as similar bills did in 2006 and 2008. Those two were vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Gov. Jerry Brown hasn't signaled how he feels about the bill.

Sacramento Bee: State Assembly Approves Sale of Treated Wastewater

Assembly OKs bill on sale of Sacramento's treated wastewater

Published: Thursday, May. 26, 2011 - 5:47 pm
The California Assembly on Thursday approved a bill that would help the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District sell its treated wastewater as a new supply of drinking or irrigation water.

The bill, AB 134, by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, could eventually help the district offset the cost of complying with a strict new state permit that requires advanced treatment of the Sacramento metro area's sewage effluent.

That effluent, which is discharged into the Sacramento River near Freeport, is suspected of harming the aquatic food chain in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The district estimates that complying with the permit, imposed in December, could cost as much as $2 billion, possibly requiring sewage bills to triple for about 500,000 ratepayers in the region. Selling an estimated 180,000 acre-feet of treated wastewater annually could cover one-fourth of that cost.

Current law allows sewage treatment agencies to sell their wastewater. Dickinson's bill, however, would allow the district to secure water rights equivalent to its effluent volume, substantially increasing its value. If the bill becomes law, any proposed water right would still be subject to approval by the State Water Resources Control Board.

The bill passed 42-23 on a bipartisan vote, barely achieving the minimum votes required for passage. Substantial opposition came from agencies that buy water from the Delta, which argued that the district seeks a right to water that has historically been available for diversion as free outflow.

The bill now moves to the state Senate for review.  

LA Times: State Lawmakers Kill Bill Proposed to Ban Gifts

California lawmakers kill measure banning gifts to themselves


Legislators cite the cost of enforcing the restrictions and broader rules being considered by the state Fair Political Practices Commission. But supporters say it shows their unwillingness to police themselves.

May 27, 2011
Sam Blakeslee
"Sacramento yet again killed reform bills behind closed doors," said State Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo). (Associated Press / March 21, 2011)

Reporting from Sacramento -- Companies lobbying state lawmakers for favorable treatment can continue to shower them with tickets to Disneyland, Dodgers games and rock concerts after legislators scuttled a bill Thursday that would have banned such gifts.

Members of a state Senate committee cited the $204,000 annual cost of enforcing such restrictions among the reasons they abandoned the proposal.
Chagrined supporters of a ban said the lawmakers showed their unwillingness to police themselves and take measures that would help restore public faith in government.

"The score is lobbyists 1, public 0," said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause.

State Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) said his proposal would not have been a cost burden. He cited comments by the state's former ethics czar that any expense was likely to have been covered by fines collected from violators.

"Once again, the Legislature failed to act on good-government reforms to improve the culture and transparency in the Capitol," said Blakeslee, who also supported an unsuccessful proposal to regulate automated political calls. "Instead, Sacramento yet again killed reform bills behind closed doors."

Committee members said Senate leaders made the decision not to advance the bills, in part, because the state Fair Political Practices Commission is already considering broader regulations.

The commission ought to be allowed to act before lawmakers vote on proposals that are "oddly narrow," said Alicia Trost, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). She cited provisions of the Blakeslee bill "prohibiting certain gifts but not others."

Elected state officials accepted $637,000 in gifts last year, including tickets from AT&T to a Lakers game, a San Francisco Giants World Series game and golf at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, according to disclosures that lawmakers are required to file with the state.

In arguing for his proposal, Blakeslee cited a controversy in Los Angeles in which Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently was fined $42,000 for accepting tickets to sports events, concerts and other entertainment without reporting them as gifts.

Blakeslee's bill, SB 18, would have barred lobbyists and their clients from giving state legislators and their family members specific gifts, including tickets to concerts, sporting events and amusement parks. The lobbyists would have been forbidden to pay for legislators' golf games, spa treatments and skiing.

The bill would not have extended the rules to local officials.

Dan Schnur, former chairman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission and current director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, backed the Blakeslee bill. He expressed disappointment that lawmakers let it die.

"You'd think a Legislature with a single-digit approval rating," Schnur said, "would be more conscious of the low regard in which the voting public holds them."

Sam Blakeslee
"Sacramento yet again killed reform bills behind closed doors," said State Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo). (Associated Press / March 21, 2011)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

LA Times: After Supreme Court, No Easy Fix for California's Prison Crisis

No easy fix for California's prison crisis

Even if a court order to ease crowding can be met, sentencing laws could fill lockups again, analysts say.

May 25, 2011

Prison crowding
Drug counseling and education have been severely hampered by overcrowding that has spilled into gymnasiums, like the one at Mule Creek State Prison, above, and meeting rooms. (Photo by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Reporting from Sacramento and Los Angeles -- California's effort to shift tens of thousands of inmates out of its chronically overcrowded prisons to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court order could be undone by the state's tough sentencing laws, persistent recidivism and recurring budget crises, analysts say.

More than 33,000 offenders must be moved out of the prisons under the high court's Monday decision, which upheld an earlier ruling that conditions in the teeming facilities cause preventable deaths and amount to cruel and unusual punishment.
But without sweeping policy changes, the state will still send high numbers of offenders to prison under "three-strikes" sentencing laws, put about 70% of parolees back behind bars for violations within three years of their release and keep ambitious prison construction plans on hold for lack of money, according to experts and inmates' advocates.

"I think … eventually we will have the same problem," said Michael Bien, whose law firm launched a 1990 case addressing poor mental healthcare in California prisons that ultimately led to Monday's ruling.

More than 40,000 prisoners, about one in four, are serving extended sentences for second and third offenses that are punished more severely under the three-strikes law than the crimes would warrant as a first offense, according to state corrections records.

With many sentenced to at least 25 years, the state has created a long-term population problem, said Michael Romano, head of a Stanford Law School program focused on the three-strikes law.

"The most egregious part of the three-strikes law, and what is contributing to the prison overcrowding and financial strains, are the people serving life for minor crimes," Romano said.

Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to ease crowding would move inmates convicted of low-level and nonviolent crimes into the custody of county officials. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimated that as many as 32,500 such inmates could be transferred in time to meet the court's two-year deadline.

But Brown's plan requires the state to pay local officials hundreds of millions of dollars to help them cope with the influx, and the money would come from tax increases or extensions that are politically controversial.

So far, there's no guarantee the state will come up with the money or would continue to provide it indefinitely, although Brown wants a constitutional guarantee that Sacramento could not cut funding to the counties.

Even if Brown finds a way to implement his plan, experts say, the prisons could still become overcrowded. Some inmates are serving life sentences for stealing a $2 pair of socks or $20 work gloves, Romano said.

Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and veteran criminal law scholar, points to the high recidivism rate and past cuts in funding for prison rehabilitation and education programs as a formula for continued — even worse — crowding.

"We have to stop the insanity of sending nonviolent drug offenders and low-level theft offenders to prison for life," Levenson said. "Nobody is saying we should let murderers out.... We have to stop the revolving door of parolees being returned for minor violations."

Compounding the situation is Jessica's Law, the 2006 initiative barring sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools or parks, making it difficult for California's 92,000 released sex offenders to comply with that parole condition, especially in large cities.

In 2009, the most recent year for which the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has statistics, almost 85,000 parolees were sent back to prison, most of them for two- and three-month sentences. That forced the state to erect three-tier bunks in sports halls, where parole violators spend their terms in the company of hardened criminals and without access to the minimal educational and rehabilitative programs that the corrections system retains after years of budget cuts.

With the average number of parolees in California at 127,383 on any given day, the state's overcrowding problem is bound to reemerge unless substantial changes are made to sentencing laws, parole conditions and in-prison rehabilitation programs, Levenson said.

Drug counseling and education have been severely hampered by overcrowding that has spilled into gymnasiums and meeting rooms.

"There's no space and no money" for those programs, Bien said.

As state officials struggle to comply with the courts, the debate over who goes to prison is likely to spark heated exchanges in Sacramento, just as it did among members of the high court.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy noted that California sends an unusually large percentage of paroled inmates back to prison on technicalities. Testimony in the lower courts suggested the prisons are breeding grounds for more crime.

In his dissent to Monday's 5-4 decision, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said sending more inmates to prison has led to lower crime rates in California and elsewhere. From 1992 to 2009, the violent crime rate dropped by 58% in California, he said. Nationwide, the violent crime rate fell by 43% during the same period.

Releasing inmates early — as some officials say may be necessary in California to meet the courts' demands — will lead to an increase in crime, Alito said.

Times staff writer David G. Savage in Washington contributed to this report.

California Watch: State Senate Passes Stronger Anti-Cockfighting Bill

Senate passes stronger penalties for cockfighting

Photo by heypatrick/Flickr

State legislators voted in support of two bills in the past week to curb cockfighting, an ancient blood sport animal rights advocates say is thriving in California because current laws aren’t tough enough.

“The type of elements that this activity draws is dangerous to the community,” said Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, who proposed two bills this year that would increase penalties for cockfighting. “The drug element, the gang element, and in many cases there are firearms.”

The first bill, SB 425, would raise the minimum fines for cockfighting, possessing cockfighting instruments and watching a cockfight. It would also make cockfighting a public nuisance, which would allow law enforcement officials to seize property purchased with proceeds from cockfighting. The state Senate last week voted 36-1 in favor of the bill, which is now in the pipeline for the Assembly.

The second bill, SB 426, would expand on the property forfeiture provision of SB 425 by allowing landlords and property owners to evict tenants who raise or keep fighting birds or host cockfights. SB 426 would also grant officials authority to seize the property if it is used repeatedly for cockfighting. The Senate approved the bill Monday with a 39-0 vote. It’s now headed to the Assembly as well.

The bills come amid a national campaign to clamp down on cockfighting, a practice that while illegal in all 50 states and a felony in 39, has surged in California the past three years. Earlier this month, for example, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies busted a backyard cockfight in Valinda involving 45 birds and about 100 spectators, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

“We’re throwing out the welcome mat for people involved in this at the higher levels,” said Eric Sakach, senior law enforcement specialist for the humane society, the group leading the charge to squelch the activity.
In cockfighting, two roosters selectively bred for their fighting prowess are outfitted with steel blades on their legs and pitted against each other in violent death matches. Though the activity was outlawed in California more than a century ago, cockfighting persists, as do crimes associated with it: illegal gambling, drug trafficking and, on occasion, murder.

The humane society estimates that cockfighting-related activities – fighting, breeding and training fighting birds – are taking place in 50,000 back yards in Southern California. At least 110 incidents involving more than 21,000 birds have been reported statewide since 2008, according to humane society figures.

Sakach said cockfighting in California is reaching “epidemic” proportions because California laws aren’t harsh enough. A first offense in California is a misdemeanor while in surrounding states it’s a felony. A second offense is a “wobbler,” meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.

Often, Sakach said, two-time offenders walk away with small fines. But passing legislation to make the crime a felony in California isn’t feasible given overcrowding in the state’s prisons.

“In light of that, we’ve been trying to find ways to provide some real, meaningful tools for law enforcement to crack down on the way these activities are exploding here,” Sakach said.

Calderon’s proposals could have an unintended consequence for the state’s poultry industry. The California Poultry Federation relies on backyard breeders to voluntarily submit their birds for health examinations and vaccinations, and to alert authorities about disease outbreaks.

Federation President Bill Mattos says ratcheting up the punishments for breeding fighting birds might scare away show bird breeders from participating in the vaccination program because the two types of birds are groomed in a similar fashion. He says the laws would jeopardize his organization’s ability to detect and defend against disease outbreaks.

“They already don’t want to talk to us,” Mattos said of many backyard breeders. “The problem with legislation like that is that they might go underground ... (which) could mean more of a disease problem in the future.”

Mattos’ concerns aren’t unfounded. Experts traced an epidemic of Exotic Newcastle Disease that spread through California in 2002 and 2003 to Mexican roosters brought into the state for a fight. The disease infected about 3.5 million birds and cost the state’s commercial poultry industry $160 million, according to the National Agricultural Biosecurity Center.

Sakach said that outbreak is just cause for increasing penalties for cockfighting in California. He called the Senate’s decision a milestone of animal protection laws, “but not an endpoint.”

Calderon agrees. “A felony conviction for cockfighters is what California needs,” he said.

Sacramento Bee: Governor Presses Tax Plan; Norquist Pushes Back

Jerry Brown, Grover Norquist, spar on tax plan

Published: Wednesday, May. 25, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Gov. Jerry Brown said Tuesday he is actively negotiating a budget deal with Republicans while conservative activist Grover Norquist roamed Capitol hallways urging GOP leaders to hold the line against taxes.

The two never met, though they had plenty to say about one another.

"Can Norquist spook the legislators?" Brown told reporters after speaking with California State University presidents. "I don't believe so. I think he's going to come out here to California and meet his match."

Norquist wields a big stick when it comes to California's budget: A one-sentence pledge against higher taxes signed by nearly all GOP lawmakers. The president of Washington, D.C.-based Americans for Tax Reform says placing a tax measure on the ballot for voters to decide, as Brown wants, would violate the promise.

His visit came eight days after Brown issued a new budget that relies on extensions of higher tax rates on sales and vehicles, as well as a return to higher income taxes, to bridge a remaining $9.6 billion deficit. Lawmakers already approved cuts to higher education and health and welfare in March.

Norquist said he traveled to Sacramento to meet with legislators "serious about stopping tax increases." Besides meeting with Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and other lawmakers, Norquist finished the day as the featured guest at a wine and cheese reception for the "Taxpayers Caucus," a group of 30 GOP members opposed to Brown's tax proposals.

Asked about the fact that three of his pledge signatories met regularly with Brown this spring, Norquist said, "I think the voters in their districts expect them to keep (their pledge)."

Brown said he was optimistic about a deal with at least two Republicans in each house because he can "read their feelings." Brown said voters should decide on the higher tax rates, not "visiting ideologues from the Potomac River."

Norquist dismissed such criticism.

"People who say, 'What are you Yankees doing down here, interfering,' sound a lot like one of those bad '50s movies about the South," Norquist said. "Do they really mean to sound that provincial?"

He pointed to California activists like Flash Report blogger Jon Fleischman and Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President Jon Coupal as guardians of his pledge in California. Asked how he would otherwise balance the state budget, Norquist suggested more transparency in state spending before Coupal pointed to high prison costs and union contracts.

According to Americans for Tax Reform, all but two California GOP lawmakers have signed the pledge - Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo. Both were part of the "GOP 5" that negotiated with Brown earlier this year.

Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, R-Ceres, believes he should be removed from the list. His chief of staff, Evan Oneto, said Berryhill did not sign the pledge in 2010, though he did sign in 2008.

"And furthermore, any discussions Bill has had with the governor have been about the possibility of an election, not a tax increase – and therefore would not violate the ATR pledge anyway," Oneto wrote in an e-mail.

The group's director of state affairs, Patrick M. Gleason, disagreed. He said that any signatory must adhere to the pledge for the duration of the office unless the signatory publicly renounces it. He also said placing a tax measure on the ballot is "an assist in the effort to raise taxes."

Despite his criticism of Norquist, Brown did not dismiss the significance of his presence at the Capitol.

"It's very relevant," Brown said, characterizing broader disagreement about taxes and spending on public services as "the debate."

"There are millions of people who are devotees of the Norquist view of life," Brown said. "I'm not one of them."

Sacramento Bee: SPCA Looks to Merge with City, County Animal Services

SPCA to look at merger with Sacramento city, county animal shelters

Published: Wednesday, May. 25, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
The private, nonprofit Sacramento SPCA hopes to take over care of animals at the cash-strapped city and county municipal shelters by early next year, its director said Tuesday.

Budget and staffing cuts have taken a serious toll on the two municipal shelters, reducing hours of operation, compromising animal care and leading to more euthanasia, officials have told The Bee.

The county, which opened a new $23 million shelter last year just as the deepest cuts were taking effect, has been pushing for such a consolidation. The SPCA agreed to pursue it after a private consulting firm concluded that it would "dramatically enhance" animal care in the region, said executive director Rick Johnson.

A merger among the three agencies would allow for more consistent care and treatment of animals, eliminate duplicate services and allow the county and city facilities to be open longer hours, resulting in more adoptions, Johnson said.

The SPCA will meet with city and county managers to work out details of a possible consolidation, said Johnson. Such a plan would have to be approved by both the City Council and the county Board of Supervisors.

"We don't know exactly what this would look like," said Reina Schwartz, director of the city's department of general services. "But the more we can leverage scarce resources and align programs, the better the outcome for animals. Stay tuned."

The city's budget for animal care has been cut by $1 million since fiscal 2007-08, and its staff slashed from 41 to 31 positions, Schwartz said. The county's animal care department also has suffered deep cuts, and both facilities have reported a higher demand for services.

"I'm excited by this," interim County Executive Steve Szalay said of the possible merger of services. "The SPCA is the premier expert in animal care, and we are very encouraged that they are willing to work with us on it."

It is yet another way, he said, for the county to become "leaner and more nimble" in difficult economic times.
Johnson said an arrangement with the city and county would be a much larger, more complicated version of the contracts that the SPCA holds with the cities of Citrus Heights, Folsom, Rancho Cordova and Elk Grove.

Under any merger with Sacramento city and county, the SPCA would oversee the care of animals inside all three shelters, and the city and county would continue to provide animal control services such as responding to reports of strays and injured creatures, Johnson said. About 45,000 animals come into the three shelters each year, he said.

A collaboration such as the one under discussion would require "significant restructuring" of the SPCA, Johnson said, and staffing and possibly administrative changes at all three facilities.

"It's very complicated, and there are a lot of things to work out," Johnson said. "It will be a huge change for the governments and for us.

"I am a little nervous, but I have great optimism for changing things and saving lives. This is going to be a wonderful thing for the animals of Sacramento."