Coronavirus Crisis Brings Out Newspapers Importance–and Vulnerabilities

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

News sites have pushed most everything aside to report and explain the pandemic that has hit the planet. But despite this service, because of the economic downfall accompanying the virus, newspapers are in jeopardy.

While the image of broadcast media dominating the news-cycle is keyed by the daily televised press conferences of public officials, newspapers continue to show their importance. 

Newspapers keep readers informed online as well as in print covering the many various angles tied to the pandemic. Take a look at the comprehensive collection of coronavirus news stories that are posted every day on the California’s leading news aggregator, Rough & Tumble.

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California is Showing the Way with Minimal Federal Assistance

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

We are hearing a lot about “modeling” —something leading epidemiology experts use to explain the ever-changing scenarios in the novel coronavirus’s up-and-down curves. 

The fact is no one really knows when we can expect a dramatic downturn in either the infections or the death rates. The dangers are escalating regardless of what the graphs are telling us. 

California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom decided to take decisive action early and it may be paying off. California’s confirmed infection numbers are a staggering 9,000 as of this writing and according to the governor had “quadrupled in just three days.” 

Quick action though by closing schools, parks, beaches and other public places may be slowing the rampage. His “stay-at-home” order preceded many states and strict social distancing seems to be working. 

At the same time the governor is raising his profile following in the steps of New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo as he begins to do prime time briefings the major networks are carrying. 

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The Unprecedented Employer Subsidies This Week To Avoid Layoffs: The Coronavirus Workplace Series

Michael Bernick
California Labor Department Director from 1999-2004; Counsel with the international law firm of Duane Morris and a Milken Institute Fellow.

(This is the third in a series on the impacts of the coronavirus on employment and the workplace. The first two are here and here).

The federal Stimulus, approved last Friday, includes unprecedented financial incentives for employers to retain employees or bring back employees laid off after March 1, 2020. Whether they succeed or not remains to be seen. However, these incentives go well beyond the layoff aversion strategies of previous Stimulus efforts dating back to World War II. 

The Stimulus overall might be described as a jobs strategy. But the incentives that are at the heart of layoff aversion are contained in Title I—Keeping American Workers Paid and Employed Act. Title I, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), provides for loans to small businesses (defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees) that can be up to $10 million, used to defer the costs of keeping employees on the payroll or adding employees and other expenses, and are eligible to be forgiven up to 100% of the loan.

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Proposed changes to Proposition 13 could devastate family farms

Eric Bream
Eric Bream is a third-generation farmer in Tulare County and board member of the Tulare County Farm Bureau.

As a third-generation family farmer who supports and defends farming at every turn, I’m stunned that a measure headed for the November statewide ballot could result in the further disappearance of farms and farmland.

Not only will the farming community directly suffer if the ballot initiative to raise property taxes by up to $12.5 billion annually passes, but the tax hike will also hurt all Californians by increasing the state’s already high cost of living.

While the proponents of the measure claim it will only raise property taxes for commercial and industrial properties, the reality is that the measure is an attack on farms, the fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy products we produce and will ultimately translate to more expensive grocery bills for California families.

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Brown’s Decision on Funding Medical Supplies Understandable at the Time, Not Later

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Should Gov. Jerry Brown be blamed for the lack of California medical supplies? Hindsight is an unsympathetic observer. It often measures past events by current circumstances. Brown’s decision of not continuing the funding of the state’s built-up medical supply reserves at the time he was facing a huge budget deficit is understandable—but an opportunity to replenish later was ignored.

California once had medical reserves established by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to deal with a massive medical emergency like the current COVID-19 crisis that slipped away through lack of funding by Brown, as revealed by the joint venture report from the Center of Investigative Reporting and the Los Angeles Times. First, a word of understanding for Brown’s initial decision—then a reproach for what came later.

Following the wide coverage of the Katrina disaster in New Orleans and the outbreak of avian flu, during his first term Schwarzenegger called for an investment in emergency medical supplies that included three 200-bed mobile hospitals, a stockpile of N95 masks, ventilators and other medical supplies. 

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COVID-19 Changes the Initiative Landscape

Scott Lay
Publisher of The Nooner

The hard, can’t be waived, constitutional deadline for initiatives is 131 days for the Secretary of State to certify it. (Art. II, Sec. 8(c)) That date is June 25. However, the counties have to tabulate signatures by May 1, although that date CAN be changed as it’s not in the Constitution.

The only ballot measure to qualify is the referendum to change money bail to risk assessment. (SB 10) Three others are eligible based on signatures: repeal of criminal justice reforms, split roll 2018, and expansion of rent control. Those are being held for negotiations with the Legislature and a modified split roll measure is currently in circulation.

There are 22 other measures in circulation. Of these, 8 have reached the 25% signature threshold when they must update their status. It’s pretty clear that the 14 that have not reached 25% have no chance. Of those that have, the stem cell bond effort has reportedly ended its signature campaign.

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Vote Sends Mixed Message on Growth

Timothy L. Coyle
Consultant specializing in housing issues

Measure A, the initiative that would have limited development in San Diego County, was narrowly defeated by local voters – handing homebuilders, local REALTORS® and other supporters a victory on the issue of regional growth.  But, voters ultimately sent a mixed signal by also defeating Measure B, which was on the same ballot to allow a specific housing project in San Diego’s backcountry.

Measure A, which appeared before County voters as part of the newly established March presidential primary election, would have subjected to a referendum each new housing project that involved a change to the County’s general plan.  Had it become law, homebuilders developing six homes or more would need the blessing of County voters before moving forward with their project.

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Pension Math

David Crane
Lecturer and Research Scholar at Stanford University and President of Govern for California

Lately we are often asked about the impact on pension costs from a stock market decline. Our answer might surprise you.

On December 31, 1999, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 11,497. That fiscal year, the state spent $1.3 billion on pensions.

20 years later, the DJIA closed at 28,462. That fiscal year, the state spent $10.3 billion on pensions.

You read that right. As the stock market rose nearly 150 percent, state pension spending increased nearly 700 percent.

Too many people incorrectly believe that pension costs increase only when stock markets decline, but pension costs would rise even if the stock market never declined. That’s because pension liabilities accrete (grow) at the discount rate employed by pension funds for reporting obligations. The higher the discount rate, the greater the accretion. Because California’s pension funds discount pension liabilities at the same high rate at which they hope pension assets will earn, the state’s pension liabilities grow very fast:

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Pressure Mounts for Property Tax Relief

Jon Coupal
President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

From many corners, California politicians and tax officials are under increasing pressure to extend the current April 10 deadline for paying property tax bills.

The request is not unreasonable and there are many ways that government can assist homeowners who are under threat of hefty penalties or tax foreclosures.

To date, our political leaders have been responsive to those suffering from the economic shock due to the COVID-19 virus. Many California localities have passed emergency laws against evictions and the state, via Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive authority, has ramped up special protections for small businesses and extended the tax filing deadlines for income taxes. These actions are justified.

But homeowners are hurting, too, because of the pending due date for the second installment of property taxes.

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This Is Not the Time for An Austerity Budget in California

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The budget should not “shelter in place.”

Unfortunately, word went out from the governor’s office that the budget is likely to stand pat, without any new investments or programs. 

That’s an enormous mistake. And indefensible, given that it’s a mistake that California has seen made twice in recent memory.

Indeed, if Gov. Newsom uses this moment to stand pat or retreat, with lots of devastating budget cuts, he’d be following the same failed path of his two predecessors.

Both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown responded to the recession and economic setbacks with frugality. Both made big cuts to the budget. Both reduced revenues.  Both pulled back on infrastructure and other needed building projects. 

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