Double Down on Smart Government

Sunne Wright McPeak
President and CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund

California Forward was launched a decade ago with significant support from major foundations to be a dynamic and compelling force in transforming government. I was honored to be invited to serve on the original Leadership Council by bi-partisan Co-Chairs Leon Panetta and Tom McKernan.

Since then, thousands of California’s have participated in a variety of events and initiatives sponsored by California Forward, warranting a review and assessment 10 years later to catalog conclusions and discern lessons learned as guidance for the future.

A traditional debate in government reform is “structure” vs. “substance”: Should the focus be on the rules and procedures of organization (such as redistricting, top-two primary elections, or the length of time a bill must be in print before the Legislature can vote on it) or should it be on the purpose and results of operations (such as performance-based management and budgeting, realignment of human services, or integration of workforce training)? Of course, each has merit and California Forward has championed both kinds of reforms with great dedication. And, to be sure, it does take time to see appreciable impacts from the best of reforms.

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John Chiang Real Favorite to Succeed Gov. Brown

John Seiler
Former Editorial Writer at the Orange County Register

With the presidential race over and Donald Trump’s inauguration looming, attention in California turns to who will be the top Democratic dog in next year’s election to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown.

According to the Chronicle, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom sports “a total of $11.5 million cash on hand,” raising $2.6 million in the second half of 2016. That’s “far more than his major announced rivals, who include state Treasurer John Chiang, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin.”

The Los Angeles Times reported Chiang has about $7 million.

But one of the things we learned last year is a campaign warchest isn’t as important as it used to be. Donald Trump “spent about half” of what Hillary Clinton did, according to a CNBC analysis, and won. Moreover, newspapers, my longtime ex-profession, continue to decline in influence. And people keep “cutting the cord” to ditch cable.

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Brown’s Tiny Projected Budget Deficit Doesn’t Matter

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)

Gov. Brown projects a $1.6 billion budget deficit, and that’s being treated as news. It isn’t. That’s less than 1 percent of the overall state budget, which is volatile because of a broken governing system that Brown declines to fix, on the grounds that fixes are unreasonable.

But the deficit is treated as though it were news, and as if it were important. Which is too bad. Because California faces big and truly important deficits.

We have a deficit of housing—indeed, we’ll need to build 3.5 million homes by 2025 to fill it, according to McKinsey. We have massive deficits in infrastructure construction and maintenance; on roads and bridge alone, that deficit is $130 billion and growing to 100 times the size of the projected annual budget deficit. And we have huge deficits in skilled workers and college graduates that reflect the gap between what we give our schools in support, and what they need.

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The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fox and Hounds Daily Editors

(Editor’s Note: Traditionally on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, we publish only one article to honor and remember Dr. King and what he stood for. Today we publish a series of quotes from the writings and speeches of Dr. King. However, on this day we also have a remembrance to former state librarian, Kevin Starr.)

“All we say to America is, ‘Be true to what you said on paper.’ If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

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Kevin Starr, California’s Biographer

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

I blush at the undue praise in the inscription Kevin Starr wrote in my copy of his book, Coast of Dreams, California on the Edge 1990-2003. He inscribed the book to “an important interpreter of the complexities of the California experience.” Historian and former state librarian Kevin Starr was the great interpreter of California’s experience and indeed the state’s true biographer. As usual, Professor Starr was being overgenerous in his note to me.

I last talked to Starr a month ago prior to a Schwarzenegger Institute event in which Starr was to say a few words. I praised his first book in his California Dream series, Americans and the California Dream 1850-1915, and he told me Coast of Dreams was his favorite in the series. I questioned why his history of California skipped the 1960s and 1970s. Starr answered he had trouble getting a fix on the events of that era.

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Who Needs the NFL?

John Seiler
Former Editorial Writer at the Orange County Register

One of the few ways California governments are more reluctant to spend money than in other states is for professional sports stadiums. The state isn’t perfect. The new stadium for the Rams was granted a special CEQA exemption by the Legislature. And in 2015 the city of Sacramento floated $272 million in bonds for the Kings NBA team.

But it’s a big state. And in November San Diego voters turned down a subsidy for the Chargers of the NFL, who just announced they will pass their team up to L.A. and the Rams’ new stadium. Meanwhile, the NFL reportedly “cleared a path” for the Oakland Raiders to move to Las Vegas after Oakland just said it would work to keep the team if the Vegas deal fell through. Rumor has it the Raiders just signed an elusive running back named Elvis.

The fact is the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL just play on fans’ loyalty to extract money from taxpayers. It’s billionaire owners and millionaire players extorting money from us. I call it the Pro Sports Ripoff.

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Brown’s Budget Underscores Need For Tax Reform

Kerry Jackson
Kerry Jackson is a Fellow at the California Center for Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

Gov. Jerry Brown released his budget Tuesday amid what the media called an “uncertainty” in Washington that will could an effect on the state’s finances. The fear is that the Republican White House and Congress will punish California for its political rejection of Donald Trump by holding back federal funds.

But the more important story has nothing to do with Trump or Republicans. The bigger problem is the state’s broken tax system, an issue Brown discussed at the beginning of the briefing but never returned to, and which was largely ignored by the Sacramento press corps.

As any Democrat would, Brown hailed California’s status as having “the most progressive tax system in the United States,” which forces the wealthy to pay more than everyone else. But he undercut his point when he immediately admitted it is also “one of the most unreliable” tax structures in the country.

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When State Water Boards Clash on Lack of Science and Evidence

Aubrey Bettencourt
Executive Director, California Water Alliance

The California State Water Resources Board (SWRCB) was taken to the woodshed this week by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), when Mark Holderman, the principal engineer at DWR’s South Delta Branch offered expert testimony that the Bay-Delta water plan was written “without evidence, incomplete scientific information, ill-suited for real-time operations, and unverified assumptions.”

On January 3, 2017, the SWRCB held its fourth and final public hearing on the Bay-Delta Plan’s Draft Substitute Environmental Document (SED), in Sacramento.

As SWRCB vice-chair, Frances Spivey-Webber held the gavel, her opening remarks suggested that a greater purpose lay behind increasing the flows of the San Joaquin River and its tributaries 40 percent than their previously announced objectives of restoring the rivers and helping endangered fish populations recover.

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California’s Total Government Debt Rises to $1.3 Trillion

Ed Ring
Ed Ring is the vice president of research policy for the California Policy Center.

just released study calculates the total state and local government debt in California as of June 30, 2015, at over $1.3 trillion. Authored by Marc Joffe and Bill Fletcher at the California Policy Center, this updates a similar exercise from three years ago that put the June 30, 2012 total at $1.1 trillion. As a percent of GDP, California’s state and local government debt has held steady at around 54 percent.

For a more detailed analysis of how these debt estimates were calculated, read the studies, but here’s a summary of what California’s governments owe as of 6/30/2015:

(1)  Bonds and loans – state, cities, counties, school districts, community colleges, special districts, agencies and other authorities – $426 billion.

(2)  Unfunded pension obligations (official estimate) – $258 billion.

(3)  Other unfunded post-employment benefits, primarily for retiree health insurance – $148 billion.

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What’s Behind the Cap and Trade Urgency Budget Proposal

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

The governor’s budget calls for $2.2 billion in spending from revenue secured under the Cap and Trade law—but there’s a catch. The money would only be released if the legislature passes an urgency measure, which requires a two-thirds vote, thus confirming the Air Resources Board’s authority to administer the Cap and Trade program beyond its expiration date in 2020.

Why is an urgency vote necessary when four years remain before the expiration date? A simple majority vote could eliminate any uncertainty for the immediate future.

However, the governor has grander goals. In 2015, he introduced a plan to extend deeper greenhouse gas reduction targets to 2030. In support of achieving the targets, the Air Board offered up three potential plans that included a carbon tax, a business sector specific emissions program, and continuation of the Cap and Trade program.

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