Legislative leadership in turmoil?

Aug 31, 2015

Differences over transportation taxes and sweeping climate change bills are fueling instability that claimed one legislative leader last week and threatened another.  At least so says George Skelton. From the Los Angeles Times:


“Moderate Democrats are linking their opposition to the global warming legislation with Atkins' survival as speaker. Some are urging her to take a gasoline-reduction mandate out of the bill and subtly threatening to support a successor who would.


“Atkins, who is termed out at the end of 2016, last week sent a letter to fellow Democrats asking them to hold off replacing her until the Legislature reconvenes in January, ‘for the stability of the house.’


The place doesn't look very stable right now, however, and may not be worth trying to lead.


“The governor still is not putting heat on individual Democrats to support his cherished global warming bill. He's not much of a reward-and-punish guy.


“But he told reporters: ‘I have no intention of backing down. We're going to intensify our efforts to do lower-carbon fuels.’"


The two controversial climate change bills, SB350 and SB32, have received praise from environmentalists and Democratic leaders, but are facing withering opposition from the oil industry, including an estimated $10 million wave of advertising aimed at moderates.  Jessica Calefati, Contra Costa Times:


"’The oil companies are overstating their case by a lot, but there's at least a grain of truth to what they're saying,’ said Jack Pitney, a political expert at Claremont McKenna College. ‘And that creates political problems for this legislation.’


“In recent days, Senate Bill 350 -- sponsored by [Kevin] de León, D-Los Angeles, and Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco -- and SB32, sponsored by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agora Hills, have drawn praise from Obama, U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and members of the state's congressional delegation. Still, without more support from moderate Democrats in the lower house, the ambitious climate legislation can't move forward.”


While SB350 and SB32 seek to address petroleum-based climate change, the Governor is looking to the electrical grid with a bold plan to integrate California into a wider regional power gridChris Megerian, Los Angeles Times:


“The plan would integrate PacifiCorp, a utility serving six Western states, into the electricity grid run by the California Independent System Operator, which is based in Folsom.


“If successful, it could make solar and wind energy available more widely throughout the West — a potential victory for Brown, who has sought partnerships beyond California's borders in his fight against climate change.


"’This would be gigantic,’ said Carl Zichella, an environmental advocate who works on energy transmission issues for the Natural Resources Defense Council. ‘All of California's climate laws were intended to drive policy in other states and at the federal level.’”


Last week’s stock market hiccups were a reminder of the potential volatility in the markets. CalPERS, the largest pension fund on earth, and Governor Jerry Brown didn’t need the hint.  The pension giant is already working out a game-changing plan to stabilize their investments – just not quickly enough to suit the governor.   Melody Peterson, LA Times:


“At an Aug. 18 meeting, CalPERS staff members laid out their plan for the fund's board, saying the changes would be made slowly and incrementally over the next several decades.


“That isn't fast enough for Gov. Jerry Brown. A representative from the governor's finance department addressed the CalPERS board, saying the administration wants to see financial risks reduced ‘sooner rather than later.’


"’We know another recession is coming,’ said Eric Stern, a finance department analyst, ‘we just don't know when.’"


Jerry Meral, a longtime Brown advisor who formerly served as Deputy Director of the state’s Natural Resources Agency, has prepared draft language for a proposed new water bond – less than a year after voters approved the last one.  David Siders, Sacramento Bee:


“In an email to associates over the weekend, Meral said his organization, the San Francisco-based Natural Heritage Institute, is considering sponsoring a bond on the November 2016 ballot to ‘fund programs which were not funded or were underfunded’ in the water bond last year…


“The follow-up bond would include funding for water recycling, water conservation, groundwater desalination and watershed management, among other measures. It would also provide money for property owners to install drought-tolerant landscaping, with extra incentives for low-income homeowners.”


That last would be welcome news to the residents of Tulare County, epicenter of the drought’s impact, where over 1200 household wells have run dryScott Smith, Associated Press:


“Millions of Californians are being inconvenienced in this fourth year of drought, urged to flush toilets less often, take shorter showers and let lawns turn brown. But it's dramatically worse in places like Okieville, where wells have gone dry for many of the 100 modest homes that share narrow, cracked streets without sidewalks or streetlights in a dry corner of California's Central Valley.


“Farming in Tulare County brought in $8.1 billion in 2014, more than any other county in the nation, according to its agricultural commissioner. Yet 1,252 of its household wells today are dry — more than all other California counties combined.”


California’s death penalty is in court tomorrow – with lawyers arguing that its application is arbitrary, and thus, cruel and unusual.  Erick Eckholm, New York Times:


“If the lawyers for a condemned man are victorious, the case could bring a reprieve to more than 740 prisoners now on death row at San Quentin State Prison and send legal ripples across the country. Either way, legal experts say, it raises issues about the administration of capital punishment that are likely to reach the Supreme Court over time.”


At 40, Mike Gatto (D-Glendale) is the “dean” of the Assembly, meaning he is the longest-serving member of the house.  As such, he took the opportunity to offer pass on some hard-earned wisdom and advice in an Op-Ed in the Bee:


“The Assembly – and the Legislature as a whole – needs to reassert itself. The legislative branch of government should have more initiative than the judicial and executive. When some unelected bureaucrat isn’t doing a proper job or is out of touch with most Californians, the Legislature should not hesitate to override that agency or cut its budget.”


And finally: who hasn’t fantasized about a long lost relative leaving us a basketful of cash, or perhaps just some Exxon/Mobil stocks?  But what if your relative never let you know there was any money to inherit?  It could happen – Californians have $7.6 billion in unclaimed assets just sitting around, gathering interest.   John Ellis, Fresno Bee:


“Since the 1950s, the state has accumulated and presently holds more than 28.6 million unclaimed assets worth an estimated $7.6 billion, according to the state Controller’s Office. These assets are primarily cash, usually from bank accounts, insurance policies or stocks. And it’s a number that keeps growing...


“In February, a report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office said the state is getting better at reuniting the property with its rightful owners, but also said the unclaimed property law ‘creates an incentive for the state to reunite less property with owners.’


“The reason? Property still in state hands becomes state revenue. It is now ‘generating over $400 million in annual revenue’ and ‘is the state General Fund’s fifth-largest revenue source,’ according to the LAO report.”

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