California’s budget could soon be flush with $26 billion in unspent cash, analysts say
From the LAT's JOHN MYERS: "In a sign that California’s economy might remain at cruising altitude into the new year and beyond, analysts said Wednesday that the state budget could see a record $26 billion in cash reserves by the summer of 2021, with more than a quarter of that amount an unrestricted surplus that lawmakers could use at their discretion."
"The report by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office suggests that the second year of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new administration could be very similar to the first, with debate not about how state government makes ends meet but rather how much more it should do to provide funds for schools, healthcare and public safety."
“The budget picture is strong,” Legislative Analyst Gabriel Petek said on Wednesday. “But that doesn’t mean there aren’t caveats to that.”
PG&E in the crosshairs of bankruptcy, fires, regulation
BRYNDON MADISON in Capitol Weekly: "Things are not going well for PG&E."
"Amid massive blackouts that PG&E has put in place to avoid liability in the event of a wildfire, millions of Californians were left without power — for days at a time in some cases."
"San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has called for a public takeover of PG&E — a move backed by at least two dozen cities — that would reclassify the company as a nonprofit electric and gas cooperative instead of an investor-owned company."
Arrests made at Ann Coulter protest at UC Berkeley
The Chronicle's ERIN ALLDAY/LAUREN HERNANDEZ: "UC Berkeley police arrested multiple masked protesters Wednesday night at a rowdy demonstration against a scheduled speech by conservative pundit Ann Coulter."
"Hundreds of people shouted and waved signs while police held them at bay in front of Wheeler Hall, where Coulter was supposed to begin speaking at 9 p.m. She took the stage a little before 9:30 p.m., according to videos from inside the auditorium posted on social media."
"Videos posted to social media showed police officers in riot gear standing behind barricades and watching dozens of people holding signs and chanting, “Don’t let them in,” referring to people attempting to enter Wheeler Hall. Protesters formed a human chain on the south side of the hall, according to Daily Cal reporter Amber Tang."
Sondland says he 'followed the president's orders' on Ukraine
LA Times's JENNIFER HABERKORN/SARAH D WIRE: "Gordon Sondland, the most significant witness yet in the House impeachment inquiry, insisted Wednesday that he and other senior administration officials had “followed the president’s orders” in pushing Ukraine to investigate President Trump’s political foes, offering a first-hand account that shattered several key White House denials."
"Sondland, a political appointee who serves as U.S. ambassador to the European Union, did not seek to defend Trump’s months-long pressure campaign, saying he was “adamantly opposed” to the White House suspension of nearly $400 million in military aid intended to help Ukraine fight Russian aggression."
"And while Trump and his allies have staunchly denied that the president and his private attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani sought a “quid pro quo” to get Ukraine to investigate Democrats in exchange for a White House meeting, Sondland said he believed it was exactly that."
California regulators assail cell, internet firms for outage failures
The Chronicle's MALLORY MOENCH: "As another PG&E shut-off got underway, the California Public Utilities Commission grilled executives from eight wireless and internet companies about why hundreds of thousands of people lost vital services during past outages."
"Where’s the preparedness for resiliency?” CPUC president Marybel Batjer asked the executives from eight companies. “It’s not a mere inconvenience, it’s endangering lives."
"During October’s extended outage, many cell and internet sites ran out of backup power, as batteries drained or generators were not refueled."
Parents, schools frustrated by outage that didn't happen
Sacramento Bee's MICHAEL MCGOUGH/RYAN SABALOW: "Thousands of parents across Northern California rearranged their lives early Wednesday morning in anticipation of yet another round of canceled classes because of a massive intentional PG&E power outage."
"They scrambled to find child care. They stayed home from work to care for their children."
"Yet the lights stayed on in most of the north state, as PG&E significantly dialed back power outages Wednesday."
READ MORE related to Blackouts: Map of current PG&E power outages in the Sacramento region -- Sacramento Bee's AARON ALBRIGHT/NATHANIEL LEVINE
Bipartisan California lawmakers seek to avert cuts to hospitals' Medicaid payments
Sacramento Bee's CATHIE ANDERSON: "Concerned about the nation’s health care safety net, a bipartisan coalition of California’s congressional leaders urged the U.S. House leadership Tuesday not to cut off supplemental Medicaid payments to hospitals because doing so could jeopardize care for millions."
"These supplemental payments, known as disproportionate share allotments, provide “an essential funding source helping safety-net hospitals serve the uninsured and underinsured residents of their communities,” a group of 47 legislators stated in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “They help offset the cost of uncompensated care these hospitals provide."
"Rural hospitals and urban medical centers that serve the poor and indigent will be the hardest hit if the payments are reduced. Congressional leaders are weighing the matter as part of negotiations on an omnibus resolution, essentially a bill, to fund the federal government for the current fiscal year ending in September 2020."
Dem candidates unite to criticize Trump in latest debate
The Chronicle's JOHN WILDERMUTH: "The much-anticipated fireworks were never set off Wednesday night as 10 Democratic candidates for president used the Atlanta debate to trash President Trump and not each other."
"While there were a few sharp moments, as when New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said he thought former Vice President Joe Biden “might have been high” when he came out against legalizing marijuana earlier this week (Biden supports decriminalization, not legalization), the presidential hopefuls were mostly content to slam Trump and talk about their plans as president."
"Trump is “not only a pathological liar, he is likely the most corrupt president in the modern history of America,” said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. The president is “a criminal living in the White House,” added California Sen. Kamala Harris. Trump has “embraced thugs ... and so this guy has no idea what he’s doing,” said Biden."
California to new presidential candidates: We're just not that into you
The Chronicle's JOE GAROFOLI: "The view from California is that the Democratic presidential candidates on the debate stage Wednesday night shouldn’t feel scorned because one new candidate just jumped into the race and another is on the way."
"It’s not about you. It’s about them."
'And, as is the case with everything political, it’s about Donald Trump."
CalPERS retiree returned to work for twice the pay, flouting the law. He wants to keep the money
Sacramento Bee's WES VENTEICHER: "Dudley Lang was making $20,000 per month to manage finances for a Los Angeles suburb with about 200 residents before he retired in October 2010."
"Three months later, Lang was hired to do the same job as a retired annuitant, subject to CalPERS rules including that he couldn’t work more than 960 hours per year and couldn’t receive abnormally high pay for the work."
"CalPERS auditors determined he was making $135 per hour as a retired annuitant — twice what he earned on an hourly basis before he retired, according to CalPERS summary documents. He also worked 990 hours in fiscal year 2011-2012, according to the documents."
Healthcare costs for California workers growing far faster than incomes
The Chronicle's CATHERINE HO: "Californians who get health insurance through their jobs are having to spend a greater share of their paychecks on health care costs, according to a new analysis of employer-sponsored health plans to be released Thursday by the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit foundation that researches health industry trends."
"California workers went from spending 8% of their income on health insurance premiums and deductibles in 2008, about $4,100, to nearly 12% of their income on premiums and deductibles in 2018, about $6,900. That is a 68% jump in employees’ health care spending over the past decade — which far outpaces wage growth during the same period. Between 2008 and 2018, median household income in the state grew just 16%, from about $52,000 to $60,000, according to the report."
"Workers in California went from paying on average $2,600 in premiums in 2008 to paying $4,100 in premiums in 2018. Their deductible costs went up $1,450 to nearly $2,800 during the same period."
Bombshell? What bombshell? GOP lawmakers stick by Trump
The Chronicle's JOE GAROFOLI: "Democrats might think Gordon Sondland’s testimony was a bombshell that seals President Trump’s impeachment fate, but to Republicans, nothing has changed."
"Republicans parried Sondland’s testimony Wednesday that President Trump pressured Ukraine for politically helpful favors by noting that Sondland admitted he never heard Trump say so in so many words. Sondland and others who have testified in the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings are drawing baseless conclusions, Republicans maintain — “presumptions” that Trump withheld U.S. military aid to Ukraine unless Kyiv announced it was launching probes into Democrats."
"Besides, said Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, Trump had good reason for believing Ukraine interfered on Democrats’ behalf in the 2016 election — a widely discredited theory that Trump wanted Kyiv to say it was investigating, along with probes of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter for which no supporting evidence has emerged."
Hong Kong protests spur California and other US universities to seek political help
Sacramento Bee's THEODORA YU: "Students from the nine California universities joined with 49 other colleges across the nation to release a statement urging politicians to address escalating tensions at the Hong Kong protests."
"The statement – written by students, faculty and alumni – asked policymakers worldwide, especially those in the United States, to pressure Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and police to “call off violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters."
"Davis4HK, a student group supporting the Hong Kong protest at University of California, Davis, made a video at a rally in San Francisco to read the statement."