All posts by Jim Evans

Meg to Earth: Get Bent

Lost in the press clippings of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s vapid executive order to boost the amount of renewable energy that California’s utilities offer, is the question of what happens to this unenforceable executive order when this governor terms out (executive orders expire when the governor who orders them leaves office).

At the press conference to announce the order, the chair of the California Air Resources Board, Mary Nichols, offered this analysis:

“I think any new governor is likely to want to continue that program,” Nichols said.

Obviously Nichols isn’t paying attention to the California Republican Party primary, in which it seems that no position is too backwards for the two main candidates: Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman.  

In an op-ed that ran yesterday in the San Jose Mercury News , Whitman signaled to the world – Nichols included – exactly where she stands on issues like renewable energy. Whitman:

With this ongoing economic crisis, the governor has the ability to issue an executive order putting a moratorium on most AB32-related rules. I urge him to do so. And if he does not, I will issue that order on my first day as governor.

Hear that, Mary? Not only is progress on renewable energy in real jeopardy if someone like Whitman becomes governor (not that the governor’s phony executive order means anything anyway except for being one in a series of executive tweets that sound nice), but even AB 32 – the bill YOU are in charge of implementing – is at risk if one of these two becomes governor.

While most media outlets’ coverage of this issue has helped feed the implicit assumption that an executive proclamation is the same as a law, the Los Angeles Times at least gets to the real point in an editorial that has more to do with prisons:

Perhaps it’s not surprising that, in this environment, Schwarzenegger seems to be taking on the characteristics of a dictator. On Tuesday, he rejected the Legislature’s plan to promote renewable energy and said he’d impose his own by executive fiat. He’s on surer legal ground when it comes to the prisons because his actions will be backed by the federal court. But it’s dismaying to watch the state’s democratic procedures break down so thoroughly.

Amen, brothers and sisters.

The Gov: Going Nuclear?

One of the biggest achievements of the Legislative session was the passage of bills to require all electric utilities in California to generate a third of their power from renewable sources by 2020. The word is, however, that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will veto the bills – Senator Joe Simitian’s SB 14 and Assembly Member Paul Krekorian’s AB 64 (disclosure: I’m Senate pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s Communications Director).

Worse, the Governor is apparently talking about adding “nuclear” to the state’s definition of what type of resources are renewable. And he’s considering doing this by fiat:

Environmentalists who have been told about the governor’s still-evolving plans said Schwarzenegger also was considering directing the California Air Resources Board to look at broadening the state’s definition of renewable energy sources to include large hydroelectric dams and nuclear energy plants.

Beyond the fact that the Governor may have limited legal authority to set such a standard on his own, it’s expected that any executive order that the Governor signs will make it okay for utilities to get most, if not all, of their required renewables from out of state, leaving California at a strategic disadvantage against other western states in the race to tap into the next great wave of job creation – the green economy.

The bills passed by the Legislature represent the product of months of negotiation and coalition building. Senator Simitian’s SB 14 is supported by two of California’s three largest utilities, the state’s largest municipal utility, workers, consumers and environmentalists. No bill to mandate a 33 percent renewable standard has ever had that kind of broad based support. The Governor will not see a better bill in this field for his remaining 14 months in office.

Tick tock, tick tock.  

Steinberg to Governor: Reconsider the Furloughs

This morning, my boss, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) sent the following letter to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, advising the Governor to reconsider the administration’s furlough program. The letter comes after much information has come to light that shows that the furloughs are costing the state money and hurting the economy. Click here for “Preliminary Findings on State Employee Furlough Program.”

September 3, 2009

Hon. Arnold Schwarzenegger          

Governor of California

State Capitol, First Floor

Sacramento, California  95814

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:

In the months since the furloughs began, the evidence shows that the policy is costing the state money and further hurting the economy.  It is a significant district issue for me as I represent so many state employees.

Information we have gathered indicates that California will lose hundreds of millions of dollars in our general fund at the state tax agencies alone. The current furlough policy has become a “penny saved, a dollar lost” approach that can be corrected immediately.

I offer these furlough fixes to help the General Fund.

First, the Legislature should enact AB 88, the bill that would implement the collective bargaining agreement that your administration reached with SEIU, Local 1000-the largest unit that represents state employees-which contains one furlough day that all agreed to.  A 5 percent pay cut is a sacrifice for a state employee; a 15 percent cut is punishment.

Second, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and I will introduce a bill tomorrow to reduce the furloughs by one day. The union already gave us one day, now we ought to give them one back. I suggest that we pass urgency legislation to buy-out a day of furloughs with an across-the-board reduction on the state bureaucracy. This time, we ought to cut from the top down, not the bottom up.

Third, your Administration should get back to the bargaining table and hammer out agreements with the other collective bargaining units.

You recently re-examined the furlough policy as it applied to dispatchers employed by the California Highway Patrol, and exempted these employees from the furlough.  I applaud you for that action.  Now is the time to re-examine the policy more broadly. Please find attached information the Senate has gathered on the furloughs.

I look forward to working with you on this issue.



President pro Tempore

Sixth Senate District

It’s Time to Act on Water

By now, it’s hard to ignore the science: The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is in crisis. Study after study shows that the delta is dying from pollution and neglect. This PPIC report is particularly useful for framing just how bad it is.

So why should Californians care? Well, 23 million of us rely on the delta for water. Yet the delta ecosystem is collapsing, threatening California’s environmental and economic quality of life. The fact is California can’t remain prosperous without a reliable water supply. There is no choice but to act.

This morning the Senate-Assembly conference committee on water met for the first time. The goal – as outlined below by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (disclosure: my boss) – is to finalize legislation before the end of session to “share, store and save water more effectively.”

The Senate and Assembly leaders are pushing for a comprehensive solution that: Ensures more efficient water management for our cities, the environment, farmers and fisherman; greater protection for unique ecosystem of the Delta; reliable water supply for economic growth.

See the Senate Natural Resources and Water website for draft conference reports. Should be an interesting week.


21 Votes for Progress

(Sen. Steinberg managed to push the prison package through, but we’re waiting for some movement in the Assembly. – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

Four days after the passage of the historic prison reform package in the State Senate, it appears likely that the package must be amended if it has any chance of survival in the State Assembly.

Make no mistake about it – this is one of the toughest votes any lawmaker will have to make in his or her career. My boss, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, talks a little about that to the right.

Everyone agrees that the current system is unsustainable. Prison costs have spiraled out of control because of inmate overcrowding and growing medical costs. In Chino alone – where inmates rioted two weeks ago – there are 6,000 prisoners in a facility designed to accommodate 3,000. And a federal judge is threatening to release over 40,000 prisoners if we don’t enact common sense corrections reform soon.

What’s more, the Legislature must make some adjustments to prison policy to implement the $1.2 billion in corrections cuts in the July revision. The reform package will result in savings of about $600 million; the other half can be implemented by the Governor on his own.

There really is no choice but to act. Last week 21 Democratic Senators did exactly that.

Edit by Brian: See the flip for more.

On the day before the vote last week, Senator Steinberg (disclosure: my boss) led the Senate Democratic caucus through a thorough discussion of the political ramifications of passing the prison reform package. Even with the clear potential that the package may stall in the Assembly, Democrats in the Senate decided that while there were valid policy arguments on both sides, the crisis in our corrections system called for genuine action. They took the brave vote. That ought to be recognized.

The bill passed out of the State Senate on Thursday with 21 out of 25 Democrats in support.

Members who voted “Yes” agreed that letting old, infirm and soon-to-be-released non-violent offenders out a year early represented no danger (with electronic monitoring) and saved California money. But those first year savings were a small down payment on the billions that will be saved with sentencing reform. See Senator Roderick Wright make a similar argument:

No one should underestimate the importance and the long-term benefit of a Sentencing Reform Commission, which will make sense out of the patchwork system that isn’t working very well and is costing billions unnecessarily.

In addition, the reform package includes parole reform that will make our streets safer and focus more attention in our prisons on incarcerating dangerous criminals. In the current system, there’s only one parole agent for every 70 parolees. The bill passed by the Senate will lower that number to 45 parolees for every agent, allowing agents a way to better monitor and help those who under the current system would be likely to re-offend.

Where the reform package goes from here depends on the political situation in the Assembly. Speaker Bass has been a shrewd fighter for reforming California’s corrections system in her five years in the Assembly – including being the author of a bill to establish a sentencing commission this year.

She faces a tough road in her house, but perhaps the Senate’s bold action will ultimately ensure that California gets a final product that brings fiscal responsibility to our prison system while keeping our communities safe.

“This case is about separation of powers”

(From Jim Evans, Communications Director for Sen. Darrell Steinberg. This is a critical case for the future of the state.

– promoted by Brian Leubitz

Today, attorneys for Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg filed this complaint on the Pro Tem’s behalf against Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in San Francisco Superior Court (disclosure: I’m Sen. Steinberg’s Communications Director).

The first line of the complaint says it all: “This case is about separation of powers.”

The filing outlines how exactly the Governor overstepped his constitutional authority in making almost $500 million line-item vetoes to mostly human services programs. As the Pro Tem said Friday, Californians elected a Governor, not an emperor. The filing explains that the Governor can only use line item veto authority to cut “appropriations,” and not the revised reductions in existing, previously enacted appropriations in the Legislature’s July 24 budget bill.

From the filing:

The Governor has overstepped his authority. A reduction in an existing appropriation is not subject to line-tem veto. If the Governor wants to veto such reductions, he must veto the entire bill in which they are contained. He cannot decrease them further to arrive at an amount that he believes is appropriate and then sign the bill into law, nor can he veto specific control language that does not make an appropriation.

What’s really at stake is the protection of the equal relationship between the Executive and Legislative branches of state government. For years, the Governor has sought increased mid-year cut authority to make budget cuts on his own, but voters have denied him this power. This Los Angeles Times editorial from August 5th raises the appropriate questions about the Governor’s actions.  

The filing does a great job explaining not just these constitutional issues, but also what’s at stake for the Californians who depend on the services that the governor illegally cut.

The issue in this case is particularly stark because of the context in which it arises.  Virtually all of the reductions made by the Governor are to funding for the most vulnerable members of our society:  the poor, the young, and the very old.  In a time of severe economic crisis, the Legislature was forced to cut deeply into programs that form the social safety net for many Californians.  It did so after careful study and long, often heated, deliberation.  The end product was a budget act that no one liked, but that represented the considered decision of the Legislature that it was willing to cut this far, but no farther.  The Governor, however, made additional cuts of almost $500 million that will directly and disastrously affect the lives of the poorest among us.

The filing asks the court “to order the Controller to disregard the Governor’s purported vetoes of the budget items described more fully below and to declare that the Governor’s purported vetoes are null and void.”