Tag Archives: Dan Walters

Dan Walters Fuzzy Supermajority Math

UPDATE: Not so fast, Vidak has fallen below 50%. More info here.

Sacramento Bee Columnist Thinks Vidak Win is a blow to “Democratic Left”

by Brian Leubitz

I have a lot of respect for Dan Walters. We don’t agree on a wide range of issues (including his climate skepticism), you have to admire his persistence. He’s been doing this for a long, long time. And anybody who can stick around a depressing and crazy place like California’s capitol is worthy of respect.

However, he has a way of misreading political events, or forcing them into his own vision of what California politics should be.  But, I must say I was rather puzzled by his “Dan Walters Daily” video this morning, embedded to the right.

Basically, his point is that the Vidak win is a huge loss for the “Democratic left” who want to reform government and increase revenue. However, to be quite frank, his point holds no water whatsoever.

First, on the supermajority: Democrats now hold 28 seats. A supermajority is 27 seats, so they can still afford to lose one vote on 2/3 votes. And if Democrats had won 28 votes on election day, with no vacancies to worry about, would there really be all the handwringing? This is a solid 2/3 majority after all, only one vote short of the 29 we came into the session with.

Next, who are we replacing? Michael Rubio was never going to vote for sweeping revenue increases. Rubio was never going to touch Prop 13, even if Sen. Steinberg was thinking about it. Rubio clearly was an easier vote to grab than Vidak will be, but this is hardly the loss of a “Democratic left” champion.

Rubio was the most moderate Democratic senator. He was pushing CEQA reform that would have really left the purpose of the environmental protection scheme in question. The environment of our state is really far better off with Sen. Steinberg carrying the load on that legislation than the state senator from Chevron. Rubio was going to be one of the lost votes from the start on any major 2/3 vote that progressives wanted anyway.

As for Leticia Perez, she likely would have been a bit better than Michael Rubio. But let’s take a look at her campaign website, where she lists her platform:

“My campaign platform is simple: “1) I won’t raise your taxes. 2) I will raise the minimum wage to $9.25 an hour. 3) I guarantee that every child is taught to read and write English.

This is the devestating loss to the Democratic left? She announced that she would never vote for tax increases, and somehow that is a blow to the Democratic left? She was going to be lost vote #1, no matter how you slice it. Now, as you can see from points 2 and 3, she would certainly be better for the working poor and minimum wage issue than Vidak will be. But that is a majority vote issue anyway, and the decision on minimum wage is essentially left to the governor now. If Gov. Brown wants a minimum wage increase, he can pass it through the legislature, with Vidak or Perez in that seat.

Finally, you could argue that this breathes life into the California GOP. That might be true, but the math in this race is crazy. In 2010, when Rubio was elected, he defeated Tim Thiessen with a final tally of 71,334-46,717. In this week’s special election, Vidak won by a count of 29,837-24,584. This was a very low turnout election in a district with big distances for voters and many working poor that just couldn’t take the time off to vote in a single race special election. Furthermore, the district will change next year when Vidak has to run for re-election due to redistricting, and will continue to be a heavily Democratic district. There is a very strong chance for Democrats to take back this seat within 18 months.

Sorry, Mr. Walters. I just can’t see this as the big blow to the progressive wing of the Democratic party that you apparently think that it is.

Gun Control in California?

What can California do to prevent gun deaths?

by Brian Leubitz

Pull open a Sacramento Bee this morning and you’ll find two columns from their two Dans, Morain and Walters, on gun control.  Walters points out that we already have the nation’s strictest gun control laws:

Californians have the nation’s toughest gun control laws, but also own about 40 million pistols, rifles and shotguns. There wasn’t much said about law-abiding gun owners, however, as two state legislative committees conducted a hearing Tuesday on “gun violence and firearms law in California.”(SacBee)

He’s right, of course. We do have some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, but his notion that this somehow means we cannot do more is just plain wrong.  As is pointed out by the other Dan (Morain):

Other ideas could make a difference, too: barring chronic alcohol abusers from owning guns; treating the sale of ammunition like the sale of guns by prohibiting felons from buying bullets; and licensing ammunition sellers.

Of course, California can do only so much. Gun enthusiasts can go to Nevada or Arizona, and buy weapons that can’t be purchased legally here. But California lawmakers can take steps.(SacBee)

To be sure, violence isn’t a question simply of guns. But at the same time, our budget crunch and the conservative anti-tax movement have made it more likely that those prone to violence aren’t getting treatment.

Walters also points out that many of the guns used to murder are illegal, an overwhelmingly true statement. However, several of the recent high-profile mass killings were not from illegal weapons.  Access to high volume ammunition means that a terrible situation can get much, much worse.

Gun control legislation must come from the federal government, but here in California we can make a start on pushing the conversation. And few conversations were more worthy of happening.

Dan Walters: Clean up the Tax Code

Effective Federal Taxes 1955-2007 between the richest 400 and a median family, Effective Federal Taxes 1955-2007 between the richest 400 and a median familyBee Columnist calls for fix of one tax provision

by Brian Leubitz

There has been much discussion on whether to tax services in the same way we tax goods.  It could bring in several billion dollars of revenue in new sales taxes. However, before we even get there, the question of what is a “good” and what is a “service” acts as a threshold question.

And Dan Walters found one particular good/service question to address:

Ordinary computer users continue to pay taxes on off-the-shelf software but custom programs designed for big corporate and government customers, some costing millions of dollars, are exempt.

Why? The sponsoring legislator, John Vasconcellos, a Democrat who often railed about cuts in state spending, offered a lame rationale about software being mostly services, but the real reason was that the industry had political clout and used it.(SacBee)

And as Walters points out, this question alone could mean nearly two hundred million of revenue annually for the state. On one level, it is hard to blame Sen. Vasconcellos for the loophole, in a hate the game, don’t hate the player sort of way. But, the state has been suffering from these little injuries as we seek to balance the budget, and they add up.  

Walters calls for tax reform generally, and that isn’t necessarily a bad idea. But, for many years that has just been a code word for reducing progressivism and putting more of the burden on the middle class. If we can clean up the tax code, great, but we have to be careful about how we go about it. We must ensure the protection of a consistent revenue stream while also avoiding a shifting of the bill away from those who can most afford it to those who can’t.

Dan Walters Calls Out Jim Beall

In Sacramento, dumb ideas don’t have a party affiliation.  Dan Walters calls out Democratic Santa Clara County Assemblyman Jim Beall out for a doozy:

Assemblyman Jim Beall, D-San Jose, is carrying Assembly Bill 81, which would protect airlines from paying higher sales taxes on their fuel purchases in California when prices spike upward. It would levy taxes on the average of spot fuel prices for the preceding five years, rather than on the current price.

The State Board of Equalization estimates that if enacted, the measure would reduce sales tax revenue by $108 million a year – just about what Vasconcellos’ software loophole costs, interestingly enough.

Like the Vasconcellos measure, the Beall bill would grant corporations a tax break that ordinary consumers don’t get. Motorists would still pay higher taxes when fuel prices spike. (SacBee)

At a time of budgetary crisis, this is an exceedingly bad idea.  It puts stability of the airlines fuel taxes over the stability of our schools.  United’s bottom line over health care services for the elderly.

We already have too many loopholes in a disorganized and inefficient tax system, it’s not time to create more.

Two-Thirds or Not Two Thirds – That is the Question

With the ever-vigilance of the right-wing scaring Republicans from looking into all solutions and, it looks like getting 2/3 for a revenue portion of the budget might be pretty challenging.  While I’m sure that Brown and the gang would love to get a few Republican votes, I doubt they will be holding their breaths on that.  It’s just impractical to expect the Republicans to do anything to help with the budget. And so, unsurprisingly, the Democratic leaders up in Sacramento are looking for ways to put revenue on the ballot sans a 2/3 vote.

Fortunately for us, Dan Walters has been hounding the Capitol and it seems that there are two possible roadmaps:

One [method] would be a section of the state constitution that allows the Legislature to propose amendments to previously approved statutory initiatives. In theory, therefore, the additional taxes could be framed as amendments to a previous tax measure, such as Steinberg’s own Proposition 63, which imposed an income tax surcharge on the rich for mental health programs.

Under this theory, the amendment would be passed in the Legislature’s special session on the budget and after a 90-day wait would be placed on a special election ballot.

The second potential pathway would be Proposition 25, enacted by voters last November. It reduces the legislative vote on budgets from two-thirds to a simple majority and also applies the lower vote margin to measures needed to implement the budget, called trailer bills in Capitol jargon. (SacBee)

Either method would certainly attract the attention of lawyers from the immovable Right. Given the timeline, the courts would either have to act upon this very quickly, or we could be looking at some logistical nightmares.  At this point, time is certainly of the essence.

I’m not sure which method they’ll turn to, and at this point, I’m sure there are legal minds better than mine analyzing the question. However, stay tuned here, we’ll try to get some more details on these questions as the process moves forward.

YADWD: Yet Another Dan Walters Diary

Old Man Walters forgot to eat his Metamucil this morning.

Walters is reacting to what California pundits have already decided is Governor Brown’s strategy. In a nutshell, he is going to submit a “clean” budget in early January and then ask the voters to fill in the gaps in a May Special Election. Walters doesn’t like it.

Were Brown’s doomsday strategy to fall short, he’d be stuck with an even worse budget mess and virtually no option other than following through with deep spending slashes in schools and other public services.

Huh? I’m not sure I understand what Walters means here. If the measures fail, the January budget goes into effect. It won’t be a “budget mess”-a human disaster, maybe, but not a “budget mess.” And, yes, those cuts will come, but what’s the alternative?

Walters doesn’t think it will be so easy for Brown to get a budget through in time.

Even before he could seek new taxes from voters, however, Brown would also have to persuade his fellow Democrats in the Legislature to vote for a slash-and-burn budget. And that could be extraordinarily difficult because Democrats would be getting pressure from their political constituencies, such as public employee unions, and be facing uncertain re-elections in 2012 because of redrawn districts and a new “top-two” primary system.

Maybe he wasn’t paying attention in November when the majority vote budget law was passed. That means there would have to be 13 defectors in the Assembly without picking up a Republican and 4 in the Senate without picking up a Republican. Why do I think there’s a chance some Republicans will sign on? Because it will be the kind of austerity budget they want!

Now, far be it from me to impugn the learning of our own local version of David Broder, but does Walters know anything about the dynamics of legislative bodies? There just aren’t the votes there to buck a new governor who just won a solid majority (and therefore a solid mandate from the voters) without breaking a sweat. Maybe a couple will make protest votes. But 13? Yeah, right.

Brown’s budget will sail through and the campaign will be on. I’m guessing there will be several measures covering a number of different priorities, including education, health and welfare, and so on.

So, what does Walters want him to do? Try and do it the old fashioned way and find 3 Senate Republicans and 2 Assembly Republicans to vote to raise taxes? He must believe that “pox on both your houses” kind of rhetoric that would hold that it is equally tough for Dems to vote against the unions on the one hand and Republicans to vote to increase taxes on the other. Bullshit.

Personally, I think Brown’s strategy is brilliant. The voters have wanted it both ways for too long and the Republicans have been able to pin all of the tax increases on Democrats. They won’t be able to do that if the voters approve (though surely they will still try).

As an aside, I am strongly in favor a ballot measure that would reduce to 55% or to bare majority the ability of school districts to raise parcel taxes. I hope that shows up too, and I plan on doing some work to make sure it does.


Joe Matthews apparently also thinks Dan Walters is being a dick.

Walters tries to weaken Boxer

Ye ole curmudgeon decided to level his sights on Sen. Barbara Boxer today and discuss her re-election chances.  He starts out with this lede:

California’s U.S. senators tend to fall into two categories – headline-grabbers and dependable workhorses for the state’s interests.

Headline grabbers…hmm that would have to be Sen. Feinstein, who relishes her self-designated role of wise moderate woman, that determines what is or is not a deal.

Somehow, I think that Walters meant it the other way around.  He references “quixotic political frays” that have “nothing to do with California”.  Then of course he never gives any examples, leaving the reader to either scratch their head, or trust the wise man of the column.

Walters then brings up the Rasmussen poll from a few weeks ago, which was unsurprising.  Like most years Boxer looks vulnerable, tempting the Republicans to throw the kitchen sink to unseat her.

This year the national Republican hierarchy are excited about Carly Fiorina, who gets 41 to Boxer’s 45 in the matchup.  Of course she has to get past movement conservative Chuck DeVore in the primary.  Fiorina’s primary is not a shoe-in.  It would not be all that surprising to see DeVore win the wingnut vote that dominates Republican primaries.  Fiorina will have to dump a ton of cash into the primary to hold DeVore off.

Walters then does his best to weaken Boxer by providing only half of her favorability numbers.

The latest poll, true to form, found Boxer’s overall job approval rating among California voters to be fairly low, with just 21 percent holding a “very favorable” view, down six points from March.

When one normally writes about favorability numbers you add up the very favorable and somewhat favorable results to come up with an overall favorability number.  In this case, according to this Rasmussen poll, she has a 21% very favorable and a 36% somewhat favorable, for an overall 57% favorabilty rating, which while not great isn’t nearly as bad as Walters tries to make it seem.

If Fiorina wins the primary then Boxer will likely have a tougher race in 2010, certainly compared to 2004.  We need to be prepared to defend her with all guns blazing.  Fiorina certainly comes with a lot of baggage that would be great fodder for blog posts and attack ads.

There are no huge alarm bells ringing right now, no matter what Walters has written, but we need to be on alert and watch closely as we move into election season.  Early cash is better than late cash.  Give via ActBlue.

The Airbrush Of Human Beings From The California Budget Crisis

Peter Schrag is one of the few columnists left in this state who consistently makes sense, and today he attacks that silly NYTimes article about California, in particular the elements of conventional wisdom:

In his passing references to California’s serious issues, many of which have major implications for the nation as a whole, Leibovich collects pieces of the conventional wisdom, even when, as in his facile summary of the causes of gridlock in Sacramento, it’s wrong. Since Democrats have again and again agreed to multi-billion dollar cuts, it is not, as he thinks, just a matter of “‘no more taxes’ (Republicans) and ‘no more cuts’ (Democrats).”

And while Jerry Brown, in his prior tenure as governor was indeed labeled “Governor Moonbeam” (by a Chicago columnist) for his space proposals, as Leibovich says, the label applied much more broadly to his inattention to the daily duties of his office and, most particularly to his dithering while the forces that produced Proposition 13 began to roll.

Brown later acknowledged that he didn’t have the attention span to focus on the property tax reforms that were then so urgently needed to avert the revolt of 1978. But to this day, almost no one has said much of Brown’s role in creating the anti-government climate and resentments that helped fuel the Proposition 13 drive.

It was the Brown, echoing much of the 1970s counter-culture, who, as much as anyone, was poor-mouthing the schools and universities as failing their students and who threatened to cut their funding if they didn’t shape up. It is Brown who spent most of his political career savaging politics and politicians, even as he ran for yet another office. Now this is the guy who wants to be governor again. But Leibovich doesn’t tell his readers that long history. Maybe he doesn’t know it.

The line about how those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it can be inserted here.  But Schrag hits on the most important failing of the article, and indeed of a good chunk of the political media here in California – they airbrush out the people who suffer for the failures of the politicians.

Where are California and the people who are feeling the pain – the school kids and teachers in hopelessly underfunded schools, the children who are losing their health care, the minimum-wage working mothers struggling to pay their child care, the students who are losing their university grants? Is all this really about nothing?

To far too many, the answer is yes.  It’s politics as theater, as a sporting event, where winners and losers are checked on a board, and whether or not a leader will keep their position is made the story rather than the principles he or she represents.  And yet it’s not Governor Hot Tubs and Stogies who will feel the pain of an economic downturn and massive budget cuts, nor well-heeled consultants or columnists who make up the scorecards.  It’s people.

People like the students in the Cal State system who may see their fees raised 20%, just months after a 10% hike approved in May.  This will effectively block higher education for a non-trivial number of students, as will proposed enrollment reductions of 32,000 students.

People like LA County homeowners who have defaulted at twice the rate in May as they have in the previous month, as a foreclosure backlog builds up due to various moratoriums and an increase in repossessed homes entering the market.

People like IOU holders who may have to turn to check-cashing stores to get less-than-full value for their registered warrants after Friday, when most major banks (who have all been bailed out by the federal government, by the way) stop the exchange of the notes.

And people like the elderly, disabled and blind, who rely on the in-home support services that the Governor is trying to illegally cut in contravention of a contempt-of-court citation, at least in Fresno.

These are the great unmentioned in this California crisis, the people who Dan Walters tries to smear in his column today by turning every Democratic concern for the impacts of policy as a sellout to “public employee unions.”  Behind those unions are workers, and the people they serve need the help the provide, in many cases, simply to survive.  But it would be too dangerous to Walters’ beautiful mind to consider those faces, so he chooses to make political hay out of the violation of people.

This is the point of the People’s Day of Reckoning Coalition.  They refuse to have their existence denied any longer.

…THE Jerry Brown commented in Schrag’s post:

Mr. Schrag’s latest screed is a good example of why politics in Sacramento is so dis-functional. Instead of trying to find the truth in the Leibovich article, he mocks both the writer and each of the subjects. In recent years, Schrag has become increasingly bitter. That’s very sad because he once was an open-minded person with real insight into the predicaments of modern society. Finally, his memory is not serving him well regarding Propistion 13 and the factors that constituted the ethos of that period. In fact, there was a long and hard fought battle to get property tax relief that got all the way to the state Senate but foundered just short of the necessary two thirds vote. There is much to say about government, schools and taxation in California. But to get anywhere it requires a degree of empathy and engagement with opposing perspectives that no longer seems congenial to Mr. Schrag.

Posted by: Jerry Brown at July 8, 2009 08:41 AM


Dan Walters & Prop 13: A Confusing Duo

Dan Walters has an apology piece for Prop 13 this morning. Apology piece is being a bit generous, as it is more of a “LEAVE PROP 13 ALONE” kind of thing. He notes that its critics demand piece-meal reform because a complete repeal won’t pass.  Well, yes, Dan, we DFHs are pretty crazy that way, we aren’t into tilting at windmills and have a strange compulsion to go where victories are easiest. Shocking!

By the way, I don’t think you will find many liberals who would say that a complete repeal of Prop 13 would be a bad thing. I support a full repeal myself, anyway.

But once you get beyond tactics, Dan has fun with numbers, citing the large increase of property taxes since 1978. He notes that:

Since then, property taxes have risen 800 percent to more than $50 billion, according to data from the state Board of Equalization – far faster than other revenues, thanks to new construction and transfers.

Of course, he doesn’t note whether this is in inflation adjusted dollars or not, so I’ll assume it isn’t.  So, knock off a big chunk right there.  Further than that, this is a more meaningless statistic. Yes, property taxes have gone up a lot, because there is a lot more valuable property in California today than there was 30 years ago. THere are more homes, more office buildings, lots more strip malls, and even a few more gas stations. So, yes the property taxes have gone up substantially because there are many new properties.  In other words, this is a completely irrelevant statistic.

A more useful statistic would be the share of the income tax of state revenue. It’s way up (PDF). But instead of useful statistics, we get talking points from the California Taxpayers’ Association. The fact is that if we split the rolls for commercial properties and merely taxed them at their current assessment, the state would get an additional $7 Billion in revenue for the next fiscal year. Not raising the tax rate, nothing that new properties do not face, just taxing properties based upon what they are actually worth today. It is a move that would actually increase fairness and the business climate for new businesses.

But guess what, you know what has really risen in the past 30 years in California? Well, that would be people. People in California who need schools, who need police, who need firefighters, who need streets and who need all sorts of services the state provides. With many properties taxed like it’s 1978, they do not provide for their fair share of services.

While Mr. Walters really enjoys the status quo and pinning blame on the “Capitol political culture that’s utterly incapable of acting responsibly”, he ignores the facts that the system does not allow for anybody to behave responsibly. Let the majority govern, and see if the public supports it. Instead, the supermajority binds the hands of the legislators.

There are other columnists, though, who see Prop 13 for what it is. Like David Lazarus, who said we cannot afford Prop 13 Capitol political culture that’s utterly incapable of acting responsibly. Lazarus said back in 2008, referring to Lenny Goldberg:

What he means is that Proposition 13 allows the state to reach deep into the pockets of people and businesses that buy property at market value. But it does precious little to get a piece of the action from those with long-held properties that have soared in value over the years.

Prop 13 is not only a bad governing principle, it is a bad economic rule.  Whether or not Mr. Walters chooses to ignore reality, the fact is that Prop 13 needs to go.

Yes, Cutting Jobs And Services Does Affect The Economy

Dan Walters had a funny column a few days back, excoriating anyone who use “numbers” and “projections” to theorize about the impacts of budget cuts.  As if it’s some kind of novel idea that an economy dominated by government spending would rise or fall based on the amount of that spending.  Mr. Walters, 1937 called and wants a word with you.

Anyway, let’s look at the heart of Walters’ complaint.  First he says that we must have a hefty budget reserve because the economy is likely to go south, and because it will signal to bankers that “we’re solvent so they’ll buy our short-term notes.”  As I noted earlier, this is nonsense given the clear Constitutional duty to repay debt before practically everything else.  Then he says this:

Democrats and Republicans are equally guilty, meanwhile, of emitting self-important nonsense about the impacts of their actions on the state’s recession-wracked economy. While Democrats claim that cutting “safety net” programs and/or public payrolls will worsen the recession by taking money out of circulation, Republicans claim that raising taxes will retard recovery by discouraging investment and/or consumer spending.

Both practice voodoo economics. The entire deficit on which they are working, $24.3 billion including Schwarzenegger’s desired reserve, is well under 2 percent of the state’s economy. The lesser cuts and taxes they are debating would merely shift relatively small amounts of money from one form of spending to another, all within the state’s economy, so the macro economic impact would probably be nil, no matter what they do.

That’s a strange opinion, especially because in the next sentence, he argued that a budget filled with gimmicks would threaten our economic future, even though such gimmickry would effect the same small amount of cash, from a macroeconomic perspective.  But to his main point – cutting spending for state services, cutting jobs, cutting salaries for public employees and their related vendors, has a multiplier effect that in fact does weaken the prospects for economic recovery.  You don’t have to take my word for it.  John Myers ran a story on this just today.

“It’s hard to see how the country recovers if California does not,” says U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose). Lofgren says she thinks congressional authorization of loan guarantees for any state will happen. But no one thinks it’ll happen in time for California, which needs to go to market — assuming a budget deficit deal is agreed to in the state Capitol — early next month.

Lofgren says she’s particularly troubled that the national stimulus and recovery programs… which are expected to benefit California by as much as $80 billion… could be drained of their help by the cuts needed to balance the state budget. “It is contrary to the efforts that we’re making,” she says.

This is a fact neglected by Walters, the very real possibility that certain spending cuts would result in the forfeiture of stimulus funds as well as regular funding, multiplying the effect of the cuts.  Many of the programs that Schwarzenegger wants to eliminate, like Healthy Families,  CalWorks and Medi-Cal, have their funding matched by the federal government.  Clearly any dollar cut there would mean $2 in practical cuts to Californians.  And losing out on stimulus dollars could number in the tens of billions.

This UCLA Anderson Report also speaks to the impact of state spending on California and the nation at large.

According to UCLA Anderson Forecast senior economist Jerry Nickelsburg, there is nothing happening in California that will help pull the state out of recession in advance of the nation.

“California,” Nickelsburg writes, “is in for a continued rough ride for the balance of 2009 and is not going to see economic growth return until the end of the year, shortly after the U.S. economy begins to grow.”

The dire conditions surrounding the state budget will contribute to prolonging tough conditions in California, according to the report.

In his essay, Nickelsburg notes that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is attempting to close the state’s $24 billion budget gap with a combination of fee increases, forced borrowing from local government, the sale of state assets and, primarily, budget cuts.

Yet that the real risk for California, Nickelsburg writes, is the possibility that there will be no budget agreement at all and that the chaotic and inefficient spending cuts that would likely follow would have an even more severe impact on the ability of California to stem the downturn in economic activity this year.

The rhetoric has risen to the extent where a prolonged stalemate, like every year given our broken governmental structure, is possible.  But clearly, Nickelsburg is demonstrating that state spending does have an impact on the economic picture at large, especially at a time when there’s 11.5% unemployment and a growing dependence on state services.

That one of the top political reporters in the state would deny this economic reality is just baffling.