Tag Archives: California Forward

California Forward Gives It Another Go

Goo-Goo wants to change how California government functions: increase transparency and budget process

by Brian Leubitz

California Forward has had an interesting existence. They’ve only been around  for a few years, but they’ve sent out a lot of press releases.  Oh, and it kept the current Defense Secretary busy for a few years.

It’s not that I don’t think CA Forward doesn’t have some interesting ideas.  It’s just that the press release stage is how far they usually get along the process. And then there is the fact that some of their ideas, well, they probably should have been left in the brainstorming session.

Nonetheless, Peter Schrag details another big push from the organization, and they have said that they will be pushing to get something on the ballot in November.

More important, the proposal,  co-authored by Sunne McPeak, now CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund, and former Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, would void any legislation creating a new state program, enlarging an existing program or cutting any tax unless offsetting state program reductions or additional revenues or some combination of the two are provided in the bill.

The backers of the measure also hold high hopes in its provisions creating incentives for broader local agency collaboration. It aims at the creation of county-based Community Strategic Action Plans to reduce, the silos of agencies serving the same populations: schools, for example, foster care, health programs, law enforcement and others trying to work with the same children, but now sometimes barely talking to one another and occasionally trying to shut others out. (CA Progress Report)

Take a gander at the full article. As is typical with CA Forward initiatives, there is a long way to go before this idea is really fully baked. And, of course, there is one big, big problem: it doesn’t deal with the 2/3 requirement to raise revenues, so there is still a huge preference for cuts over revenue.

Maybe something comes of this, but, this is Sacramento we’re talking about, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.

California Forward pushes for final action on budget reform

Nonpartisan reform group asks leaders to make reform part of budget talks

SACRAMENTO-California Forward’s non-partisan leaders today asked legislative leaders to address the long-neglected need for lasting and fundamental budget reform as part of this year’s negotiations over the state budget.

Robert Hertzberg and Thomas McKernan, co-chairs of the reform organization, sent the following letter to the four legislative leaders:

May 12, 2010

The Honorable Darrell Steinberg

President pro Tempore of the Senate

The Honorable John Pérez

Speaker of the Assembly

The Honorable Dennis Hollingsworth

Senate Republican Leader

The Honorable Martin Garrick

Assembly Republican Leader

Dear Legislative Leaders:

California Forward recognizes and deeply appreciates the significant commitment of time and energy that you and the other legislative leaders – as well as individual Assembly members and Senators and your staffs – have devoted to thoughtfully examining our non-partisan plan for comprehensive budget reform.

In both the Senate and the Assembly, members of both parties have been engaged in good-faith discussions and deliberations about how to refine the principles we have identified as key to restoring public confidence in the state’s fiscal operations.  It is particularly noteworthy that these discussions have proceeded even as our proposals have drawn criticism from partisan special interests invested in the status quo and opposed to reform.

As each of you know all too well, another difficult budget season is now upon us.  In our judgment, it is critical that long-term budget reform become part of this year’s budget deliberations.

In the next few days and weeks, each of you will have to grapple with hard choices, and set priorities about the spending of limited public dollars at a time when needs are great and California’s economy remains fragile.

There are no easy answers.  But the current crisis does provide California with the opportunity to finally address the long-neglected need for lasting and fundamental budget reform, and we urge you to take it.

Thanks in no small part to your efforts, this goal is in sight.  In both the Senate and Assembly, real progress has been made in crafting non-partisan reforms based on the best practices of successful businesses and other states, including improved accountability and oversight, better long-term forecasting, setting unexpected windfalls aside, and adopting a pay-as-you-go mechanism for both legislation and initiatives.

Furthermore, our plan provides the first step in rethinking the relationship between state and local government, providing new incentives and resources for communities to start working together to address priorities and bring government closer to the people.

We understand that this work is not yet complete – and that significant hurdles remain before the principles we’ve outlined can garner the bipartisan support necessary to place them before voters in November.

We believe, however, that reform remains our best hope for forestalling future difficulties, and that failing to enact significant reforms this year would only hasten the advent of the next fiscal crisis.

That’s why we ask you to continue to work together to achieve this elusive goal, and urge you to place the reforms we’ve proposed on the ballot.  As always, we stand ready to provide any and all assistance we can in this endeavor, and we would welcome any suggestions you have about other steps we can take to move this process forward.

Very truly yours,

Robert Hertzberg, Co-Chair

California Forward

Thomas V. McKernan, Co-Chair

California Forward

cc:  All Senators and Assembly members

Kern County Taxpayers Association is pleased to endorse SCA 19

March 19, 2010

The Kern County Taxpayers Association is pleased to endorse SCA 19 (Desaulnier) which embodies the non-partisan reform principles crafted by California Forward to overhaul our state’s budget process and empower local governments to work together and better plan for the future of the people they serve.

As one of the leading authorities on the state budget, you know how urgently we need this legislation to give California the modern tools it needs to make best use of taxpayer dollars, set firm priorities for programs and pass responsible budgets on time.

California Forward’s reform principles are based on proven practices that businesses and other states have used to improve decision-making, deliver better results and improve public confidence in their government.

Like most Californians, we are justly proud of our great state, a state that has always led the way, in technology, protecting the environment and providing our citizens with a quality of life that is second to none.

The fiscal crises we’ve faced in recent years have put California’s leadership in jeopardy. The status quo simply isn’t working. The California Forward plan offers a way to make real and lasting reform that will help restore our state to its leading role in the world and help Californians achieve and thrive in the global economy.


Michael Turnipseed

Executive Director

from California Forward Co-Chair Thomas McKernan

“Nothing in the California Forward plan makes it easier to raise taxes or fees.  The plan keeps the two-thirds vote requirement to raise taxes, and prevents lawmakers from replacing a tax with a fee to dramatically increase revenue. There’s no doubt in my mind that if the California Forward plan had been in effect years ago, our state would be in far better financial shape,”  said Tom McKernan, California Forward’s Republican co-chair.


Comment from former state Senator Bruce McPherson

“The California Forward plan would introduce a key reform to our budget process – performance-based budgeting. That means the Governor, the Legislature and every state agency would have to determine what taxpayers are getting for their money, and how they could do a better job. Many states and local governments have used this practice to balance their budgets and get better results. Why should California get left out?” said former State Senator Bruce McPherson (R-Monterey).

California…Where Reform Goes to Die

I was no fan of California Forward’s version of the change to majority vote rules.  It simply gave up too much ground on the revenue front in exchange for the budget vote. Yet, it looks like it’s going the way of Repair California:

Officials from the reform group California Forward said today that unless deep-pocketed donors come through with pledges for big support, the campaign to qualify a package of their budget reform proposals for the November ballot could be put on ice.

California Forward Co-Chair Robert Hertzberg, a former Democratic leader of the Assembly, said today the group needed to secure a “few hundred thousand dollars” by week’s end in order to move forward with an initiative campaign to qualify two budget reform measures, which include lowering the vote requirement for passing a budget from two-thirds to a majority vote. (CapAlert)

Seeing it die the same death as Repair California’s (also flawed) efforts, does leave a bad taste in one’s mouth about the initiative system even if I didn’t like the measure itself.  It leaves our governance up to a few rich people.

We desperately need to end the supermajority requirements, but it’s becoming painfully clear that we need to do far more than that. We need big ideas on how to reform government, completely unrestricted. We need a convention that can take up any idea, is built upon thousands of democratically elected representatives. Give them a month, and they’ll figure something out.

But, hey, I’m just rambling. Perhaps it’s the sheer scale of all the money that is needed for real reform. It makes my head spin.

Fees, Taxes, and California Forward

In the con-con vs initiative reform debate. California Forward is the heart of the initiative side of the argument. So, their proposals, which are likely to be followed up with some corporate cash, carry some importance.

Now, many of these proposals are things you have heard before.  And the target of today’s news is a measure that would adjust some of the supermajority requirements. Sounds good, right? Well, maybe not, as CalBuzz’s birdogging of the measures uncovered a teensy-weensy issue: the original measure required basically all fees to get a 2/3 vote. In other words, they wanted to subsume the Sinclair Paints decision. Sure, progressives would get a majority vote budget in exchange, but that’s kinda like getting a lump of coal in your stocking. Sure, you can use it to heat the room for a while, but it’s really lame and you end up depositing a bunch of chemicals in the air.

Now that they got some negative attention from the left, CA Forward is trying to do what they try to do best. Get some more squishy love from the squishy middle. They’ve changed the proposal’s language. You be the judge as to how much difference this change makes:

Option 1) Their proposal still cuts into the Legislature’s ability to use raise fees by majority vote – which will still infuriate  progressives – but only when fee revenues would “replace funding for specific programs, services or activities previously funded by a tax that is repealed or reduced in the same or the prior fiscal year.”

Option 2) The proposal said a two-thirds vote was needed for “any bill that imposes a fee that replaces revenue that in the same or the prior fiscal year was generated by a tax.

Option 2 is the old language, with option 1 being the replacement language.  Now, this clearly makes a big difference.  A majority could still pass a new fee to bring revenue into a specific program that was receiving general fund revenue. However, the tax couldn’t have been otherwise reduced.

So, why is this a problem you ask? Why would we want to reduce the taxes? Ah, that brings us into the “Majority vote revenue package” that was placed up for discussion last year, and that Arnold said no way to. Essentially, that plan repealed one part of the gas tax to replace it with a majority vote gas fee as well as a tax to go directly to the general fund. That would be a revenue neutral tax increase, but end up bringing additional revenue to the table.

Under California Forward’s current plan, that is still killed. So, pretty much any substantive revenues will have to go through the supermajority. Whether you think the majority vote budget is worth that trade-off is a value decision. Given the painful budgets we’ll be seeing over the next few years, I’m a bit skeptical.

And… That’s Over

The California Chamber of Commerce and 33 other business groups have basically stuck a knife in the Parsky Commission with a coalition letter opposing most of the tax reforms proposed.  I’m sure they’d still love to see a flat income tax and the elimination of corporate taxes, but since they have basically refused all revenue-raisers in this document, that won’t happen.

The coalition doesn’t like removing Proposition 13’s property tax limits from business property and a proposed new “carbon tax,” both of which have been promoted by the tax commission’s liberal bloc. But it also is warning about the potentially negative effects of a “net business receipts tax,” similar to a European-style value-added tax, that commission chairman Gerald Parsky champions […]

“The California business community has consistently stated that the solution to California’s revenue problems will only come from robust economic growth and job creation,” said today’s letter to Parsky. “We believe the proposed split roll property tax and the energy tax would be extremely detrimental to California’s economy. As for the business net receipts tax, we believe it is risky and inappropriate to move forward with dramatic changes to the tax structure without first fully vetting their impact on California jobs and the economy.”

The only way for the Parsky Commission to get an up-or-down vote for its recommendations is by making the package revenue-neutral.  The CalChamber document opposes all of the tax hikes while saying nothing about the reductions.  California Democrats can be squishy, but not squishy enough to eliminate corporate taxes in exchange for nothing.  Sen. Steinberg never agreed to bring the commission recommendations to a vote in the first place.  And without an offset, they will never see the light of day.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Chamber of Commerce.  Even in the unlikely even that the legislature ignores this letter and passes some plan including split-roll or a carbon tax or a business net receipts tax, there’s no way the Governor signs it.  The Parsky Commission is dead.

And I’m not really shedding a tear for it.  Forcing a revenue-neutral standard on how to fix the tax structure inevitably was going to shift the tax burden from the rich, who have the clout to shield themselves from the predations of lawmakers, to the middle and lower classes, who don’t.  The very structure was flawed, and the reforms sought of a lesser order than being able to properly fund government according to the wishes of the majority.

So we can move on to the next challenge.  Calbuzz has a good scene-setter on that, referring to something that Jean Ross mentioned in our Netroots Nation panel last week.  California Forward’s reform package may include, as a condition of repealing the 2/3 rule for passing a budget (and only the budget), a raising of the threshold to 2/3 for mitigation fees on businesses, which may extend to fees on alcohol, oil production and “anything else that carries a nexus to a public problem.”  In other words, while the budget would require a majority vote, revenue (which is 1/2 of a budget) would be subject to an even higher standard than it is now, and the legislature would be constrained in their ability to respond to the impact of corporate actions that harm the public good.  Actually it could go even further than that:

But Chairman Bob (Hertzberg) insists it would be a mistake to focus only on Sinclair as the key to business support for CF reforms. The only way some of the conservatives and business people on CF would “even consider” allowing 50% to pass the budget is if there’s a whole panoply of budget reforms – pay-as-you-go provisions, controls on one-time expenditures, two-year budgeting,  performance reviews, sunset provisions AND limits on what can pass with 50% as a “fee,” he said.

But will liberals – on CF and in the Legislature – agree to circumscribe their current authority to impost fees with a majority vote? Will they agree that there has to be a “clear nexus” between charges allocated to a polluter or manufacturer of polluty stuff?

As Jean Ross puts it, ever so succinctly, “California Forward?”  I concur.

So while we appear to have sidestepped the Parsky Commission (for now), California Backward’s set of “reforms” still lurk in the distance.

Leon Panetta Selected As CIA Director

I’m having some computer issues, but I have been able to notice that Leon Panetta, former White House Chief of Staff under Clinton, has been tapped for the CIA Director position.  Digby references this article from Panetta from this year:

Even though we now know that there were intelligence officials who questioned the assertion, few leaders were willing to challenge this argument for war because they knew it might undermine public support for the president’s decision to invade Iraq.

More recently, President Bush vetoed a law that would require the CIA and all the intelligence services to abide by the same rules on torture as contained in the U.S. Army Field Manual […]

all forms of torture have long been prohibited by American law and international treaties respected by Republican and Democratic presidents alike.

Our forefathers prohibited “cruel and unusual punishment” because that was how tyrants and despots ruled in the 1700s. They wanted an America that was better than that. Torture is illegal, immoral, dangerous and counterproductive. And yet, the president is using fear to trump the law.

I hope he gets cracking on putting the CIA under the Army Field Manual.  That would be a very good start.

As a side note, Panetta has been leading one of the most insufferable organizations in California’s history, a high Broderist effort called California Forward, which thinks the biggest problem in the state is that lawmakers from both sides don’t have drinks together anymore, or something.  At least Panetta’s influence on the state will be lessened.  He’s not my favorite guy by any stretch, but if he can manage to not have the CIA kidnapping and torturing anymore he can hold his head up high.

UPDATE by Robert: Apparently DiFi isn’t exactly wild about Panetta at CIA:

“I was not informed about the selection of Leon Panetta to be the CIA Director.  I know nothing about this, other than what I’ve read,” said Senator Feinstein, who will chair the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in the 111th Congress.

“My position has consistently been that I believe the Agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time.”

Virtually The Entire Media Establishment In This State Is Two Years Old

I happened to catch Which Way L.A., one of the few public affairs programs in California, and after about 20 minutes of listening I considered the unique method we have of running a 38 million-person nation-state with almost a total media blackout on government’s inner workings to be maybe a good thing.  Because this was the most fantastical 20 minutes of drivel you could possibly conjure, and I’m pained by the thought that anyone was exposed to it.

Warren Olney had his usual insider flaks on, with pollster Mark Baldassare, Fred Silva from California Backward Forward and Neal Johnson, Director of the “public performance” project at the Pew Center on the States.  You can listen to it here, but please, please don’t.  Let me summarize.  Basically the problem with state government is that nobody gets along.  If we’d only all pitch in as a team and work together to move things forward, everything would be dandy.  Also reviewing the performance of every single public program would eliminate the budget deficit, or something.

I don’t remember the words “two-thirds requirement” in the 20 minutes I heard, or “tax pledge,” or the sundry other characteristics that make California completely ungovernable.  The idea that you’re going to get people with the ability to hijack the budget with a tiny minority to willingly give up their power in the spirit of “working together,” when they’ve organized themselves around precisely the opposite circumstance, is so ridiculous and unserious that I’m surprised anyone can make the argument when they’re not teething.

Here’s the extremely simple point.  California isn’t allowed to govern itself, by its own rules.  If you want any possible solution without the same kind of gridlock and delays, CHANGE THE RULES and allow elected lawmakers to do their own jobs.  It’s not about being friendly or reforming on meaningless margins or “restoring voter’s trust” (whatever the hell that means).  It’s about allowing government to govern.  Talking about anything else is just verbal masturbation.

I mean, if Dan Walters can see the frickin’ light on this, it’s not locked away in some formula.

It is what those in the Capitol call – and what California Forward identifies as – a “structural deficit.” This is, in brief, a unique situation and what any governor did in the past means absolutely nothing today. Until and unless California resolves its underlying crisis of governance, the budget crisis, along with the crises of water, education, transportation, housing and everything else, will continue to bedevil us.

That’s the message that California Forward should be driving home.

No kidding.