Tag Archives: Alberto Torrico

AB 656: A Movement Both Offline and On

( – promoted by Robert Cruickshank)

The movement to save higher education is building momentum on the streets and on the Internet.  

Californians understand the stakes. Over the past ten years, fee increases and painful budget cuts have undermined a system of higher education that was once the envy of the nation. These cuts in college programs and increases in fees are creating an ever-higher barrier to a quality education at exactly the moment when we should be investing in this proven economic engine.  

The numbers speak for themselves.  For every dollar invested in higher education, California nets $3 in return. Investing in higher education is the smartest choice California can, and should, make right now to jumpstart our economy.  

For months, students – as well as faculty and community leaders – have been marching and holding rallies to make their voices heard. On March 22, nearly 5,000 students from San Diego to Sonoma marched to the Capitol steps in Sacramento, demanding solutions to save higher education.  

One of the most immediate and important solutions is AB 656.  

My bill, AB 656: Fair Share for Fair Tuition, is a simple and fair solution to funding higher education. A 12.5% severance fee on Big Oil will raise $2 billion a year for California’s colleges and universities.  

Thanks to the grassroots and netroots, AB 656 is more than just a bill; it’s a movement.  

75,000 Californians have already signed support cards, nearly reaching our goal of 100,000 – making Fair Share for Fair Tuition one of the most successful grassroots efforts in California’s legislative history. Tens of thousands more have joined us online, with nearly 12,000 supporters on Facebook alone.  

By using the powerful tools of online communities, we continue to organize this movement, to build more support and to share personal stories about the effects of the budget cuts.  

One of the most personal wall posts on Facebook came from Maureen Feller who wrote:  

My son is dropping out of college after the spring semester. As a freshman this year, with all the budget cuts, we can honestly say the whole experience has been a nightmare. How sad is it that we no longer invest in our youth?  

Maureen’s experience is, unfortunately, shared by too many others throughout California.  

The battle to save higher education can be won if we work together, stand together and fight together. And online tools like Facebook are helping disparate supporters throughout California to unite, in solidarity, to save higher education. A closed mouth goes unfed, and it’s time our collective voices speak louder than ever.  

Today, April 6, we are holding a rally in Los Angeles where students, faculty, members of the community and elected leaders will unite to bring our message to Big Oil – pay a fair share for fair tuition. Reid Milburn, President of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, and other community leaders will speak on education as the key to California’s future. Learn more about our past rallies across the state at AlbertoTorrico.com/CampaignTrail.  

Help us reach our goal of 100,000 supporters and activate your friends and family to get involved too. Join the movement on Facebook.com/FairTuition and sign our petition at AlbertoTorrico.com/TakeAction.    

ALBERTO TORRICO (D-Fremont) is the bill-author for AB 656: Fair Share for Fair Tuition and is a candidate for Attorney General.

Fighting for Higher Education and the Future of California

For the first time in California’s history, our state government spent more money on prisons than higher education.

It’s a shocking figure – but not a surprising one when you consider that it now costs more to send a criminal to prison than a student to Harvard. Because we are now spending so much on failed prisons, we can’t invest sufficient funds to create affordable colleges and universities.

Tuition at our public universities has skyrocketed as much as 30% nationwide – just as students are forced to endure budget cuts, slashed enrollment, impossible waitlists and reduced course offerings.

My own parents worked as janitors their whole lives so that I could be the first in my family to go to college. I know firsthand that the true spirit of California opportunity and optimism is nurtured in great schools, not failed prisons.

That is why I am fighting to fund California colleges and universities by requiring Big Oil to pay their fair share for the oil they pump out of our state’s land and water. California can no longer afford to be the only major oil-producing state that doesn’t levy such a fee. Texas, for instance, generates $400 million for higher education through a similar fee.

My bill, AB 656, would raise up to $2 billion a year for the UC, CSU and community colleges with a 12.5 percent tax on oil extracted within California. That’s considerably less than the 25-percent tax levied in Sarah Palin’s Alaska.  

The oil companies will tell you that they already pay enough taxes and that this bill will result in jobs lost. Yet oil companies have been experiencing record breaking profits for the past several years.  Exxon Mobile, for instance, raked in a $45.2 billion profit in 2008, the most ever by a publicly-traded U.S. company.  

More money for higher education means more classes and more financial aid for more students.

Making sure students receive a quality education is the key to our future and to public safety. A quality education grants people invaluable tools to succeed. With 60% of inmates functionally illiterate, education is the best strategy to rehabilitate criminals and to empower people with the tools to succeed.

The fight to save higher education won’t be easy. And AB 656 is a simple and fair solution to funding our universities and colleges in California. Please join me and thousands of other concerned Californians in fighting for higher education at www.facebook.com/FairTuition, and sign the petition here: www.AlbertoTorrico.com/Fair-Share-for-Fair-Tuition.

Remember Way Back to 2007 When the Assembly Supported A Sentencing Commission?

Back in 2007, former Assembly member Sally Lieber (D-Mountain View) wrote a Sentencing Commission bill, AB 160.  You can read an analysis of that bill here. Like the current proposal, it had teeth. It didn’t give the Legislature ratification authority. It had wide support of progressives, but not much support from either the Governor or from the Senate. In fact, on the Senate, it got only 10 votes, mostly from progressives like Carole Migden and Shiela Kuehl, but, somewhat suprisingly, also from moderates like Sen. Ron Calderon. Good on you Sen. Calderon.

On the Assembly side, it got 43 votes, including many members who are now protesting the inclusion of a Sentencing Commission today. For example, Asms. Huffman, Ma, Nava, Torrico all voted for the bill. For his part, the other AG candidate, Asm. Ted Lieu apparently was against solid prison reform back in 2007 too.

Now, turn the calendar a few years forward, to about last week. Basically many in the current Assembly Democratic caucus are walking away from a bill they ALREADY supported.

I’m not sure how at least two of these folks square their past votes with their public positions today.  Take Asm. Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), who voted for AB 160 in 2007:

“You essentially would be contracting out your duties as a legislator,”Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, said of the Senate-passed plan. (SacBee 8/25/09)

Or from Asm. Torrico (D-Newark), who also voted for AB 160:

“The notion that the Legislature would not be required to vote on a sentencing commission proposal, I just think it’s real problematic,” Torrico said. (LA Times)

I don’t want to give Asm. Lieu a pass here, as he is also stonewalling good policy here. Yet, how is that removing sentencing from the Legislature was good in 2007 but not today when the crisis is far more acute?  

Could it be that this time it actually has a chance of succeeding?  Back in 2007, Asm. Lieber’s bill didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting through the Senate, let alone to be signed by Governor Toughie McActionStar. It is only today, with the very real possibility of this actually going into law that these legislators are balking at voting for real prison reform.

Sorry, but that smacks of the cynicism that has plagued Sacramento for so long. It is this cynicism that is why our prisons are under a slew of federal court orders and we can’t manage our house. Blame it on fear of the prison guard’s union (CCPOA) or the “law and order” vote or what you will, but the fact is that we need real reform that will allow our prisons to get back to the business for which they were intended: keeping California safe.

If it plays in Kansas, it can play here.  It just requires leaders who are willing to stand up for their own values and for the voters who put them there. This should be past the point of politics now. I know, it’s probably not possible for the Republicans, but I expect more from our Democratic Legislators. Do the right thing for our state and your political fortunes will follow.

Will Our Attorney General Candidates Get The Prison Crisis?

Today, Chief Privacy Officer at Facebook Chris Kelly announced an exploratory committee for the race for California Attorney General.  He joins a field that includes Assemblymembers Ted Lieu, Pedro Nava and Alberto Torrico; San Francisco DA Kamala Harris, and Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo.  In his statement, which you can find at his website, Kelly talked about efficienct and effective government, Internet safety, proper training and equipment for law enforcement, and stopping trafficking.  The words “prisons,” “jails,” “corrections” or “parole” was not mentioned.

Our prison system is a mess.  We have the highest recidivism rate in the country, mostly because 2/3 of our prisoners returning to jail go there because of technical violations of their parole.  This turns jails into giant holding pens instead of areas for rehabilitation and treatment, as well as colleges for nonviolent offenders on how to get involved in violent crime.  The overstuffed prisons cost more money to staff and service as they become more dangerous, leading to the state spending more on incarceration than higher education.  Despite all this spending, conditions in the prisons are medieval, with the ACLU proposing the closure of the LA County Men’s Central Jail.  Prison officials are discussing release of 8,000 nonviolent and terminally ill offenders, but that’s a drop in the bucket.  We also have denied prisoners their Constitutional right to health care, and have a federal receiver now remedying that situation, taking it out of the hands of the legislature.  The “tough on crime” mantra that has ruled the thinking of both parties on this issue has utterly and completely failed.

And yet, our Attorney General candidates and our gubernatorial candidates view this absolute crisis as just another check on their list, instead of the serious problem it is.  Gavin Newsom didn’t bring it up in his speech, though I did ask him about it in the blogger meeting afterwards.  He talked about how we need a re-entry strategy better than the failed parole system, and cited some re-entry reforms in San Francisco that have helped matters.  And he stated that having the courts step in to fix the problem presents an opportunity for real reform.  With respect to the drug war, which lies at the heart of this, he expressed his support for drug courts and mental health courts and the kind of options that wouldn’t consign nonviolent offenders to the rigors of overcrowded prison life when they need medical treatment.  And he vowed to have more detailed programs available soon.  But when it counted, on stage, he said nothing.  Jerry Brown did tackle the issue, but his non-stop fight against the prison health care receiver and sensible steps like Prop. 5 destroy any credibility he may have had on the issue.

I have appreciated Greg Lucas’ interviews with some of the candidates in the Attorney General’s race, and I have paid particular attention to their views on the prison crisis.  (over)

Here are Alberto Torrico’s ideas to deal with recidivism:

CC: What’s the best way to reduce recidivism?

AT: First, we need to evaluate. See what programs work and don’t work. We’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do about these parolees. Put all these people out and then there’s too many parolees and too few parole officers. We can’t continue to pretend our prisons are drug rehab centers because they’re not. We need to get resources to people who can be helped and make sure when they’re tried at the local level they get put into programs that work.

I’ve been a criminal defense lawyer. I’ve been a labor lawyer. I represented a public agency. The judge tells people under Prop 36 (drug rehab law) that you’re not going to jail, you’re going to get counseling once a week for 12 weeks. You’re not going to beat an addition one hour a week over 12 weeks.

He seems earnest about lowering the recidivism rate as a financial and moral imperative, and these ideas are somewhat noble, but they read like bullet points, without the innovation necessary to really deal with this crisis.  It’s not just about hoping the locals solve the problem, but a strategy that focuses on rehabilitation, re-entry and alternatives to prison right at the top.

Here’s Ted Lieu on the same subject:

CC: Not sure how much it costs but it has to be expensive when we parole 120,000 people a year and within two years over 70 percent are back in prison.

TL: It is a sort of downward spiraling problem. Because we have a prison-overcrowding situation we now aren’t doing any of the skills training in prison programs that teach people how to function in society when they leave prison. And then people come back to prison because they have nowhere to go and that increases the over-crowding.

I’m a big supporter of drug courts. If someone is addicted, they should get treated. When revenues are falling off a cliff its extremely difficult to fund the programs we need to help people when they get out of prison. Long-term view is that yes it costs some money now but in the long-term it would help the state save money.

If an inmate works toward a degree then they should get early release credits as an incentive to do such things. Part of the problem – and this is a much larger fix – is I think I we also need to improve our education system. If we did, we’d have less people in prison as well.

I just see a lot of people talking around the problem.  I support drug courts as well, but I think there’s a mindset change that’s needed.  The Attorney General at this point is in a position to transform the entire way we think about prisons and rehabilitation.  Rocky Delgadillo gets closer to that.

CC: Speaking of costs, recidivism is very expensive. Something like 120,000 people are paroled each year and 70 percent are back behind bars within two years.

RD: We’ve got to get on the front end. One thing we know about gang members and people who have been in prison is they tend to have a shelf life it tends to end. But if they’re young and active and they go out they do it again. Why? Because in prison they get to hang out with the best in their business. And we pay for it. Great health care plan. So when they get out, they go back to it again. So the answer is to send less in.

We have a program called “First Chance.” I grew up in Northeast Los Angeles. People would say they’ll give you a second chance. You can’t have a second chance until you have a first chance. This is a program for young, but adults who get into our system. Not where they’ve done a serious crime but we know they’re involved with gangs or negative activity. We allow them to go to job training and school and if they complete it, we drop the charges. It’s a much better investment up front then to try and deal with them after they’ve been in prisons. In there, it’s an abyss.

Finally, here’s Kamala Harris, who actually pre-empts the discussion by raising recidivism without being asked:

CC: What role can the Attorney General play in the state’s seemingly endless budget mess?

KH: First, critically examine how the criminal justice system is working and whether we are being most efficient with limited dollars. Here’s an obvious example: Recidivism. California has the highest recidivism rate in the country. On an annual basis we release more than 120,000 prisoners and within two years of their release 71 percent recidivate. That’s costing us a lot of money.

In San Francisco, we created a re-entry initiative in my office. Its called “Back on Track.” It’s for low-level, first-time, non-violent offenders. I brought on my friends from labor – the building trades guys – friends from the business community, non-profits, and we give the parolees job skills development, education and help them meet things like parenting needs. A lot of these young offenders are parents. We reduced recidivism for this specific population from 54 percent to less than 10 percent. The national DA’s association has designated “Back on Track” as a national model.

My vote in this crowded Attorney General’s field will be almost entirely predicated on each candidate’s approach to the prison crisis.  Will they reverse the “tough on crime” myth and start talking about sentencing reform?  Will they discuss serious options to reform parole?  Will they bring up innovative strategies around re-entry and recidivism that would put the focus on rehabilitation and spend on the front end to save on the back end (Hint: check with Kansas)?  Will they touch the third rail of the failed drug war by moving toward decriminalization and keeping tabs on those who commit crimes with victims instead of nonviolent drug abuse?

I eagerly await the answers.

CA-AG: Eleventy-Billionth Candidate Enters Race

For some reason, Attorney General has become the most coveted job in California.  I’m counting EIGHT Democratic candidates either announcing or strongly hinting toward announcing for the primary.  There’s Kamala Harris and Ted Lieu and Alberto Torrico and Pedro Nava and Joe Canciamilla and Rocky Delgadillo among the announced.  There’s Chris Kelly, the chief privacy officer for Facebook (the website that keeps trying to invade your privacy), hinting at an announcement.  And now my city councilman Bobby Shriver is talking about getting in.

Bobby Shriver, the nephew of President John F. Kennedy and the brother of California first lady Maria Shriver, is mulling a run for state attorney general next year, according to his political adviser […]

“There’s been a wide variety of people who have come to him and who he has used as a sounding board to talk about the job of attorney general and the role it takes, the profile it has in terms of moving California forward,” said Harvey Englander, a Democratic political strategist who managed both of Shriver’s successful runs for Santa Monica City Council.

Englander, who described himself as “very close” to Shriver, called the role of California’s top cop “a very powerful position” and one that is “closest to fitting his profile.”

I should say that Shriver is not seen as a progressive ally on the city council.  The Santa Monica Democratic Club did not endorse him in his run for re-election, and nor did Santa Monica for Renter’s Rights.  I wouldn’t say he’s been terrible on the council, but he doesn’t have a grassroots base.  He has been quite good throughout his career on environmental issues, and his vote to reject the proposed Toll Road through the Trestles while on the state parks board earned him removal from his brother-in-law, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In such a crowded field, his name may help with low-information voters.  It will not help, according to other campaigns in the race with winning the overall primary:

As for Shriver, with whom (Torrico campaign consultant Phil) Giarrizzo said he has worked on environmental issues, “he’s a talented, bright, articulate person, but we’ve seen many times, in the sense that ‘he’s a Kennedy,’ that people look to accomplishment, they look to a record,” Giarrizzo said. Primary voters tend to be very discerning, he noted, and “it doesn’t work that you can just pass along a family name; he will have to run on his own merits … a level of experience he’ll have to communicate. I don’t think we look at him as ‘a Kennedy’ – I think we look at him as Bobby Shriver, an activist and city councilman.”

I would look to leadership in assessing these candidates.  You have Ted Lieu traveling to Washington to meet with Administration officials and get them to raise the threshold on homeowners underwater in their homes eligible for help from the Obama housing plan.  You have Alberto Torrico trying to get oil companies to actually pay for the natural resources they take out of our ground.  And of course, there are the key issues that will face the next Attorney General, particularly in ending the prison crisis through responsible leadership instead of insane “tough on crime” policies that fail our state.  I don’t much care for names and profiles as much as I do leadership.

Asm. Torrico Goes After The Oil Severance Tax – Again

It was hard to follow what was in and out of the budget in those final hours, but as it turned out, the oil severance tax, which at some point was part of the negotiations, ended up out of it.  So we remain the only oil-producing state in the country to not charge corporations for taking our natural resources out of the ground.  Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico is trying to change that by introducing a bill that would tax oil companies and use the proceeds to fund higher education.  This was first reported on John Myers’ Twitter feed, but now California Chronicle has a full report.

With California spending almost as much incarcerating inmates in prisons as it does educating students in higher education, Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico introduced legislation today to expand funding for community colleges, the California State University and University of California.

“California is on the wrong track heading in the wrong direction,” Majority Leader Torrico said. “Our prisons are overflowing and yet we are turning away students at our universities. The Master Plan for Higher Education is becoming a distant memory. This is not a sustainable path for California. We must invest more in higher education. It is a solid down payment on our economic future.”

The recently passed state budget contained a 10 percent across the board cut for the UC and CSU systems and reductions for community colleges.

The increased funding from the bill, AB 656, would be derived from a severance tax on oil extracted within California. California, the third-largest oil producing state in the country, is the only state where oil is extracted without a tax.

“My bill will bring California in line with more than 20 other oil-extracting states,” Torrico said. “When other states are charging over 12 percent from multi-billion dollar oil companies, we should be doing more to receive funds for our natural resources.”

While I’d rather put the money into the General Fund rather than a specific sector, I can’t imagine a more rational and simple idea.  Nevertheless, I’m sure the Yacht Party will try to block it, as they did successfully last year.  That can be a useful vote for the future (“Which side are you on, students or the oil companies”), but it does nothing to move us forward.  Only by ending the conservative veto can common-sense solutions like this help California progress.

Dems Play Soft With Bully Schwarzengger

So the Governor kicks sand in the face of the entire state Legislature, vetoing 130-odd bills with the same generic “Sorry, I couldn’t persuade any Republicans on the budget so now you will pay” message, including some which were passed out unanimously, and the leadership’s response is not “Time to override” but… “Oh yeah, well just try that again!”

Of course, the governor has always made it clear he prefers campaigning to governing. That has to change if we have any hope of solving California’s challenges. The people of California deserve better than constant campaign mode. The people of California deserve better than staged fights for the cameras.

I’m willing to look past all this and hope we can see a new start. Part of that should involve the new bipartisan blue-ribbon commission I’ve been pursuing to look at tax modernization and two year budgeting and other potential solutions to California’s chronic fiscal crises. The governor has been supportive of that effort, and it’s a good place for us to move forward from.

I will also be asking Assembly members to reintroduce all the blanket-veto bills and will expedite their passage so the governor can have a second chance to act responsibly on them.

That is weak from Karen Bass.  There is absolutely no reason not to go back into a lame-duck session in November after the elections and get this done.  Otherwise you are enabling a bully.  At least some lawmakers get this:

Assembly Majority Floor Leader Alberto Torrico vowed today to push for a bipartisan legislative backlash against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger by overturning many of his recent vetoes.

“We’re all very frustrated, both Democrats and Republicans,” the Fremont Democrat said at a news conference this morning. “I don’t think there’s going to be any problem attaining the votes for an override.” […]

Torrico said that when the Legislature reconvenes in January, he will push for overriding vetoes of both Democratic and Republican bills that received two-thirds support in the Legislature. Dozens of bills could qualify, he said.

Torrico said that he had not yet discussed the idea at length with legislative leadership, but “I think that’s going to be the first order of business upon our return.”

Sadly, Torrico doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  The bills expire at the end of the legislative session and cannot be taken up in January.

Just leaves you brimming with confidence, doesn’t it?

Instead of just stamping your feet and talking tough, this is a perfect opportunity for action.  Go back to work before November 30 and override these vetoes.