Legislative Analyst Reports: California Facing $58 Billion Budget Deficit Over Next Few Years

‘A steady diet isn’t going to do much – we need liposuction to fix this’

According to a new report released by the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) on Friday, California will likely face a budget deficit of $58 billion over the next few years, with massive spending cuts likely to come because of less than expected tax revenue coming in.

California’s state budget has fluctuated wildly in the past several years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, California saw the largest surpluses in state history, including an unprecedented $31 billion surplus in 2022-2023. However a weakening economy, a massive loss of the state population and companies moving out of state, delayed tax changes and numerous other factors led to a severe deficit the next year. An initial deficit of $25 billion, which was later changed in May to $31.5 billion, rocked the state. While the state managed to continue on with a reduced budget, experts warned that the situation would likely grow worse with continued tax shortcomings.

In a LAO report on Friday, a new projected budget deficit 0f $58 billion over the next few years was announced. According to the report, the biggest factor to blame were delayed state taxes caused by the massive winter storms from the beginning of the year. While California eventually received those taxes, they fell below a whopping $26 billion than expected. Higher borrowing costs and reduced investment in the state also factored in state losses in the years to come.

“This decline is similar to those seen during the Great Recession and dot-com bust,” the report said. “While the slowdown of investment in California companies and corresponding broader economic weakness likely was a primary driver of this decline, another important factor was financial market distress in 2022. Whether the recent weakness will continue is difficult to say. However, the odds do not appear to be in the state’s favor. Past downturns similar to this recent episode have tended to be followed by additional weakness.”

$58 billion projected deficit

Democrats in the state legislature largely brushed off the report on Friday, noting that the state is prepared to deal with budget issues.

“While this latest update to the revenue forecast is not welcome news, California is more prepared than ever to withstand budget challenges and our economy overall is stronger than projected,” said State Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego). “We will have a clearer picture of our situation as we approach the budget deadline next June. But with our record reserves and other budgeting tools, we, along with our partners in the Assembly and the Administration, will work through these challenges while protecting middle class taxpayers and our progress on core programs that help all Californians.”

Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) was also optimistic, adding that “California is more prepared than ever to navigate this latest challenge, given the state’s record reserves of $37.8 billion. When the next budget is due in June 2024, there will be a more crystallized understanding of our revenues and overall economic landscape.

“I remain committed to working with my Assembly, Senate and administration colleagues on a 2024 budget that protects classroom funding and prioritizes support for core health care, safety net and public safety programs.”

However, Republican and some Democrats countered that the deficit should not be taken lightly and that less spending is needed rather than tapping into the state’s emergency reserves.

“Hopefully, the majority will see it is time for a more realistic budget strategy, instead of throwing money at a laundry list of projects that sounds nice on the national television debate stage,” said Senator Roger Niello (R-Fair Oaks).

While the $58 billion figure is by no means definite, past projects by the LAO have been somewhat conservative, indicating that the figure could grow later next year as the situation becomes more clear.

“In 2020 we had a big $54 billion deficit,” explained accountant Lee Greenman, a California-based accountant who helps city and other regional entities fix budget problems, to the Globe on Friday. “We seemed to have forgotten that as there were two good years of surplus afterwards. But then, last year, right back to the deficit. And now, it looks like another few years like that ahead.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Pay for Cal State presidents has grown at nearly twice the rate as pay for lecturers

In her first year as chancellor of the California State University system, Mildred García will earn just under $1 million in total compensation to lead the nation’s largest system of higher education. 

That’s more than triple Gov. Gavin Newsom’s compensation. It’s also a steep increase from the three previous chancellors who led the 23-campus system.

According to an analysis by CalMatters using publicly available salary data, system leaders and presidents in the Cal State system have seen their pay increase at a higher rate than full-time professors and lecturers over the past 15 years.

While the Cal State system aims for executive salaries to be at the median of comparable institutions nationwide, trends pushing that median upward have resulted in larger salaries for the system’s chancellor and campus presidents.

Cal State is facing backlash for approving student tuition increases earlier this year and simultaneously raising executive pay during a $1.5 billion budget deficit. Meanwhile, the California Faculty Association is preparing to strike for increased pay. The faculty union has four strikes planned for early December at Cal Poly Pomona, San Francisco State, Cal State Los Angeles and Sacramento State.

García inherits a system with a long list of priorities — chief among them, negotiating raises for the 29,000 instructors the faculty union represents. The union said Oct. 31 that 95% of its members who voted approved of strike plans amid negotiations to lift the minimum wages for the lowest-paid instructors and increase salaries generally, among other demands. 

CalMatters reached out for an interview with García, but she declined through Cal State spokesperson Amy Bentley-Smith.  

“The CSU should use the budget … for direct instruction and student advancement, not for continued expansion of administrative bloat and endless administrative positions at the Chancellor’s Office and on all 23 campuses.” CHARLES TOOMBS, FACULTY UNION PRESIDENT AND AFRICANA STUDIES PROFESSOR AT SAN DIEGO STATE

At the Cal State Board of Trustees meeting in July,  faculty and union members criticized executive salary increases at the university system. At that meeting, the board voted in favor of the chancellor’s compensation package and discussed a proposal to increase student tuition.

“The CSU should use the budget it receives from the state for direct instruction and student advancement,” said Charles Toombs, faculty union president and Africana studies professor at San Diego State, “not for continued expansion of administrative bloat and endless administrative positions at the Chancellor’s Office and on all 23 campuses.”  

Additionally, student leader Dominic Treseler said at the July meeting a tuition hike beginning in Fall 2024 would adversely affect students. 

“Students should not bear the inequitable burden of addressing revenue shortfalls for the system,” said Treseler, president of the Cal State Student Association and a senior studying political science at San Jose State. Nevertheless, the board voted in September to increase tuition by 34% over five years. 

Rate of salary increases for instructors lag behind executives 

Cal State presidents have seen their base salaries grow by an average of 43% between 2007 and 2022, translating to an average $119,882 salary increase per campus president over that time. 

In 2022, all 23 presidents received a 7% raise. Additionally, 14 of the presidents who underwent three-year reviews received additional equity increases between 6.7% and 20%.

“Even after making the general salary increases and other market adjustments, 17 campus presidents remain below their peer group median salary,” Bentley-Smith wrote in an email statement.https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/IGqiA/4/

The Cal State chancellor has seen significant salary increases over the same 15-year period — increasing 38% from a $451,500 base salary for former chancellor Charles Reed in 2007 to a $625,000 base salary for interim chancellor Jolene Koester in 2022. 

The Cal State Board of Trustees allotted an additional 27% salary bump in July 2023 when they approved a $795,000 base salary for García. Additionally, $80,000 in deferred compensation, a $96,000 annual housing allowance, and a $1,000 monthly auto stipend brought her total compensation package to just under $1 million a year.

In comparison, instructor salaries have been slower to grow. On average, lecturer salaries at Cal State increased by 22% within the past 15 years, translating to a $13,000 pay bump for the system’s 3,000 full-time lecturers. In Fall 2022, full-time lecturers earned an average of $71,255.  

Meanwhile, professor pay has risen at a rate of 30% since 2007, going from an average of $93,643 to  $122,016 in Fall 2022. Full professors, the top rank on the tenure track, at Cal State are the highest-paid faculty while lecturers are the lowest. 

“Yeah, I can’t even describe how bad it feels. But it feels horrible. But here I am.”CLAIRE GARRIDO-ORTEGA, CO-PRESIDENT OF THE FACULTY UNION AT CAL STATE LONG BEACH AND HEALTH SCIENCE LECTURER

Even for students, the pay disparity between on-the-ground faculty is concerning. 

“It’s kind of crazy to expect our faculty members to be able to perform so well at such a low compensation rate,”  Treseler said.

Claire Garrido-Ortega, co-president of the faculty union at Cal State Long Beach and health science lecturer, said in her 18 years of teaching in higher education, she has only received one pay increase as a result of union bargaining in 2020.

“Yeah, I can’t even describe how bad it feels,” she said. “But it feels horrible. But here I am.”

Cal State spent about a third of its $12 billion budget on salaries and wages during the 2022-23 year. Of that expense, nearly half, or just over $2 billion, went to faculty. Staff expenses came to one-third, at $1.4 billion. Most of the rest of the funds went to other employees, including student assistants. The smallest slice,  just 0.3%, or $14.3 million, covered executive salaries. While the executive expenses increased by $3 million over the past five years, the net percentage of the budget did not increase.

A 2022 systemwide review of staff salaries in the Cal State system found that they “have not kept pace with general industry or with other higher education institutions” over the past 15 years. Of the employees who responded, 96% agreed the CSU lacks “an appropriate and consistent process for advancing the pay of employees.”https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/TIatS/3/

Cal State isn’t the only system in the state rewarding executives with raises. Within the past decade, University of California chancellors, equivalent to CSU presidents, had an average salary increase of 73%, or $233,738, between 2012 and 2022. 

In July 2020, UC Regents approved an $890,000 base salary for UC President Michael Drake, the system leader, a steep increase from his predecessor Janet Napolitano, who earned a base salary of $570,000 in 2019. 

Salaries for executives are increasing nationwide  

In spite of outcry from faculty and students over recent decisions from the board of trustees, pay for university executives has consistently increased across the country.

From 2010 to 2019, compensation for college presidents across 49 states, excluding Hawaii, increased 56%, according to an analysis published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The average salary for a college president rose from $543,000 in 2010, to $715,000 in 2019, an increase 32% above the rate of inflation, according to the article’s authors Judith Wilde and James Finkelstein, professors at George Mason University in Virginia. 

Part of what is driving salaries upward is the trend of campuses looking for candidates with corporate leadership experience, Wilde said. 

“People in those kinds of positions are used to seeing higher salaries,” Wilde said. “They see that most large universities have overall budgets of many millions if not into the billions of dollars.” 

Despite the nationwide upward trend, the reality is that California institutions are still on the lower end of the base salary nationally, according to Wilde, particularly in the Cal State system. She added that California generally has a higher cost of living than other states yet salaries do not reflect that fact when compared to administrators at other state institutions.

“The most ridiculous set of contracts we see are out of Florida. California is not anywhere near up to that,” Wilde said. “They’re low, particularly if you are thinking about the Cal State system, which has lower pay than the UC system.”

Presidential pay at Cal State is determined by the median salary of comparable institutions nationally, in addition to the candidate’s reputation, breadth of experience and other accomplishments, according to CSU compensation policy.

“We are a state institution at the end of the day and we have to be fiscally prudent with our resources,” Cal State’s Bentley-Smith said. “So we need to attract and retain the brightest and most talented in order to serve our mission and so we need to pay accordingly to attract those people.”

Bentley-Smith declined to answer whether executive salaries could be capped in the future, stating any policy change on executive pay would need to be initiated by the board of trustees.   

“The more we’re asked to do, the more society yells at us and says, ‘Oh, you’re failing at your mission,’ while you’re asking us to do a lot.”LYNN MAHONEY, SAN FRANCISCO STATE UNIVERSITY’S PRESIDENT

For Cal State presidents, each campus is grouped with comparable universities across the nation to assess the median salary.  The median salaries of the comparison groups sit at $498,269 on the high end and $370,234 on the low end.

In comparison, the average base salary for presidents in Texas public universities rounded to $670,000 in 2022. Additionally, three of the nation’s highest-paid presidents that year were in Texas. The University of North Texas, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Houston all paid their presidents over $1 million in base salary, also well above the $608,426 average of presidents in the UC system in 2022. 

At Cal State, presidents meet with the chancellor during the first year of appointment to discuss campus-specific goals and set starting compensation. For new presidents, base salary is not permitted to exceed their predecessor’s by more than 10% unless “extraordinary circumstances” arise – including the president’s recognized ability. 

A year later, they reconvene to discuss progress, after which reviews are conducted every three years, according to Cal State policy. Presidential reviews entail feedback from student and campus leadership as well as alumni.

Along with increases in salary, presidents are often granted additional compensation and perks during contract negotiations that can dramatically increase their full compensation. Presidents can consult with personal lawyers for added benefits such as exit agreements, allowing presidents to remain at their respective schools in the form of a teaching position, in some cases, even if removed for a specific reason. 

Former Cal State chancellor Joseph Castro resigned as the system’s leader in February 2022 after allegations he mishandled sexual harassment complaints. Castro then exercised his “retreat rights” to become a faculty member at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he started teaching in spring 2023. 

Wilde said there are typically no metrics to determine if a president is reaching the goals of the university. Executive contracts involving performance bonuses or incentives list things generally, such as increasing enrollment, without specific benchmarks. Wilde expects executive pay to continue the upward trends seen nationally.

Finklestein added that a president’s goals are often considered a private matter among the board and not made public. He said this further perpetuates the treatment of campus presidents as corporate executives rather than a leader of an educational institution.

The role of the campus president

San Francisco State University’s president, Lynn Mahoney, joined the campus in May 2019. Mahoney, who earns a base salary of $463,585, says her salary is at the median of comparable institutions.

Mahoney said her job includes four main roles: hiring and mentoring the campus leadership, promoting the university’s mission to external stakeholders, providing basic needs for students and guiding the campus as a moral and political leader.

“So my typical day is meeting, meeting, meeting, meeting,” Mahoney said.

She says over the past five years, increasing demands of presidents have made the job more difficult. Mahoney said colleges increasingly provide students’ basic needs, as well as moral and political guidance for the campus community during turbulent times locally, nationally and abroad.

In addition, she said she holds a lot of responsibility in her oversight of a $300 million budget, the success of 23,000 students and the well-being of all the employees.

“The more we’re asked to do, the more society yells at us and says, ‘Oh, you’re failing at your mission,’ while you’re asking us to do a lot,” Mahoney said. “So there’s another piece now to being a university president that is so much harder, and so much more complicated than it ever was before.”

Mahoney added that while base salaries for campus executives may be high, it’s a necessary tool for the system to recruit on a national stage. According to Mahoney, in hiring for her own campus, she’s lost candidates to campuses that could offer higher salaries and in states with lower costs of living than California. She thinks Chancellor García is the type of candidate many campuses across the nation would have loved to hire. 

“If the next state over is going to pay $900,000 or more, $1.2 million, how is the CSU going to recruit the kind of quality chancellor it needs to serve the largest, most impactful state university system?” Mahoney said.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

The Biden Family Grift and Hunter’s Fake Offer To Testify

Hunter Biden’s offer to testify before the House Oversight Committee is a clever evasion, nothing more. The president’s son says he will testify only if the hearing is publicly televised. Nice try. Subpoenaed witnesses don’t get to set the terms. The committee does.

Why make an offer that is bound to be rejected? For two reasons. The PR goal is for Hunter to appear willing to testify, when he actually wants desperately to avoid it. The legal goal is to prevent, or at least delay, the committee from enforcing its subpoena. Hunter and his hardball attorney, Abbe Lowell, probably figure the Biden administration’s Department of Justice won’t go to court and demand compliance. That’s not a bad bet. If the DOJ does refuse, the House will go to court itself, but that will take time and may not succeed.

This kerfuffle over testimony is only the latest twist in the investigation of Biden family influence peddling. The complexity of that family operation makes it easy to lose sight of what we know, what we don’t, and how deeply the president himself is involved.

It is useful to unpack the whole operation because it has lots of moving parts, law enforcement has covered it up, and the legacy media has remained deaf, dumb, and blind. Here’s an overview.

Hunter Biden is the center of multiple investigations, but his sleazy activities only matter politically if they implicate his father. There are really three overriding questions about his father and the law enforcement agencies that have looked into the alleged corruption.

  1. What did Joe Biden know about the millions flowing into his family from overseas, based solely on their connection to him?
  2. What, if anything, did Joe do to aid this family operation?
  3. Why did several top law enforcement agencies stifle legitimate investigations into this corruption?

The crucial points, as the investigation stands now, are that the Biden family earned tens of millions by selling its “brand”; the brand consisted solely of the family’s connection to Joe’s political power; Joe knew about that sales pitch and aided it, despite his denials. But there is very little evidence, so far, that he personally benefited from this family grift.

Without that direct evidence, an impeachment vote on the House floor would likely fail and, in any event, would be very costly politically. There is no chance the Senate would vote to remove the president without ample evidence that Joe himself committed corrupt acts. It’s not enough to show he met with Hunter’s business partners or lied about what he knew. He did both, but that’s not enough.

What do we know? What is still uncertain? And what happens next?

  • The family members who earned this money had no marketable skills except their relation to the second-highest official in the U.S. government under Barack Obama.
  • Nearly all of the Biden family income came from foreign sources – and not just any foreign sources. It came from countries where corruption was pervasive, where oligarchs earned big money from it, and where Vice President Biden had primary responsibility for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.
  • Hunter Biden traveled to many of these countries on Air Force Two. Arriving with his father on that plane conveyed Hunter’s ultimate insider status. That, of course, is what foreign partners were buying since Hunter had no other expertise.
  • Joe Biden has consistently and vociferously denied he knew anything at all about these extensive, multi-year efforts to monetize his name and influence. There is ample evidence to refute that assertion. More on that later.
  • To earn serious money, Hunter needed to do more than flaunt his family name. He needed to show his clients he maintained a close, working relationship with his father.
  • Joe demonstrated that working relationship in at least two ways: making phone calls to his son’s business meetings and facilitating meetings for Hunter’s associates at the White House.
  • On several occasions, Vice President Biden went further. On one official trip to California, he met with Hunter’s business partner, Tony Bobulinski, who says he and Joe discussed Hunter’s overseas business venture with Bobulinski, but only in general terms.
  • Closer to home, the Vice President dined with Ukrainian Burisma executive Vadym Pozharskyi and Hunter in a private room at Georgetown’s chic Café Milano (April 2015). “The Bidens are also said to have met with Kazakh oligarch Kenes Rakishev and former Kazakhstan prime minister Karim Massimov at Milano,” according to the New York Post.
  • After many such meetings, Hunter received substantial payments. Here’s just one instance. “Kazakh businessman Kenes Rakishev inexplicably wired $142,000 to Hunter Biden in April 2014 so he could buy himself a sports car. Mr. Rakishev sent the money around the same time then-Vice President Joe Biden dined with him at a Washington restaurant at Hunter Biden’s request.”
  • As the foreign income flowed in, Hunter took extensive steps to conceal its sources and distribution to various family members. He had no legitimate business reason to open dozens of bank accounts or form multiple LLCs. They were used to move money between accounts, hiding the sources and ultimate recipients.
  • Banks are familiar with transactions like this and were troubled enough to contact the U.S. Treasury, filing well over a hundred “suspicious activity reports.”
  • Since SARs often signal money laundering, the Treasury routinely investigates them, especially when they are so numerous. Not in Hunter’s case. Later, when an IRS team probing Hunter’s taxes sought to follow up, they were blocked by the Departments of Justice and Treasury.
  • Family members who received these foreign funds made sizable payments to Joe, marking the checks as “repayment of debts.” That claim is still ambiguous since no supporting documents have been made public.
  • Joe Biden made extensive efforts to hide any traces of personal involvement in his family’s enterprise, using burner phones and fake email names and addresses. The content of those messages is still secret.
  • Senior officials at the Department of Justice, FBI, IRS, and Department of Treasury have consistently blocked investigation of payments and transfers to Hunter and, even more intensively, to Joe. In several cases, lawyers in the U.S. attorney’s office explicitly said they would prohibit investigative steps that might touch on Joe Biden.
  • When IRS tax investigators prepared to raid a location where Hunter stored documents and conduct surprise interviews with his business associates, some administration officials tipped off Hunter’s team. The documents then disappeared, and the associates became unavailable. This disclosure was improper and almost certainly illegal. No one has been investigated for it.
  • The DOJ and senior IRS officials repeatedly blocked the IRS forensic team from undertaking investigative measures that would be routinely approved for other targets. One involved a direct threat Hunter made to a Chinese business partner, demanding a major payment. Hunter added leverage to the threat by saying his father was sitting beside him during the phone call and that Joe and Hunter would work together to harm the partner’s reputation if he didn’t send a large sum immediately. (He sent it.) When the IRS team investigating Hunter’s taxes learned of that call, they sought permission to use GPS data to determine if Joe Biden was actually sitting near his son at the time. They were denied permission without explanation. Photos taken later that day show Joe and Hunter were together in Delaware.
  • After the IRS investigative team had been blocked multiple times, they sought and received whistleblower status from Congress. The IRS and Department of Justice retaliated by removing the entire team from the tax investigation they had been conducting for five years.
  • IRS leaders falsely claimed the agents had no authority to request whistleblower status from Congress. In fact, requests like theirs are the purpose of the whistleblower act.
  • When two IRS investigative agents finally testified before Congress, it was obvious they were non-partisan professionals with no political agenda. They were simply following normal procedures but facing unprecedented obstructions without legitimate explanations.
  • The lead prosecutor in the Hunter Biden case, David Weiss, U.S. attorney for Delaware, was originally appointed by President Trump. Biden’s defenders stress that point. They omit that his name was put forward by Delaware’s two Democratic Senators. Whoever is responsible for Weiss’ appointment is less important than his painfully slow pace and inaction. Those speak for themselves.
  • Weiss has taken over five years to investigate charges, some of which could have been filed within months. He inexplicably allowed the statute of limitations to expire on several major tax charges, leaving some taxes unpaid.
  • Weiss dropped nearly all other charges, including Hunter Biden’s representation of foreign businesses. Those should have been prosecuted under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
  • Weiss’ office proposed a sweetheart deal with Hunter Biden, which fell apart when the federal judge asked basic questions about whether the U.S. attorney was granting Hunter immunity on all other crimes.
  • Another of Weiss’ failures involved his failure to obtain testimony from Hunter’s partner, Tony Bobulinski, who spoke on national television about his business relationship with Hunter and his meetings with Joe and Hunter about that business. Those public statements showed Bobulinski had information directly relevant to Weiss’ investigation. Yet the U.S. attorney never bothered to contact him. Faced with that stonewall, Bobulinski reached out to Weiss’ team and offered to testify. They never returned his calls. Bobulinski still hasn’t testified before a grand jury.
  • As far as we know, neither Weiss nor the DOJ has investigated the accuracy of written notations that divided shares in some lucrative foreign business deals. The notes indicated that, in addition to Hunter’s own share, he would pocket an additional 10% for “the Big Guy.” Hunter is known to use that term for his father, and his business partners understood the term that way.
  • Hunter also communicated privately with his daughter, complaining about having to share his earnings with his father. It is unclear if his claim is true or if the DOJ undertook any inquiries.
  • Weiss and Attorney General Merrick Garland falsely informed House investigators that Weiss had full authority to bring criminal charges against Biden family members outside the US attorney’s home district in Delaware. When he actually tried to do that, however, he was blocked by Biden-appointed U.S. attorneys in California and D.C. That could not have happened if Weiss and Garland’s testimony were true.
  • To overcome these roadblocks, Weiss then went to top officials at the DOJ and requested authority to bring charges outside Delaware. He was denied. The request and denial further contradict claims by both Weiss and Attorney General Garland to Congress, stating Weiss had full authority to file those charges in other districts. He didn’t, and Main Justice declined to give it to him.
  • Weiss did finally receive that authority, but only after the DOJ was publicly humiliated by the IRS whistleblowers’ testimony.
  • After Weiss received that authority, he opened a grand jury investigation of Hunter Biden in California, probably for tax issues and perhaps for FARA violations.

Joe Biden’s defense against this tsunami of family corruption is that he loves his son, that his son’s mistakes are attributable to his drug addiction, that any evidence of family corruption on Hunter’s laptop was Russian disinformation (a claim now disproven by multiple forensic investigations), and that there is no proof Joe himself was ever involved in influence peddling, benefited from it, or even knew about it.

The DOJ, IRS, FBI, and Treasury Department have offered no explanation for their sustained efforts to prevent investigations that would touch on Joe Biden, to block standard procedures by IRS specialists, and to let the statute of limitations expire on major charges, including some that let federal tax obligations go unpaid. They have not explained why FARA charges against Hunter disappeared despite ample evidence of violations.

James Comer (R-KY), who heads the House Oversight Committee and leads the impeachment inquiry, appears to be nearing the conclusion of his investigation. Over the past two weeks, he issued subpoenas to Hunter Biden, Hunter’s business partners, James Biden (Joe’s brother), and other witnesses with direct knowledge of the family’s transactions. He has also sought their bank records. Zeroing in on these key witnesses normally signals the impending conclusion of an investigation.

The latest subpoenas raise hard questions. The first is whether all the witnesses, including Hunter Biden, will comply. The second is whether, if some refuse, the Department of Justice will enforce the subpoenas, as they should. If the DOJ declines, the committee could go directly to federal court and seek enforcement, but that’s time-consuming and requires approval by heavily Democratic courts in D.C. The committee will argue it has a clear legislative purpose (impeachment) and a right to see the documents and hear from witnesses under oath to fulfill that purpose.

The final and most vexing question is whether the committee has gathered sufficient evidence to propose impeachment. That is ultimately a political decision, and not an easy one. Although the Republicans almost certainly win that vote in committee, they have only a three-vote majority on the House floor (and only two if George Santos is expelled, as seems likely). They would need uniform Republican support to move forward. All Democrats would oppose them.

It is far from certain all House Republicans would vote for impeachment. More than a dozen were elected from districts Biden won in 2020. Those vulnerable representatives know that impeaching the president would distract from other public business, alienate some centrist voters, and die in the Senate.

Many Republicans have yet another reservation. They don’t want to do anything to drive Biden out of the 2024 race since they believe he is the weakest Democrat candidate.

Click here to read the full article in Real Clear Politics

DeSantis vs Newsom face off on abortion, transgenderism, wokeness and more

While the debate between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom was unfolding on Fox News, the DeSantis campaign unveiled merchandise poking fun at Newsom for the state of San Francisco’s streets.

“Thinking about visiting California?” the DeSantis campaign’s website said. “You’re going to need a pair of these. Order your California walking socks before you’re dodging feces in San Francisco!”

The socks, which cost $37 on the campaign’s website, were a reference to an exchange between the two governors related to which of their state’s is the most free.

“Gavin Newsom, at one point tried to say that California was the freedom state. I just kind of laugh like you’re locking people down you’re doing all this but then I thought about it, California does have freedoms,” DeSantis said on the debate stage.

“California does have freedoms that some people don’t, that other states don’t. You have the freedom to defecate in public In California, you have the freedom to pitch a tent on Sunset Boulevard. You have the freedom to create a homeless encampment under a freeway and even light it on fire. You have the freedom to have an open air drug market and use drugs. You have a freedom if you’re an illegal alien to get all these taxpayer benefits. So those are freedoms. They’re not the freedoms our founding fathers envisioned, but they have contributed to the destruction of the quality of life in California and the results speak for themselves.”

Gov. Newsom responded by sarcastically saying he “loves” DeSantis’s “rant'” on freedom.”Here’s a guy who’s criminalizing teachers, criminalizing doctors, criminalizing librarians, and criminalizing women that seek their reproductive care,” Newsom said. “You’re making it harder to vote. You’re banning books. I mean, spare me this notion of freedom.”

Click here to read the full article on Fox News

Newsom’s plan to crack down on flesh-eating ‘zombie drug’ known as ‘tranq’

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday that he will sponsor a bill to increase penalties for trafficking the deadly, flesh-eating animal tranquilizer, xylazine, more commonly known as “tranq.”

Although Newsom rarely sponsors bills, he said that this action was necessary in combating the increasing overdose deaths across the state caused by the drug.

“Tranq poses a unique and devastating challenge in our fight against the overdose epidemic,” said Newsom in a statement. “Although California is not yet seeing tranq at the same rates as other parts of the country, this legislation will help the state stay ahead and curb dealers and traffickers, while we work to provide treatment and resources for those struggling with addiction and substance abuse.”

Xylazine is not approved for human consumption, according to the FDA. It can cause dangerously low blood pressure, a decrease in breathing rate and heart rate, and damage to tissue that can lead to skin wounds, large sores and ulcers when consumed by people, authorities say.


Additionally, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) says xylazine is increasingly being mixed with fentanyl, making it even more dangerous.

Click here to read the full article in Fox 11

California Supreme Court agrees to consider pulling tax measure from 2024 ballot

In a rare action, the state Supreme Court granted a hearing Wednesday on a request by Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic legislators to remove an initiative from the November 2024 state ballot that would require voter approval for any increase in state or local taxes or fees.

The justices denied their request to immediately cancel the vote on the ballot measure, but told its sponsors and state election officials to “show cause before this court” why the measure should go before the voters. Written arguments are due by mid-February, with a hearing to follow. All seven justices signed the order.

The initiative, a proposed state constitutional amendment supported by business groups, has collected enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. But Newsom and the Legislature’s Democratic majority contend the measure would so drastically weaken the historic powers of the state’s elected leaders and lawmakers that it would amount to a “revision” of the California Constitution, which cannot be done by initiative.

The court usually waits until voters approve a ballot measure before deciding whether it is constitutional. But in 2018 the justices removed a ballot-qualified initiative that proposed to divide California into three states.

The court never decided whether the measure would amount to a constitutional revision, rather than just an amendment, because its sponsor dropped the plan after it was removed from the ballot. A revision would require two-thirds legislative approval before being submitted to the voters.

“This radical effort led by wealthy business interests impermissibly seeks to completely restructure our system of government in a way that will hobble the state’s ability to respond to future crises,” Omar Rodriguez, a spokesperson for Newsom, said in a statement Wednesday. “We are pleased the Court decided to hear this important case.”

Sponsors of the measure, including Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, said the court’s action “threatens the voters’ constitutional right to act as a check and balance for the governor and Legislature.”

“We will continue to defend the right and voice of voters to the Court and ensure that this highly popular and much-needed measure appears before voters next November,” said Lapsley, joined by leaders of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the California Business Properties Association.

Current law allows the Legislature to increase state taxes by a two-thirds majority vote. The proposed ballot measure would retain that standard but would also require a majority of California voters to approve the increase before it could take effect.

State law does not now require legislative or voter approval of state or local regulatory actions with financial effects, such as an increase in licensing fees. The ballot measure would classify those actions as taxes requiring approval from state or local lawmakers, by a two-thirds majority in some cases.

And it would apply retroactively. Any tax or fee by a state or local government since the start of 2022 would be canceled unless approved within 12 months by the voters or lawmakers cited in the ballot measure.

That provision “poses an immediate threat to vital state and local services that are so important to our cities’ residents,” mayors of San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and several other cities said in a filing with the court. If the measure remains on the ballot, they said, “Our cities will be forced to reassess and potentially slash lawfully prepared budgets” even before the election to avoid financial emergencies if voters approve the measure.

“The measure’s limitations on the ability to approve new taxes will have devastating effects on K-12 education finance,” the California School Boards Association said in a filing urging the court to hear the case and remove the measure from the ballot.

In an emergency petition in September, lawyers for Newsom and state lawmakers said that if the measure became law, “administrative agencies would lose the power to do much of the work they do today under legislative delegated authority, such as assessing fees for the disposal of hazardous waste (at the state level) and setting fees for trash collection or charges for health care at public hospitals (at the local level).”

State officials said the retroactivity standard would apply to 15 bills already signed by Newsom that could affect fees or taxes, and at least 131 such measures passed by local governments since the start of last year.

But supporters of the measure said similar predictions of financial disasters proved to be unfounded after voters approved, and the court upheld, Proposition 13, the 1978 initiative that slashed property taxes in California to no more than 1% of assessed value and limited increases to 2% per year. A follow-up measure, Prop. 218 in 1996, requires voter approval for any new city or county taxes, and a two-thirds majority for taxes that would raise money for specific local programs.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

Former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo likely to enter race for Congress

The battle to replace the retiring Rep. Anna Eshoo in a South Bay House seat next year is likely to draw another big name: former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. 

Liccardo, who was termed out of office last year, will be the guest at a fundraiser Sunday at the home of Cooper Teboe, a top Silicon Valley fundraiser whose clients include Rep. Ro Khanna. He is expected to form an exploratory committee before then, Eric Jaye, a longtime Democratic political consultant who has advised Liccardo on his two mayoral runs, told the Chronicle on Tuesday.

Jaye, a former adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, said Liccardo is consulting with thought leaders and others in the region about whether to run. 

“Is he very serious? You bet. Is he doing all the things a candidate does when they are very seriously looking at a race? For sure,” Jaye said. “He’s going to do his due diligence.” 

That includes raising money.

“I would love to invite you to come meet him and encourage you to donate to his campaign (I am personally giving a maxout donation),” Teboe wrote on the fundraiser invitation, which was first reported by business news site San Jose Spotlight.

While Liccardo has not yet filed the requisite paperwork to become a candidate, he has made no secret of his desire to run for Congress. Earlier this year, he told Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, that he had commissioned a poll on running against her and was considering a challenge. 

Lofgren told Spotlight: “I plan to run and I don’t usually run to lose.” 

Now Liccardo, 53, is eyeing another of the four House districts that represent portions of San Jose. Eshoo, 80, announced last week that she would not seek reelection next year. 

While Liccardo has some level of name recognition as the two-term mayor of California’s third-largest city, San Jose is split between four House districts. Jaye estimates that 36% to 40% of Eshoo’s House district is in the city of San Jose. Liccardo does not live in the district.  Members of the House are not required to live in the districts they represent.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, a friend of Eshoo’s, announced Wednesday that he also plans to run.

Simitian has $681,003 cash on hand in his House fundraising account — more than Eshoo ($599,672), according to campaign filings. Simitian has represented 85% of the congressional district over the more than two decades that he served in the Assembly, state Senate and on the Board of Supervisors. 

Assembly Member Evan Low, D-Sunnyvale, who has served nearly a decade in the Legislature after representing the city of Campbell on its City Council for eight years, is also likely to launch a campaign as soon as next week.

State Sen. Josh Becker, D-Menlo Park, told the Chronicle on Tuesday that he’s been “honored by all the people reaching out to me about the seat. I do love my current job. I’m taking some time to think about it and I haven’t made a decision yet.” 

Jaye said a poll of 400 likely primary voters commissioned by Liccardo’s supporters over the weekend found that he was the favorite among the candidates eyeing the race, with 16% support, followed by Simitian with 12%. No other candidate reached double digits. 

Click here to read the full article in SF Chronicle

Lawsuit accuses UC Berkeley Law School of ‘unchecked spread of anti-Semitism’

A Zionist organization sued the University of California on Tuesday, accusing the UC Berkeley Law School of promoting anti-Semitism and discriminating against Jews by allowing student groups to bar Zionists as speakers at their meetings.

“Zionism is an integral component of Jewish identity,” attorneys for the Louis D. Brandeis Foundation said in a lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco. “Anti-Zionism is discrimination against those who recognize the Jews’ ancestral heritage — in particular the Jews’ historic connection to the land of Israel.”

The suit says it “targets the longstanding, unchecked spread of antisemitism at the University of California Berkeley.”

They cited a policy announced in August 2022 by Law Students for Justice in Palestine and now followed, according to the suit, by 23 of the 100 organizations in the 1,100-student law school. Saying Zionism is used to justify the displacement and oppression of Palestinians, the groups have adopted bylaws saying they would not invite pro-Zionist speakers, who describe Israel as a Jewish state.

The lawsuit said the climate on campus has become more hostile since the Oct. 7 assault on Israel by military forces from Hamas, which rules Gaza, followed by weeks of attacks by Israel’s military on Gaza and the West Bank.

“A Jewish student draped in an Israeli flag was attacked by two protesters who struck him in the head with a metal water bottle,” Brandeis lawyers said. “Jews on campus have been receiving hate emails calling for their gassing and murder. And Jewish students have reported being afraid to go to class, which would require them to pass through the pro-Hamas rallies taking place in Berkeley’s main thoroughfares.”

The lawsuit asked a federal judge to prohibit the university from funding or recognizing “any student organization that excludes Jews.” But the student groups say they do not exclude Jews or Zionists, only pro-Zionist speakers. And UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said Tuesday the university “has long been committed to confronting antisemitism, and to supporting the needs and interests of its Jewish students, faculty, and staff.”

He cited UC Berkeley’s establishment last year of an Antisemitism Education Initiative, the first of its kind by a major university, with workshops and lectures on Zionism and discrimination against Jews. UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said in a message to students Nov. 3 that hateful speech and actions against either Jews or Palestinians “has no place on our campus or in our discourse.”

Christ also said she condemns “the harassment, threats, and doxxing that have targeted our Palestinian students and their supporters,” as well as the “alarming increase in antisemitic expression in our country, in general, and on our college campuses, in particular.”

UC President Michael Drake announced last week that the university was establishing an office to combat discrimination and would provide training against both antisemitism and Islamophobia.

But Steven Solomon, a UC Berkeley law professor and a plaintiff in the suit, said Jewish students at the school are not being protected. 

“The students are cowed, they’re fearful, harassed. Some of them are not attending class,” Solomon told the Chronicle Tuesday. “They’re dehumanized in ways that would not be tolerated for any other group on campus.”

In a column published by the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 16, Solomon described the student groups that rejected Zionist speakers as antisemitic and urged law firms not to hire any of his students who agreed with the groups.

The law school’s dean, Erwin Chemerinsky, has said he disagrees with the student organizations’ exclusion of Zionist speakers — a policy, he told the groups, that might bar him from speaking because he supports “the existence of Israel.” But he has also said they have a right to invite only speakers who agree with their views.

The new lawsuit, with its attacks on the policies and climate at the school, “describes a place that doesn’t exist” and gives short shrift to the students’ constitutional right of free speech, Chemerinsky said Tuesday.

The student groups’ rejection of pro-Zionist speakers was challenged last November in a civil rights complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education by two lawyers, who said in their complaint that the groups’ policies were “contributing to the creation of a hostile environment for Jewish students, faculty and staff.” 

In response to that complaint, Zoha Khalili, an attorney at Palestine Legal, said the student groups “care about human rights” and have a legal and moral right to boycott Zionist speakers.

Chemerinsky said the law school filed its response to the complaint early this year. He said the Department of Education notified a number of law schools this month that their policies were being investigated and that UC Berkeley was not on the list.

But in Tuesday’s lawsuit, the Brandeis Foundation said that in order to join or meet with groups at the Berkeley law school, “Jewish students, faculty, and guest speakers must deny a central part of their cultural, ancestral heritage and a fundamental tenet of their faith.”

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

California struggles to knock Trump off the ballot

A Dec. 28 deadline looms.

The window is narrowing to try to knock former President Donald Trump off California’s March 5 primary ballot.

Democrats across the country have launched several long-shot challenges to Trump’s ballot status over his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. But the deadline for California Secretary of State Shirley Weber to certify which presidential candidates will appear on the ballot is just a month away.

If Weber or the courts don’t act by Dec. 28, attempting to remove Trump could create major logistical challenges as the state prepares voter guides and other materials. Here are two potential scenarios to watch:

Could Weber act alone?

One big question looming over the push to remove Trump from the ballot is the question of who has the authority. Can the top elections officials in each state act unilaterally?

Democratic secretaries of state in pivotal swing states like Arizona and Michigan, have largely been skeptical about trying to exert that authority though. But some of their counterparts have made efforts to remove Trump around the theory that secretaries of states can unilaterally disqualify him on constitutional grounds.

Weber hasn’t taken a definitive stance.

Her office has repeatedly said she is reviewing the issue. “Right now, we’re monitoring the legal cases here and in other states,” Joe Kocurek, Weber’s press secretary, told POLITICO.

California is one of several states where Democrats have attempted to disqualify Trump on the basis that he incited an insurrection when a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol nearly three years ago. If Trump prevails and becomes the Republican nominee, Democrats could try again on the November ballot.

Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung previously told POLITICO that the campaign to remove the former president from the ballot was a “political attack” that was “stretching the law beyond recognition.” Any effort to remove Trump here would surely be challenged in court.

All of the efforts could ultimately be moot because of the conservative control of the U.S. Supreme Court.

What about the court route?

Lawsuits have been filed in about a half-dozen states, California included, aiming to force secretaries of state to remove Trump from primary ballots. The Colorado Supreme Court recently agreed to hear an appeal to a lower court ruling on the issue. The Minnesota Supreme Court dismissed a similar lawsuit this month.

But that might not be the only route: Eleven Democrats in the California Assembly, led by Assemblymember Evan Low, sent state Attorney General Rob Bonta a letter last month urging him to use his authority to seek an expedited state court ruling.

Low said lawmakers are still urging Bonta to act because Trump “continues to be a clear and present danger to free and fair elections in the United States.”

The approach that Low and his co-signers have pitched is unique because Bonta could expedite the court process. As California’s top lawyer, he has automatic standing to proactively ask a court for declaratory relief, a process where a judge can quickly rule on an unresolved legal question.

Lawsuits seeking to knock Trump off the ballot have also been filed in New Mexico and New Hampshire.

Bonta hasn’t publicly responded to the lawmakers’ request. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.

Rick Hasen, director of the Safeguarding Democracy Project at UCLA’s School of Law, said that if the issue isn’t resolved by the courts now it could easily come back after the primary.

Click here to read the full article in Politico

Conservative group is suing to block S.F. grants to Black mothers, trans residents

To support some of its neediest families, San Francisco started a program in 2020 to provide $1,000 a month to 150 pregnant Black and Pacific Islander women, and then to their newborn children. Since then, the city and the state have offered similar subsidies to minority artists and to transgender and nonbinary residents, with a priority for non-white recipients.

But the U.S. Supreme Court altered the legal landscape this June when it ruled that affirmative-action programs that allowed colleges to consider an applicant’s race or ethnicity violated the constitutional rights of white and Asian American students. And now a conservative group is claiming similar constitutional violations by San Francisco and the state of California.

The programs funded by San Francisco and the state “unlawfully choose their beneficiaries based on race, ethnicity, gender/gender identity, and sexual orientation,” an organization called the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation argues in a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court. “Each of the programs … is currently engaging in precisely the kind of intentional racial discrimination the Constitution forbids.”

The suit seeks court orders barring state and city funding of the challenged programs. It was first reported by the nonprofit KFF Health News.

The Supreme Court ruling had a limited impact in California, whose voters had outlawed affirmative action in state colleges and universities in 1996 and refused to reinstate it in 2020. The ruling went further by banning consideration of applicants’ race at private schools like Stanford and the University of Southern California.

But the outcome of the new lawsuit could signal whether state and local governments have any remaining authority to enact programs that benefit minority groups.

The suit was initially filed in May, in apparent anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling. The only response so far has been a filing from the city attorney’s office denying that any of the city’s programs are illegal or unconstitutional. 

“The challenged actions were undertaken in good faith, were neither arbitrary or capricious, were a proper exercise of discretion and represented a good faith and reasonable construction of the applicable laws,” Deputy City Attorney Kaitlyn Murphy wrote in July.

When San Francisco announced its subsidies for pregnant women, called the Abundant Birth Project, officials said Black families accounted for 4% of all childbirths in the city but for more than 15% of infant deaths and half of all maternal deaths each year. Pacific Islander babies had the second-highest premature birth rate in the city at 10.4%, according to the same records.

The project has been funded by the city and philanthropic donations. According to the lawsuit, similar programs have begun in other Bay Area communities and Los Angeles, and the state had provided $5 million in funding as of last November.

“San Francisco denies that the Abundant Birth Project is unlawful or unconstitutional in any manner,” Alex Barrett-Shorter, spokesperson for City Attorney David Chiu, said in a statement Monday. “We look forward to discussing these matters further in court.”

The state Department of Public Health declined to comment on the case.

Another project challenged in the suit was the Guaranteed Income Plan for Artists, which provided $1,000 a month to participating artists. The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the nonprofit that oversees the program, does not limit participants by race or ethnicity — but the suit contended it accomplishes the same thing by asking applicants whether their practice is, in the center’s words, “rooted in a historically marginalized community.”

Yerba Buena and San Francisco Mayor London Breed “largely achieved their intended discriminatory goals,” attorney Bradley Benbrook wrote in the lawsuit. As a result, he said, the grants have been awarded to Native American, Black and LGBTQ artists at rates far above their shares of the city’s population.

But the city attorney’s office said San Francisco no longer funds or takes part in the program and it is run by an independent organization called Creative Communities Coalition for Guaranteed Income.

The city said it has continued funding another target of the lawsuit, a program called Guaranteed Income for Transgender People, or GIFT. It provides $1,200 per month for 18 months to low-income transgender or non-binary residents. The suit said applicants who are non-white or Indigenous are given priority.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle