California lawmakers vote to reduce deficit by $17 billion, but harder choices lie ahead

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers don’t know for sure how big their budget deficit is, but on Thursday they decided it’s big enough to go ahead and reduce spending by about $17 billion.

The vote represents a preemptive strike from Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is trying to get ahead of a stubborn shortfall that has been increasing every month and will likely extend into next year and beyond — when the second-term governor could be eyeing a campaign for the White House.

The true size of the deficit has been difficult to pin down. In January, Newsom insisted it was about $38 billion. But the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office said it was actually $58 billion because Newsom didn’t include some reductions in public education spending. Then in February — after state revenues continued to come in below expectations — the LAO revised its estimate to as much as $73 billion.

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State budgets across the country have tightened as economic growth has slowed and states have exhausted the billions of dollars in aid from the federal government during the coronavirus pandemic. The problem is more pronounced in California, where the budget is easily the largest in the country — and in fact the state’s economy is bigger than most countries.

The deficit could be a liability to Newsom, particularly as he steps into his role as a top surrogate of President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign. Newsom and his allies in the state Legislature have been doing everything possible to reduce the deficit. For instance in December, the governor ordered state agencies to immediately cut costs. And last month, Newsom signed a law raising a tax on companies that manage California’s Medicaid program, raising another $1.5 billion.

Newsom won’t announce an updated deficit number until next month, after Californians have filed their tax returns and state officials have a better idea of how much money they have. Thursday’s vote in the state Legislature means Newsom can announce a number that will be much smaller than it would have been. The $17 billion in reductions lawmakers approved Thursday, combined with the anticipated withdrawal of about $13 billion from the state’s various savings accounts, means Newsom can already count on reducing about $30 billion of the shortfall.

“The reality is that even with the deal, the state still faces a deficit of tens of billions of dollars,” said Chris Hoene, executive director of the California Budget and Policy Center. “They’ve left a lot of hard stuff on the table to be resolved over the next two months.”

There were no headline-grabbing cuts in the reductions lawmakers approved on Thursday. Despite California’s recent budget woes, the Democrats in charge have refused to raise income taxes or impose steep cuts to the most expensive programs, including health care and public education.

Instead, most of the savings comes from either cancelling or delaying spending that was approved in previous years but hasn’t yet been spent. It also relies on a number of accounting tricks to make the shortfall appear smaller, including shifting paychecks for state workers by one day from June 30 to July 1 so the state can count $1.6 billion in salaries for the next fiscal year.

Republicans have long assailed this strategy, arguing that Democrats are just pushing spending into the future in the hopes the deficit will be temporary and revenues will recover quickly. Both the LAO and the Newsom administration have projected multibillion-dollar budget deficits not just this year, but also for next year and the year after that.

“This is really crisis budgeting with optimism,” said Republican state Sen. Roger Niello.

Democratic leaders don’t look at it that way. For much of the past decade, California lawmakers have enjoyed strong surpluses that have enabled a vast expansion of government services. That includes paying for free lunches for all public school students and making all low-income adults eligible for government-funded health insurance regardless of their immigration status.

By delaying spending and shifting expenses to other funds, Democrats say they are protecting essential programs from budget cuts for as long as possible.

“We’re trying to make thoughtful choices here,” said Jesse Gabriel, a Democrat and chair of the Assembly Budget Committee. “One of the worst outcomes here would be to make a cut to a critical program that serves our most vulnerable folks and to later realize that you didn’t need to make that cut.”

Click here to read the full article in AP News

Ex-Trump lawyer Eastman, California bar clash over law license status

April 11 (Reuters) – California state bar prosecutors have asked a judge to reject a bid by John Eastman, a former lawyer for Donald Trump, to restore his ability to practice law as the state’s ethics case against him moves forward.

Eastman was recommended for disbarment last month after a judge found his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election on Trump’s behalf violated attorney conduct rules. That decision by State Bar Court Judge Yvette Roland automatically deactivated Eastman’s law license until the California Supreme Court decides whether to adopt or reject the recommendation.

Eastman last week urged Roland to pause the impact of her order on his license, calling it “highly prejudicial.” He argued that he needs the income from his legal practice to maintain his own legal defense in Fulton County, Georgia, where he is fighting criminal charges over his efforts to reverse Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 election win in the state.

California bar prosecutors pushed back in a Wednesday filing, opens new tab, arguing there is no exception to the rule that “involuntary inactive enrollment is mandatory following a disbarment recommendation,” despite Eastman’s pending appeal in the ethics case.

A lawyer for Eastman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A state bar spokesperson declined to comment.

Eastman, who has pleaded not guilty in the Georgia case and defended his conduct as an attorney, said in his filing last week that he has incurred more than $1 million in criminal defense costs, and expects to pay more than $3 million before that case ends.

State bar prosecutors said Roland’s ruling recommending Eastman’s disbarment showed that the former Trump lawyer has “demonstrated a willingness to misrepresent facts, violate the law, and pursue frivolous claims on behalf of clients.”

A former law professor at Chapman University in California, Eastman drafted legal memos suggesting then-Vice President Mike Pence could refuse to accept electoral votes from several swing states when Congress convened to certify the 2020 vote count. Pence rebuffed his arguments, saying he did not have legal authority to do so under the Constitution.

Trump was also represented by Eastman in a long-shot lawsuit at the U.S. Supreme Court that sought to invalidate votes in four states where the Republican former president had falsely claimed evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Click here to read the full article in Reuters

How California legislators got more than $1.4 million in travel and gifts in 2023

Last June, more than half of California’s lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats alike, with no particular ideological preference — attended a celebratory gala for new Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas. They left with a gift: A personally engraved box worth $85.94.

These gifts are documented in financial disclosures that elected officials in California have to file every March for the previous calendar year. The reports, officially called Form 700, provide insight into gifts, sponsored travel, plus any property they own and stocks they hold.

As part of the new Digital Democracy initiative, CalMatters has extracted the information from these reports into a series of spreadsheets that are accessible to the public and has analyzed them to give a glimpse into potential financial conflicts of interest.

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How much were gifts worth?

First, the rules: If you take a legislator out to dinner and the bill is at least $50, they have to report it. And if you give them something that puts them over the $590 annual gift limit, they have to give it back.

In 2023, gifts worth a total of more than $330,000 were given to legislators, according to the reports. That total is more than double the $163,000 worth of gifts reported in 2022.

All but one of the 120 lawmakers received a gift. The outlier: Sen. Dave Cortese, a Campbell Democrat, who hasn’t reported taking a gift for at least the last three years. Democratic Assemblymember Avelino Valencia from Anaheim reported accepting, and then reimbursing, just more than $2,300 in gifts and $1,100 in sponsored travel.

An analysis of the gift givers reflects who controls the Legislature — Democrats. Nearly 20% came from party leaders, a total of $24,000, almost all for food and drinks at policy retreats. The value of all the gifts Democrats reported receiving is more than five times reported by Republicans, who hold 26 of the 120 seats.

The “Speaker 2023 Inaugural Fund” run by Rivas gave $22,000 worth of stuff at that big reception, including those engraved boxes. The fund accepted donations of at least $25,000 each from labor unions, including those representing nurses, prison guards and teachers. Businesses, such as Kaiser and PG&E, cut checks for $50,000 each.

Anthony Rendon, Rivas’ predecessor as Assembly speaker, ranked third on the list of top gift givers, doling out $16,000 worth of food and jackets to 19 lawmakers.

Wining and dining comprised more than a quarter of all gifts last year; at least $85,000 was spent picking up the tab for more than 100 legislators on more than 750 occasions. (Legislators get paid $128,215 a year, plus $214 a day for expenses when they’re in session, and leaders get more.)

But not all the gifts were from interest or advocacy groups, and some even show the human connection between legislators.

Assemblymember Corey Jackson, Democrat from Moreno Valley, gave 16 of his female coworkers flowers for their birthdays, at a total cost of about $1,000. They were bipartisan bouquets; three went to Republicans in the Assembly.

Assemblymember Lori Wilson, a Democrat from Suisun City who underwent treatment for breast cancer last year, received flowers from Jackson and from 14 other individuals and groups, worth about $1,400 in total.

Free travel for legislators

Fancy dinners and receptions are nice, but the annual gift limit keeps the total relatively low. That isn’t the case with sponsored travel, which is effectively unlimited. 

Special interest groups and nonprofits flew lawmakers to Argentina, Canada, France and elsewhere around the globe. In 2023, more than 100 groups spent about $1.1 million on sponsored trips, compared to 85 groups and $950,000 in travel in 2022. 

While 105 legislators reported taking at least one trip last year, three accepted more than $30,000 worth.

Sen. Nancy Skinner, an Oakland Democrat, reported her four trips were worth $38,000, the most of any legislator. The trips are valuable for getting ideas about what works well, including countries with similar infrastructure, she said. 

“We did intensive learning about France’s high speed rail, which is of course much harder to learn about in the U.S. since, where do we have examples of electric high-speed rail?” she said.

Skinner also said she doesn’t accept every invitation for a trip, only those on her key interests: energy, the environment, housing and public safety. 

Assemblymember Mike Gipson, a Gardena Democrat, reported trips with the second highest value — 10 journeys worth more than $31,000. Assemblymember Mike Fong, a Democrat from Monterey Park, accepted 15 trips that were worth more than $30,600. 

Assemblymember Blanca Pacheco, Democrat from Downey, was the most frequent traveler. She reported taking 18 trips last year, but they were valued at only $27,150.

Even if the trips lead to policy or ideas for legislators, when nonprofits invite legislators and their representatives attend as well, it creates at least the appearance of a potential conflict of interest, said Carmen Balbar, executive director of Consumer Watchdog.

“If you have somebody’s ear, you have a chance to influence them. And most constituents of every lawmaker isn’t going to be able to sponsor a trip for their representative,” she said. 

More transparency could help reassure Californians that their legislators are working in the public interest, she said: “Maybe, when we pull back the curtain and have an idea of who was there and what their interests might be, we’ll be able to better parse if they’re lobbying or not.”

This session, Sen. Ben Allen, an El Segundo Democrat, is pushing a bill to increase disclosure of these trips

As CalMatters reported last year, a 2015 law intended to require more transparency by organizations that sponsor legislative travel has had little impact. It requires annual reports by these groups listing any donors who gave more than $1,000 and also accompanied elected officials on any portion of a trip — but only if the travel expenses totaled more than $10,000, or at least $5,000 to a single official and if the spending accounts for at least one-third of the nonprofit’s total expenses. 

Allen’s bill would delete that second requirement about expenses and also require disclosure from any person who organizes trips, whether it’s a nonprofit or a business. He said Monday that he authored the measure largely in response to the CalMatters story. 

“If you’re a massive organization that is spending money on a gazillion other things, does that make the disclosure of your trips any less meaningful or impactful and important?” he asked. “Disclosure helps the press and the public and other folks that are trying to engage in the political process to better understand the system that’s in place to influence legislators.”

Allen, himself, went on 6 trips valued at $13,960 last year, plus $40,000 worth in 2022.

Just as in 2022, the largest sponsor of trips last year was the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy, and it wasn’t close. The group spent about $375,000 — nearly one-third of the total for all trip sponsors — to take legislators on “study tours,” where legislators and some foundation board members meet with foreign business and government leaders to learn about policy.

The San Francisco-based nonprofit has organized these tours for decades, funded and attended by representatives of companies and interest groups with business before the state. The foundation’s board is made up of organizations that don’t usually agree on issues, such as the Western States Petroleum Association and the Environmental Defense Fund, or municipal water providers and irrigation districts that mostly serve agricultural interests.

In an email to CalMatters last year, Jay Hansen, president and CEO of the foundation, said the purpose of the trips is not to advocate on behalf of its board members’ interests but to help lawmakers “better understand complex issues, witness best practices, and contemplate policy implications.”

At the same time, the foundation has said the trips have led to bills. Legislators who have gone on these trips told CalMatters last year that they are useful. 

In 2023 the nonprofit sponsored eight trips, three abroad, including last March to Denmark, where nine legislators looked at offshore wind and other low carbon energy sources. Some foundation events are closer to home: In February 2023, 18 legislators went to Napa for an energy policy conference, and in June, seven lawmakers also went to Napa for a transportation policy retreat and stayed at the ritzy Silverado Hotel.

The pace of travel picked up in the second half of 2023, though, with a trip nearly every month. That’s expected: The fall of odd numbered years is called the “interim study recess” by the state Senate because there aren’t legislative elections, giving lawmakers time to learn about policy.

Last fall, the foundation took legislators to British Columbia to learn about recyclingto Lake Tahoe to talk about technology and to Southern California in September to observe more low carbon energy projects. Legislators toured high-speed rail in France in October and closed out the year at a water conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

At least 104 Southern California voters mailed their ballots on time. They weren’t counted

On or before the March 5 primary, 104 voters in Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties mailed their ballots.

Legally, those ballots should have been counted, barring a problem like a ballot envelope signature not matching what’s on file.

But they weren’t tallied because registrars of voters in these counties received the ballots after March 12 — the final day that on-time mail-in ballots could be accepted.

While Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties processed more than 3 million primary votes, ballots postmarked on time but arriving too late — however few — pose a challenge for California elections that rely heavily on ballots mailed to every registered voter.

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“While this amount may not make any difference in the election results, it certainly makes a difference to the integrity of the process,” Robert Tyler of the Murrieta-based law firm Advocates For Faith & Freedom said via email.

In a Thursday, April 4, letter, Tyler demanded that Riverside County halt certification of its primary results on the belief that 5,000 ballots remained to be counted. Those ballots weren’t valid because they were postmarked after Election Day, according to Riverside County Registrar of Voters Art Tinoco.

Chapman University political science professor Fred Smoller said: “All election procedures have their shortcomings. I hope this one gets fixed prior to the next election.”

Hoping to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, California starting in 2020 required all registered voters, whether or not they voted by mail, to get a mail-in ballot to use if they so choose.

By law, ballots postmarked on or before Election Day and received up to seven days after the election must be counted. It’s one reason why California election results take days, if not weeks, to be finalized.

Most Californians vote by mail, with 88% mailing in their ballots for the 2022 general election, according to the secretary of state.

According to Riverside County, 31 mail-in ballots postmarked on time arrived eight days after the election or later.

In Orange County, 70 postmarked-on-time ballots arrived too late to be counted, with 61 arriving March 13, three arriving March 14 and six arriving March 15, according to that county’s registrar.

In San Bernardino County, three ballots arrived between March 13 and March 15 that were postmarked on Election Day, according to elections office spokesperson Melissa Eickman. Information for similar ballots in Los Angeles County was not available as of Monday afternoon, April 8.

Officials in Orange and Riverside counties said they weren’t sure why the ballots arrived late.

“We can only process ballots as they arrive,” Riverside County registrar spokesperson Elizabeth Florer said via a text message. “We cannot speculate as to why a ballot may take longer to arrive in our office.”

U.S. Postal Service spokesperson Duke Gonzales did not provide an explanation for why the ballots arrived late.

In an emailed statement, he said the service “is committed to the secure, timely delivery of the nation’s Election Mail” and is “committed to fulfilling our role in the electoral process when public policy makers choose to utilize us as a part of their election system.”

Gonzales also shared election mail reports from 2020 and 2022. According to those reports, 99.89% of 2020 ballots and 99.93% of 2022 ballots nationwide were delivered within seven days.

“We employ a robust and proven process to ensure proper handling and delivery of all Election Mail, including ballots,” Gonzales said.

California allows voters to track their ballots online to ensure they are received and counted and receive texts or emails when their ballot status changes. Voters can sign up for the service at wheresmyballot.sos.ca.gov.

Riverside County Supervisor Karen Spiegel, who is part of an ad hoc committee studying election issues in her county, said via email that she was concerned about the late-arriving ballots.

“I plan to ask the registrar of voters staff to work with the U.S. Postal Service to find solutions so this does not happen in future elections,” Spiegel said via email.

Her colleague, Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, said via email that the county “is also at the mercy of the Postal Service to deliver the ballots within the legal (counting) window.”

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Latinos are growing frustrated and angry about migrants and the border. Here’s why

Xochilt Nuñez is not the typical person who comes to mind when thinking about critics voicing their displeasure with U.S. immigration policy or the influx of migrants.

Nuñez crossed the border into California in 1999. She left her hometown of Morelia in Michoacán, Mexico, in search of a better life. The trip took her just over a week, during which she spent days without food and water.

Days after crossing, still exhausted and dehydrated, Nuñez began working at a carwash in San Diego. Soon after, she took on a second job in construction. Her hope then was to save enough money to own a home — her version of achieving the American Dream.

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Today, people from around the world come across the U.S. border, many just as eager to work and potentially reach that dream.

Yet, Nuñez — now 53, a farmworker and a single mother of three — has mixed feelings about the overwhelming majority of these migrants. She uses words such as “anger,” “frustration” and “jealousy,” when asked to describe her feelings toward the migrants. All the while, she shares the same undocumented status and participates in grassroots activism for immigration reform.

“Right now, this immigration is out of control,” Nuñez said. “And now, they don’t come to work. They come to live from the system.”

She represents an increasing number of Latinos — both native born and undocumented — who, according to several polls, are concerned with the immigration system and, at times, direct their frustration at the arriving migrants.

Their views are rooted in a litany of reasons, from decades-long failed immigration reform and economic inequality to xenophobia and the disconnect amplified by the online misinformation. The nation has a long history of anti-immigrant sentiments, even among Latinos.

“These conversations on immigration are happening as California is more unequal than it’s ever been…but it’s easy to sort of pass the blame on to newcomers,” said G. Cristina Mora, an associate professor of sociology at UC Berkeley. “This is not a new story. It’s always been there.”

For Nuñez , her frustration mainly stems from a belief that the system is hopelessly rigged. More than 25 years after arriving in the country, like many farmworkers, she has no legal status.

And instead of the home she longed for, Nuñez lives with her two youngest children in a mobile home park in Orosi, a small rural town 45 minutes from Fresno. Her oldest son recently joined the Army, a decision he made hoping to increase his mother’s chances of securing citizenship.

To her, the new arrivals are receiving benefits that she and other immigrants were never awarded. Those views, while conflated in both truth and misinformation, highlight growing tension caused by an immigration system pitting immigrant Latinos against each other.

“We are hardworking people and good people,” Nuñez said. “But the problem is that the government doesn’t see us.”

‘There is a deep history’

For years, California has been at the forefront in protecting people without legal status. Politicians passed laws to allow undocumented residents, like Nuñez, to apply for driver’s license, receive protection from immigration authorities and access healthcare.

Still, immigration experts expressed little surprise discussing recent California polling that shows Latino support for migrants seemingly eroding. Perhaps most notably, a January 2024 UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll found that 63% of the state’s Latinos consider undocumented immigrants to be a major or minor “burden.”

“People are surprised that Latinos would take this stance, but there is a deep history,” said Mora, who is also the IGS co-director.

As far back as the 1960s, some Latinos, including civil rights icon Cesar Chavez, took a hard stance against undocumented immigrants.

In his push for farmworker rights, Chavez believed securing the border would prevent employers from using undocumented workers as strike breakers which undermined the wages of Latino farmworkers.

Kevin R. Johnson, the dean of UC Davis’ School of Law, said Chavez initially would encourage union members to patrol the border and prevent undocumented workers from crossing. Chavez’s position changed in the 1970s, and he advocated against the deportation and for the “amnesty” of undocumented residents.

“Chavez changed, but a lot of times there have been concerns with Latinos in this country, as well as citizens in this country, fearing attacks by workers undercutting the wage scale,” Johnson said.

Decades later, some Latinos rallied for Proposition 187 — the famous 1994 ballot measure seeking to prevent undocumented immigrants from accessing social services. Though it never went into effect, about 23% of Latino voted in favor of the measure, according to exit polls.

“One of the things that immigration teaches is that Latinos are not a monolithic community,” Johnson said. “It’s a very diverse community, with conservatives and liberals.”

‘The American Dream is dead’

So, is Nuñez one of those conservative Latinos? Did she wake up one day and start disliking migrants? No. Her beliefs took shape over a span of many years, and recently were accelerated by government inaction.

In 2003, following years of working two jobs, Nuñez achieved her dream of a home. But the triumph was short-lived. Less than four years later, in the midst of the U.S. financial crisis, Nuñez lost her job and eventually the home.

Without many options, Nuñez used her remaining money to buy a modest trailer home and moved to Orosi with her three children. She began working in the fields, where she has spent the last 16 years stuck living paycheck to paycheck.

Earlier this year, Nuñez was hit with another blow.

Her longtime employer, Prima Wawona, one of the largest growers and packers of tree fruit in California, laid off her and thousands of workers off.

“The American Dream is dead,” Nuñez said.

These feelings of disillusionment among Latinos are common, particularly in California, according to Mora.

Latinos living in the state are overrepresented in low-income brackets, more likely to live in poverty and struggling to buy homes. All together, the frustration can spill over, directed at people portrayed as worsening the problem.

Nearly 70% of California Latinos in a February 2024 PPIC poll said the situation at the border is a crisis or a very serious problem.

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Why California is the state conservatives love to hate

For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, residents of the rest of the country often saw California as the place their wacky or adventurous or beautiful cousin went to seek gold, celebrity, sunny beaches, sexual freedom, and maybe a new identity, away from the family and the baggage in St. Paul, Philadelphia or Levittown.

Its current status as a punching bag for the right in a national culture war has taken decades to achieve.

For conservatives, the state’s glamorous image became tarnished in the 1960s and 1970s. They blasted Berkeley for its protesters and San Francisco for its hippies and gay life. Eastern elites mocked Los Angeles — at least the parts they saw in the movies — for its shallowness.

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Former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown earned a nickname in his first stint that surprised those who knew him but embodied a sense that the place was sort of kooky: Gov. Moonbeam.

The jabs were sometimes playful, sometimes acid, often overstated. But even if conservatives thought the Bay Area was too far-out, they still had Orange County’s megachurches, John Wayne’s westerns and Ronald Reagan.

That mix shifted dramatically in 1992.

The state’s voters chose a Democrat in a presidential election, Bill Clinton, for the first time since 1964, starting a blue streak that has yet to be reversed. Voters sent Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to the Senate, a pair of San Francisco Democrats headlining “the year of the woman” in politics.

California’s rapid growth yielded an unprecedented 52 members in the House, giving the state huge power in Congress. Much of that growth was powered by Latinos, who then made up about a quarter of the population and would soon become the state’s largest ethnicity.

That same year, Pat Buchanan delivered a speech at the Republican National Convention that launched a cultural and religious war for “the soul of America,” citing California as a final, dystopian example of what could go wrong. Buchanan described a state where a judge condemned the town of Hayfork to “a sentence of death” to protect the spotted owl while a “mob” burned, ransacked and looted Los Angeles during that spring’s riots, terrifying old men and women, whose only hope was the National Guard.

More than 30 years later, even Buchanan’s broadside looks tame. The former insurgent presidential candidate was harsh but portrayed at least some Californians as victims and heroes. All were still Americans.

Today, by contrast, nearly half of Republicans nationwide, 48%, said California is “not really American” in a Leger poll conducted for the Los Angeles Times and released in February.

“Now, I think it’s part of the politicization of this country,” former Gov. Gray Davis said in an interview. “So if you’re a conservative, you’re not permitted to like California.”

::

The seeds of that division were planted in the mid-20th century when the state became a focal point for young people who challenged the rest of the country’s values.

“Some of it, from a conservative standpoint, was sort of positive: surf’s up, the Beach Boys and Reagan,” Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker, said in an interview.

“And then of course, there was Berkeley,” he said, as if spitting a curse word.

Unrest over Vietnam and civil rights, free love and gay liberation erupted around the Bay Area, fueled in part by Easterners who came seeking a break from society. San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury became a destination that accepted all of it, including open drug use. Hollywood made antiwar movies and Marlon Brando turned his 1973 Oscar into a protest over Native American rights.

It seemed like another universe to Midwesterners such as Mike Royko, the late Chicago Tribune columnist who gave the nickname “Gov. Moonbeam” to Brown, then dating the singer Linda Ronstadt during his first stint as governor from 1975 through 1983.

“It was really a judgment about California as a place that was like counterculture, hot tub, granola, weed,” said Jim Newton, a former L.A. Times reporter and editor who wrote a biography of Brown and is now working on one about Jerry Garcia.

The reasons behind the evolution from “Moonbeam” to “not really American” are debatable, but the decline of the state’s image on the right can be traced to several factors:

California’s oceans, sunshine, awe-inspiring national parks and world-ranked economy that includes Silicon Valley and Hollywood make it easy to resent in a time of grievance politics.

The state’s large disparity in incomes coupled with the country’s biggest homeless crisis give critics ample images of desperate people camping on the streets.

Its embrace of immigrants and changing ideas about gender and sexuality played on core fears on the right of a changing country.

Union power and progressive policies on the environment are at odds with the Trump-era policy agenda.

Statewide elections are increasingly out of reach for Republicans, reducing the downside of amped-up rhetoric.

In 1984, the Democratic Party’s decision to hold its national convention in San Francisco became contentious as the AIDS epidemic ramped up fear and prejudice against the city’s large gay population. Gingrich recalled being interviewed, while standing in Union Square, about the contrast with the Republican convention in Dallas, a Bible Belt city, when “a 6’2” transvestite hands me an invitation to an exorcism of Jerry Falwell,” an influential conservative evangelical leader.

To Gingrich, it was a self-evident troll of a city that he believed had become too accepting of alternative lifestyles and a party that would alienate the rest of the country.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who chaired the host committee, heard anxiety from fellow Democrats too, but held firm, assuring critics that no one could contract HIV/AIDS simply by visiting the city, and making the broader argument that the Bay Area’s inclusiveness was a point of pride.

“And yes, we will have our exuberance … the people speaking on the street, but we are a Democratic city,” she recalled. “We just have to make sure that we don’t get hijacked by Republicans, upsetting our events, as well as anarchists.”

::

The state was not wholly dismissed by conservatives, even if some of its cities were taking hits. Reagan, the Republican former governor, won California easily in both of his presidential elections and wrote in the final passage of his presidential diary how eager he was to return for “the start of our new life” in Bel-Air as he left the White House in 1989.

Reagan “loved, loved, loved California,” said Craig Shirley, author of four Reagan biographies. He “loved the ranch … loved Hollywood and all that.”

Two conservative Republicans, George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson, won governors’ races in the 1980s and 1990s. Wilson campaigned against the state’s taxes and regulations and didn’t mind if word spread beyond California’s borders.

“Tragically, it wasn’t Reagan’s California” by then, Wilson said in an interview. “It was not safe … and from a purely business standpoint, it was the last place because it cost so damn much.”

Wilson recalled a 1994 road trip he made with Democratic leaders to attract executives from Dallas, Minneapolis and Chicago.

One industrialist in Chicago thanked Wilson for breakfast and then laid into the business climate, Wilson said. “I wouldn’t come to California if you begged me,” Wilson recounted the man telling him.

Wilson was delighted by the negative reviews, which he used to validate his political case against Democrats.

“It’s what I expected and hoped to hear,” he said.

Wilson’s support in 1994 for Proposition 187, a ballot measure that denied many public services to immigrants living in the country illegally, foreshadowed the national debates over immigration that still rage. It also created a backlash that gave Democrats a near impenetrable advantage in statewide elections and still rankles Wilson, 90.

“Every effort was made to make it play that role by the Democratic Party. And I will tell you that racism is a very ugly charge,” Wilson said. “If it’s warranted, that’s one thing. If it isn’t, that is just inexcusable.”

That same ballot measure prompted Sen. Alex Padilla, a Los Angeles Democrat, to give up his career as an engineer, fresh out of MIT, to enter politics. In an interview, he called Proposition 187 “a wake-up” call for thousands of immigrants, including his parents, legal residents who became citizens and gained the right to vote.

Padilla began registering voters in 1996. “They’re asking the question, ‘Should I register as a Democrat or Republican?’ ” he recalled. “And you can talk about the platform, but the way it was really easy to describe was, ‘Well, Pete Wilson’s a Republican; Bill Clinton is a Democrat.”

The resulting influx of Latino Democrats moved the electorate and the people they elected in a leftward direction.

The growing population and influence of Latino voters also influenced outside opinions, in Padilla’s opinion.

“Above the surface it’s pointing to California’s policy leadership,” he said of the anti-California critiques from the right. “But I do think subliminally it is pointing to diversity.”

Views of the state continued to diverge, but its population and economic clout grew, posing a bipartisan problem in Washington.

“Everybody thought we were the golden place,” said Boxer, who served in the House and Senate from 1983 to 2017. “They didn’t want to step up when we had problems.”

The motto of the other 49 states became known as ABC: Anywhere But California. That dismissal of the state may have hit its nadir in 1986 when a $50-million federal center for earthquake research was given to Buffalo, N.Y., which hadn’t had an earthquake since 1929, instead of Berkeley, along the Hayward fault.

“We used to say to all our colleagues, ‘You come here to raise money, whether you’re Republicans or Democrats,’ ” Boxer recalled. “ ‘You come here, you raise money and you bash us.’ ”

In more recent decades, however, the fight has shifted from disputes over state taxes and federal spending to the culture war.

The change began in the 2000s, as the GOP increasingly reflected the values of its large conservative, evangelical Christian faction, then accelerated during the Trump years as California repeatedly challenged conservative federal policies in court. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican who led the state from 2003 through 2011, offered only a mild reprieve.

Newsom, after becoming governor in 2019, embraced the fight, placing provocative ads in red states as he promoted laws granting sanctuary for women obtaining abortions and transgender youths seeking gender-affirming care. California granted Medicaid access to people who came to the country illegally while setting an even more aggressive environmental agenda.

“We’re the opposite of MAGA,” Boxer said.

The state also became increasingly hard to afford, creating a wider gap between the new class of Silicon Valley tech barons and the huge, largely Black and Latino working class.

Newton, the Brown biographer, argued that the difference between the early caricatures of the state and the new harder-edged critiques can be traced to Brown’s second stint as governor — from 2011 through 2019 — when he answered critics who said California could not be governed. His ability to tame the budget while creating left-leaning policies on immigration and the environment posed a serious threat to the ideology of the Trump era, he said: If California was successful, that meant the Make America Great Again rhetoric was wrong.

For the MAGA movement, today’s California is a diorama of a failed state, an obvious foil that can be deployed on campaign fliers in Minnesota and Georgia featuring Pelosi’s scowling face, Vice President Kamala Harris’ laugh or Newsom’s grin. One Fox host declared voters’ choices so reprehensible that he “stopped caring about Californians.”

“Consider the source,” Pelosi said. “They don’t believe in science. They don’t believe in governance. They don’t believe in a woman’s right to choose. They don’t believe in LGBTQ rights.”

Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, in a last-ditch attempt to wrestle the 2024 presidential nomination from former President Trump, tried to recharge his campaign with descriptions of drug-addled homeless people defecating on San Francisco’s streets, before agreeing to a televised showdown with Newsom in which he declared the state “failed because of his leftist ideology.”

“Even though California was always considered a high-tax and high cost-of-living state, it was still the place to be,” said Frank Luntz, a pollster who helped Republicans craft language for several decades with polls and focus groups, and then used some of his earnings for a home in Los Angeles. “With the explosion of homelessness and crime and the deterioration of the quality of life, it has now become a symbol of what’s wrong with the left.”

The reputation has become so toxic on the right that even candidates in the state are running against California. Rep. Mike Garcia, a Santa Clarita Republican, recently blasted a campaign email with an article he wrote for Fox News titled, “How to prevent the Californication of America,” in which he argued that the rest of the country could “learn from California’s mistakes” in going soft on crime.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

The Financial State of California Cities 2024

California, New York and Texas each have more state debt than the 75 cities combined

75 of the largest American cities owned a total of $307.4 billion of assets to pay $595.3 billion in liabilities at the end of fiscal year 2022.

The 75 largest cities in America were collectively $288 billion in debt, Adam Andrzejewski at RealClearInvestigations reported. You may recognize Andrzejewski’s name as he created OpenTheBooks and exposes spending at every level of government, which the Globe frequently uses.

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The cities’ debt includes $175.9 billion for upcoming employee pensions and $135.2 billion for other retiree benefits, according to think tank Truth in Accounting.

The stunner is that California, New York and Texas each have more state debt than the 75 cities combined, Andrzejewski reported.

Notably, nearly all of the cities used outdated pension data.

How did California’s cities do?

San Francisco – D grade

“San Francisco’s financial condition deteriorated, switching it from having a Taxpayer SurplusTM to a Taxpayer BurdenTM. Despite increased tax collections
and federal COVID relief funds, the city’s pension investment values decreased. This created a per Taxpayer Burden of $8,800, earning it a “D” grade from Truth in Accounting.”

San Francisco had set aside only 92 cents for every dollar of promised pension benefits and 17 cents for every dollar of promised retiree health care benefits.

San Francisco would need $8,800 from each of its taxpayers to pay all of its outstanding bills.

San Diego – C grade

“San Diego’s financial condition worsened by $457.5 million, resulting in a Taxpayer BurdenTM of $4,100, earning it a “C” grade from Truth in Accounting.

“According to the city’s 2022 financial report, the city continued to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds, and as the U.S. economy reopened, the city took in additional tax revenue. Such economic gains were offset by increases in the city’s pension liability. Over the past few years, investment market values have swung dramatically.

San Diego had set aside only 78 cents for every dollar of promised pension benefits and only 25 cents for every dollar of promised retiree health care benefits.”

Sacramento – B grade

“Sacramento’s financial condition appeared to improve, switching it from having a Taxpayer BurdenTM to a Taxpayer SurplusTM of $300, earning it a “B” grade from Truth in Accounting. Sacramento was sneaky – the improvement is deceiving because the city used outdated pension data.

While this report indicates the city’s financial condition improved due in part to COVID relief funds and increased taxes, this might be overly optimistic because the city used outdated pension data.

According to the city’s 2022 financial report, Sacramento continued to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds, and as the U.S. economy reopened, the city took in additional tax revenue. The city’s pension liability is calculated by subtracting earned and promised benefits from the market value of pension investments. Unfortunately, the city used 2021 data when determining its pension debt. Because 2021 was an exceptionally good market year, pension investment values were high. The result was a dramatic decrease in the city’s pension liability and a corresponding decrease in the money needed to pay bills.”

Los Angeles – C grade

  • Los Angeles had $19.8 billion available to pay $21.8 billion worth of bills.
  • The outcome was a $2 billion shortfall and a burden of $1,500 per taxpayer. Last year the city had a surplus of $6.3 billion.
  • Despite receiving almost $2 billion in grant funds and $5.6 billion in tax revenue, its unfunded pension promises increased significantly due to declines in the value of pension investments.

“Los Angeles’ financial condition deteriorated, switching it from having a Taxpayer SurplusTM to a Taxpayer BurdenTM. Despite increased tax collections and federal COVID relief funds, the city’s pension investment values decreased. This created a Taxpayer Burden of $1,500, earning it a “C” grade from Truth in Accounting.

“According to the city’s 2022 financial report, Los Angeles continued to spend large amounts of federal COVID-19 relief funds, and as the U.S. economy reopened
the city took in additional tax revenue. Such economic gains were offset by significant decreases in the value of the city’s pension investments. Over the past few years investment market values have swung dramatically. In 2022 this volatility negatively impacted the city’s pension liability and financial condition, which demonstrates the risk to taxpayers when their city offers defined pension benefits to its employees.

Los Angeles had set aside only 88 cents for every dollar of promised pension benefits and 90 cents for every dollar of promised retiree health care benefits.”

Fresno – B grade

“Fresno’s financial condition deteriorated, yet the city retained a Taxpayer SurplusTM of $2,300, earning it a “B” grade from Truth in Accounting.

According to the city’s 2022 financial report, Fresno continued to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds and as the U.S. economy reopened, the city took in additional tax revenue. Such economic gains were offset by decreases in the value of the city’s pension investments. Over the past few years investment market values have swung dramatically. In 2022 this volatility negatively impacted the city’s pension investments and financial condition, demonstrating the risk to taxpayers when their city offers defined pension benefits to its employees.

Fresno had set aside 108 cents for every dollar of promised pension benefits and no money set aside for promised retiree health care benefits.”

Oakland – D grade

“Oakland’s financial condition appeared to improve due in part to increased tax collections and federal COVID relief funds. Despite the good news, they still had a Taxpayer BurdenTM of $7,300, earning it a “D” grade from Truth in Accounting. But the improvement is deceiving, because the city used outdated pension data.

According to the city’s 2022 financial report, the city continued to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds, and as the U.S. economy reopened the city took in additional tax revenue. The pension debt included in this report and the city’s financial report is based using 2021 data when pension investments were performing well. If the city’s pension investments experienced the same major decrease that most other cities experienced in 2022, Oakland’s pension debt would be higher. Over the past few years investment market values have swung dramatically. This volatility demonstrates the risk to taxpayers when their city offers defined pension benefits to its employees.

Oakland had set aside only 78 cents for every dollar of promised pension benefits and 20 cents for every dollar of promised retiree health care benefits.”

San Jose – D grade

San Jose’s financial condition worsened by $720.3 million, resulting in a Taxpayer BurdenTM of $8,700, and earning it a “D” grade from Truth in Accounting.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Bay Area congressman proposes renaming Florida prison after Donald Trump

WASHINGTON — Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, and two other House Democrats want to name the Miami federal prison after former President Donald Trump.

The legislation, which has little chance of passing, would change the Federal Correctional Institution Miami’s name to the Donald J. Trump Federal Correctional Institution. The prison, located about 90 miles from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, is a low-security facility that holds about 1,000 men convicted of federal crimes. 

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Former Trump adviser Peter Navarro is serving a four-month sentence at FCI Miami for contempt of Congress after refusing to comply with a subpoena. Right-wing internet personality Anthime Gionet, known as Baked Alaska, was incarcerated in the same facility for two months in 2023 after pleading guilty to unlawfully protesting inside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

The legislation proposal came days after seven House Republicans introduced a bill to rename the Washington Dulles International Airport after Trump. (No California Republicans have signed onto the bill.)

“MAGA Republicans have proven themselves unwilling to solve real problems that face our country. I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to our former president, Donald J. Trump, than renaming the closest federal prison to Mar-a-Lago in his honor,” Garamendi said in a statement. “As always, my Democratic colleagues and I remain willing to work with anyone on common sense solutions to real world problems.”

Click here to read that the full article in the SF Chronicle

Newsom, lawmakers agree to first $17 billion in cuts

Gov. Gavin Newsom and leaders of the Senate and Assembly announced an agreement Thursday to cut $17 billion from the state budget in April, providing the first details of their plan to begin to tackle California’s massive deficit.

The plan calls for delaying $1 billion in grant funding for transit and intercity rail projects, saving $762.5 million by pausing hiring for open state jobs and pulling back $500 million from a program to help districts pay for K-12 building projects, among other proposals to trim the shortfall now before additional cuts are made this summer.

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“We are able to meet this challenge thanks to our responsible fiscal stewardship over the past years, including record budget reserves of close to $38 billion,” Newsom said in a statement. “There is still work to do as we finalize the budget and I look forward to the work ahead together to continue building the California of the future.”

The agreement marks a redo of a fumbled budget announcement made last month when Newsom and legislative leaders heralded a premature deal without disclosing an exact amount of funding they intended to cut or detailing a single program that would be affected.

Lawmakers and the governor are scrambling to reduce California’s budget deficit, which Newsom estimated at $37.9 billion in January, before the fiscal forecast is updated in the coming weeks to likely show California in an even deeper budget hole. Estimates from the Legislative Analyst’s Office have suggested the deficit next year could be nearly twice as high as Newsom’s forecast.

Lower than expected revenues, delayed tax deadlines and overspending based on inaccurate budget projections created California’s grim financial picture. The state budget relies heavily on capital gains taxes paid by California’s highest earners, making state revenues subject to volatility in the stock market.

Republicans have criticized the lack of transparency in state budget negotiations and contend Democrats created the fiscal crisis by continuing to fund expensive programs, such as the expansion of Medi-Cal to all low-income immigrants, even as state revenues drop.

Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) called the budget deal “a swing and a miss from Democrats.”

The first round of cuts could be voted on as early as next Thursday.

Democrats also agreed to pull $12.2 billion from state reserve accounts to cover the shortfall when the final budget is approved later on. The early cuts combined with the planned dip into the reserves will trim $29.5 billion off the deficit.

“We are all committed to delivering an on-time balanced budget, and this early action agreement is a critical first step to shrink the state’s shortfall,” said Senate President Pro Tem Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg).

Because the shortfall this year is so large, Newsom has urged the Legislature to take “early action” to begin to whittle away at the deficit now, long before the June 15 deadline to pass a budget.

The cuts Democrats agreed to make this month are largely considered the easier choices, allowing them to focus on tougher deliberations that will come later on this spring. Reducing the deficit before Newsom unveils his revised budget proposal in May could also lessen the public perception of the state’s fiscal woes by trimming the deficit figure before it is expected to grow.

The struggle to reach a consensus up until this point foreshadows the difficult work ahead in May and June for a Legislature and governor with little experience leading through a fiscal crisis as they weigh challenging choices that affect millions of Californians.

The agreement announced Thursday largely mirrors a plan the Senate put forward weeks ago to “shrink the shortfall” by $17 billion, which aligned with many of Newsom’s proposals to begin to offset the deficit.

The Assembly, where Democrats hold 62 of 80 seats under a new speaker, took a little longer to reach a consensus. This week, the lower house said it pushed back on some of the governor’s proposed cuts to housing and homelessness programs, which were ultimately left out of the early action deal. At the Assembly’s urging, the agreement also authorizes the administration to pause one-time spending from previous budget years that has not yet been dispersed.

Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) said his chamber’s approach was the “right way to come at closing such a massive shortfall” and that he expects Newsom “to deliver challenging budget proposals next month to reduce the deficit in the long-term.”

The agreement, according to Newsom and legislative leaders, includes:

Saving $762.5 million by declining to fill vacant state positions.

Cutting $500 million from the School Facility Aid Program, which funds K-12 building projects.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

How Asian American Voters in 5 States Can Seal Trump’s 2024 Victory

After $14.4 billion spent, more than 159 million votes cast, and two years of 24-7 news coverage, the 2020 presidential election was decided by just 21,460 Biden voters in three states. 

Let that sink in. 

If 10,342 Biden voters in Wisconsin, 5,890 Biden voters in Georgia, and 5,229 Biden voters in Arizona changed their votes, President Trump would have secured an Electoral College tie and won reelection with a tie-breaking vote in the House of Representatives.

It’s no wonder why so many Republicans feel aggrieved by the 2020 election. The race came down to a few hundredths of a percent of the total votes cast. 

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The 2024 Biden-Trump rematch is expected to be just as close – with 71 electoral votes in five key states expected to decide the outcome: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona. Biden won each of these five states in 2020 by less than 3 percent of the vote. President Trump can return to the White House by adding any three of these five states to his electoral coalition.

Asian American voters in these five swing states are the greatest untapped demographic for the Trump campaign. Collectively, there are more than 1.2 million eligible Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI voters, in these five battleground states, including 655,321 foreign born citizens. Historically, the Republican Party has largely conceded Asian American voters to Democrats. Two-thirds of AAPI voters say that they received no contact or couldn’t remember being contacted by Republicans, according to the 2022 Asian American Voter Survey.

“For years, I’ve urged Republicans to engage with Asian American communities in Georgia,” says Sunny Park, a member of the Georgia Republican Party’s Asian Pacific American Advisory Board. “Asian American communities, in particular the Korean American community, are an untapped and receptive audience to President Trump’s message. In 2020, Georgia’s airwaves were flooded with political ads, but non-English language media were completely ignored by GOP campaigns.”

With little contact from the Republican Party, AAPI voters backed Biden by a nearly 2-to-1 margin in 2020, according to national exit polls.

“On Election Night, Pennsylvania Republicans brace as vote tallies come in from Philadelphia,” explains David Oh, a former Republican member of the Philadelphia City Council, President and CEO of the Asian American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia. “Yet Republican candidates spend little to no time talking with like-minded voters in Philadelphia. For example, most Asian American voters are outraged by the overwhelming violence and lawlessness caused in large part by the disregard of common-sense law enforcement and the failing economic policies of those in power. But given a choice between a candidate they know and a candidate they don’t, they either vote for the candidate they know or don’t vote at all.”

Asian Americans communities represent a small but meaningful share of the electorate in each of these five swing states. Republicans can reach these communities through non-English language advertising in Asian American media. There are active Chinese radio stations, Korean TV programs, and Vietnamese newspapers that reach a nationwide audience. And the cost of advertising on these channels is substantially lower and more efficient than mainstream media.

Filipino-Americans, the largest Asian American community in Arizona, are large enough to swing a state that Biden carried by 0.31 percent of the vote. Georgia’s active Korean American Christian community could turn the tide for President Trump.  In Wisconsin, Hmong voters let down by the Biden administration can flex their political muscle. 

Click here to read the full article in Downhill