A California Budget Project policy paper notes that the state minimum wage will rise to $8.00 per hour tomorrow (New Year’s Day). The increase is the second stage of a two-step increase in the minimum wage that began with a rise from $6.75 per hour to $7.50 per hour in January 2007. The two-step increase will benefit nearly 1.4 million Californian workers who made less than $8.00 per hour in 2006. The CBP paper adds, however, that although the increase is an “important boost,” the minimum wage still “falls short of providing sufficient income to lift low-income families out of poverty.”
The final report of the governor’s Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force was recently released. It recommends several immediate measures to protect the Delta and the Suisun Marsh areas and to prepare for potential natural disasters involving those areas. Some of the significant recommendations:
- The state should protect critical areas from further development by acquiring title or easements to floodplains and taking other action to actively discourage further development on “land that could provide flood protection.”
- The state should set appropriate standards for levee improvements and use available bond funds “to address strategic levee and floodplain improvements.”
- “State government should embark upon a comprehensive series of emergency management and preparation actions within a few months.”
The report warns, “A two-in-three chance of a major earthquake within the next few years in or near the Delta make its levees vulnerable to sudden collapse. In addition, increased urbanization poses an imminent threat to the Delta by placing more residents and their property in a floodplain.”
The full report is available here.
Another Field Poll finds that California registered voters continue to have a “dismal appraisal of Congress’ current performance,” with 66% expressing disapproval and only 20% expressing approval. Approval was somewhat higher in March 2007, a few months after the 110th Congress was voted into office and its session began, with 64% disapproval and 35% approval. Otherwise, the disapproval level is roughly at the same number that it has been for the past two years, although the approval level ties August 2007 (20%) for the lowest number in the past 16 years.
Nancy Pelosi’s disapproval rating is at 38%, which is slightly lower than the 40% recorded in October but statistically insignificant. 35% of registered voters approve of the Speaker’s performance. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s approval rating is at 50%, which is high compared with other high-visibility California Democratic Congressional figures but lower than ratings she had at earlier points in 2007. Senator Barbara Boxer’s rating is at 45%. This is down 9 points from the 54% that was recorded in March 2007, but is more in line with Boxer’s typical approval rating, which has hovered between 41 and 50% for most of her tenure in the Senate.
Yet another in a series of year-end Field Polls indicates that registered California voters view the looming $14-15 billion state budget deficit as either a “very serious” (58%) or a “somewhat serious” (32%) problem. A slightly larger ratio of Democrats than republicans view the deficit as a “very serious problem,” and a slightly larger ratio of Republicans than Democrats see it as a “somewhat serious” problem, although a majority of registered voters in both parties see it as a “very serious” problem.
When asked whether taxes will ultimately need to be raised to help resolve the budget deficit, those in favor of and opposed to taxes tend to split on party lines, with 54-37% of Democrats and voters not identifying with any major party expressing the view that taxes will have to be raised. Republican voters by a margin of 55-36% express the view that taxes will not have to be raised.
Another question asked whether Californians think that existing taxes are too high. 29% think that taxes are “much too high,” and 28% think that they are “somewhat high.” The ratio of voters saying that taxes are “much too high” has tended within the range of 28-32% over most of the last 15 years; the last time that the ratio was over 32% was in 1991, when 38% said that they thought that taxes were “much too high.”
The governor’s approval ratings continue to be high, with 60% of voters saying that they approve of his performance and 31% saying that they disapprove. Although Democrats approve of Schwarzenegger’s performance less than Republicans, a majority of 55% of Democrats nonetheless approves. Schwarzenegger’s approval ratings have been more or less on the upswing since April 2006, when his approval was at 39%. (His lowest approval rating was in August 2005, when the number approving was 36%). The governor’s current approval rating is four points higher than when the question was last asked in October.
Another new Field Poll shows that there is still very low voter awareness of measures that will appear on the February 5 ballot. One in four (25%) of California registered voters say that they have seen or heard anything about Proposition 93, the term limits measure.
Only 27% say that they have seen or heard anything about Propositions 93 through 97, the referenda to affirm four Indian casino compacts recently approved by the governor and the legislature.
In a statement released on Friday, Governor Schwarzenegger stated that he will declare a fiscal emergency on January 10 in response to economic conditions that have brought on what is projected to be a $14 billion budget deficit.
Under the terms of Proposition 58, also known as the the California Balanced Budget Act, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters in March 2004, the governor is authorized to declare a fiscal emergency if “the Governor determines that, for that fiscal year, General Fund revenues will decline substantially below the estimate of General Fund revenues upon which the budget bill for that fiscal year, as enacted, was based, or General Fund expenditures will increase substantially above that estimate of General Fund revenues, or both.” The declaration of a fiscal emergency, and the governor’s proposal of legislation to address the situation, triggers a special session of the legislature. If the legislature fails to send legislation to the governor’s desk to address the emergency within 45 days, it will be prohibited from (1) acting on any other bills or (2) adjourning in joint recess until such legislation is passed.
Media reports indicate that, in order to help address the deficit, the governor’s office is seeking 10% cuts across all state agencies, and is considering a takeback of $1.4 billion in funding previously promised to school districts and an early release of 30,000 prisoners with less than 20 months of their sentences remaining. There are sure to be strong objections from many quarters to these and any other proposed cuts.
An article in today’s Sacramento Bee quotes Governor Schwarzenegger as saying that ”this state has had problems with the budget ever since I have gotten here” — and quotes him as telling an audience in San Diego that “the [budget] system itself is flawed,” which is the opposite of what he said when he ran against Gray Davis in the 2003 recall election. The article goes on to quote the director of the California Budget Project, Jean Ross, as indicating that inherent difficulties in the budget process are an ongoing problem for state policymakers. “I think the problems were deeper and more structural than the governor realized when he was first elected,” she said. “There is a fundamental imbalance between revenues and expenditures. Many budgets that were signed into law, including those signed by the current governor, made the problems worse, not better.”
Thus far, the governor’s office has not proposed suspending Proposition 98, which would permit mandated education spending to fall below guaranteed levels (roughly 43% of the state’s general fund) but which would also require two-thirds approval of the legislature. (As part of his 2005 reform package, the governor pursued giving the governor’s office more control over the Proposition 98 funding process, but the proposal raised objections from advocacy groups and the reform package went down to defeat.)
More about Proposition 58 and California’s balanced budget requirements can be found here.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fábian Núñez filed with the state attorney general’s office their health care reform initiative today. Titled the Secure and Affordable Health Care Act of 2008, the measure will appear on the November 2008 ballot, assuming that it clears two major hurdles: getting 700,000 signatures required to appear on the ballot, and clearing the State Senate. The measure could also face legal challenges because its mandate for employer contributions may conflict with federal law.
The health care reforms in the measure would be financed in part by increasing the state cigarette tax from 87 cents to $1.75. At least one major tobacco company, Philip Morris USA, has already indicated that it will oppose the measure. Opposition is also expected to come from major insurance companies, pharmaceutical corporations, and state business groups.
Update: A US District judge ruled on December 26 that a key component of the Healthy San Francisco program — the provision mandating employer contributions — conflicted with the Employee Retirement Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The San Francisco City Attorney has requested a stay on the ruling. A December 28 Orange County Register editorial calls this ruling “an indirect, but potentially debilitating blow” against the state health care reform initiative.
A second recent Field Poll shows Bush with an overall job approval rating of 28% among registered voters in California (and a approval rating of 24% and 34% respectively for his handling of the Iraq war and the economy). 67% of Californians think that the country is headed in the wrong direction — the most negative assessment for this question in the Field Poll since July 1992, when Bush’s father was in his last months in the White House and the number saying that the country was on the wrong track stood at 81%.
Bush’s performance ratings have lagged below 30% in this poll for the entire year; they averaged 32% in 2006. The last time that his ratings in California in the Field Poll were above 40% was in 2004. However, among Republican voters, Bush’s approval ratings are at 55%.
According to a recent Field Poll, Californians back the health reform package supported by Governor Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Núñez (known as AB1X 1) by a margin of 64-23%. A somewhat narrower majority (63-33%) supports the idea of a 2% cigarette tax to pay for the reforms. As the director of the Field Poll, Mark DiCamillo, was quoted as saying in a San Francisco Chronicle article, “This is very significant support. There’s a lot of combinations of ideas that would not be palatable with the public — but this is one that the public is cheering on.”Media reports have noted that significant questions remain about the financing of the reform package and its legality under federal law, since a major component of the package involves mandatory employer contributions.
The Assembly approved the health reform package on Monday (without approving the approximately $14.4 billion that it will take to finance the reforms if they are fully implemented). However, State Senator Don Perata (D-Oakland) has issued a statement indicating that he will not be in favor of the Senate taking up consideration of AB1X 1 until the Legislative Analyst’s Office completes a fiscal analysis of the proposal’s possible impact on the state budget.
See our summary of the main points of AB1X 1 and other recent health care reform proposals here.
Update: The Governor and the Assembly Speaker on December 24 formally filed the health care reform package as an initiative for the November 2008 ballot. See details here.
A recent Public Policy Institute of California survey indicates a drastic downturn in Californians’ mood about the state of things in the past year. In January 2007, 39% of California residents said that they expected bad economic times in the coming year. That number has now risen to 65%. In January, 37% of Californians said that they believed that the state was headed in the wrong direction. 52% now believe that the state is on the wrong track. The mortgage and credit crisis is also heavily on Californians’ minds — 28% of residents think that the crisis will affect their own financial situation “a great deal” and 24% think that it will affect their own financial situation “somewhat.”
Californians and Their Government [Public Policy Institute of California]
Interestingly, the approval ratings for the governor (57%) and the legislature (41%) continue to be relatively high, given the general mood. The PPIC report theorizes that the high ratings may have to do with Californians’ hope that state policymakers will be able to get something done with health care reform, although the likelihood of that happening appears slimmer now than it was a year ago. The PPIC report acknowledges that state policymakers’ ratings may take a hit if it appears that nothing is getting accomplished. The report also mentions the looming state budget crisis and makes note that 65% of Californians do not favor the idea of raising taxes to deal with the deficit. That percentage is up 14 points since January 2004 (when a similar question was asked).