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Author Topic: Financial Collapse of California Thread (Land of the Lunatics)  (Read 4799 times)
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« Reply #25 on: January 04, 2011, 09:33:47 PM »

California Democrats seek approval from voters to grant amnesty
Examiner ^ | January 4th, 2011 | Kimberly Dvorak



While the DREAM Act failed on a national stage, California State Democrats would like to skirt federal law and provide a pathway to citizenship for those who are illegally residing in the Golden State.

State Assembly Bill 78, written by Tony Mendoza (D-Arcadia) seeks to put an advisory measure on the state ballot asking California voters if they think the United States is responsible to grant amnesty to longtime illegal aliens currently living unlawfully inside America.

The Democrat’s proposed “pathway to citizenship bill” would give illegal aliens who have worked in the U.S. for five years, have no felony convictions, speak English and are current with all their taxes a chance to legalize their status.

The bill’s author, Mendoza claims the illegal immigration debate is front-page news across the country and says the nation's "broken immigration system" requires an overhaul that "rewards work, reunites families, restores the rule of law, reinforces immigrant workers and redeems the 'American Dream.'"


(Excerpt) Read more at examiner.com ...
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« Reply #26 on: January 04, 2011, 09:40:50 PM »

Well what do you all think we SHOULD do? Like I said, nothing is going to get done at the voting booths. Too much special interest and people who contribute nothing getting a say in spending decisions.
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« Reply #27 on: January 09, 2011, 07:31:58 AM »

S.E.C. Investigating CalPERS on Disclosures
The New York Times ^ | Jan 7, 2011 | Mary Williams Walsh



Federal regulators are investigating whether California violated securities laws and failed to provide adequate disclosure about its giant public pension fund, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation.

The Securities and Exchange Commission normally polices companies, but last year it brought its first enforcement action ever against a state, accusing New Jersey of securities fraud for misleading bond investors about the condition of its pension fund. The commission signaled, in its settlement with New Jersey, that it was going to look more broadly at the pension disclosures of states and cities.

The fund, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, known as Calpers, lost about a quarter of its total investment portfolio during the financial crisis, leaving the state responsible for replacing billions of dollars each year and contributing to its huge deficit. The question is whether California adequately disclosed in the preceding years how risky the pension investments were and how much money it might need to cover any shortfall.

But it is unclear whether investigators are focusing on those risks or on possible conflicts of interest in steering investments to related parties, the subject of a separate investigation by the attorney general of California.....

...If federal investigators are able to make a case that California misled investors about the risk in its pension fund, it would send a powerful signal to other public funds, which almost without exception base their financial reporting on average annual investment returns of about 8 percent a year, something hard to defend in today’s markets, no matter what the investment mix.


(Excerpt) Read more at nytimes.com ...

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« Reply #28 on: January 09, 2011, 09:58:15 AM »

Will California Tax Itself to Prosperity?
Townhall.com ^ | January 9, 2011 | Austin Hill


“It’s a matter of ideology trumping reality…”

That assessment came from Syndicated Columnist Tony Blankley. It was Christmas Eve morning, December 24th, and we were each guest hosting local shows at Washington, DC’s 630 WMAL talk radio.

I was in to cover for vacationing host (and former Congressman) Fred Grandy in the early morning “drive time” hours, while Blankley was filling-in for DC favorite Chris Plante during the late morning (9a-12n Eastern) show.

I had asked Blankley to join me in-studio for a segment on my program, and to talk about a place we have both known and loved, California. While I was born and raised there, Blankley, a native of the U.K., spent some of his youth and young adult years in the Golden State. And we were both marveling – in a “troubled” sort of way – at the amazing ability of California leadership to ignore its very serious problems.

As if the $6 billion budget shortfall that he presided over didn’t really exist – a deficit that is expected to expand to a whopping $24.5 billion over the next eighteen months - outgoing Governor Arnold Governor Schwarzenegger had just called the legislature in to a “special session,” but then had called a press conference to announce his “really big plan.” For a second and final time before leaving office, he was going to try and legislate a state-wide ban on plastic grocery bags. This, he explained, would help save the planet, but would also help create so-called “green jobs.”

Indeed, this was a matter of “ideology trumping reality.” And never mind that Rome is burning -California will “be green.”

But that was last month. Now, a guy who was Governor for eight of my elementary, junior high and high school years is Governor yet again. A perennial government employee, Jerry Brown is back in Sacramento, and it looks like his third term is going to be as ideological as ever.

To be fair, I must admit my tremendous respect and admiration for our “new” Governor. At age 72, Brown is (amazingly) just as articulate and energetic and erudite as he ever was. In many ways he seems like he’s more at the “top of his game” now than when I was a kid. But his energy and mental sharpness aside, Jerry Brown is a big-government liberal – and right now, California desperately needs to move in the direction of New Jersey (especially given current Governor Chris Christie’s success at cutting government spending), and not in the direction of Greece.

But ideology still trumps reality in California, even in this new, “post Arnold” era. And so it was that, less than twenty-four hours after his inauguration, Governor Jerry Brown began laying the groundwork for raising taxes in California, rather than cutting government spending.

The problem with the state budget, so the Governor reasoned, was not that politicians had spent too much or that government agencies are wasteful. No, no, Californians aren’t taxed enough – they’ve been given an “unfair” break on their property taxes via the state’s famous, 32-year-old “Proposition 13,” and if that could be undone, then the state budget would be fixed.

Proposition 13, in case you’ve forgotten, was a landmark ballot proposition that drew a record number of voters to the precincts in 1978. The law passed in a landslide, and imposed a statewide limit on the rate at which local counties and cities could levy property taxes.

I remember the fight over Proposition 13 quite well. I recall the night my father and I attended a special “informational meeting” at my elementary school, presented by my school’s Principal. “If Proposition 13 passes,” the Principal reasoned, “we won’t have enough money to afford textbooks and classroom supplies…some schools in our district might even have to close down..”

“Ma’am, with all due respect, you don’t have enough text books now,” my father replied, “and property taxes have been escalating in our county for twenty-five years. The problem is not a lack of funds, it’s a mismanagement of funds…”

My late father, whether he knew it or not, was creating a “teachable moment,” and it was an economics lesson that I never forgot. My school’s Principal, of course, was doing what government employees typically do, and arguing for higher taxes and more government spending. And she was using the same “talking points” that Governor Brown had been using at the time, as he traveled up and down the state begging for a “no” vote on Proposition 13.

Yet after the proposition’s landslide victory on June 6 of 1978, Brown changed his tune, agreed to realign California government in such a way as to comply with the property tax limitations, and thus won re-election handily in November of that year.

Today, Governor Brown oversees a state debt that is more than twice the size of California’s annual operating budget back in the late 70’s. And it seems that the “early 1978” version of Jerry Brown is about to re-emerge.


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« Reply #29 on: January 12, 2011, 02:56:38 PM »

San Francisco Pension Deficit Deepens
KCBS ^ | 1/12/11 | Barbara Taylor - KCBS





SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – San Francisco’s pension fund for retired city workers is even worse off than projected. The city will have to contribute around $600 million next year to pay for pension costs.

Last year, the Civil Grand Jury caught flack from city workers’ unions for predicting that San Francisco would have to contribute 17 percent of retirees pensions. As it turns out, it’s even higher – 18 percent, according to Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who sits on the City’s Retirement Board. That’s 4.5 percent higher than last year, and it’s now projected to rise to 26 percent in three years.

”It will be the equivalent of having two San Francisco General Hospital budgets, about $650 to $700 million on the books, whereas just five years ago it was zero,” said Elsbernd.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi, whose pension reform measure was narrowly defeated by voters last year, said that it confirms what he’s been saying.

”It’s going to bankrupt the city, there’s no question,” said Adachi. “And what’s scary is that it’s going to happen within the next four or five years.”

...


(Excerpt) Read more at sanfrancisco.cbslocal.co m ...
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« Reply #30 on: January 12, 2011, 04:57:18 PM »

This is similar to what is happening in NJ.
When Christie Todd Whitman was Gov, she put money in the stock market(advised by her husband who had a job in the market)
Lost Billions of public employees money.
Couldn't pay into the retirement funds that we the people are taxed for.  Now the state is in the hole like many other states.

Chris Christie hasn't paid into the public funds either.
So when he is on the national scene touting how great he is, ask a employee of NJ.
No, he didn't start the fire. Just stop pretending that there is no fire.
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« Reply #31 on: January 14, 2011, 09:13:21 AM »

California overpays for immigrant welfare
San Francisco Chronicle ^ | January 12, 2011 | Ivan Light




California carries more than twice its share of the nation's burden for the support of needy immigrants. This is a problem of American federalism, not a problem of tax evasion by immigrants.

If immigrants were evenly distributed among the 50 states, California's share of the national immigrant welfare bill would be 6 percent. Instead, it pays 13 percent, according researchers.

In the United States, welfare is a shared federal and state responsibility. Fifty states share financial responsibility for Temporary Aid to Needy Families and Medicaid with the federal government, which contributes half of each state's cost of these programs. It is unfair to share welfare responsibility with states when 45 states have few immigrants, and only five have large populations of immigrants.


(Excerpt) Read more at sfgate.com ...

________________________ ________________________ _-


How about immgrants get no welare at all?   
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« Reply #32 on: January 14, 2011, 12:56:02 PM »

California may have the highest costs for charging electric vehicles, study says
La Times ^ | 1/14/11 | Tiffany Hsu


________________________ _____________


Californians may end up paying the highest electricity rates in the country to charge their electric vehicles, a new study says.

The state's tiered rate system, in which customers are charged higher rates as they use more electricity, could make plug-in hybrid and battery-powered vehicles more costly to own, according to a Purdue University study.

The study was unveiled as the first of the electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles are reaching consumers. Two vehicles, the all-electric Nissan Leaf and the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt, started being delivered to their first customers last month.

Electric-car makers and utilities said most owners will probably charge their vehicles at night when the rates are lower. But because of the tiered rate system, their electricity bills will still probably be high.

California households pay steeper rates for their electricity compared with other states — about 35% more than the national average, according to the study.

"The tiered system was put in because California wanted to be green and discourage electricity consumption," said Wally Tyner, an energy economist and lead researcher on the study. "The unintended consequence is that it also discourages electric vehicles."

A plug-in hybrid Volt would increase the average household's electrical usage 60%, the study said. Although the study didn't explicitly examine all-electric vehicles such as the Leaf, "the same principle would apply," Tyner said.


(Excerpt) Read more at latimes.com ...
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« Reply #33 on: January 17, 2011, 06:24:42 AM »

Steven Malanga
State Budget Bunk
A taxonomy of fiscal gimmicks, evasions, and ploys



In a 2009 segment on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart told viewers that many recession-hammered states had turned to unusual methods to raise money. “Are any of these ideas actually stupid?” Stewart wondered. Cut to Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones, who described Arizona’s plans to sell its state government buildings for $735 million, lease them back, and keep on using them. Quickly discerning the problem with such a maneuver, Jones confronted Arizona state senator Linda Lopez: “So you’ve got $735 million for this year. What happens next year, when you don’t have that and you’ve got to pay rent?” Lopez’s awkward response: “That’s always the problem, but we gotta get through this year.”


Arizona is hardly alone in straining budget credibility to the breaking point. Facing scary revenue drops that left their budgets dangerously unbalanced after years of runaway spending, states have employed an unprecedented number of fiscal gimmicks over the last two years to try to make up the difference. They have swiped revenues dedicated to maintaining roads or enhancing emergency medical systems; sold future lottery proceeds for cash today; grabbed unclaimed money in personal bank accounts; and redefined taxes as fees to get around constitutional limits on tax hikes. And they’ve justified these moves by claiming that voters are in no mood for the spending cuts or explicit tax hikes necessary to shrink deficits legitimately—even though the tricks often circumvent budget restrictions that the voters themselves enacted.

These deceptions may be fodder for TV comedians, but they are likely to have very serious consequences. Indeed, some of the fiscal problems now plaguing states result from budget ploys that legislators and governors created during earlier downturns and then failed to reverse when times got better. The ploys now support programs so generous that they’ve become unsustainable except through fiscal shenanigans. These never-ending budget tricks undermine democracy, mortgage the future for junkie-like quick fixes in the present, and are a bigger part of states’ current fiscal nightmare than most taxpayers know.

Budget gimmicks have become more prevalent in recent years, but they’re nothing new; rather, they’re one side of an ongoing tug-of-war between politicians trying to keep the spending spigot open and voters trying to impose fiscal discipline on them. The tug-of-war dates from the 1920s, when New York State embraced constitutional reforms that, among other things, prohibited it from borrowing money, except to build long-term projects. The restriction paid dividends: within just a few years, investors deemed New York so creditworthy that the interest rate on its bonds was only slightly higher than that on the U.S. government’s obligations. Other states soon followed with their own budget restrictions.

Sure enough, politicians quickly began trying to find ways around the limits without actually repealing them. In the mid-1930s, for instance, Pennsylvania lawmakers exempted “government-owned corporations” from state borrowing restrictions. The result was the creation of dozens of government bodies that started issuing bonds to do things once financed out of the state’s general budget.

Another key moment was New York governor Nelson Rockefeller’s introduction in the early sixties of “moral-obligation” borrowing. To circumvent requirements that voters approve borrowing, which until that point had always been repaid by taxes, Rockefeller started issuing bonds technically backed not by taxes but by a state promise. Rockefeller relied on the dubious concept to give state authorities a green light to raise billions of dollars for a host of pharaonic building schemes; state debt tripled in a decade, a state agency collapsed, and investors soon rejected moral-obligation debt.

The tug-of-war intensified in the 1970s, an era of tax revolts that saw activists successfully promoting spending caps to curtail fiscal irresponsibility—or so they hoped. Though California’s Proposition 13, passed by voters in 1978 to constrain property-tax increases, is the most famous of these laws, the Golden State actually came late to the party: bills in Indiana, Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and elsewhere preceded Prop. 13 by several years.

But as with earlier reforms, politicians found inventive ways to skirt them. A 1982 study published by James Bennett and Thomas DiLorenzo in Public Choice found that budget restrictions enacted in 32 states in the 1970s did little to reduce public spending because state and local pols simply moved billions of dollars off-budget into quasi-governmental entities, largely controlled by political appointees. “The principal reason for the establishment of OBEs [off-budget enterprises] in the U.S. has been to bypass the wishes of the electorate whenever the voters express a demand for fiscal restraint,” the authors noted in their groundbreaking paper. Today, only about half of all state government revenues makes it into states’ main accounts and is subject to budget mandates. The rest flows into the off-budget enterprises, where voter-imposed fiscal restrictions don’t apply.

And over the last couple of years, states have grown more dependent than ever on budget tomfoolery as they have faced record deficits. From 2004 through 2008, the states jacked up spending by nearly 35 percent, or about double the rate of inflation plus population growth. Then came the post-2008 economic downturn, and tax revenues plunged. Since late 2008, therefore, states have faced accumulated budget deficits of some $300 billion. Federal stimulus money helped cover about two-thirds of that yawning gap, but legislators have had to close the rest themselves. Many have resorted to methods that New York State’s comptroller calls a “fiscal shell game.”


One of the most common maneuvers is to fill budget holes with borrowed money. Arizona is a prime case. Since the housing bubble burst in 2007 and its economy began to contract, Arizona has borrowed approximately $2 billion, relying on new debt to close 17 percent of its budget deficits, reports the Arizona Capitol Times. Among the loans: $450 million that the state plans to pay back with future revenues from its lottery. The cost to the state over the next two decades will be about $680 million in principal and interest—and to make its payments, Arizona has already extended the life of the lottery, which must be renewed every few years, and added more games. This may turn out to be an economic deal with the devil. According to 2002 research by economist Melissa Schettini Kearney, an associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, state lotteries suck money out of the private economy, reducing household spending by nearly as much as the lotteries take in. If the projected revenue increases don’t materialize, Arizona will have to pay off its debt with lottery proceeds that now fund transportation and social services.

When Arizona claimed to be selling its government buildings, it was engaging in a far more deceptive kind of borrowing—a gimmick known as “tax-exempt certificates of participation” and even more preposterous than the Daily Show correspondent realized. There was no new owner in this so-called sale. Rather, the state floated more than $1 billion of notes, promising to repay bondholders with the “rent” that it would pay to lease the buildings. Since rent, not tax revenues, technically would repay the certificates, Arizona could borrow the money, even though it exceeded the state’s constitutional debt limit. Yet Arizona will pay the rent on the buildings with tax revenues, so the impact on taxpayers is exactly the same as more borrowing would have been: in this case, $1.5 billion in future taxes. “The Arizona legislature has done everything it can to pretend that life hasn’t changed since the housing market collapsed, and borrowing to close its budget gaps is one good example of that,” says Byron Schlomach, a fiscal analyst with the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix.

States are employing an array of other techniques that amount to borrowing without issuing debt. One strategy is simply to stop paying the bills. In Illinois, unpaid bills have reached a jaw-dropping $4.4 billion, according to the state’s comptroller. California, meanwhile, famously issued nearly 450,000 IOUs, totaling $2.6 billion, in 2009. Creditors kept waiting for months included staffing firms that supplied the state with temp workers and businesses that provided technology services. Even neighboring Nevada got stuck with an IOU (for $33,383) after sending firefighters to battle California wildfires. Nationwide, states’ unpaid bills have soared by nearly $100 billion, or 18 percent, since the end of 2007.

California also extracted what was essentially an interest-free loan from its taxpayers. It increased withholding rates for the state income tax for the last two months of 2009, collected about $1.7 billion, and held on to the funds (without, of course, paying any interest to the taxpayers to whom they belonged) until the next spring’s tax refunds. But that move worsened California’s budget problems in fiscal year 2010 because the state paid the 2009 refunds with 2010 tax revenues, leaving less to pay current bills.

Some state constitutions permit undisguised borrowing to patch budget gaps, provided the debt is quickly paid back. The problem is that it often isn’t. Connecticut, for example, will close its current budget deficit with $646 million in borrowing through “economic recovery bonds,” which will cost the budget an additional $131 million in interest payments. The state also borrowed money during the 2003 downturn and in the early 1990s. All this borrowing has added up: today, Connecticut’s debt per capita is the nation’s second-highest, and the fourth-highest as a percentage of household income.

More and more, states pay their bills with borrowed money even in good times. Take Illinois, which doesn’t collect enough in taxes to finance public employees’ retirements. In 2003, Illinois floated $10 billion in bonds to pay for the pensions. But then the state failed to contribute adequately to its pension funds in the subsequent boom years. Soon, it had to borrow again for the same reason: $3.5 billion in 2009 (and that adds up to $4.5 billion in future principal and interest payments). Last year, it took out yet another $4 billion loan. Meantime, Illinois is still paying off the original 2003 bond offering by diverting tax revenue from other uses. “In Illinois, politicians don’t even pretend that their deficit borrowing is to preserve essential programs, like for the needy,” says Jim Tobin, head of the National Taxpayers Union of Illinois. “The money is to keep paying union benefits that the state can’t afford.”

But untrammeled state borrowing becomes most apparent during economic downturns and the big deficits that accompany them. From 2008 through the second quarter of 2010, state and local financial liabilities, including debt outstanding and unpaid bills, swelled by some $290 billion.


Not all of the state budget trickery involves borrowing; some of it simply betrays pledges to taxpayers. One common example is “sweeps,” a term that refers to shifting money from adequately funded accounts into depleted ones. In some cases, the revenues that get “swept” come from taxes and fees that politicians had promised would pay for specific tasks—maintaining roads, say, or improving emergency services, or even paying for unemployment insurance. With the transfers, however, the money gets used for something entirely different.

One tempting area for sweeps is taxes designated for upgrading 911 emergency responses. An August survey by the Federal Communications Commission reported that states redirected $135 million in these taxes last year to spending for other purposes. New York is a serial abuser: shortly after enacting a cell-phone tax to fund an emergency-services upgrade in 1991, a Buffalo News investigation found, the state began diverting the revenues, and it has been diverting them ever since. So far, New York has collected an estimated $600 million from the tax and sent just $84 million to local officials for upgrading emergency services. Today, out of every $1.20 in 911 taxes, New York uses $1 for other purposes. Many of the state’s counties have been forced to levy their own 911 taxes to pay for actual upgrades.

Other states have followed New York’s lead. Wisconsin finished upgrades on its 911 system, diverted $25 million of surplus funds from an emergency-services tax that was supposed to phase out when the necessary work was finished, and extended the tax. In Oregon, the state’s attorney general determined that a sweep of 911 funds ran afoul of federal law; undeterred, Oregon’s legislature swiped the money anyway.

Fees from expanding industries are a popular sweeps target. In Colorado, for instance, the medical-marijuana business has been growing rapidly since voters legalized it in 2000. The $90 registration fee for users is supposed to finance legal enforcement of the industry. But in 2010, then-governor Bill Ritter siphoned $9 million out of the fund to help close the state’s budget gap, leaving just $1 million behind.

Fund transfers have grown so common that some states must now do “reverse sweeps”—that is, send money from their general funds back into accounts so depleted by previous sweeps that they can no longer meet their obligations. In 1991, New York created a fund to finance bridge and road construction and maintenance but quickly began transferring money out of it and borrowing to replace what had been transferred. About a third of the fund’s resources now go toward debt service, a figure projected to rise to 70 percent by 2014. So New York is shifting tax dollars from its hard-pressed general fund to help pay off the transportation account’s debt. No wonder a state comptroller’s report labeled such maneuvers “fiscal manipulations” intended to give taxpayers a “distorted view of the State’s finances.”

As states have tried to get their hands on more and more dedicated funds, they’ve provoked intensifying opposition, including expensive legal challenges—especially in cases where states take money from accounts that aren’t taxpayer-funded. New Hampshire, for instance, lost a lawsuit when it tried to seize $110 million in surpluses from a state-operated medical-malpractice insurance fund financed by doctors. In Arizona—where sweeps provoked 18 lawsuits in 2008 and 2009 alone—a judge ruled that the state broke the law when it took $160,000 from accounts intended to pay for agricultural research and financed by private donations.

Now states are even eyeing citizens’ private bank accounts. If the post office repeatedly isn’t able to deliver your bank statement or if your account is otherwise idle, states have long been able to grab the funds in it. But they’re starting to shorten the amount of time that must pass before they do. Last year, Michigan shrank the required period from as long as 15 years to just three; the state believes that the move will yield a one-time bonanza of more than $200 million. New York, New Jersey, and other states have likewise shortened the time that money can remain unclaimed.

States have also evaded constitutional and legal limitations on tax hikes by magically redefining some taxes as “fees.” In Washington State, raising taxes requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature, but raising fees requires only a simple majority. So the legislature, lacking the necessary votes to increase the tax on tickets to boxing and martial-arts events, simply renamed it a fee. “These forms of revenue boosting are covert and less likely to be noticed or to incite voter outrage,” note Amber Gunn and Brett Davis, two analysts with Washington’s Evergreen Freedom Foundation.

In California, however—which gets about 17 percent of its revenues from fees—voters did notice. In November, they approved Proposition 26, a ballot measure that supporters dubbed the “Stop Hidden Taxes” initiative, which requires that in the future, many kinds of items that the state has called fees will be called taxes and thus be subject to the state’s constitutional requirement of a two-thirds legislative vote for approval.

During the current recession, voters have expressed outrage at public employees’ rising numbers, plush salaries, and lavish benefits. States have accordingly enacted reforms to counter the power of government workers—but even these have been twisted into budget gimmicks by politicians. Illinois, to take one example, passed modest pension reforms last year that apply only to new workers, meaning that the savings from the measure won’t show up for years. But the legislation also included language that let the state apply up to $300 million of those future savings toward closing this year’s budget gap. The deal leaves Illinois right where it was—with a pension system only about 40 percent funded and in danger of running out of money within the next decade.

Early-retirement plans have become another vehicle for fiscal trickery. At first, the plans may seem an attractive way to downsize the government workforce. Michigan, for instance, recently passed a retirement plan to provide generous additional benefits for up to 6,400 retirees, who can step down at 59. The plan supposedly will save the state’s general fund about $80 million in its first year.

Or will it? Consider some recent experiences with early retirement. Back in 2003, Connecticut embraced an early-retirement plan to reduce the state workforce by several thousand, booking the savings straightaway. But then the state rehired some 1,000 of its early retirees as temporary workers who collected salaries in addition to their pensions. By 2008, some of those “temporary” employees were still working for the state and collecting pensions, a Hartford Courant investigation discovered.

Or look at Illinois, which launched a massive early-retirement plan during the last recession, in 2002. The state originally estimated that it would cost only about $80,000 extra per retiree, but after legislators added all the union-demanded sweeteners, that price tag ballooned to $200,000. Approximately 10,000 employees rushed to take advantage of the plan, further shaking an already tottering pension system. The system’s payouts to retirees rocketed in one year from $640 million to an estimated $1.6 billion. The same thing happened in New Jersey, according to a study performed by the legislature: some 4,000 workers took a 2002 early-retirement plan, which saved the state $314 million in compensation costs, but at a long-term cost of $645.4 million to the pension system. The drain of early retirements is one reason the state’s pension funds are running out of money.

Politicians have figured out that these schemes aren’t fiscal winners but merely another version of savings today at a steep price tomorrow. That’s probably why they rarely bother to estimate the true cost of early retirements. A study by the Manhattan Institute’s Empire Center found that New York State used ten different early-retirement programs between 1983 and 2002, but noted that the state had never done a cost-benefit analysis of any of them. Last year, New York offered another early-retirement plan: it ostensibly trimmed payrolls by 3,600 workers, but within a few months, a New York Post investigation found, hundreds of those workers were already on the payroll again in temp jobs while collecting retirement wages. “The ‘savings’ from early retirement are seldom real savings in the long run,” observed Gerard Miller, a strategist with PFM Group, a public finance consulting firm, in Governing. “Ultimately, taxpayers will pay a higher bill for those early pension benefits and retiree medical benefits.”

Budget gimmicks may be one-shot revenue enhancers, but their harmful effects reverberate down the years, undermining states’ long-term fiscal stability. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than California’s recent history. Back in 2004, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger promised that the state could fix its woeful finances if voters would just approve deficit borrowing in the form of “economic recovery bonds.” The voters, who had just removed Governor Gray Davis over his mismanagement of the budget, approved the bonds; the state borrowed $10.9 billion, increasing California’s general debt by 31 percent. Relieved by the loans of its immediate financial squeeze, Sacramento then discarded (again) fiscal discipline, hiking spending by nearly a third, or $34 billion, over the next four years. The state found itself in another deep hole by 2008.

But California is only the most obvious example. New Jersey’s current inability to pay for infrastructure improvements out of its depleted transportation fund is the result of sweeps that drained the fund to close budget gaps. Illinois’ dire pension shortfalls didn’t occur overnight, but worsened over years of budget tricks that the state never made right. It has been 20 years since New York, to close a budget deficit, bought Attica Prison from itself with money raised from a bond issue; today, the state is still using current tax dollars to pay off the interest.

Reformers should use the current downturn as a starting point to demand new measures that end many of these abuses. Though reforms will differ from state to state, several sensible principles should govern change. One is for states to switch from yearly budgets to balanced multiyear plans, so that legislators won’t be able to employ tricks one year and ignore their consequences the next. Another is for states to tighten restrictions on borrowing to include debt issued by quasi-governmental entities and authorities. States can also increase the amount of money that their reserve accounts must hold during good economic times, which would both restrain the growth of government during the good times and provide a cushion against severe revenue falloffs in recessions. Such reforms would represent the next stage in taxpayers’ never-ending battle against budget gimmicks.

Steven Malanga is the senior editor of City Journal and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He is the author of Shakedown: The Continuing Conspiracy Against the American Taxpayer.
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« Reply #34 on: January 17, 2011, 03:20:16 PM »

Ha a ha ha ha ha       LLLMMFFFFAAAOOOO

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January 17, 2011
Costly 'green jobs' solar plant sued by greenies
Thomas Lifson


A costly proposed solar power plant in Ivanpah, California, touted by President Obama as a "green jobs" initiative, is being sued by environmentalists. Nichola Groom of Reuters reports:


According to court papers, the non-profit Western Watersheds Project alleged U.S. regulators approved Brightsource Energy's 370-megawatt Ivanpah solar energy plant without conducting adequate environmental reviews, and asked the court to order the defendants to withdraw their approvals.


The complaint names the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as the agencies' heads and other staffers, as defendants. None was immediately available for comment.


"In an ill-conceived rush to accommodate massive renewable energy projects ... the federal defendants precipitously approved unnecessarily destructive energy development of the California Desert Conservation Area without first conducting adequate environmental reviews."


The complaint said the project's approval process failed to analyze and mitigate the Ivanpah plant's impact on migratory birds, the desert tortoise, which is a threatened species under federal law, desert bighorn sheep, groundwater resources and rare plants.


As Peter Wilson reported to AT readers last October, President Obama claimed that Ivanpah  "is going to put about a thousand people to work," a very misleading figure. There will be an average of 650 people working to construct the plant, but once it is completed, there will be only 86 permanent workers, mostly performing maintenance.  The cost to taxpayers: a $1.37 billion loan guarantee for Ivanpah. There have been a series of bankruptcies and closures of green power schemes lavishly subsidized with public funds. Wilson wrote then:


Brightsource investors include Google.org (a member of Van Jones's Apollo Alliance) and the California State Teachers Retirement System.  Billions in federal financing, billions every year for the next thirty years in taxpayer subsidies for above-market priced electricity, with profits going to Obama insiders like the Apollo Alliance and a teachers' union?  Should we really call this "clean" energy?


If the Western Watersheds Project derails this poorly conceived, rushed-through scheme, for whatever reason, they will save American taxpayers and California electricity consumers a pile of money.

Page Printed from: http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2011/01/costly_green_jobs_solar_plant.html at January 17, 2011 - 04:15:28 PM CST
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« Reply #35 on: January 18, 2011, 08:49:05 AM »

California taxpayers pay record amount in benefits to children of illegal aliens
Examiner. ^ | January 17th, 2011 | Dave Gibson




California taxpayers pay record amount in benefits to children of illegal aliens

Los Angeles Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich has just released data from the Department of Public Social Services which shows that in November 2010, $53 million in welfare benefits ($22 million CalWORKs and $31 million in Food Stamps) were given issued to illegal aliens for their U.S.-born children in Los Angeles County.

The record amount is an increase of almost $3 million from November 2009, and represents 22 percent of all CalWORKs and Food Stamp issuances in L.A. county.

In 2009, CalWORKs and Food Stamp benefits given to illegal aliens totaled almost $570 million. The total amount issued to illegal aliens cost in 2010, is estimated to be well over $600 million.

On Monday, Supervisor Antonovich told reporters: “When you add this to $550 million for public safety and nearly $500 million for healthcare, the total cost for illegal immigrants to county taxpayers exceeds $1.6 billion dollars a year -- not including the hundreds of millions of dollars for education.”

In August 2009, Antonovich made public the-then staggering amount which the taxpayers spent on illegal aliens, living in L.A. County. In June 2009 alone, the county paid out $48 million to the children of illegal aliens, an increase of $10 million over June 2007.


(Excerpt) Read more at examiner.com ...
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« Reply #36 on: January 18, 2011, 02:40:27 PM »

Pension reform or else


The unfunded pension liabilities of California's state and local governments exceed $700 billion. We can't fix the budget without reducing public employee retirement benefits.
 
Illustration by Lou Beach / For The Times
January 18, 2011


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Just since Christmas, we've learned that San Francisco's retiree health plan is $4.4 billion in the red, that Santa Clara County's fire chief will collect a hefty government paycheck on top of his $200,000 annual government pension, and that UC's latest tuition increase will go mostly to pension debt even as UC's highest-paid executives are threatening to sue for more benefits. Retirement scandals are as common as weather reports, and voters are fed up.

Gov. Jerry Brown's commitment to make the tough decisions required for the long-term health of California presents the perfect opportunity to reform the state's public pension systems, but his proposed budget solutions do not include any significant changes in this crucial area.

With the unfunded pension liabilities of California's state and local governments exceeding $700 billion, some state leaders now admit we cannot fix our budgets without reducing public employee retirement benefits. Near the end of his inaugural remarks, the governor said, "We will also have to look at our system of pensions and how to ensure that they are transparent, actuarially sound and fair — fair to the workers and fair to the taxpayers."



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During the last decade, California state government payments for retirement benefits have grown at an alarming and unsustainable rate, exceeding $5 billion a year, more than state support for the entire UC system. These huge and growing slices of the budget pie are needed to pay for average state retirement packages now valued at more than $1.2 million. The taxpayers who pay for those retirement benefits have an average of $60,000 saved for their own retirement.

Local governments are facing pension bills that are starving vital services. Faced with mounting long-term budget deficits, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently told labor leaders, "The days of unsustainable pensions are over." In 2002, Los Angeles taxpayers contributed just under $100 million to the Los Angeles City Employees' Retirement System, and it was fully funded. Today, that taxpayer contribution is more than $400 million, and the system is underfunded by more than $2.3 billion.

Dozens of cities are struggling to find solutions to growing retirement costs. The most sensible approach is a state constitutional framework for public retirement plans that is economically sustainable and meets Brown's test of fairness to workers and taxpayers.

Solving the crisis will take an ongoing public discussion of what voters in the state think is fair. Our organization has started asking Californians to consider a series of questions as we begin the work of fixing a broken system. Should public employees have different retirement plans than those available to employees of private companies? Should they pay half the cost of their benefits? Should public safety employees have different retirement plans than other government employees? Should retired public employees receive healthcare for life? These are all questions that need to be answered before the state tackles comprehensive pension reform.

Californians also need to familiarize themselves with the system that exists. Taxpayers are often shocked to learn that they are paying 100% of the cost of pension and retiree healthcare benefits for many public employees. When employees must contribute their own money toward their retirement, they generally opt for benefits they can afford, and if workers are given the opportunity to opt out of retiree healthcare benefits, many will continue to work until they are covered by Medicare. Delaying retirement just five years would, on average, cut pension costs in half.

Retirement plans can be structured to offer choices that fit the needs of public employees at all income levels. Pension benefits should be a safety net for those who need them the most, not an opportunity for the highest earners in the public sector to strike it rich. Capping public pensions at California's average household income would provide a sustainable plan that, combined with Social Security, would provide about 90% of the pay received during the final year of employment for employees whose wages are in the lowest quartile. Workers should also be given the option to participate in a plan similar to the 401(k) plans common in the private sector.

It's obvious that we need to change the kind of benefits we give to the next generation of public employees in the state. But that alone won't be enough. Changing current employee benefits too is crucial to avoiding the service reductions, pay cuts, layoffs and furloughs that would be necessary to keep public retirement plans afloat at their current levels. The California Constitution should be amended to allow the state's generous benefit formulas to be temporarily suspended for current employees and replaced with more modest formulas until depleted government pension funds fully recover.

Under any scenario, pension plan abuses must end. Pensions inflated by using overtime, car allowances, uniform costs and unused vacation and sick leave to increase salaries must stop. Double-dipping with both government pension checks and government paychecks must stop. Buying additional service credits at a steep discount to boost pension checks must stop. And taxpayers should be represented on public pension retirement boards by experts who operate independently, transparently and free of conflicts of interest.

Although the public employee union bosses will fight to retain them, financially unsustainable pension benefits must end. If the politicians do not address statewide pension reform in the months ahead, California voters must take action.

California's fiscal crisis demands that taxpayers protect themselves from unsustainable public employee pension benefits. If the Legislature won't respect Brown's leadership and find a fair and effective solution, he may find himself presiding over yet another taxpayer revolt.

Marcia Fritz is a certified public accountant and president of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing pension reform in the state.


________________________ _______________________-


Public employees are nothing more than madoffs and scammers against the taxpayers with all this crap.       
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« Reply #37 on: January 19, 2011, 04:08:45 PM »

Harbinger Of Muni Bloodbath: Vallejo Offers Unsecured Creditors 5 - 20 Cent Recovery
ZeroHedge ^ | 1/19/2011 | Tyler Durden


________________________ ________________________ ___-


But, but, munis always pay back almost 100 cents on the dollar, even in bankruptcy, right? Wrong. Bankrupt Vallejo just filed a POR to pay back unsecured creditors between 5 and 20 cents. "The city regrets that it cannot pay a higher percentage,” Vallejo officials said in the court filings. “The city lacks the revenues to do so while maintaining an adequate level of municipal services, such as the provision of fire and police protection and the repairing of the city’s streets." Just wait for the reaction when holders of unsecured debt all those other (hundreds of) insolvent cities, towns, and states realize that a 5 cent recovery is all too possible...

And now for the bad news, from Bond Buyer:

Unsecured creditors will receive 5 cents to 20 cents on the dollar for their claims under a reorganization plan Vallejo, Calif., filed Tuesday in federal court.

The plan to exit bankruptcy outlines the reorganization of debt the city owes its largest creditors, Union Bank and National Public Finance Guarantee. It also sets aside a pool of $6 million to pay unsecured creditors about 5% to 20% of their claims over two years, according to court documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District in Sacramento.

The formal legal plan is based on a five-year road map City Council members approved at the end of November, tackling $195 million in unfunded city pension obligations, cutting payments for retiree health care, reducing pension benefits for new employees, raising pension contributions for current workers, and creating a rainy-day fund.

Union Bank, the largest creditor, is owed $50 million after holding letters of credit on four series of defaulted COPs. The filing indicates Union Bank will get a new “lease-leaseback” obligation in exchange for canceling the COP series. It will also get $6 million of unspent proceeds from the COPs held under trust agreements.

Union Bank is slated to get 40% less than what it would have received from the original COP scheduled payments, according to the Vallejo filing.

Vallejo’s exit strategy includes restructuring the debt owed to unsecured creditors, many of which are employees and retirees, by creating a $6 million pool of cash that will be paid out over two years. They will still be able to pursue one of the city’s insurance pools to settle the liabilities, according to the documents.

Vallejo is certainly not the last to file a plan of reorg that attributes its GUCs nuisance value. We wonder when these same GUCs realize they are nothing but a nuisance: today the MUB actually closed up.

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« Reply #38 on: January 19, 2011, 08:58:20 PM »

How much does California owe?
Joe Nation

Wednesday, January 19, 2011



 As the national discussion continues on raising the U.S. debt ceiling to $14.3 trillion, Californians also should ask: How much is the Golden State in the red?

We've grown numb to annual budget meltdowns - shortfalls of $20 billion have become the norm. But what is our state's total debt? Would you believe at least $265 billion?

California's debt sorts into three buckets:

Budget deferrals, required reimbursements and related debt now total nearly $40 billion. How did "kicking the can down the road" get the state to such a large number? Budget gimmicks to achieve a balanced budget for one year (borrowing from local government, required repayments to public schools and other one-time actions) have added up. As Gov. Jerry Brown highlighted in his budget proposal, most of the budget "solutions" over the past three years "were temporary or failed because of court decisions or faulty assumptions."

General obligation borrowing is authorized by voters for school buildings, clean water, housing, stem cell research and other expenditures. According to the state treasurer, the total outstanding is $77 billion, the majority of which is for long-term infrastructure investments.

How does this debt compare with those of other large states? On a debt per capita basis, we rank second highest at $2,362, with New York at $3,135. (Texas is the lowest at $520; Michigan follows at $748.)

Debt on general obligation borrowing does offer a bright spot, with debt service peaking in fiscal year 2011, remaining flat through 2016, and then trending consistently downward. That trend could be short lived, however. Voters have already given the state the authority to issue an additional $43 billion in bonds, mostly for transportation, clean air and clean water. And voters can add more debt in upcoming elections.

Pensions and retiree health promises for state workers are an unfunded pension liability (i.e., the amount by which pension promises exceed pension assets) of $96 billion as of June 2009.

However, that figure assumes that those pension funds will increase their assets faster than U.S. investment assets grew in the past century. So, if they earned at the past century's rate, (which itself was very high historically), the unfunded liability is $256 billion. Using the method employed by Alicia H. Munnell of the Center for Retirement Research and formerly of President Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers, the liability is $568 billion.

So how much is the Golden State in the red? At least $265 billion, and perhaps $737 billion, both greater than official state reports suggest.

For perspective, the proposed California general fund budget for next year is $84 billion. In a best-case scenario, per capita indebtedness is more than $7,400. In a worst-case scenario, it is $19,800, nearly one-half the U.S. figure of $45,600. Given those dismal numbers, Californians would be served well by focusing on state finances as much as on federal finances.


Joe Nation, a Democrat, is a former member of the state Assembly, and a professor of public policy at Stanford University.

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/01/19/EDED1HA111.DTL

This article appeared on page A - 10 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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« Reply #39 on: January 21, 2011, 11:16:48 AM »

The Bay Citizen
Bonus Payments to City Retirees Are Drawing Ire
By ELIZABETH LESLY STEVENS
Published: January 20, 2011
www.nyt.com



 As San Francisco struggles under ballooning pension and health care costs, the city’s retirees will receive unexpected cost-of-living bonuses totaling $170 million. The city’s anticipated budget deficit for the coming year is $360 million.

 
A nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization providing local coverage of the San Francisco Bay Area for The New York Times. To join the conversation about this article, go to baycitizen.org.
.A political battle has raged over the city’s growing retirement obligations. In November, Proposition B, which would have required city workers to contribute more toward their pensions and benefits, was soundly defeated. The measure’s opponents — every major elected official and energetic public-employee unions — said fears about the pension fund were overblown.

Meanwhile, the fund’s fundamentals deteriorated as it gradually accounted for its huge losses in the stock market crash. It took in $414 million in contributions in 2010 but paid out $819 million.

On Jan. 4, an actuarial firm reported that the $13.1 billion San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System now had an unfunded liability of $1.6 billion — triple its shortfall a year earlier. Gary A. Amelio, the system’s chief since January 2010, did not respond to questions.

In spite of the shortfall, Mr. Amelio and the system’s board quietly decreed in mid-December that “excess” earnings on investments in 2010 entitled retirees to an unexpected cost-of-living increase of as much as 3.5 percent this year. The special $170 million bonus is in excess of regular cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs.

“The irony of issuing bonus payments to retirees at a time the pension fund is a billion dollars down is insane. It really is,” said Jeff Adachi, San Francisco’s public defender and the chief proponent of Proposition B, which he says would have saved the city $120 million this year. “It’s like a bankrupt corporation paying dividends to its shareholders.”

Until 2005, the city paid nothing into the pension fund because the fund had more assets than long-term liabilities and the excess investment income more than covered its expenses. During those flush years, the benefits were made increasingly generous, especially to the police and fire departments. But the system has posted investment losses for 4 of the last 10 years.

The city is required to inject cash if necessary to pay its retirees. This year, it will pay $325 million, or 13.6 percent of the total payroll of $2.4 billion. In the coming fiscal year, it will pay 18.1 percent — about $434 million. Three years from now, according to the actuarial report, the city will be paying 28.8 percent of payroll, or about $691 million.

The city’s estimated budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year is $360 million. If not for its growing pension-fund contributions, the city might not face a budget crisis at all.

“No one foresaw this event, with the pension fund going down and all of a sudden a 3.5 percent raise to retired people,” said Thomas J. O’Connor, head of the powerful firefighters’ union and a participant in a group of city leaders and union officials trying to come up with a more palatable proposal to trim the city’s employee costs.

The $170 million arose from a provision in a 2008 ballot initiative that required newly hired employees to contribute more toward benefit costs. To win support, the initiative contained a promise of increased bonus payments to retirees if the pension fund’s performance exceeded its target. The pension system posted a huge loss in the 2008-9 fiscal year, so it was unsurprising that it exceeded its 7.75 percent target return the following year when the market improved.

Mr. O’Connor seems open to compromise. “In these times, with the overall health of the fund, we could see COLAs being deferred for a time until the fund is solvent again,” he said. “No one imagined we’d be at this point giving a raise to people.”


estevens@baycitizen.org
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« Reply #40 on: January 21, 2011, 11:58:49 AM »

California Declares Fiscal Emergency
Published: Friday, 21 Jan 2011 | 8:28 AM ET Text Size By: Reuters



Jerry Brown, California’s governor, declared a state of fiscal emergency on Thursday for the government of the most populous US state to press lawmakers to tackle its $25.4 billion budget gap.

 
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Democrat Brown’s declaration follows a similar one made last month by his predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former Republican governor.

Democrats who control the legislature declined to act on Schwarzenegger’s declaration, saying they would instead wait to work on budget matters with Brown, who served two terms as California’s governor in the 1970s and 1980s.

Brown was sworn in to his third term early this month and has presented lawmakers with a plan to balance the state’s books with $12.5 billion in spending cuts and revenue from tax extensions that voters must first approve.

Brown has said he wants lawmakers to act on his plan by March.

His fiscal emergency declaration is meant to underscore that target, an official said.

Brown’s declaration, which is largely procedural, says it affirms Schwarzenegger’s December declaration, giving lawmakers 45 days to address the state’s fiscal troubles.

Surprising Cities With Job Openings

The 72-year-old governor also wants the legislature to back a ballot measure for a special election in June that would ask voters to extend tax increases expiring this year to help fill the state budget’s shortfall.

Brown needs a handful of Republican votes to put the measure to voters.

Republican leaders in the legislature have said they doubt those votes will come.

By contrast, Darrell Steinberg, the state senate president pro tem, told Reuters on Thursday he is backing Brown’s budget plan and that he would press other lawmakers to do so as well: “I think the Brown framework is the right framework ...We intend to meet the March deadline.”
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« Reply #41 on: January 21, 2011, 01:50:25 PM »

California’s unemployment rate increases to 12.5 percent
Central Valley Business Times ^ | 1/21/2011 | staff




• Jumps in Central Valley • Six counties now have at least 20 percent unemployment

California’s unemployment rate increased to 12.5 percent in December, although nonfarm payroll jobs increased by 4,900 during the month, according to data released Friday by the California Employment Development Department from two separate surveys.

The U.S. unemployment rate decreased in December to 9.4 percent.

In December 2009, the unemployment rate in California was 12.3 percent. The unemployment rate is derived from a federal survey of 5,500 California households.

The jobless rate jumped in all but one Central Valley county last month. The only county to see a decrease was Sacramento. Merced County topped the 20 percent mark for jobless adults.


(Excerpt) Read more at centralvalleybusinesstim es.com ...
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« Reply #42 on: January 21, 2011, 01:57:10 PM »

still talking to urself I see....
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« Reply #43 on: January 21, 2011, 02:01:26 PM »

still talking to urself I see....

As opposed to what?   Being dumber than dirt like you are?   
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« Reply #44 on: January 21, 2011, 02:03:07 PM »

and still responding in 2.5 seconds....oh what a life....





or lack thereof i should say....
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« Reply #45 on: January 27, 2011, 07:54:02 PM »



Bleak future for California, says new report
Examiner.com ^ | 1/27/2011 | Joe Alfieri




A report by the University of the Pacific’s Business Forecasting Center says that California can expect to see little change in the economic climate for the next three years.

The Stockton, California based university’s forecast, released this week, concentrates on Northern and Central California, though it projects a statewide unemployment rate above 10 percent for the next three years.

Currently at 12.4 percent, the rate is not expected to dip below double digits until 2014, when the school sees the number at 9.6, currently the national average. California has lost approximately 1.3 million jobs since the summer of 2007, when 15.2 million were employed. The San Francisco Bay Area remains weak, with unemployment ranging from 9.4 percent in the city to over 12 percent in Santa Cruz to the south and Vallejo north of the city. The East Bay, which lost what the report calls “a staggering 11.4% of its jobs over the past 3 years” is expected to show modest growth. Sacramento and the Central Valley will continue to bleed jobs in 2011, although at a lesser rate than in 2010. Unemployment in Merced is pegged at 19.2 percent.


(Excerpt) Read more at exm.nr ...


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« Reply #46 on: March 18, 2011, 09:48:29 AM »

Field Poll: Quality of life plunges in California
San Francisco Chronicle ^ | 3/18/11 | Justin Berton, Chronicle Staff Writer




Californians are bummed out.

The Golden State's residents rated their quality of life at its lowest mark in almost 20 years, citing the economic downturn and stagnant personal finances, according to a joint UC Berkeley and Field Poll.

"Residents are reconsidering the image of the Golden State and showing more ambivalence toward it," said Jack Citrin, a Berkeley political science professor who co-wrote the report. "The changes going on - socially, culturally, economic - have made people here less Pollyannaish about the reality of life here."

The poll, based on a telephone survey of 898 registered voters in February, showed that only 39 percent considered the state "one of the best places to live," compared with the glory days of 1985, when 78 percent gave the state the highest rating.

Californians' self-assessment has gradually declined since then, with occasional spurts of optimism, until the appraisal rock-bottomed in 1992 at the tail end of a national recession.

Jon Christensen, the executive director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University, said while the poll reflected personal financial woes. Californians are also bothered by a dysfunctional state government mired in a budget crisis.


(Excerpt) Read more at sfgate.com ...
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« Reply #47 on: April 09, 2011, 08:48:47 AM »

California: Judge Upholds Racial Quotas for Highway Contracts
www.thenewspaper.com ^ | 04/08/2011 | n/a

Posted on Saturday, April 09, 2011 10:35:42 AM by Ken H

Federal judge approves set asides and racial quotas for transportation contracts in California.



A federal judge last week granted the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) the right to discriminate against white business owners and men when awarding contracts. The Pacific Legal Foundation had filed suit against the department on behalf of the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of San Diego, insisting that its racial quota program violated the voter-approved Proposition 209 prohibition on race- and sex-based preferences in public contracting, employment and education. US District Court Judge John Mendez weighed the arguments, denied the Pacific Legal Foundation's motion and granted summary judgment in favor of Caltrans.



"This decision affirms that Caltrans' efforts to level the playing field are constitutionally sound and will ensure that billions of dollars in federal transportation funds continue flowing to California," Caltrans Director Cindy McKim said in a statement Wednesday. "We will continue to reach out to disadvantaged businesses and hope our program serves as a model for other states to follow."



In March 2009, Caltrans announced it would implement a "mandatory race conscious Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program" that set aside 6.75 percent of federal-aid project contracts for blacks, Asians and Indians -- but not Hispanics or "subcontinent Asian males." AGC member companies -- the San Diego chapter represents 1300 firms -- complained that under the program, they lost out on business despite offering higher quality services at better prices. A similar program had been struck down as illegal in 2006, but Caltrans officials worked with the Obama administration looking for a way around the law. The US Department of Transportation issued a letter stating that California would lose federal highway funds if it did not implement a quota system. This triggered an escape clause in Proposition 209 that allows discrimination to avoid losing federal money.



Caltrans argued it was remedying discrimination against minorities and women with the DBE program because these groups only received three percent of the contracts under race-neutral policies. The Pacific Legal Foundation was outraged by the decision and is considering an appeal.



"What makes the judge's decision particularly disappointing is that briefing had only been completed seven days before the date set for oral argument, making it unlikely that the court thoroughly examined the complete record under the exacting requirements of strict scrutiny -- which is the court's duty in such cases," the foundation explained.

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« Reply #48 on: April 09, 2011, 09:02:11 AM »

They care about the important stuff in California, balancing the budget comes secondary to enforcing the use of low-flush toilets that cause massive sewer backups, compact florescent light bulbs that dump mercury into the environment, and saving a three inch long fish in order to put farmers out of business. 

Jesus, they already have a 10% sales tax and high state income tax, how can they be that broke? 
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« Reply #49 on: August 29, 2011, 10:08:12 AM »

Tab on ramp for SF supervisors' chamber adding up
Phillip Matier,Andrew Ross, Chronicle Columnists

Monday, August 29, 2011

What costs more: a home in San Francisco's Sunset District, or a wheelchair ramp in the Board of Supervisors' chambers?

If you picked the house, you're wrong.

By the time the final tab comes in, the cost of designing and installing a ramp to the president's chair at the Board of Supervisors - a project now under way - is expected to top out at $699,413.

That is about $50,000 more than the median cost of a home in the Sunset.

Why so much for a 10-foot ramp?

First, it took two companies, at a total cost of $132,205, to come up with a design that passed architectural muster for a designated historic landmark. The cost in city staff time to oversee the planning hit $38,434. That's $170,639.

Then came the job itself.

To install the ramp, the board's majestic podium is being taken apart, raised five steps above the chamber's floor, then put back together.

Costs include $25,200 for materials, $201,678 for labor and $49,000 for a set of historically accurate brass handrails. Outside historic experts to keep an eye on the work are getting $48,824.

Miscellaneous costs bring the construction job's total to $477,000 and change.

Also, because the job could take 10 weeks, the supervisors have set aside $51,042 to pay for relocating board meetings.

Supervisor John Avalos - the lone "no" vote on the project when the board approved it in February- said the political math just doesn't add up.

"This is a tremendous amount of money being spent on something in City Hall that rarely or may never even get used," Avalos said.

"Meanwhile, there are so many other needs for handicapped access that are really needed that are going unfunded," Avalos said.

Board President David Chiu defended the project, saying that "San Francisco has been at the forefront of access issues, and it's important the board reflect that."

Chiu also said the cost is "significantly" lower than the $1.1 million original plan.

Job play: Even before he announced it, Gov. Jerry Brown knew his call for corporate tax reform for more jobs stood a snowball's chance of getting the needed four Republican votes in the Legislature for passage.

But as one Brown staffer explained, by doing nothing, the governor would be criticized for inaction on the biggest issue in the state.

Besides, the real play will be in 2012, when Brown will either go to the ballot with a tax overhaul or use reform as the main issue in the 2012 legislative races when the open primary and the newly drawn districts come into play.

Republican Assembly leader Connie Conway of Tulare promptly said GOP lawmakers would fight the governor's tax reform plan "every step of the way."

However, Republican state Sen. Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo said that although Brown appeared to be "obsessed" with raising taxes, he was still open to working with the governor.

And with good reason. Brown carried Blakeslee's newly reapportioned district in 2010 by 16 points.

Odds-on favorites: A new citywide poll commissioned by the San Francisco Police Officers Association, in preparation of their election endorsements, backs what other polls are showing - stand-in Mayor Ed Lee will be very tough to unseat.

And so will appointed District Attorney George Gascón.

Both political newcomers are on track to receive 30 percent-plus of first-round votes in the ranked-choice balloting, more than twice what their nearest rivals are polling.

And even after second- and third-place votes are added to the mix, the two maintain healthy leads.

Plus, according to the poll of 502 likely city voters - conducted from Aug. 14 to 17 by the firm of Fairbanks, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates - 64 percent of those surveyed had a "generally favorable" opinion of Lee, with only 11 percent unfavorable. The remaining 25 percent had no opinion.

Thirty-nine percent viewed Gascón favorably and just 8 percent unfavorably, while 54 percent had no opinion.

Interesting to note, when the pollsters brought up Lee's tax breaks to keep Twitter in town, his turnabout on his promise not to run and his close ties to "powerbrokers" Willie Brown and Rose Pak, Lee's favorables actually went up 2 percentage points.

Bike break: Good news for the spandex crowd. It looks like Golden Gate Bridge officials will be able to reopen the span's west sidewalk a bit early.

The sidewalk repair work began at the end of May and forced bicyclists to mix with walkers on the east sidewalk. It is now expected to be completed in mid-September, about two weeks ahead of schedule.

EXTRA! Catch our blog at www.sfgate.com/matierandross.



Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross appear Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays. Matier can be seen on the KPIX-TV morning and evening news. He can also be heard on KCBS radio Monday through Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 5:50 p.m. Got a tip? Call (415) 777-8815, or e-mail matierandross@sfchronicle.com.

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/08/29/BA7I1KMRO0.DTL

This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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