Vested interests hoping to be prioritized in Governor's State of the State

A joint session of California's state legislature will convene Thursday morning for Governor Jerry Brown's State of the State address.
A joint session of California's state legislature will convene Thursday morning for Governor Jerry Brown's State of the State address.
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When Jerry Brown delivers his State of the State address Thursday morning in Sacramento, some of California’s most powerful stakeholders will be listening for the Governor’s priorities — and how he challenges the legislature to respond this session.

Governor Brown has big plans to shake out the state’s funding formula for K-12 schools, but some education stakeholders are more concerned with efforts to weed out bad apples — a problem brought home by last year’s arrest of a long-time LAUSD elementary school teacher accused of lewd conduct.

“We would hope that there’s some effort this legislative cycle to address teacher dismissals,” says Dean Vogel, President of the California Teachers Association.  The teachers' union fought a bill last year that would have expedited dismissals. Vogel thinks the media has hyped what is perceived to be an ineffective process for dismissing teachers. Still,  he thinks a less costly way to oust teachers accused of wrongdoing could be reached this year — as long as it’s fair. 

“So that at the same time that we’re preoccupied with keeping kids safe at school, we’re also taking care to address the due process needs of teachers and protecting their rights,” Vogel says.

A recent state audit concluded that California’s teacher dismissal process is too long and expensive, and requires a better tracking system for both teachers and other school employees. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) has already introduced a bill to address those shortcomings. SB 10 is virtually the same as one the Assembly education committee killed last year. But Edgar Zazueta, who lobbies for the Los Angeles Unified School District, believes there’s more momentum this year for change
“We hope — given all the attention given around this issue — your average citizen [and] your average parent agree: something needs to be done and that our current system is onerous,” Zazueta says.

For Los Angeles and other counties, the most important policy fight this year will be over how to fund federal healthcare reform. Matthew Cate, who heads the California State Association of Counties,  says as California expands the Medi-Cal program for low-income residents, counties risk losing money to provide required indigent care and public health programs. 

“Everything from making sure that folks are getting information about the spread of disease, to inoculations, to all that kind of core work — counties do all of it,” Cate says. “And so we’ll be advocating very assertively on behalf of counties to make sure that nothing goes awry.”

California cities will focus their energies on replacing some of what they lost when the Brown Administration convinced lawmakers to scrap the state’s 400 redevelopment agencies. Lawmakers acted to recapture $1.7 billion in taxes to help balance the state budget.

The League of California Cities sued to stop the move — and lost. Executive Director Chris McKenzie says now he hopes to find another way to make up for a loss that has devastated city budgets and brought affordable housing projects to a halt.
“Today, when a business comes to a city and says, ‘I want to partner with you, I’d like you to put in the infrastructure, I’ll do the private sector investments in order to get this done,' cities have such limited tools that they can use to partner, to get that kind of project financed,” McKenzie laments.

In the last legislative session,  Governor Brown vetoed a handful of bills that would have increased local governments’ ability to use tax increments to finance projects.  Business groups supported the changes and say they will try again this year.

The Los Angeles County Business Federation, known as BizFed, also wants to expand tax credits for TV and film projects that shoot in-state. BizFed’s members include the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Motion Picture Association of America. CEO Tracy Rafter says study after study shows California gets a great return on its $100 million in annual tax credits.

“If I could give you a dollar and you would give me back $1.40, why wouldn’t I do that all day long?” Rafter asks.  “It’s no cost to the taxpayer.”

Rafter believes the state should expand the total amount of the tax credit, and raise the cap on the types of projects that can apply.  Currently that’s set at $75 million — an amount she says excludes most blockbuster films.

BizFed and the state Chamber of Commerce also support efforts to “modernize” the California Environmental Quality Act — or “CEQA.” A short-lived effort to pass such legislation died last summer.  But Rafter says California still needs to bring the law in line with the 100-plus environmental measures passed since CEQA was enacted in 1970.

“There’s many more laws that come from the federal level and the state level on top of this,” Rafter explains. “So now we need a little harmonization across all of the regulations and governing bodies.”  

“That’s bogus,” counters David Pettit, who heads the Natural Resource Defense Council’s Southern California Air Program. “It’s not ‘harmonizing.’"  Pettit says the fine print of last year’s CEQA "modernization” bill does just the opposite:
“What it would do is take CEQA off the table — CEQA and all the public process that goes along —if a proposed project is legit under some other regulation, including even things like planning and zoning, which are often 20 or 30 years out of date.”

Pettit says he won’t be surprised to hear the Governor take a swipe at CEQA in his State of the State address. Last year Brown jokingly called CEQA reform “the Lord’s Work,” and has said he’ll look for ways to ease environmental regulations that impede economic growth.  But Pettit and other environmental advocates will be pushing back — with all they’ve got.

You can listen to Governor Brown's address online here at kpcc.org at 9 a.m. Thursday and on the air at 89.3 FM.