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Pension rollbacks won’t do much to balance budget

February 28, 2011

Talk of rolling back public employee pensions appears to be gaining momentum in Sacramento. Some lawmakers increasingly link budget negotiations to pension reform, and an independent state commission last week called for dramatic changes in the way California compensates its retired employees. But anyone who hopes that reducing pension benefits will help balance next year’s budget, or any budget in the near future, might be disappointed. California is facing a $25.4 billion budget deficit right now, yet changes to the public employee pension system generally take years or even decades to produce significant savings.

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$1 billion in use taxes go unpaid

February 28, 2011

About $1 billion in use taxes go unpaid every year in California, according to a report issued to lawmakers today from the nonpartisan legislative analyst.

Use taxes are similar to sales taxes but are typically charged on out-of-state purchases, many of which are made over the Internet. Unlike sales taxes, which are collected by the seller and sent to the state Board of Equalization, use taxes are supposed to be paid by the buyer.

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Counties Need More Support to Boost CalFresh Participation

February 28, 2011

Here’s a fact that should command the attention of every policymaker in California: Nearly 5 billion dollars in federal funding is lost each year when California families eligible for food stamps aren’t enrolled in the program.

Funny how a state unemployment rate stuck at 12 percent-plus since August 2009 can turn a bureaucratic issue like “program participation rates” into a strategic discussion about economic stimulus.

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From Foreclosures to Affordable Housing

February 26, 2011

From Foreclosures to Affordable Housing

“Hello!” Anne Griffith called out as she unlocked the front door of a recently purchased home in the Elmhurst neighborhood of East Oakland. Though the house was purchased in foreclosure, and has stood empty for months, Griffith expected an answer to her call. She got one.

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Voter mandates restrict state’s flexibility

February 24, 2011

Californians want their state legislators and the governor to balance the budget. But voters also want to control the way lawmakers spend much of the money sent to Sacramento. That contradiction is one reason for the political paralysis in the Capitol. Over the past generation, voters have set aside 40 percent of the budget for K-12 schools and community colleges. They also have locked down billions of dollars for transportation, public safety, mental health, children’s services, after-school programs and anti-tobacco education, among other priorities.

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Report: Pension benefits “unsustainable”

February 24, 2011

A respected California government watchdog commission issued a scathing report today on the state’s pension system, calling for cuts in benefits for current and future employees, caps on pensions, an end to “pension spiking” and other reforms.

The Commission on California State Government Organization and Economy, known as the Little Hoover Commission, calls the current system “unsustainable” and says it has morphed from a program that provided retirement security into one that seeks “wealth accumulation” for public employees.

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Brown: Republican stance ‘not loyal to California’

February 24, 2011

California governors rarely testify before legislative committees. Most would have considered it a step down. But Gov. Jerry Brown has always played by his own rulebook, and today he decided to address the Assembly-Senate conference committee that is helping to write the next state budget.

Brown made it clear that if the temporary tax extensions he seeking don’t make it on the ballot, or don’t pass, he will be prepared to sign a budget that is balanced with cuts alone, even if that means lopping several weeks off the school year.

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Immigrant Latinas get course in leadership

February 23, 2011

Immigrant Latinas get course in leadership

Walking into the classroom of Richmond’s Latina Center intimidated Maria Lourdes Sanchez. The other Spanish-speaking women in the room, who also came to develop their leadership skills, were welcoming. But Sanchez was still afraid.

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Budget conference committee starts work today

February 23, 2011

At least for now, Democrats in the Legislature appear to be taking Gov. Jerry Brown’s request for a speedy budget seriously. Today, a joint committee of the Senate and the Assembly, known as the budget conference committee, begins meeting to hammer out differences in the two houses’ versions of the budget.

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Creating a Fertile Bed for Urban Agriculture

February 22, 2011

Creating a Fertile Bed for Urban Agriculture

It’s almost spring here in California, which for many means it’s time to start planning this year’s garden. But when it comes to growing food in cities, planning for gardens means more than just picking out seeds. Unless city and county planning documents include policies supporting urban agriculture, community gardening and other local food-growing programs could be in jeopardy.

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