Good morning, California.
“And Team Nunes says a prayer of thanks.”— Republican consultant Matt Rexroad tweeted, after Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren endorsed Republican Devin Nunes’ opponent, Andrew Janz, for the Tulare-Fresno-area congressional seat. Is Warren a Celtics fan? (see below)
Brown urges high court to hear pension case
Jerry Brown called pension overhaul a "moral obligation" in 2011. (AP)
Gov. Jerry Brown is urging the California Supreme Court to take up a case about pension benefits for public employees that is especially important to him. He may have himself to blame for the delay.
Jog my memory: Public employee unions sued over a 2013 law that Brown signed to rein in pension costs. Brown is urging the justices to uphold the law.
The Sacramento Bee first reported Brown’s legal affairs secretary asked the court in a letter dated July 6 to take up the case before the governor leaves office in January, and cited Brown’s “deep concern for the fiscal integrity and solvency of public pension systems.” The court hasn’t responded.
Appellate attorney David Ettinger, who blogs about the court, posted an item Wednesday noting “the reason for the delay could be that the court is waiting for the governor to fill the court’s vacancy.”
Short-handed: State Supreme Court Justice Kathryn Werdegar retired last August. Why hasn’t Brown filled the vacancy? One explanation: If he nominates someone before Aug. 30, the justice would face voters this November. If he waits, the nominee could serve until 2022 before appearing on the ballot.
Meanwhile, the six remaining justices must do the work of seven, and turn to court of appeal justices to fill in. They’re short-staffed, too, though Brown will fill some of 10 judicial vacancies very soon.
Timing matters: Brown’s likely successor, Gavin Newsom, might be less willing to challenge organized labor over pensions.
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Hardball politics over fire costs
Simi Valley fire.
Three of California’s electric utilities have quit the League of California Cities after the group opted to support current liability laws that could cost the utilities billions when their equipment sparks wildfires.
The decision reflects the hardball being played as the Legislature prepares to convene hearings next week on how to apportion billions of dollars in costs associated with increasingly ferocious wildfires.
A letter from Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric attributed the break to the league’s decision to embrace current law rather than a change to provide relief to the utilities.
The utilities each paid a minimum of $15,000 annually to be listed as “platinum” level partners. Edison’s annual payments ended up being $50,000 a year.
“Unfortunately, we have come to the conclusion that the Partner program has become a one-way relationship.”
A league representative said in an email that staff conferred with the utilities, but league policymakers needed to “ensure that cities are not subject to increased liability.”
Why it matters: The utilities are among the Capitol’s most influential players. However, persuading legislators to alter long-standing liability laws will be tough. They could use an ally, or at least not another foe.
A delay in measuring student achievement
CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports on the battle over what information California should reveal about schools’ test scores to parents and the public.
The issue: Whether the state will measure student performance over time, revealing which schools help students learn more from one year to the next. The powerful California Teachers Association, key to the discussion, opposes measurements that could be tied to teacher pay.
Advocates for struggling students say measuring progress over time could help close the achievement gap that separates white, Asian-American and middle-class students from their black, Latino and low-income peers.
After studying ways to measure growth, the state board of education delayed making a decision this month. The teachers union agreed with the decision. Some advocates did not.
Obamacare rate hike. It could have been worse
People getting their health insurance through Obamacare will see an average 8.7 percent premium increase in 2019. It could be worse and is in most other states.
Although health costs are rising faster than wages and inflation, the Affordable Care Act premium increase in California will be less than the double-digit rises in the past two years.
Nearly 90 percent of Covered California’s 1.4 million enrollees will be shielded from the rate hike because they are low-income and qualify for federal subsidies. Those who earn more will feel the pinch of the increase more directly.
Trump bump: The 2019 increase would be lower by about 3.5 percent if Congress and the Trump Administration had not eliminated the penalty for people who fail to buy health care coverage.
Peter Lee, Covered California’s executive director, estimated 260,000 Californians, many of them healthy, will drop coverage in 2019 now that it is no longer required. Given how insurance works, the departure of healthy people will lead to increased costs for those who remain insured, including those who get insurance through employers.
The Los Angeles Times quoted Lee: “We are paying, in essence, a surcharge for federal policies that are making coverage more expensive than it should be.”
P.S. Open enrollment on the exchange starts Oct. 15 for coverage starting Jan. 1.
Rep. Nunes, a Celtics fan by way of Tulare
Congressman Devin Nunes, a Tulare County Republican, used campaign money to buy $14,638 worth of Celtics basketball tickets at the Boston Garden last season, the campaign finance watchdog groups, Campaign Legal Center and Issue One, reported Thursday.
Nunes made the purchases with money he raised into New PAC. Most members of Congress have such political action committees; they’re “frequently described as slush funds,” the watchdog groups said.
“It insinuates wrongdoing while actually showing that Rep. Nunes has broken no rules and properly reported all expenses for his fundraising events, much of whose income he gives to help elect other Republicans.”
See you Monday.