Gas taxes, crisis beds, a gun tax, a Reagan remembrance, a GOP loss, and CCPOA’s $2 million headache

Good morning, California.

“We don’t want hate in Modesto. I am making sure Modesto is not a place for hate speech.”—Matthew Mason, planning to speak at a Modesto City Council hearing against a “straight pride” march.

The Modesto Bee reports Mason is the 28-year-old gay, adopted and estranged son of Modesto resident and straight pride march organizer Mylinda Mason.

Gas tax, road repairs & politics

Senate Bill 1 raised gas taxes by 17.6 cents.

California motorists pay the nation’s highest gas tax, 61.2 cents per gallon, followed by Pennsylvania’s 58.7 cents, the Tax Foundation reports.

The low end: Alaska, 14.66 cents, Missouri, 17.42 cents, Mississippi, 18.4 cents.

Who could forget: Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 1, which raised gas taxes by 12 cents per gallon initially and another 5.6 cents as of July 1.

CalTans spent $2.3 billion of SB 1 money as of June, and anticipates spending $5.5 billion during the 2019-20 fiscal year. 

CalTrans’ count:

  • 100 projects completed, including 57 pavement projects repairing or replacing asphalt on almost 1,500 lane miles of roadway, and 115 bridges.
  • 469 projects in the works, with 70 under construction.

Bigger undertakings:

  • $370 million for I-5 in Sacramento, including 23 miles of carpool lanes, to be open by late 2022.
  • $255 million for Highway 101 in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, including 31 miles of express lanes, to be done by mid-2022.
  • $2 billion for the 405 in Orange County, including 64 lane miles of regular and express lanes to be done by 2023.

Politics: Gas tax opponents last June recalled Democrat Josh Newman, then a senator from Fullerton, over his vote in favor of the tax.

Newman last week reported having $233,910 in the bank for his comeback campaign against Republican Sen. Ling Ling Chang. Chang, who won the seat in the recall, had banked $393,840.

A politics shift on gun taxes?

Will legislators revive gun tax proposal?

After shootings in Canoga Park, Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton, an assemblyman hopes to jumpstart legislation that would impose $25 tax on new firearm sales.

Assemblyman Marc Levine, a Marin County Democrat: 

  • “Gun violence is extracting too high a price on society. A $25 gun tax to fund violence prevention is a small sacrifice for gun buyers.”

The bill would generate $13 million a year to fund violence prevention programs, a legislative analysis said. Direct costs from gun violence in California are estimated at $1.4 billion a year.

Levine’s bill stalled in the Assembly, and deadlines for such measures have come and gone. But the wave of violence could alter the politics, Levine believes:

  • “Anything can happen if political will is behind it.”
  • Legislators have hesitated to approve new taxes since Josh Newman lost his Orange County Senate seat in a recall focused on his vote to raise gasoline taxes.

By the numbers:

  • 4.2 million California adults own guns, 14% of the population
  • In an indication of firearm sales, the California Department of Justice processed between 880,000 and 1.33 million dealer records of sale per year between 2015 and 2017.

Some history: Lawmakers have been proposing gun and ammunition taxes since at least 2001, without success.

Crisis in crisis beds

Police have seen a surge in calls for psychiatric emergencies.

Sonoma County is cutting mental health care crisis beds to half the number available just two years ago, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports.

Despite a strong economy, Sonoma County health officials are responding to budget restrictions by cutting the number of crisis beds to 12, down from 24 in 2017.

State issue: California leaves it to counties to deliver mental health care as they see fit. Similarly, San Francisco has cut its psychiatric crisis beds to 241 from 359 six years ago

The cutback to 12 beds alarms Sonoma County law enforcement, which is dealing with a surge in calls for help dealing with psychiatric emergencies.

  • Santa Rosa city police report they answered 541 such calls last year, up from 299 in 2015.

P.S. Individuals with untreated severe mental illness are involved in at least one in four and as many as half of all fatal police shootings, a Treatment Advocacy Center study found.

A Reagan remembrance

Jerry Brown with Ronald Reagan.
Ronald Reagan.

Dennis Revell, son-in-law of late President Ronald Reagan, is urging a little perspective from a New York University historian who unearthed a racist line spoken by then-Gov. Reagan in a 1971 phone call with President Richard Nixon.

In an Atlantic article, Tim Naftai wrote that Reagan called Nixon in October 1971 after the United Nations voted with support from some African nations to seat China and expel Taiwan: 

  • “‘To see those, those monkeys from those African countries—damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!’ Nixon gave a huge laugh.”

Revell, a communications consultant in Sacramento, was married to Reagan’s daughter, Maureen, who died in 2001. They adopted a girl from Uganda. She learned to swim to the Reagans’ Bel-Air pool.

Revell to Naftali: 

  • “Mr. Naftali, Ronald Reagan was not a racist! There is a distinct difference between ignorance and a lack of understanding and believing one’s race is inherently superior to all others!” 
  • And: “I’m confident if he were alive today, he would not make excuses, but would apologize and ask for forgiveness.”

Naftali hasn’t responded.

Context: Gov. Reagan arrived in Taipei as Nixon’s emissary on Oct. 11, 1971, the Associated Press reported, and assured Nationalist Chinese President Chiang Kai-shek “the American commitment is to … continuing the friendship between our two governments and our two peoples.”

Two weeks later, the UN expelled Taiwan, prompting Reagan’s call. Back then, legendary New York Times reporter James Reston provided context.

Disclosure: Revell and I serve on the Sacramento Press Club board together.

Another GOP bastion falls

An elephant sitting in a hammock on the beach and look at sea.
Registered Republicans lost another coastal county to Democrats.

Registered Democratic voters have overtaken Republicans in San Luis Obispo County, leaving Del Norte and, for today at least, Orange counties as the only two coastal California counties with a Republican registration edge.

There are 59,795 registered Democrats to 59,201 Republicans in San Luis Obispo County, plus 41,928 no-party preference voters, or 24.3%, registration numbers posted last week show.

In February 2017, the month after Republican President Donald Trump took office, there were 62,897 Republicans and 58,936 Democrats in SLO County, plus 36,248 no-party preference voters, or 21.56%.

OC update: At last count, there were 108 fewer Democratic voters than Republicans in Orange County, once the heart of GOP power.

Take a number: 2,003,982.12

The CCPOA wants a refund.

Earlier this year, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association’s new president demanded a refund of a $2 million donation made in December 2018 to a campaign committee promoting a tough-on-crime initiative.

The union claimed then-president Chuck Alexander acted on his own last December when he gave $2 million to the Keep California Safe committee, which is pushing an initiative for the November 2020 ballot that would undo part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Proposition 47, which reduced penalties for drug possession and property crimes to misdemeanors.

Why: The union wants a solid relationship with Newsom. His appointees negotiate prison officers’ labor agreements.

Union president Kurt Stoetzl wrote a letter first reported by KQED’s Marisa Lagos seeking the refund:

  • “This contribution was made without the new leadership of CCPOA having the opportunity to evaluate the proposed initiative, to determine if the goals of your Issues Committee, and the initiative, are in step in the goals of CCPOA.”

The answer: In a campaign finance filing last week, the initiative committee disclosed that its mid-year bank account balance sat at $2,003,982.12. 

  • In other words, a donation is a donation.

Commentary at CalMatters

Liz Simons, Heising-Simons Foundation: In Gavin Newsom, California finally has a governor who gets the need for high-quality, accessible early childhood education and care. And yet, California voters rank early childhood spending below other educational priorities. Why the disconnect? 

Dan Walters, CalMatters: California has become a two-tier society with incomes, housing costs, education and ethnicity its markers.

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