A vaccine showdown, a tax bill, wildfire costs and poverty

“I don’t want anyone thinking that Natalie Corona and Tara O’Sullivan died because they were girls. They didn’t die because they were women. They died because they were heroes.”—Sacramento City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, as retold by Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton.

Ashby referred to the death of Davis police Officer Corona, ambushed as she assisted at a crash scene in January, and Sacramento police Officer O’Sullivan, shot Thursday as she sought to help a victim of domestic violence.

Tax hikes, tax breaks

Gov. Gavin Newsom's tax plan has been approved by the Legislature.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to raise taxes by more than $1 billion by eliminating certain business tax write-offs while expanding a tax credit to help low-wage workers won final legislative approval Thursday.

Newsom fended off lobbying from automakers and hesitation by some Democratic lawmakers who worried they could incur election-year attacks for voting for the business tax increases.

The governor and proponents of the legislation focused on the aid to lower-income people.

  • Workers paid up to $30,000 a year could claim the earned income tax credit, a concept championed by conservatives such as the late Congressman Jack Kemp and President Ronald Reagan.
  • Workers with young children could receive an additional $1,000.
  • As many as 3 million Californians will qualify for the expanded credit, up from the current 2 million.

Newsom praised the result as “good economic policy that puts more than a billion dollars back in the pockets of working families and small business operators throughout California.”

  • An irony: Few politicians are as critical of President Donald Trump as Newsom. However, the Democratic governor’s proposal conforms California tax law with aspects of Trump’s 2017 tax overhaul.
  • The numbers: The Assembly approved the measure 59-2, but a half-dozen Democrats in swing districts declined to vote. Four Republicans voted for the bill, and a dozen Republicans did not vote. A no-vote by a Republican could have been viewed as a rebuke to the Trump tax plan.

Vaccination bill

Opponents of Senate Bill 276 protest Sen. Richard Pan’s comments Thursday.

Despite harsh testimony and a day of protests by anti-vax advocates, the Assembly Health Committee gave its blessing Thursday to legislation to restrict bogus medical exemptions given to parents seeking to avoid having their children vaccinated.

Senate Bill 276 by Democratic Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento would require public health authorities to review exemptions issued by doctors who grant more than five per year. Exemptions would be reviewed at public schools with an immunization rate of less than 95%.

  • The number of medical exemptions has soared since 2015, when Pan pushed through SB 277, which ended “personal belief” exemptions.
  • Pan, a pediatrician, said the new bill would reduce the number of physicians issuing improper medical exemptions, help ensure “community immunity,” and protect immune-compromised children who can’t receive vaccines.

In 2015 and again this year, Pan withstood insults and threats in the five-hour hearing. Several Assembly members lauded him for taking up the issue.

Leigh Dundas of the newly formed opposition group, Advocates for Physicians’ Rights: “This law is unprecedented. It takes state government and puts it squarely in the center of the doctor-patient relationship.”

Supporters: California Medical Association, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, the March of Dimes and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The vote: 9-2, with Assembly Democrat Autumn Burke of Los Angeles and Assembly Republican leader Marie Waldron of Escondido voting no. One Democrat and three Republicans didn’t vote.

Gov. Gavin Newsom intends to sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

Fire danger, fire costs

Parts of California face red flag fire warnings.

On this first day of summer, California fire officials have posted red flag fire warnings in northern parts of the state. And Gov. Gavin Newsom reportedly will press legislators to establish a multi-billion dollar fund to help utilities pay for the catastrophic blazes their power lines ignite.

Bloomberg reported Thursday that Newsom is proposing a so-called liquidity fund to be infused in part with money from California Department of Water Resources bonds—debt that would be repaid by utility customers.

  • California ratepayers already are paying roughly $700 million a year to pay off bonds used to help purchase electricity during the energy crisis of 2000-01. That debt supposedly was going to be paid off next year. Not now, based on Bloomberg’s reporting.
  • Expect the administration to insist that utilities and their shareholders infuse the fund with money.

Sen. Bill Dodd, a Napa Democrat, earlier this week said such a fund could be as much as $50 billion.

The San Francisco Chronicle: Newsom also is pushing for 35 major brush- and tree-clearing projects, covering 90,000 acres in some of the highest-risk communities. Those include such tony locales as Woodside, Los Gatos and Orinda, as well as Big  Sur.

Take a number: 80

Legislation would increase phone costs to update the 911 system.

The cost of phones will rise by as much as 80 cents a month per line under legislation approved by the Senate on Thursday. The purpose: an upgraded 911 system.

One Republican who is termed out voted for it, along with 28 Democrats. One Democrat did not vote, and one voted against it. Both are in swing districts. Expect Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign it. Gov. Jerry Brown declined to push for the tax last year.

Redefining poverty

Could the definition of poverty change under the Trump administration?

Today’s the last day to submit comments on a Trump administration proposal to tighten the definition of poverty, a step that could cut access to healthcare and food assistance for tens of thousands of Californians, CALmatters’ Jackie Botts reports.

Remind me: The proposal announced last month would tie the federal poverty line to a slower-growing inflation measure. The federal poverty threshold is used to decide who’s eligible for such safety net programs as food stamps, school meals, Medicare and Medicaid.

California has a lot at stake:

  • Currently, Uncle Sam sets the poverty line for a family of four at an annual income of $25,750.
  • One in nine Californians live below the poverty line.
  • If Trump’s proposal becomes reality, at least 60,000 Californians would lose access to Medi-Cal and CalFresh and more than a million people would get lower insurance subsidies through Covered California by 2028, the UC Berkeley Labor Center reports.

Anthony Wright, director of Health Access California: “It’s another insidious way to undermine our health care system along with other vital human services.”

What’s ahead: Attorney General Xavier Becerra already has sued the Trump administration 51 times, by CALmatters’ count. Can 52 be far behind? A Becerra spokesperson:

“The Trump administration’s proposal is deeply concerning. The methods used to calculate who is eligible for assistance affect more than just numbers. It’s people’s lives.”

CSU slammed

Cal State University trustees doubled tuition to nearly $6,000.

The California State University System amassed a $1.5 billion surplus and hid it from students, while trustees doubled tuition to nearly $6,000 and collected rising state funding. That’s the analysis by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Nanette Asimov of the Bureau of State Audits findings Thursday.

Auditor Elaine Howle: By “withholding the news of the hefty surplus — most of which came from student tuition — the CSU undermined the state law that requires public universities to discuss tuition plans with students before raising prices.”

CSU Chancellor Timothy White defended the university’s financial-disclosure practices, saying the $1.5 billion is a legitimate part of CSU reserves to pay short-term expenses, such as debt service and campus maintenance, and for economic uncertainty.

White told the Chron: “I fundamentally disagree with the assertion in the audit report that this is a surplus and that it’s discretionary money. It is not a surplus. We cannot use it for ongoing costs.”

CALmatters’ Felicia Mello offers her take here.

Comentary at CALmatters

Lenny MendoncaGovernor’s Office of Business and Economic Development: Government officials don’t do a good job of engaging the public as we grapple with big, complex challenges. Today, my team at the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development is launching a new podcast called Made in California to change that dynamic.

Marc Marcantonio, Yorba Linda Water District: Public drinking water suppliers’ financial stability is threatened if they are saddled with the cost of damage caused by fires they don’t start. And that could put the safety of our drinking water at risk.

 

Please email or call me with tips, suggestions and insights, [email protected], 916.201.6281, [email protected] Thanks for reading, please tell a friend and sign up here.

See you Monday.

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