Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Why California has worse flood protection than NOLA

With the Katrina anniversary, there has been lots of talk about what government needs to do to protect citizens from another disaster. The other day, California Assemblymember John Laird told the Capitol Weekly, "We have less flood protection than they had in New Orleans. Sacramento is really not protected and the thousands of people who live here are at risk." But this wasn't a story about the anniversary, this was a report on how flood protection in California died a suspicious death in the legislature:

This week, just as Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata put on hold an eight-bill package of flood-protection legislation, one of his political committees received a $500,000 donation from the California Building Industry Association (CBIA), one of the package's biggest opponents.

The donation is the single largest that a Perata committee has received since he became Senate leader in 2004.

In response, the California Majority Report noted, "As is the case with many policy areas that the legislature deals with, especially this time of year, eyebrows were raised about the timing of all of this." In addition being a policy disaster that risks lives, these scandals harm people's faith in government, decreasing participation in a vicious cycle that gives even more power to the special interests who run Sacramento.

In May, the Public Policy Institute of California polled on the issue (May 14-21, 2000 adult residents, +/- 2% MOE):

Do you think that campaign contributions are currently having a good effect or a bad effect on the public policy decisions made by state elected officials in Sacramento, or are campaign contributions making no difference?"

Good Effect12%
Bad Effect56%

The big money that controls Sacramento is so excessive, that it is easy to see why the polls show people realize how it is harming policy. If you check out yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle, you'll see an editorial blasting the "nasty moves" that special interests used to kill flood control. It is easy to see why people who pay attention are disgusted by the way Sacramento operates like an auction.

Special Interests Killing Universal Health Care Legislation

Yesterday, the California Assembly passed historic Universal Health Care legislation. This bill would save $8 billion a year and at the same time provide insurance for 6 million Californians. Sounds too good to be true? Well here comes the but...

Insurers have spent $3.7 million in campaign contributions in California since 2005. Governor Schwarzenegger, who alone has received $765,000 from health insurers, has said he will veto the bill.

The big money has a proven ability to stop sound policy, and so California will waste $8 billion a year so that 6 million less people will have health insurance.

Special Interests New Deregulation

Public safety and health care aren't the only areas where big money dominates in Sacramento. While lawmakers are holding dozens of fundraisers as they wrap up the legislative session, AT&T lobbyists are hitting the jackpot:

The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) gave AT&T and smaller Verizon permission to raise telephone rates at will, even as a telecommunications deregulation bill -- a bonanza for AT&T and a bane to consumers -- sped toward passage in the state Senate, jammed with last-minute amendments. [...]

AT&T, while publicly billing the deregulation as beneficial competition in the video market, has not promised any rate reductions or other specific consumer benefits. It has poured nearly $18 million into lobbying efforts over the last few months, and $500,000 into direct political contributions during this election cycle, noted FTCR. That does not include contribution pledges made during legislators' mad dash of fund-raising during the last three weeks of the legislative session, which ends next Thursday. These contributions will not be known until after the hundreds of measures still coming to a vote are passed or killed.

Yes, it sounds exactly like what went on during electrical deregulation, but as with flood protection, government can't learn from past mistakes when special interests are running the show.

Solution: Proposition 89

Proposition 89 is the Clean Money and Fair Elections initiative that California will vote on this November. Put on the ballot by the California Nurses Association of anti-Arnold fame, the proposal addresses that systematic problems that are holding back good policy on a wide array of issues. Here are the details of Proposition 89.

Strict contribution and expenditure limits
Prop. 89 ends the fundraising madness with constitutional limits so regular voters aren't drowned out by big money.
* Proposition 89 bans contributions from lobbyists and state contractors
* Proposition 89 limits contributions from corporations, unions, and individuals to state candidates
* Proposition 89 limits corporation donations to initiatives to $10,000

Clean Money public financing of political campaigns
Prop. 89 levels the playing field so new candidates can win on their ideas, not
because of the money they raise.
* With Proposition 89, candidates who agree to spending limits and to take no private contributions qualify for public funding
* Under Proposition 89, $5 contributions from voters required to prove viability
* With Proposition 89, lean candidates receive enough to run competitive campaigns. They can't raise money beyond public funds

Tough disclosure and enforcement for politicians
Prop. 89 stops candidates from hiding behind negative ads and punishes politicians who violate the law.
* Proposition 89 makes wealthy self-funded candidates disclose the amount of personal funds they will spend
* Under Proposition 89, publicly financed candidates must engage in debates
* Proposition 89 imposes mandatory jail time and provides for removal from office of candidates who break the law.

The Challenge

Of course, the special interests who dominate Sacramento are spending at least as much money to stop Proposition 89 as they spend for each issue where they want to dominate the debate. While we won't have as much money as the opposition, what we do have is a great initiative, a reality-based argument, lots of supporters, and trusted organizations like the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, California Nurses, the Consumer Federation of California and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights all aggressively and creatively working to pass the initiative.

We would also like to have your support. We have started a campaign blog to keep supporters up-to-date and would appreciate it if supporters would sign up for email updates. Thanks for reading all the way down.