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News and analysis on California politics
Layoffs ordered at state Senate to avoid deficit

After years of turning down cost-of-living increases for its budget, the state Senate on Friday notified its workforce that 39 employees will be laid off at the end of the year to avoid a multi-million-dollar deficit, a cut of about 4% of the total staff in the upper house.

Fifty other positions are being cut through attrition and employees will pay about $30 a month more for health care insurance premiums, officials said.

The cuts and a reorganization were ordered by incoming Senate leader Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), who ordered that the changes not affect the staff working in each senator’s office or serving legislative committees, officials said.

“Today, the Senate made some difficult but fiscally necessary staff reductions affecting a number of steadfast public servants,” De Leon said. “These were all agonizing decisions, but they were unavoidable and made in the public interest. This Senate bears an ultimate responsibility to our constituents and to California taxpayers to live...

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Rep. Ami Bera credits 'grass-roots operation' in tight reelection win

Rep. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove) on Thursday said his vast field organization made the difference in his razor-thin reelection victory against a vigorous Republican challenge.

"We won because our of grass-roots operation," Bera said in a telephone interview the day after former congressman Doug Ose conceded the election. 

The first-term congressman was behind in the election night tally but began closing the gap as the final ballots were counted over the two weeks since the Nov. 4 election.

The final tally, released Wednesday, gave Bera a 1,432-vote margin in what turned out to be the most expensive House contest in the nation.

Spending topped $20 million, including some $7 million by the candidates' campaign committees, plus almost $13.5 million from the two political parties and other groups who paid for television ads, mailers and other operations independently of the candidates' campaigns.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for example, spent $4.6 million on TV ads for...

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Lobbyist fined but Sen. Lara denies he was influenced by debt

A state ethics panel voted Thursday to impose $5,000 in fines on Capitol lobbyist and campaign consultant Richie Ross for putting two legislators under personal obligation to him by not collecting campaign consulting fees they owed.

Under a deal with the state Fair Political Practices Commission, Ross also agreed to write off $160,000 owed to him for campaign services he provided to state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Cupertino).

Both lawmakers had contracts with Ross in which they agreed to make monthly payments to him of set amounts if they won election.

Lara’s 2009 contract called for the candidate to pay Ross a win bonus of $90,000 in 10 equal monthly installments commencing on Jan. 1, 2011, as well as a 10% charge for late payments. But Lara failed to pay $60,000 of the win bonus and Ross stopped sending invoices after a while.

The Political Reform Act’s provisions “prohibiting certain activities by lobbyists are aimed at preventing lobbyists from...

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Health, labor groups seek $2 increase in California tobacco tax

A coalition of public health, labor and medical groups is launching a push for a new tobacco tax that would add $2 to the cost of each pack of cigarettes sold in California.

Supporters say revenue collected from the proposed tax hike would defray state healthcare spending, support tobacco prevention programs, subsidize University of California research on cancer and other tobacco-related diseases, and fund law enforcement efforts to crack down on tax evasion and smuggling.

The proposal's backers -- including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the California Medical Assn. and the Service Employees International Union -- plan to kick off the tax campaign at the Capitol on Thursday.

"Right now our goal is to build a movement that ensures by this time two years from now ... that we have a new $2 tobacco tax," said Kimberly Amazeen, vice president of public policy and advocacy for the American Lung Assn. in California.

Amazeen said the coalition was considering both a...

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Schools should benefit as state revenue projection rises by $2 billion

The state of California will probably collect $2 billion more in tax revenue than expected in the current fiscal year, all of which would be dedicated to schools and community colleges under the state's education funding formula, according to a new report.

The report, released on Wednesday by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, said income and corporate taxes are generating the higher revenue, offsetting lax sales tax receipts.

Revenue for the current fiscal year was estimated at $105.48 billion in the budget that was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The new report estimates it at $107.44 billion.

Despite the higher revenue, state leaders should not expect there to be money left over, the report said. The education funding formula, part of the state Constitution, will direct the funds to schools and community colleges.

The report highlights how California's finances are improving after several budget crises. By July 2016, the state could have $4.2 billion in reserves, thanks in...

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Reps-elect Walters, Lieu chosen to lead their freshman peers

 Two Southern California elected officials who won seats in the U.S. House of Representatives this month have been chosen for  freshman leadership positions in their respective parties.

 State Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine) has been elected as the freshman class' representative to the House Republican Leadership in the 114th Congress.

 Her colleague, state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), has been elected president of the Democratic freshman class in the House.  The 20 members of the Democratic freshman class include two representatives who won special elections in 2013.

Walters joins a GOP freshman class of 42, but the number could change slightly depending on a couple of still-unresolved House contests.

As a Republican, Walters will be part of the dominant party in the House after serving in the minority in the state Senate.  Lieu faces the opposite situation--he'll go from being part of the strongly Democratic state Legislature to join the minority Democrats in Congress.

Both lawmakers won...

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