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California Politics Podcast: The view of the Trump era from the Golden State

It’s been an unprecedented 100 days. And perhaps no state in the nation has reacted more strongly to the administration of President Trump than California.

This week’s podcast is a special episode taped at the recent Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Our topic was the view of the Trump era from California, a glimpse at how the state’s political compass has been reset as the president’s agenda unfolds.

I’m joined by a special panel of Los Angeles Times political writers: Mark Barabak, Seema Mehta, Liam Dillon and Melanie Mason.

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California’s budget could miss the mark on April tax revenues by $600 million

(Laura Morton / For the Los Angeles Times)

California’s most important month for collecting income taxes could end some $600 million short of official projections, based on preliminary data collected Friday.

The independent Legislative Analyst’s Office reported that personal income tax collections stood at $13.45 billion, with a final day of tax refunds to be reported on Monday. By comparison, Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget assumed the month would net $14 billion for state budget coffers.

April is historically a key month for taxes paid by Californians, bringing in a larger share of the revenues used to run the state government than any other part of the year.

Once refunds were subtracted, Friday’s tally came in at just $9 million. That’s compared to more than $300 million collected on the same day in 2016.

The state’s fiscal year ends June 30. If tax revenues fail to meet projections, that changes the available dollars Brown and lawmakers have to divvy up for the coming budget year.

In January, the governor projected a $1.6-billion deficit in the coming budget. April’s revenue total — if it misses the target as expected — could lead to new worries about lawmakers when it comes to setting new funding priorities. However, state tax revenues through the end of March were $1.15 billion above Brown’s estimates, meaning that a slump in April could be easily absorbed.

“This probably will leave the state close to even with the administration’s projections for 2016-17 as May begins,” wrote the analysts in an online tax revenue update posted Friday.

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Villaraigosa pledges to restore ‘a little luster’ to the California dream in a campaign stop in the Inland Empire

Antonio Villaraigosa argued Friday that he is best suited to be California’s next governor because he had been tested when he was Los Angeles’ mayor during the recession, and had proven that he could make politically unpopular decisions in the best interests of the people.

“Look at the track record. I’ve not been afraid to take on my friends. I’ve not been afraid to say no,” Villaraigosa told a couple hundred people at a luncheon at an automotive school in Rancho Cucamonga. He noted that he furloughed 37,000 city employees and laid off 1,000 workers during the recession to stave off bankruptcy, and challenged the city’s school district and teachers union because he believed they were failing students.

“I took on those interests even though they were probably the most important group that got me elected. I made tough calls,” he said. “I think the next governor is going to have to make tough calls.”

Villaraigosa is one of three main Democrats running to replace termed-out Gov. Jerry Brown next year. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Treasurer John Chiang have a financial advantage over Villaraigosa, but the former Los Angeles mayor was the last of the trio to enter the race. He didn’t mention his rivals by name, but he noted that after he accepted the invitation to address the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, the others followed suit. The other two men will address the group in June.

Villaraigosa’s appearance in Rancho Cucamonga is not surprising. His path to victory relies upon garnering support in the Inland Empire and the Central Valley, once GOP strongholds that are now more politically mixed, but whose Democrats are not as rigidly liberal on economic and environmental issues as coastal and Bay Area voters. His campaign is also predicated on support in Los Angeles and among Latinos, groups of voters who don’t cast ballots in proportion to their numbers.

Villaraigosa noted that he spent 51 days touring the state and talking to voters. Twenty-six were in the Central Valley and five were in the Inland Empire, two regions where the economic recovery has not taken hold as strongly as it has in other parts of the state.

“The next governor,” he said, must understand “he has to show up in the Inland Empire not just when he’s knocking on your door and asking for your vote.”

Ensuring that opportunities for residents of inland areas are equal to those in more affluent, coastal areas is crucial to restoring “a little luster” to the California dream, the 64-year-old said.

Villaraigosa, who was elected mayor in 2005 with great fanfare but faced tumult over his two terms because of personal scandal as well as the challenges of the recession, demurred when asked if he hoped to run for president.

“I want to be governor of this state, and I want to do a great job as governor and then we’ll see what happens after that. But more than likely, I’ll be riding into the sunset,” he said. “After two terms, just to be clear.”

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Brown administration releases draft rules for sale of medical marijuana in California

Customers buy products at a medical marijuana dispensary in San Francisco.
( (Haven Daley / Associated Press))

The Brown administration on Friday released draft regulations for the sale and use of medical marijuana in California, beginning a process that is likely to see changes sought by some in the industry, law enforcement and state legislators.

For instance, the Legislature has to determine how to merge the rules for medical pot with regulations approved by the voters in November legalizing the sale of recreational cannabis.

“The broad objectives of these proposed regulations are to create a state licensed and regulated commercial cannabis market,” the rules said. “The specific benefits anticipated are increased protection of the public and the environment from the harms associated with an unregulated commercial cannabis market.”

The rules require applicants for licenses to grow, transport and sell marijuana for medical use to get a license from the state Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation and undergo a background check.

People who transport marijuana between farms and dispensaries would be prohibited from owning that pot, according to the rules, and they must be 21 or older.

Dispensaries would have to use a track-and-trace system to monitor activity involving the cannabis they sell.

The new rules say cannabis edibles must be sold in child-resistant, opaque packaging and have no more than 10 milligrams of THC per serving. Dispensaries will be restricted to operating from 6 am to 9 pm

Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova) objected Friday that proposed changes to the law approved in 2015 by the Legislature “are not just a problem for lawmakers, but actually are in violation of how Proposition 64 described how the two systems of law would operate side-by-side.”

The state has scheduled four hearings on the proposed rules, including one for 10 a.m. June 8 at the Junipero Serra Building in Los Angeles.

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California lawmakers to introduce anti-offshore-drilling legislation next week

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California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra vows to fight any attempt to allow more oil drilling off coast of state

Offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
Offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
(Los Angeles Times)

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said Friday he is prepared to fight any attempt to expand oil drilling off the California coast despite an order signed by President Trump calling for a study of new oil and natural gas exploration.

“We will vigorously oppose new drilling off the shores of our coast,” Becerra said in a statement. “California is leading the way in clean energy production and policies that preserve our state’s pristine natural resources. Instead of taking us backwards, the federal government should work with us to advance the clean energy economy that’s creating jobs, providing energy and preserving California’s natural beauty.”

See the Los Angeles Times coverage of the new order here.

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Lawmakers propose expanding L.A. County Board of Supervisors from 5 to 7 members with one elected executive

Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, wants to expand the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors from five to seven members.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

A group of nine state lawmakers on Thursday introduced a bill that would seek to improve representation of people of color on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors by expanding it from five to seven members and creating a position of an elected county executive.

State Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) is the lead author on the legislation that would put the matter of changing the state Constitution to a vote on the California ballot in June 2018.

“Counties with millions of residents deserve a government that is responsive, transparent and accountable,” Mendoza said Thursday. “By expanding representation and creating a professional management position, we address multiple issues and will actively improve local government for all Californians.”

A civil county grand jury recommended last year that the board be expanded and an elected executive position be created, but the Board of Supervisors turned down the proposal.

In 2015, a similar proposal by Mendoza to expand the boards of supervisors in Los Angeles and other large counties failed to win a necessary two-thirds vote in the Senate. That proposal did not include an elected county executive.

Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) had opposed the 2015 plan as unwieldy because it lacked an elected chief executive.

He is a co-author of the new bill, along with Republican Sen. Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita and Democratic senators such as Bob Hertzberg of Van Nuys and Steven Bradford of Gardena.

“If Los Angeles County were a state, it would be the eighth largest,” Wilk said. “I believe L.A. County is too large and should split up. However, this proposal will make county government more accountable and is an important first step to transforming regional government.”

Currently, two people of color sit on the five-member Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Alan Clayton, a demographics expert who consulted on the bill, said a seven-member board would result in one seat competitive for Asian American candidates and two seats competitive for Latinos, who make up half of the county’s population. The current board does not have Asian American representation among its members.

“It will have a huge impact on the minority communities of Los Angeles County,” Clayton said. “It will create a more diverse board.”

Clayton also said the creation of the position of an elected county executive would provide a new opportunity for the large crowd of top Democrats in the state vying to move up to a limited number of powerful positions.

County voters have rejected previous proposals to expand the board, in part because of concerns it would create a more expensive and larger bureaucracy.

The new measure, SCA 12, which would take effect in 2022, would seek to hold costs down by prohibiting the expanded board’s budget from exceeding funding in 2021, and limit the new elected county executive’s pay to the salary received by the presiding judge for the Los Angeles County Superior Court. The supervisors would remain limited to three terms of four years each.

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Rep. Jeff Denham says he’s a ‘no’ on the new GOP healthcare bill, but most California Republicans are undecided

Denham, the lone California GOP no vote so far
(Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)

Nearly two-thirds of the 14 Republicans in the California congressional delegation are still reviewing changes to the GOP healthcare plan, and only four have taken a firm position on it.

In the latest version of the healthcare bill, Republicans are considering an amendment designed to win over the most conservative members of their majority by giving states the option of doing away with the so-called essential health benefits that Obamacare requires insurers to cover. The previous version of the bill was pulled off the House floor before a vote was held.

The undecideds include Reps. Steve Knight (Palmdale), Darrell Issa (Vista), Dana Rohrabacher (Costa Mesa), Ken Calvert (Corona), Paul Cook (Yucca Valley), Doug LaMalfa (Richvale), Ed Royce (Fullerton) and David Valadao (Hanford), according to their staffs and media reports.

Rohrabacher and Calvert were among the Republicans who had said they would have voted “yes” for the previous version of the bill that was pulled before they could vote.

Staff for Reps. Mimi Walters (Irvine) and Duncan Hunter (Alpine) said the members support the new version. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Bakersfield) also supports it.

Rep. Jeff Denham (Turlock) told the Hill, a newspaper focused on Capitol Hill, that he does not support the new version of the healthcare bill.

Since most Democrats are expected to remain lined up pretty firmly against the bill, Republicans are on their own to pass it.

House Republicans can afford to lose around two dozen of their own members and still pass it without Democratic help.

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State-funded nonprofit group spent on ‘questionable activities’ including overseas travel, auditor finds

A poorly run nonprofit group that has received state funds to help small businesses get loans is in danger of becoming insolvent next year unless it gets more money, but the state should not provide funding without reforms, a state audit concluded Thursday.

The report by State Auditor Elaine Howle said the State Assistance Fund for Enterprise, Business and Industrial Development Corporation (SAFE‑BIDCO) has done some good helping businesses.

But it has not attempted to obtain more money from fundraising, and has imprudently spent limited funds on “questionable activities,” including 16 out-of-state trips and a trip to Ireland by its chief executives, the audit said.

In addition, the group continued to use a business development contractor even though he did not achieve his performance goals, and it continued with this contract without a competitive bidding process.

“As a result of these issues, we are reluctant to recommend that the state appropriate funding without increased direct oversight to ensure adequate reporting and controlled expenses,” Howle wrote to Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature. “We believe direct oversight could occur by establishing SAFE-BIDCO as a program within the state treasurer’s office.”

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California single-payer healthcare bill passes first committee test

A sweeping measure that would establish government-run universal healthcare in California cleared its first legislative hurdle on Wednesday, as scores of supporters crammed into the state Capitol to advocate for a single-payer system.

The Senate Health Committee approved the measure on a 5-2 vote after a nearly three-hour hearing, but Democrats and Republicans alike signaled unease with the major question still unanswered in the legislation: how the program would be paid for.

The bill, SB 562, would establish a publicly run healthcare plan that would cover everyone living in California, including those without legal immigration status. The proposal would drastically reduce the role of insurance companies: The state would pay for all medical expenses, including inpatient, outpatient, emergency services, dental, vision, mental health and nursing home care.

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Freshman state Sen. Josh Newman says campaign to recall him comes from ‘hyper-partisan special interests’

Sen. Josh Newman
(Provided by Josh Newman for State Senate)

Freshman State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) filed a formal response Wednesday to the recall campaign that is targeting him because he voted for a bill increasing gas taxes and vehicle fees for road and bridge repairs and mass transit.

The recall papers were filed April 19 by Elvira Moreno and 59 others, with the aid of conservative radio talk show host Carl DeMaio. They must collect 63,592 signatures of registered voters in 160 days to qualify the measure for the ballot.

In a statement, Newman’s campaign noted that he was just elected in November.

“Now the same out-of-town, hyper-partisan special interests who opposed Josh’s election are attempting to stage a costly and unnecessary recall campaign,” the statement said. “They are cynically misrepresenting Josh’s support for sorely needed local road repairs as a pretext for removing him from office.”

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Records show responses to state auditor’s surveys were altered after intervention by UC Office of the President

Students walk through Sather Gate on the UC Berkeley campus.
Students walk through Sather Gate on the UC Berkeley campus.
(Paul Sakuma / Associated Press)

Hit with a surprise survey by state auditors, officials at University of California campuses changed their responses and dropped criticism of the UC Office of the President after it contacted them, instead offering more positive reviews of its effectiveness, according to documents released as part of the audit.

UC officials said Wednesday that the president’s office did not censor the responses, but State Auditor Elaine Howle said her office is continuing an inquiry into the alleged interference by the UC administration to determine whether it violated policies or laws and should be referred for further action.

“My legal staff is looking at it to determine whether we’ve got a situation where there might be an improper governmental activity,” Howle said. “Then once we complete some of that assessment, that will determine whether we conduct an investigation internally or whether we make any referrals.”

Howle’s audit, released Tuesday, found that the UC Office of the President paid excessive salaries and benefits to its top executives and did not disclose to the UC Board of Regents, the Legislature, and the public $175 million in budget reserve funds that could have helped reduce a 3% tuition increase scheduled for this fall.

Howle alleged in the audit and a letter to the governor that “the Office of the President intentionally interfered with our audit process.”

The California state auditor has released spending survey responses from several UC system campuses that it says were changed at the request of the UC Office of the President.
(California State Auditor)

Two legislative committees have scheduled a joint hearing on the audit and the allegations of interference for 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Capitol. The survey was an attempt to find out how administrators at the 10 UC campuses viewed the effectiveness of the Office of the President.

“Although we explicitly asked each campus not to share its survey results with anyone outside of the campus, we learned in February 2017 that the Office of the President had requested campuses to send their survey responses to it,” the audit said, “and that the deputy chief of staff of the Office of the President organized a conference call with all campuses to discuss the survey and screened the surveys before the campuses submitted them to us.”

The audit said Howle’s office asked the deputy chief of staff to provide her with copies of the original survey results to compare with the final versions turned over to auditors. Auditors were given both copies.

“When we compared the prescreened versions of the surveys to the versions the campuses subsequently submitted to us, we found that the responses were changed to make the Office of the President appear more efficient and effective,” the audit said.

UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein denied that the president’s office acted improperly.

“Nobody was asked to alter anything,” she said.

Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee, said he wants to hear answers at his hearing on Tuesday.

“Every year the University of California complains the Legislature doesn’t give them enough money. Yet, the audit found they don’t spend what we give them and secretly hoard it for pet projects,” Ting said. “This is not a good start to ensure the best interests of students as we close out the budget. I hope the system comes to this hearing seeking to restore its credibility and discuss how these extra funds can be used to increase access to this great university.”

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Nancy Pelosi wades into congressional runoff to replace Xavier Becerra

(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) has weighed in on the race in Los Angeles’ 34th Congressional District, endorsing Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez over former L.A. city planning commissioner Robert Lee Ahn.

Pelosi spokesman Jorge Aguilar confirmed the endorsement.

Gomez and Ahn are both Democrats.

Gomez has received dozens of endorsements from elected officials in California’s Democratic Party establishment. Pelosi is the most prominent of a dozen California members of Congress who have endorsed Gomez so far.

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Democrats hitting California Republican lawmakers on proposed exemption for Congress in new health bill

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is up with digital ads dinging Republicans over a proposal to exempt mbmers of Congress from some changes to the Affordable Care Act.

The amendment, which was introduced Tuesday night and first reported by Vox, allows states to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s ban on charging more or denying health insurance to people who have a preexisting condition. But, as it’s currently written, that opt-out would not apply to Congress and congressional staff.

The sponsor of the carveout, Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), said Wednesday his proposed amendment is being changed so it no longer exempts members of Congress and their staff. A vote on the bill isn’t expected until next week at the earliest.

The Democrats’ ads will target seven California Republicans who represent districts that backed Hillary Clinton for president: Reps. Jeff Denham (Turlock), David Valadao (Hanford), Steve Knight (Palmdale), Ed Royce (Fullerton), Mimi Walters (Irvine), Dana Rohrabacher (Huntington Beach) and Darrell Issa (Vista).

“This digital ad campaign will educate voters in targeted districts about this morally bankrupt congressional carveout,” DCCC spokesman Tyler Law said in a statement.

Nationally, the ads will target 30 Republican-held districts.

The National Republican Campaign Committee pushed back on the ad buy.

“Democrats’ desperate defense of the failing Obamacare law has cost them dearly election after election. If national Democrats want to continue spending money to prop up public support for the status quo causing skyrocketing premiums and families to lose coverage, that’s their money to burn,” NRCC spokesman Jack Pandol said.

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UPDATES

11:24 a.m.: This article was updated with comment from the National Republican Campaign Committee.

This article was originally published at 9:32 a.m.

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Nancy Pelosi just got a challenger and he’s a ‘pretty hard-core’ Bernie Sanders supporter

(Stephen R. Jaffe for Congress campaign)

San Francisco attorney Stephen R. Jaffe is a lifelong Democrat and he intends to do what no Democrat has been able to do so far: make it to a runoff election against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Jaffe, 71, is an employment attorney who became a volunteer for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign last year.

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FOR THE RECORD

1:08 p.m.: A previous version of this post misstated Jaffe’s age as 72.

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“I was a pretty hard-core Bernie supporter,” said Jaffe, who gave money to the campaign and volunteered during the Nevada caucuses. He was one of two attorneys who filed for an injunction on behalf of Sanders supporters in the California primary, requesting “re-votes” and an extension of the voter registration deadline. (The request was denied.)

Jaffe said he was “devastated” by Sanders’ loss to Hillary Clinton in the primary season and that Sanders, in part, inspired him to run. He says he supports single-payer healthcare and criticized Pelosi for raising money from corporations and special interests.

Pelosi, the highest-ranking Democrat in the House, has never faced a serious challenger on the left in her liberal San Francisco district. Preston Picus, another Sanders supporter who ran as a no-party-preference candidate, came the closest when he received 19% of the vote in November, according to the California Target Book.

“I know that Ms. Pelosi’s strategy has been to essentially ignore anyone who has challenged her, but I anticipate she’ll have a more difficult time doing that with my candidacy,” Jaffe said in an interview. He thinks if local, progressive activists can propel him to a runoff with Pelosi, he’ll have a “quite realistic chance” of winning.

“There’s a rumbling, a wave of activism here by people who have really never stepped forward before.”

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Riverside Democratic Rep. Mark Takano faces two Republican challengers for 2018

Air Force veteran Aja Smith
Air Force veteran Aja Smith

Two Republican challengers will run against Riverside Democratic Rep. Mark Takano in the 2018 primary.

Air Force veteran Aja Smith, who now works as an information technology specialist at the March Air Reserve Base, is the latest Republican to jump into the race. She grew up and now lives in Moreno Valley.

Republican Doug Shepherd of Riverside, a real estate broker who lost to Takano in 2016, will be looking for a rematch in 2018.

Both face long odds: Democrats represent 46.57% of registered voters in the district, while Republicans comprise just 27.9%. An additional 21.08% list no party preference.

Takano won reelection with 64.95% of the vote last year.

Smith has a compelling personal story: She joined the military after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; her grandfather and grandmother served in the military; and her great-uncle was a Tuskegee airman.

Though this is her first campaign, she’ll come to it with some local political experience. She helped lead a recall effort against former Moreno Valley City Councilman Marcelo Co before he resigned amid a bribery scandal.

She launched her campaign attacking Takano as a “do-nothing” politician.

“Constantly speaking out of both sides of his mouth is something voters in this district have come to expect from a career politician like Takano,” she said.

Shepherd said the local Republican Party will be investing in voter registration ahead of the midterm elections. He hopes the lack of a presidential election will mean the race will be about local issues.

“I think we can focus on some of the real local issues and not all that national junk,” he said.

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California Atty. Gen. Becerra praises court ruling that blocks Trump executive order threatening ‘sanctuary cities’

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said he welcomed a federal court decision Tuesday that blocked President Trump’s executive order threatening to withhold federal funding from cities, counties and states that adopt so-called sanctuary policies on immigration.

Becerra’s office had filed court papers challenging the threat to withhold money from jurisdictions that do not cooperate with federal immigration agents.

A federal judge in San Francisco granted a preliminary nationwide injunction Tuesday against the order.

“As California continues to abide by the Constitution, yet another court has ruled against the Trump Administration’s executive overreach,” Becerra said in a statement. “My office has been clear: we will not compromise our values to accommodate the new Administration, which seeks to hijack crucial resources, sow fear among California families and make our communities less safe. This injunction is consistent with the rule of law. In California, we will always fight to protect our people.”

The court decision also drew approval from state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).

“President Trump has tripped over the Constitution again,” De León said in a statement. “A federal judge has rightfully issued a constitutional victory for states, counties and cities. The state of California, along with our cities and counties like San Francisco and Santa Clara that value the contributions of their immigrant communities, will continue to protect all of our honest, hardworking residents against the cynical and destructive policies of this administration.”

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Accusations of hidden UC funds call to mind the 2012 scandal that rocked state parks

(Los Angeles Times)

Tuesday’s stinging audit of UC President Janet Napolitano’s office revealed the existence of $175 million in “undisclosed” funds collected from UC campuses, dollars that auditors said were used for a variety of purposes.

And it wasn’t the first time in recent years that lawmakers in Sacramento were told of an agency hoarding a hidden stash of cash.

In the summer of 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown’s state parks director resigned after revelations that department officials had long maintained an off-the-books accounting system that hid the existence of $54 million in funds. The practice of hiding the money had existed for more than a decade, with the funds split between accounts that collected entrance fees and financed off-highway vehicle parks.

While those details differ from the new audit of Napolitano’s office, the new controversy may share a couple of similarities with the parks scandal of almost five years ago. For starters, the dollar amounts involved added up over time. Auditors reported Tuesday that the UC money amounted to “budget surpluses” based on funding approved over a four-year period by the UC Board of Regents. Unlike the university, however, state parks staffers never spent their surplus funds — fearful of detection by the state Department of Finance.

Ruth Coleman, the former state parks director, resigned in the summer of 2012.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

The most compelling comparison, though, may be that both state government operations had publicly fretted over the need for additional dollars. Brown, elected in 2011 and facing a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, had pushed for the closure of as many as 70 state parks because of funding problems. The revelation of the hidden money came just months before voters were asked to approve new income and sales taxes that would help balance the state’s fiscal spreadsheet.

UC leaders have been lamenting their own budget needs over the past few years, concluding earlier this year that a tuition increase — the first in six years — is needed to keep the quality of the university’s education from suffering. While the money identified in the new audit isn’t enough to stave off those needs across the 10-campus UC system, the political perception of extra money could make the tuition efforts a harder sell.

The 2012 state parks revelations led not only to new leadership for the agency but also new accounting rules, many of which were recommended in a state audit completed in early 2013. But the parks operations are part of California’s executive branch of government and controlled by the governor. The critique of the UC president’s office presents a particularly tough challenge, in that the University of California has broad autonomy granted by the California Constitution.

While lawmakers and others can attempt to exert public pressure on the university, they do not control its budgeting practices. In a letter to auditors Tuesday, UC Board of Regents Chair Monica Lozano said some of the state auditors’ recommendations for changes “threaten the University’s standing as a constitutionally autonomous entity.”

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Rep. Devin Nunes draws a challenger: a Fresno County deputy D.A.

Andrew Janz
(Handout)

Fresno County Deputy Dist. Atty. Andrew Janz will challenge Rep. Devin Nunes in the 22nd Congressional District.

“I have a strong connection to the area. I think I can be a competitive candidate, I think I have a pull here on what people think is important,” Janz, a 33-year-old Democrat, said in a phone interview.

Nunes, a Republican from Tulare, has gained national notice in recent months in the course of his role as chairman of the House Select Intelligence Committee.

He stepped away from leading the House investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election over accusations that he may have disclosed classified information. Those accusations came after Nunes revealed to reporters that conversations by Trump transition officials may have been inadvertently picked up by U.S. surveillance, and said he met with the source of the information at the White House.

As he stepped down from leading the investigation, he blamed “left-wing activists” for causing a “distraction.”

Janz seems poised to use Nunes’ perceived missteps as he pursues the congressional seat.

“The congressman is more concerned with defending himself, defending the president, Donald Trump, against all these allegations,” Janz said.

Janz grew up in the Central Valley district in Visalia, returning after college in 2014 to join the Fresno County district attorney’s office, where he works in the violent crimes unit.

Janz attended Cal State Stanislaus, earning a bachelor’s degree in economics in 2006 and a master’s degree in public administration in 2009. He earned a law degree from Southwestern Law School in 2012 and clerked for Nevada 8th Judicial District Court Judge Carolyn Ellsworth. His wife, who is also a native of the district, owns a marriage and family counseling business.

People back in the farming district south of Fresno don’t seem too concerned about Nunes’ Washington troubles, and Janz will have to fight an uphill battle to unseat him.

Nunes has gotten more than two-thirds of the vote in all but one of his eight congressional elections. In 2016, he beat Democrat Louie Campos with 68.2% of the vote. Republicans hold a significant voter registration advantage in the district, which includes parts of Tulare and Fresno counties.

Janz said he hopes to build support from progressives, moderates and dissatisfied Republicans.

“The bottom line is that the people are frustrated with their representative and they really just want to be heard,” Janz said. “Their feeling right now is that they’re being ignored by their congressman.”

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FOR THE RECORD

4:47 p.m.: This article was updated to correct a quotation from Fresno County Deputy Dist. Atty. Andrew Janz to say, “I think I have a pull here on what people think is important,” rather than “I think I have a poll here on what people think is important.”

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Build it and be banned: Lawmakers move to block state contracts for any builders of Trump’s border wall

An artist's rendering of a potential new wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
(Los Angeles Times)

California legislators took the first step Tuesday to ban state government contracts for any company that helps build President Trump’s promised wall along the Mexico border, with the author of the plan urging colleagues “to be on the right side of history.”

The bill by state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) would prohibit any company from receiving a new or extended contract with the state of California if it participates in a future effort to build a new wall along the 2,000-mile international border.

“The wall is another attempt to separate and divide us,” Lara said in testimony to the Senate Governmental Organization Committee. “It sends a message that we are better off in a homogenous society.”

Senate Bill 30 won committee passage on a party-line vote, with Republicans expressing concern about the need for additional border security. Representatives of the construction industry also voiced opposition, arguing Lara’s bill forces contractors into the middle of a divisive political fight.

“This is precedent-setting,” said Todd Bloomstine, a lobbyist representing the Southern California Contractors Assn. “What next unpopular project would be [on the] blacklist?”

Lara told lawmakers he will amend the bill to exclude any work by a company — including current bids on border wall projects — that takes place prior to the bill’s becoming law.

Trump’s campaign promise of a new border wall remains in limbo in Washington, as members of Congress on both sides of the aisle voice skepticism about its funding.

Tuesday’s hearing in Sacramento often veered into the appropriateness of the wall itself, with environmental groups expressing concerns about animal species that live on both sides of the border. That testimony became emotional for Juan Altamirano, an associate director of Audubon California who crossed the border with his family as a young child.

“We need more migration and not stagnation,” Altamirano said.

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Water officials brief lawmakers on $275-million price tag for Oroville Dam repairs

A gaping hole developed in the Oroville Dam spillway earlier this year.
A gaping hole developed in the Oroville Dam spillway earlier this year.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

California will be racing to finish $275 million in repairs to the Oroville Dam spillways to prepare for the next rainy system, top water officials told lawmakers on Tuesday.

Bill Croyle, acting director of the Department of Water Resources, said the deadline is Nov. 1.

Damage to the spillways in February forced thousands to evacuate from the area downstream of the country’s tallest earthen dam.

Croyle surprised some lawmakers by saying the emergency spillway, a hillside adjacent to the dam, worked as intended by releasing water from the reservoir when it overflowed after heavy rains. Erosion in the hillside could have caused a concrete wall along the rim of the reservoir to collapse, sending torrents of water into the rivers and towns below.

“Erosion was expected,” Croyle said. “The erosion of the rock,” which helped fortify the hillside and the concrete wall, “was not expected.”

The emergency spillway, which had never been used before, handled far less water than expected before failing.

“That’s a design flaw. Right?” said Assemblyman James Gallagher, a Republican whose district’s border runs along the dam.

The crisis was averted when officials decided to risk more damage to the concrete spillway, which had also suffered from erosion as tens of thousands of cubic feet of water per second were being released.

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University of California administration is paying excessive salaries and mishandling funds, state audit says

UCLA campus
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The administration of the University of California system pays top workers salaries and benefits significantly higher than that of similar state employees, and failed to disclose to the Board of Regents and the public that it had $175 million in budget reserve funds while it was seeking to raise tuition, a state audit found Tuesday.

The audit triggered a dispute with UC President Janet Napolitano, who said charges of hidden funds were false, while two members of the UC Board of Regents charged recommendations to give the Legislature budget authority over the Office of the President encroached on UC’s constitutional powers.

Among the sticking points, the auditors believe the regents should contract with an independent third party that can assist the regents in monitoring a three-year corrective action plan.

The audit of the Office of the President also found that it failed to satisfactorily justify its spending on system-wide initiatives and “inappropriately” screened surveys submitted by auditors to campus officials.

“Our report concludes that the Office of the President has amassed substantial reserve funds, used misleading budgeting practices, provided its employees with generous salaries and atypical benefits, and failed to satisfactorily justify its spending on systemwide initiatives,” State Auditor Elaine Howle wrote to Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature.

“Furthermore, when we sought independent perspective from campuses about the quality and cost of the services and programs the Office of the President provides to them, the Office of the President intentionally interfered with our audit process,” Howle wrote.

The auditor said that because of recent tuition hikes, she recommends the Office of the President should refund available funds in the reserves by returning them to the campuses for the benefit of students.

Ralph Washington Jr. president of the U.C. Students Assn. said if any reserve money is found it should go to help students, possibly by killing the tuition increase or helping students who are starving or homeless, but he is concerned legislators may use the audit to say the U.C. doesn’t need so much general fund money.

“Students definitely don’t want their tuition to go up,” he said.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount), who serves on the board of regents, said the audit requires more inquiry.

“The audit of the UC Office of the President appears to have uncovered the same kind of budgetary misrepresentations and executive excess that we’ve seen before with the State Parks Department and the Public Utilities Commission,” Rendon said in a statement. “There are many questions that need to be answered—and answered honestly.

The audit was requested by legislators concerned about high tuition and complaints of a bloated administration overseeing the UC system’s 10 campuses.

“The reserve included $32 million in unspent funds it received from an annual charge levied on the campuses—funds that campuses could have spent on students,” the audit said.

Auditors said salaries paid to those in the president’s office are much higher than the pay of comparable positions in other state government jobs.

President Napolitano agreed with the vast majority of recommendations for improving budget processes and spending, but denied that $175 million was hidden from the UC Board of Regents.

In a letter to Howle, the president said changes were already underway.

“The recommendations to [the UC president’s office] are helpful,” Napolitano wrote. “We welcome this constructive input, which aligns with our proactive efforts to continually improve UCOP’s operations, and UCOP intends to implement the recommendations.”

However, Board of Regents Chair Monica Lozano and Regent Charlene Zettel asked Howle to remove recommendations that they feel encroach on the constitutional autonomy of the university system, including proposals to have the Legislature approve the Office of the President’s budget.

“As written, we believe these recommendations threaten the University’s standing as a constitutionally autonomous entity, and the Board of Regents itself,” the regents wrote.

Administrative salaries amounted to $2.5 million more than the maximum annual salary ranges for comparable state employees, auditors found.

For instance, an accounting manager’s maximum annual salary is $169,000 at UC compared to $156,000 for other state employees.

An information system manager can make $258,000 with UC, but $150,000 with other state agencies.

The audit said: “10 executives in the Office of the President whose compensation we analyzed were paid a total of $3.7 million in fiscal year 2014-15 — over $700,000 more than the combined salaries of their highest paid state employee counterparts.”

On benefits, the Office of the President provided a regular retirement plan but also offered its executives a retirement savings account into which the office contributes up to 5% of the executives’ salaries—about $2.5 million over the past five years, the audit found.

“The Office of the President also spent more than $2 million for its staff’s business meetings and entertainment expenses over the past five years—a benefit that the State does not offer to its employees except in limited circumstances,” the audit said..

The audit also said the Office of the President reimbursed questionable travel expenses, including a ticket for a theater performance and limousine services. One person spent $350 per night on hotel rooms, which is above the allowable standard for other state agencies.

The audit said the Office of the President has not managed its own budget — which amounted to $747 million in fiscal year 2015–16 — “in a fiscally prudent or transparent way.”

Napolitano said the audit was in error in claiming her office failed to publicly disclose tens of millions in surplus funds.

“In fact, UCOP’s budget and financial approaches reflect strategic, deliberate and transparent spending and investment in UC and state priorities,” said a statement by the Office of the President.

Howle disagreed.

“Significant reforms are necessary to strengthen the public’s trust in the Office of the President,” the audit concluded.

Read the audit here.

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California Rep. Grace Napolitano will run for an 11th term in Congress

Rep. Grace Napolitano (Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Grace Napolitano (Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Norwalk), who easily beat out a Democratic challenger in the November election, says she will seek reelection in 2018.

Napolitano, 80, pointed to her seniority and experience — 10 terms in Congress — in a campaign announcement Tuesday.

“We are at a critical point in our nation, with a new administration that has lost sight of the core values that this nation was founded on,” she said in a statement. “It is imperative that we have members in Congress who are experienced and ready to fight, day to day, to bring the federal resources that address our community’s pressing needs and the many challenges ahead.”

Napolitano suffered a minor stroke in 2016 that affected her ability to write and slightly slowed her walk, but she continued her reelection campaign and beat former Democratic state Assemblyman Roger Hernandez of West Covina.

He was seen as a potentially strong challenger when he announced his run, but he effectively ended his campaign in August after a judge granted his ex-wife’s request for a domestic violence restraining order against him.

After some speculation that Napolitano might retire, two hopefuls for her seat emerged.

Mary Ann Lutz, the former mayor of Monrovia and a former aide to Napolitano, has been raising money to run — but said she will run only if Napolitano retires.

The same goes for Andre Quintero, mayor of El Monte and a former Napolitano intern. He has been raising money for a run, but like Lutz said he would not challenge his former boss.

Napolitano starts off the race with $146,780 in the bank.

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Gov. Jerry Brown warns labor members of Republican public works plans that might ‘enrich Wall Street’

Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to union members at a dinner in Sacramento on Monday, Apr. 24.
(John Myers/Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Jerry Brown warned on Monday that what he’s heard so far from President Trump and congressional Republicans on a major new infrastructure plan sounds more like a way of benefiting the private sector.

“Let’s invest in America, not sell it off to the highest bidder,” Brown said in an evening speech to the annual conference of the California Labor Federation and the State Building and Construction Trades Council.

The governor, who thanked labor leaders for helping to wrangle votes in the Legislature for the $52-billion transportation plan approved earlier this month, sounded a note of skepticism about the notion of public-private partnerships that could be at the heart of Trump’s promise to launch a $1-trillion national effort.

“Here’s what they want to do, this is the Republican idea: sell, liquidate,” Brown said, referring to what he said could be efforts to finance the effort by selling off publicly owned assets.

“And who benefits?” he asked the crowd. “The guys who put the deal together, the investment bankers who provide all the paper. So watch out for this infrastructure program, that it isn’t another way to enrich Wall Street, providing all the financing for the selling of all our public jewels and assets.”

California submitted a $100-billion list of infrastructure projects last month to federal officials in hopes of securing a portion of any available dollars. That list included additional federal assistance for California’s current effort to build a north-to-south high-speed rail system.

Brown lauded the Legislature’s recent action on transportation — funded by a higher gas tax and a new vehicle transportation fee — as a more responsible approach to repairing infrastructure.

“I’d like to see the California model: We pay for what we need. We get what we pay for. And we pay as you go,” he said.

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Orange County Republican Rep. Ed Royce picks up a 2018 challenger

Democratic congressional candidate Phil Janowicz will challenge Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) in 2018.
Democratic congressional candidate Phil Janowicz will challenge Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) in 2018.

A former chemistry professor will challenge longtime Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) — one of the seven Republican members of Congress in California whom the Democratic party has said it will target for defeat in the 2018 midterm elections.

Phil Janowicz, a former chemistry professor at Cal State Fullerton who now runs a education consulting firm, is a first-time candidate. He’ll start his campaign Tuesday.

“People have become disgusted by the current state of our politics in Washington, D.C. Partisanship and gridlock, never-ending conflict, and promises to ‘drain the swamp’ that are broken as quickly as they are made,” he said in a statement. “Our country and our communities deserve better.”

Royce was first elected in 1992 and is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Democrats are targeting the district — which mostly composes voters in north Orange County but also includes Diamond Bar and Chino Hills — in part because because Hillary Clinton took 51.5% of the vote there compared with Trump’s 42.9%.

But Royce was easily reelected with 57% of the vote. He starts off at a significant advantage beyond seniority: He has $2.8 million tucked away for his next campaign.

Just over 36% of registered voters in the district are Republicans while 34.37% are Democrats and about a quarter list no party preference.

Democrats are sending national operatives to Orange County to help win seats in the traditionally Republican stronghold.

The president’s party typically loses seats in midterm elections, and Democrats are working to tie Republican members of Congress to the president in the hopes of winning the House.

Janowicz is already trying to tie Royce to Trump, accusing Royce of voting “in lock-step with Trump 96% of the time,” seemingly referring to the score the website FiveThirtyEight has assigned members of Congress based on how often they vote in line with Trump’s positions.

Janowicz, who lives in Buena Park with his wife, Angela, is among several new candidates with science backgrounds who are entering the political arena on the heels of President Trump’s victory.

He was at a candidate training run by the nonprofit political advocacy group 314 Action in Washington, D.C., last week, according to his campaign consultant Jason Mills. The group is also assisting a candidate running against Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale).

The National Republican Congressional Committee shot back Tuesday.

“Ed Royce is a trusted voice fighting to keep Southern California families safe from very real threats at home and abroad,” said NRCC spokesman Jack Pandol. “Liberal professor Phil Janowicz may hypothesize he has a snowball’s chance challenging Royce, but in the real world, he’ll find Royce’s support runs deep and wide in Orange County.”

UPDATE

April 25, 12:07 p.m.: This article was updated with a comment from the National Republican Congressional Committee.

This article was originally published on April 24.

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FOR THE RECORD

12:07 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said the district included Chino. It includes Chino Hills.

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California lawmaker’s bid to block so-called ‘Netflix taxes’ fails

( (Elise Amendola / Associated Press))

A California bill that would have blocked local governments from taxing Netflix, Hulu and other streaming video services is done for the year.

Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) wanted to stop cities and counties from taxing users of such services until 2023, which would have given the industry and local governments time to figure out how a taxation system would work, Ridley-Thomas said.

Currently, many local governments tax cable-television subscribers. Ridley-Thomas aimed to stop cities from extending that tax to streaming services to foster growth in the industry and deal with complex legal and taxation issues as the streaming services grow in popularity.

“This is a critical discussion in my mind,” Ridley-Thomas said at an Assembly committee hearing Monday.

But his bill came under intense opposition from local governments and the cable industry at the committee hearing. Cities and counties were worried that the bill would have blocked their ability to raise revenue, and cable companies believed the measure would have discriminated against their industry.

“It’s picking winners and losers in a very competitive video market,” said Carolyn McIntyre, president of the California Cable & Telecommunications Assn.

Ridley-Thomas agreed to reconsider the bill for next year after it became clear that he might not have the support necessary from his colleagues on the Assembly Committee on Revenue and Taxation.

Last year, the city of Pasadena considered extending its utility tax to Netflix and other streaming services, but backed down after an outcry. Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek recently estimated the city could bring in $2.3 million a year if it decided to tax the services.

Many other cities including San Bernardino, Glendale, Santa Monica, Culver City and Pico Rivera also are weighing extending the tax, according to a committee analysis of the bill.

Currently, roughly one-fourth of Californians pay a tax on cable television service, according to The California Local Government Finance Almanac.

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California lawmakers push to link public health efforts to climate programs

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) is pushing revised legislation on climate change.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

California’s fight against climate change would be overhauled under legislation advanced by an Assembly committee on Monday.

The legislation, a revised version of a measure introduced earlier this year, would link the state’s efforts against greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming, and other pollutants, which cause public health problems such as asthma.

Facilities such as oil refineries would face tighter restrictions, and the cap-and-trade program — which requires companies to buy permits to emit greenhouse gases — would become less flexible.

The goal of the legislation, Assembly Bill 378, is to broaden the benefits of California’s internationally recognized initiatives on climate change. But it will face resistance from a variety of sources, most notably industry groups that oppose stricter regulations.

Lawmakers are debating the future of the cap-and-trade program because there’s uncertainty over whether it can keep operating after 2020. Gov. Jerry Brown wants lawmakers to extend the program with a two-thirds vote, the higher threshold required for tax measures, to insulate it from legal challenges.

“We’re taking care of the global community,” said Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), who co-wrote the measure. “And we’re also taking care of the disadvantaged communities in our backyards.”

At this point, the legislation appears to be the focal point for conversations about about cap and trade.

A provision to extend the program has been trimmed out of a second measure on the issue, Assembly Bill 151. That bill addresses offsets, which are green projects that can be funded by companies to comply with emissions regulations, by encouraging more them to be developed inside the state.

“This is a work in progress,” said Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D-Marina del Rey), one of the co-authors.

This year’s climate legislation is on a collision course with industry groups that also support cap and trade but envision the program differently. They want a tighter cap on the price of emission permits and as much flexibility as possible to keep their costs down.

“Increasing reliance on direct emission reduction measures over less costly methods is the wrong approach,” wrote a coalition of groups including the Western States Petroleum Assn., the California Manufacturers & Technology Assn. and the California League of Food Processors.

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Rivalry in the air as Newsom and Villaraigosa march with Armenians in Los Angeles

An Armenian march across Los Angeles on Monday served as a stage for the budding rivalry between Antonio Villaraigosa and Gavin Newsom as the two Democrats vied for the loyalty of a key constituency in next year’s race for governor.

“This isn’t the first time I’ve been here,” Villaraigosa, the former Los Angeles mayor, said at the march’s launching grounds in Pan Pacific Park. “For some, it may be.”

“Some” was an apparent reference to Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor, who was standing just a few steps away.

It was indeed the first time Newsom had joined the Los Angeles march. But Newsom said he’d participated in many San Francisco protests calling on Turkey to acknowledge its 1915 genocide of Armenians. Turkey disputes that a genocide took place.

Both Villaraigosa and Newsom, rivals in the June 2018 primary to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown, denounced Republican and Democratic presidents alike for declining to pressure Turkey to accept responsibility for the mass killing of Armenians.

“This was the genocide that started off the most violent genocidal century in humankind’s history,” Villaraigosa said.

After a quick hello before the event, he and Newsom ignored each other as they walked in the front row of the march toward the Turkish consulate. At a rally afterward, Newsom called the Turks’ killing of Armenians an “unconscionable act of inhumanity.”

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Assembly gives final approval to $1 billion in side deals made before vote on gas-tax increase

(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

The state Assembly voted to give final approval Monday to nearly $1 billion for transportation projects in the districts of five lawmakers who voted two weeks ago in favor of a gas-tax increase after previously being undecided.

Assemblyman Matthew Harper of Huntington Beach led Republicans in opposing the legislation, which he dubbed “earmarks based on political influence and backroom deals.”

GOP lawmakers said the normal process calls for individual transportation projects to go through the California Transportation Commission, but Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) said the Assembly should make the decision, rather than leave it to “unelected bureaucrats.”

Senate Bill 132 provides $500 million for projects helping the districts of state Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) and Gray, both of whom held out support for the bill until the day before the vote. The measure includes $400 million in transportation funds for the extension of the Altamont Corridor Express, a commuter rail line between the Bay Area and Central Valley, and $100 million for a parkway project at the UC Merced campus.

The measure approved Monday also provides $427 million for transportation projects in Riverside County, where Sen. Richard Roth (D-Riverside) and Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona) held off supporting the gas tax until the day of the vote. Other money goes to providing clean air technology for trucks in areas that include the district of Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino).

Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) questioned the legality of the bill, which he said “rewards” lawmakers for their votes and undermines public trust. When Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yucca Valley) called Senate Bill 132 “graft,” Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) objected, saying Gallagher was “impugning the integrity of some of the colleagues on this floor.”

However, Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) said SB 132 pays for “key transportation projects that are important in our state to stop the gridlock.”

The bill was one of three measures asked for by lawmakers who ended up voting to approve the gas tax bill. The Assembly also approved a proposal by Gray that exempts architecture and engineering firms from having to pay the defense fees for clients who are sued.

Another bill scheduled for action would provide $17 million to a handful of young cities in Riverside County that lost state funds when they incorporated.

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NRA announces legal challenge to California’s expanded assault weapon ban and other new gun laws

An AR-15 semiautomatic assault-style rifle.
An AR-15 semiautomatic assault-style rifle.
(Charles Krupa / Associated Press)

The state affiliate of the National Rifle Assn. on Monday filed the first of a series of planned lawsuits against a package of gun control bills approved in California last year, including one challenging the state’s newly expanded assault weapons ban.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a prohibition on the sale of semiautomatic rifles equipped with bullet-buttons that allow for the quick removal and replacement of ammunition magazines.

The first lawsuit will be filed late Monday in federal court in Santa Ana by the California Rifle and Pistol Assn., the state affiliate of the NRA , and asks the courts to declare the expanded assault weapon law unconstitutional.

“It criminalizes possession of firearms which are commonly possessed for lawful purposes by law-abiding citizens for self- defense or shooting sports,” said Chuck Michel, a Long Beach attorney for the gun rights groups.

The legislation, and other bills including a ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines, were approved by Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature in response to a 2015 terrorist shooting in San Bernardino in which weapons including AR-15 rifles were used to kill 14 people attending a holida