- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

June 6

Monterey County Herald on single-payer health vote

Last Thursday, the California state Senate made the bold move of voting to create a single-payer health system without having any idea of how to pay for it.

Ostensibly spurred by concerns over the future of the Affordable Care Act at the federal level, Senate Bill 562 by Sens. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would create a single-payer system which would cover health expenses for every resident in California.

Considering the magnitude of such a proposal, the very least that is owed is a thorough accounting of how exactly such a program would be paid for. After all, according to estimates from a legislative analysis provided to the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 22, the proposal is anticipated to cost $400 billion per year, more than double the state budget. While half of that could be covered by existing federal, state and local funding, the other $200 billion would have to be covered by new tax revenues.

Even those figures could be off, because as the legislative analysis explained, “there is tremendous uncertainty in how such a system would be developed, how the transition to the new system would occur and how participants in the new system would behave.”

But rather than provide the sort of thorough vetting such a massive overhaul demands, the bill’s authors instead pushed for a vote on a half-baked proposal advocated by the California Nurses Association and many progressive Democrats.

“There’s no funding mechanism within this bill because we want to further study and ensure that this becomes a program that is viable,” Lara told colleagues on the Senate floor, seemingly unaware of the implications of what he had just said.

The vote came as a poll was released last week by the Public Policy Institute of California showing most Californians support changing the state’s immense, insurance-based medical care system to one in which the state provides universal coverage.

But, the 65 percent support dropped to 42 percent if a single-payer system requires new taxes, which, of course, it would.

The absence of a complete proposal led many lawmakers who are otherwise sympathetic to its aims to either vote against it or abstain.

“Rather than rushing to pass it before it’s complete, we should keep it here and finish the work,” said Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Contra Costa, who voted against the bill.

Whatever the merits of single-payer health care in the abstract, what the Senate voted on was a proposal lacking critical details without which a responsible vote in favor is impossible. The prospect of an unvetted bill with hundreds of billions of dollars in proposed annual costs becomes even less sensible in light of the state’s inability to balance the budget it already has.

The proposal would not only cover all Californians who now have some form of health insurance, but nearly 3 million more - mostly undocumented immigrants who lack coverage, and would eliminate out-of-pocket costs for everyone.

Such numbers are a guarantee of higher costs, not to mention additional expenses as co-pays and deductibles are eliminated and more people move to California for free health care.

As Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, pointed out, California is already the highest-taxed state in the country. What SB562 guarantees is the placing of greater burdens on taxpayers, employers and medical professionals. “If you want California to be competitive in the job market, which is very challenging these days, you’ll vote no on this bill,” Stone said.

Rather than voting down a clearly deficient bill, the Senate voted 23-14 in favor of it.

This is a glorified political stunt which, if it proceeds with the same thoughtlessness shown to date, could do real harm to the state of California.

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June 6

The San Diego Union-Tribune on Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s legacy:

Let’s talk about the “L” word: legacy. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer deserves praise for advancing the city’s climate action plan and forging ahead on a reliable recycled water program to protect against drought. Faulconer also stabilized city government after former Mayor Bob Filner’s sexual harassment scandal. He is a mayor like Jerry Sanders: jovial, moderate, backed by business interests and liked by labor because he hasn’t caused them much consternation. Now he faces his biggest test.

Since replacing Filner, Faulconer has done what many hoped: found money for street repair and infrastructure fixes, restored hours at city facilities, avoided labor strife and pursued big goals, such as building a Chargers stadium, reducing homelessness and trying to lure a soccer team and expand the convention center in a special election.

Yet the Chargers are a memory, homelessness is worse than ever and his plan for a November 2017 special election blew up on Monday night after eight of nine City Council members redirected $5 million that could have paid for the election. Eight of nine!

Propelled by labor leaders who opposed the special election, four Democrats said before Monday’s meeting that they would vote against paying for it. That meant the special election needed support from Faulconer’s four fellow Republicans and Democratic Council President Myrtle Cole, who was elevated to her post with full GOP support. But Faulconer not only couldn’t enlist Cole’s help, he couldn’t even get allies Chris Cate, Mark Kersey or Lorie Zapf to stand up with him, if only symbolically.

Only Scott Sherman backed the mayor. And Sherman was so frustrated that he joked at one point he might resign to force the special election he and Faulconer want. Tensions at the meeting were so high it was only after he made the quip that people realized he wasn’t serious. An aide had to say so.

So now what? The mayor will veto the council’s budget and restore his special election money, and he’s confident the four Republicans will block an override. But council Democrats, who all oppose a special election, seem likely on June 12 to sideline the convention center expansion - and on June 19 to sideline the SoccerCity project - until 2018.

Then San Diegans will be in the strange position of having a mayor some want to run for governor and others see as a lame-duck with three and a half years still left in his second term. Meanwhile, homelessness will continue to explode in a city one columnist just labeled “America’s Calcutta,” the Qualcomm proposal may languish as Major League Soccer contemplates expansion options elsewhere and the chance could grow that Comic-Con and its economic engine will quit San Diego as the Chargers did.

With the City Council hearing set for this coming Monday about the convention center expansion plan and another planned for the following Monday on SoccerCity, a special election is still possible. But the mayor will have to use all of his political clout.

The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board wishes him luck on Monday specifically because a special election for a convention center expansion is crucial. The city could spend $5 million to get an estimated $10 million a year for homeless funding and $10 million a year for street repair a year earlier than if the election were in November 2018. A special election could also save on rising construction costs. Faulconer told an editorial writer a delay means a loss of momentum and “an incredibly big setback for the city.” He called this “a seminal moment” for San Diego and urged Democrats and Republicans to come together to raise hotel room taxes, San Diego’s fastest-growing pot of money, for a city in need.

It’s simple, really. Council members should consider the expansion project on its merits, separately from the Qualcomm Stadium site proposal. Then discuss SoccerCity a week later the same way. One project at a time. One vote at a time. Politics is a slog, and the mayor has his work cut out for him.

He didn’t want to discuss his legacy in an interview. “Write about my legacy four years from now,” he said. “Write about what’s the right thing for the city now.” It’s time for San Diegans to discuss both.

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June 4

San Francisco Chronicle on bill for California’s housing crisis

Legislation passed by the state Senate last week promises to ease California’s housing crisis by the only means likely to succeed over the long run: preventing local governments from needlessly restricting residential construction.

Senate Bill 35, sponsored by Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, provides for streamlined approvals of multifamily developments that meet a series of conditions in cities that are falling short of local housing needs. It earned bipartisan support in the Senate and is now before the Assembly, which should follow suit.

With more than 100 housing-related bills in Sacramento speaking to the depth of the crisis, legislators also advanced measures last week to ask voters to approve more borrowing for affordable housing, provide rental assistance for the homeless, and allow cities and counties to ease development in special districts.

Local development restrictions that strangle the housing supply, particularly in urban areas where dense development makes sense, are at the root of the shortage. They lead to higher home prices, rents and, ultimately, homelessness.

But limiting local pols’ power to arbitrarily say yea or nay to builders - and residents’ ability to prevent any and every project that might change their neighborhoods - takes courage that Sacramento has yet to muster. That’s why Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to limit local control died without so much as a vote in the Legislature last year. Wiener’s bill gives lawmakers another chance to do their jobs and begin to address California’s most pressing problem.

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June 2

The Desert Sun on not cutting funding for earthquake alert research

President Donald Trump’s budget plan has backers and detractors. It seems that there are multitudes of sins within the document, depending on the political leanings of the person making the assessment.

One item, however, should be of concern to all.

That proposal would eliminate federal funding for an earthquake early warning system being developed for California and the rest of the West Coast. In addition, the spending plan for the next fiscal year would kill U.S. funding for critical tsunami-monitoring stations in oceans and reduce funds for a next-generation weather forecasting system.

“It probably would kill the early warning system if we thought there were no more funding coming from the U.S. Geological Survey,” said John Vidale, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network and a seismology professor at the University of Washington.

This system is seen as potentially giving all of us in quake country precious advance alert time to get clear of danger before “the big one” hits. Scientists say we’re overdue for a major temblor, and if and when it happens it won’t discriminate by political affiliation whose home or business it levels.

Congress must ensure that this roughly $10 million in spending isn’t eliminated.

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June 2

Los Angeles Times on state’s starving recycling program:

By one important measure, California’s 30-year-old Beverage Container Recycling program has been a big success. Up until last year, more than 80% of qualifying plastic bottles, glass containers and aluminum cans were returned to recycling centers each year. Billions of bottles and cans that might have otherwise ended up in the state’s landfills have found new lives in recycled products.

Yet the program is in trouble because the state shortchanged the centers on their subsidies just as the price of scrap material was dropping. A quarter of the state’s recycling centers have closed in the last year and half, many of them in rural areas. And with fewer places to redeem bottles and cans, last year recycling rates dropped to just under 80% for the first time since 2009. Unless lawmakers step in immediately, the rates may well continue to drop, sending untold amounts of potentially recyclable material into the waste stream.

Gov. Brown and legislators want to overhaul the program, and they should. It’s inherently unsustainable, victimized by its own success; the revenue the state relies on to support it - the deposits consumers pay on bottled goods - goes down as the recycling rate goes up. To make matters worse, the subsidies needed to ensure adequate recycling centers to serve the entire state are based on a number of factors entirely out of the state’s control like labor costs, rent and global demand for plastic or aluminum.

But starving the program while waiting for an overhaul is not the answer. Legislators must include the appropriate amount to fully fund the program in the next fiscal year’s budget. Then we can talk about the best way to reform the program for another successful 30 years.

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