CMA Capitol Insight is a biweekly column by veteran journalist Greg Lucas, reporting on the inner workings of the state Legislature.
Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em – Before They Go Up A Buck
One of the two initiatives that will appear on the June ballot – Proposition 29 – would increase taxes on a pack of cigarettes by $1. Of the estimated $855 million that the tax increase will raise each year, 60 percent will be spent on grants and loans to support research on preventing, diagnosing, treating and curing tobacco-related diseases like cancer and heart disease. Another 20 percent would boost anti-smoking programs run by the state Department of Public Health and the Department of Education. The other major chunk of money – 15 percent, about $128 million – would be handed out as grants and loans to build or lease facilities to conduct research on tobacco-related diseases and buy equipment for those facilities. A majority of the nine-member Cancer Research Citizens Oversight Committee, which would dole out the money raised by the tax increase, is composed of three directors of cancer centers and three University of California chancellors from campuses where biomedical research is conducted. Opponents say the proposition will create a “huge, new taxpayer-funded state bureaucracy” and that the state should erase its budget deficit and restore existing programs, particularly public schools, before embarking on a “new billion-dollar spending program.” The California Medical Association supports the proposition, in part, because it’s an obvious two-fer: More investment for treatment and a cure, and the higher the price of tobacco products climb, the fewer people smoke – which results in any number of positive outcomes. The state’s adult smoking rate fell below 12 percent in 2010.
Show Me the Money
The biggest single contribution to the “yes” side of Proposition 29 is $1.5 million from the foundation created by Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor and multiple Tour de France winner. The American Cancer Society is in for more than $150,000, and the American Lung Association another $280,000, state records show. What interest groups might think Proposition 29 is a bad idea and be willing to bankroll the “no” campaign? Philip Morris has contributed more than $7.7 million. Other companies under the umbrella of Altria, the parent of Philip Morris, have so far donated another $1 million. That doesn’t count R.J. Reynolds and its affiliates, who are in for $4 million, the Secretary of State’s contribution filings show. Proposition 29 is a pocketbook issue for the two tobacco giants both if it passes and trying to ensure it doesn’t. No doubt a barrage of TV ads on either side will be airing come Memorial Day or so.
Speaking of the Movie ‘Jerry Maguire’
Recently, Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, was contrasting the current battleground of proposed tax increases for this November’s ballot with his success on 2004’s Proposition 63, which imposed a 1 percent state income tax surcharge on Californians with $1 million or more in taxable income to expand state mental health treatment. Besides the political popularity of increasing tax on the “rich,” Steinberg said the measure benefited from a ballot chock-a-block with higher profile issues like mandating employers to provide health care and restricting the state’s so-called “Three Strikes You’re Out” law. Steinberg noted his measure prevailed – 53 percent to 47 percent – despite opposition by the Church of Scientology. "Since then, I've boycotted all Tom Cruise movies, with the exception of 'Jerry McGuire,'" Steinberg told reporters. “It’s just such a good movie.”
And Back to Nicotine
Getting people to quit smoking by substituting nicotine gum or patches may not be a very healthy choice. Although further studies are needed to confirm the findings, research from Brown University shows that nicotine – by itself – changes cell structure in blood vessels, which, in turn, helps form plaque, contributor to cardiovascular disease.
Put a Cap on It…
Is the slogan of a new joint venture between the state Department of Public Health and the California Family Health Council that allows some California teenagers to receive a free packet of 10 condoms and “personal lubricant” off the Internet. Launched on Valentine’s Day during National Condom Week, the Condom Access Project, – CAP for short – is aimed at reducing the transmission of sexual diseases among 15- to 19-year-olds. The program drew an angry response from so-called “family values” groups, which said it undermines the parent-child relationship and encourages teens to have sex. In defense, says Julie Rabinovitz, the council’s president and CEO, “Significant barriers to condom access remain for youth. They cost a lot, youth are uncomfortable asking for them, and in some areas free condoms can be hard to find. CAP breaks down those barriers by providing free condoms to teens in a way that is both confidential and teen-friendly and meets them where they are – online and at home.” Teens in Alameda, Kern, Sacramento, San Joaquin counties and parts of San Francisco – counties with high rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea among 15- to 19-year-olds – can go online and confidentially request a package of 10 condoms. Besides the condoms and the lubricant, the teens will also receive information about pregnancy prevention and sexual diseases. This can be done through a website created by the council, TeenSource.org, where teenagers as young as 12 can sign up for condoms as well as get birth control advice and information about their privacy rights. The site does note, in boldface, that “abstinence is the only 100 percent effective method to prevent (sexually transmitted diseases) and pregnancy.” But, the site says, if a couple is going to have sex, use condoms.
The State of California’s 9,903 Public Schools?
Not so sweet, given nearly five years of budget reductions totaling some $14 billion. In a February report on school funding, the Legislative Analyst’s Office finds the following: Per-pupil funding is lower than five years ago. Per-pupil funding in the state’s current budget year is $7,583. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2008, it was $8,235. Under Governor Jerry Brown’s budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year, per-pupil funding would drop further, the analyst says – between a 1.1 and 6 percent drop depending on whether voters approve a ballot measure in November backed by the Democratic governor to temporarily increase the sales tax by 0.5 percent and up the income tax rates for the state’s wealthiest earners. A 6 percent drop would mean per-pupil funding would be more than $1,100 lower than five years ago. The analyst says there are 34,000 fewer teachers now than five years ago. Fulltime teachers have fallen from 306,000 to 272,000, an 11 percent reduction. As a result, the student/teacher ratio has climbed from 19.4 to 21.9. There are also fewer instructional days. Five years ago, nearly all districts provided 180 instructional days. Now, nearly 350 districts – one-third – offer fewer than 180. In addition, many school districts “report shifting funds away from…professional development, summer school, adult education, art and music programs, facility maintenance, school libraries and high school class-size reduction” to balance their budgets. Average teacher salaries have increased over five years, the analyst says, from $65,800 to $67,900.
“Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics”
That last stat on teacher salaries is misleading. Say, for example, there are 10 teachers: Two make $50,000, three make $55,000, three $60,000 and two $65,000. Their average salary is $57,500. If you fire the two lowest paid teachers – who would be the ones with the least seniority and therefore most likely to be laid off by a school district facing budget cuts – and give none of the other teachers a pay raise, the “average” teacher salary is now $59,375. Mark Twain says British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli came up the quote about the three kinds of lies. The line appears nowhere in Disraeli’s writings. This does, though: “As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information.”
To Which Warren Buffett Might Respond…
“If past history was all there was to the game, the richest people would be the librarians.”