Tag Archives: California

California state scientists reject Jerry Brown’s contract offer

If these scientists really don’t like their pay, they are quite free to negotiate a 5 percent-plus raise for the next three years with a private employer.

kick the can down the road

Sacramento Bee: California’s state scientists have resoundingly rejected a new contract with Gov. Jerry Brown that would have given them a total 15 percent in salary increases over three years but included a new requirement that they begin contributing toward retiree health benefits.

Nearly three-quarters of ballots cast voted against ratifying the deal, according to the union. The results frustrated, at least for the moment, the administration’s attempt to implement Brown’s plan to begin saving for future retirees’ medical care, a debt currently pegged at roughly $71 billion.

math is hard

The vote also underscored the dissatisfaction of scientists who have long complained about earning 70 percent of what those holding similar governments jobs are paid.

Patty Velez, who chairs the bargaining team for the California Association of Professional Scientists, said in a press statement that the contract “was far short of what is needed to bring an equitable and satisfactory conclusion to these negotiations.” California Department of Human Resources spokesman Jim Zamora said that the Brown administration’s bargaining arm would have no comment.

A centerpiece of the now-rejected contract would have put the union’s 3,000 members into a pension-style fund to offset retiree health-care costs. Employee contributions to the fund, which the state would have matched, would have incrementally increased to a total 2.8 percent of salary by mid-2019.

The terms also required 25 years of service to become fully vested in the retiree health-care program, five years longer than current employees must wait. And the amount of the state’s health-care subsidy for those future employees in retirement would have been substantially reduced.

Brown wants to build similar terms into all the contracts covering the state’s 180,000 or so unionized state employees. The administration can impose those conditions on its non-union employees. The changes to retiree health benefits and requiring employee contributions for them are key elements of the governor’s plan to begin whittling down obligations for retiree medical costs that, unlike pensions, are not offset by investments.

Union leaders knew that they had a hard sell when they announced the tentative agreement last month. Their members last year had rejected one contract and then accepted another less-lucrative, short-term deal, believing that once Brown won re-election in November he would spend more freely on salaries.

But as talks dragged on past that contract’s expiration date a few months ago, it became apparent that money was again snagging the negotiations. During the final week of talks, about 100 scientists staged an unsanctioned march at CalHR’s Sacramento headquarters. A few days later, Velez announced the new tentative agreement with a near-apology, acknowledging the deal “still falls well short of closing the huge salary gap between scientists and their engineering counterparts at the state, as well as scientists at the local level and in the private sector.”

Of the ballots cast, 72 percent rejected the agreement, according to the union. By state law, the scientists will continue to work under the terms of their expired contract. Velez said negotiators plan to return to the bargaining table. A date to resume talks has not been set.


I bet the majority of these scientists believe in global warming yet a $71 BILLION debt doesn’t scare them.

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California economic portrait not pretty

Apparently Californians don’t know the definition of insanity.

lauren bacall

Sacramento Bee: Federal officials released three major economic reports this month and together, they paint a dark picture of California.

Superficially, the monthly employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) was good news. California added 36,300 jobs in August, 470,000 in one year and more than 2 million since the recovery began. The unemployment rate, which had topped 12 percent during the recession, dropped to 6.1 percent in August.

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau reported that California’s official poverty rate for 2014 was 16.3 percent, somewhat higher than the national rate of 14.7 percent.

Finally, a Bureau of Economic Analysis report on regional economies revealed that outside the red-hot San Francisco Bay Area, California’s economy trailed national expansion last year, and several rural areas actually saw declines.

Taken together, the voluminous data dumps reveal that those on the upper rungs of the economic ladder, and the communities in which they cluster, particularly in the Bay Area, are doing well. However, very large portions of the state, both geographically and sociologically, are struggling.

Take that 6.1 percent jobless rate. As low as that may seem, it’s still the ninth-highest among the states, a full percentage point higher than the national average and 50 percent higher than Texas’ 4.1 percent. Among the nation’s 387 Bureau of Labor Statistics “metropolitan statistical areas,” nine of the 10 with the highest unemployment rates are in California, topped by 24.2 percent in Imperial County.

Among the nation’s 51 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), the Riverside-San Bernardino region is dead last at 7.1 percent, yet environmental groups want to block a proposed new warehouse complex (and its jobs) in Riverside County.

California fares even worse by a truer measure of underemployment, called U-6, which counts not only workers who are officially unemployed, but those “marginally attached” to the labor force and those involuntarily working part-time. Our U-6 rate is 14 percent, down a bit from the recession but still the nation’s second-highest, topped only by Nevada’s 15.2 percent.

Finally, the true employment picture is affected by the “labor force participation rate,” the percentage of those in the prime working age group (16-64) working or seeking work. Ours is 62.3 percent, the lowest level in 40 years. When more than a third of potential workers sit on the sidelines, the official unemployment rate, or even U-6, look much better than they truly are. The true underemployment rate may be closer to 20 percent.

Back to the poverty rate. It’s not only higher than the national rate, but as the California Budget and Policy Center points out, the data indicate that 22.7 percent of the state’s children are living in poverty, and they are nearly a third of all officially impoverished Californians. As dark as that situation may sound, it’s actually worse. By the Census Bureau’s supplemental poverty measure, which uses broader factors including the cost of living – especially housing – 23.4 percent of Californians are impoverished.

Those data are bolstered by two other factoids. Nearly a third of California’s 39 million residents are enrolled in Medi-Cal, the federal-state health care program for the poor, and nearly 60 percent of K-12 students qualify for reduced-price or free lunches due to low family incomes.

This is not a pretty picture.


More than 500K driver’s licenses issued to illegal immigrants in California

Of course California is proud of this.


Fox News: California has issued more than half a million driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally under a program that began nine months ago.

Armando Botello, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, said Friday that the milestone was reached last week. “For us, the DMV, it is a source of great pride to have reached half a million this soon. We thought we would issue half a million applications per year and we did it in 9 months. This means the DMV work is paying off and that all drivers will be safer now,” said Botello.

The state started providing special permits in January, when a law took effect allowing unauthorized illegal immigrants to obtain it with an identification document, proof of residence, and after passing a written and a driving exam. Because the agency does not ask about race or ethnicity, it is not known how many of the five hundred thousand applicants are Latino. However, Botello said most are Hispanic.

The record number of licenses issued came as a surprise to the agency, which expected to reach the half a million mark by the end of the year, said Botello. According to DMV estimates, there is a total of 1.4 million potential applicants in the state of California.

“We thought we would issue half a million in one year and we did it in nine months. I think it will be difficult that we reach one million in the next nine months because there are fewer people coming to the office,” the spokesman said.

The new licenses initially generated huge interest, with long lines at DMV offices in January and February.


California students produce low scores in first round of Common Core tests

I’m sure this means the schools need more money.

california teacher association

Sacramento Bee: California released scores for new Common Core-based standardized tests today with performance as expected – much lower than in past years.

Most students in the Sacramento region and statewide failed to meet English or math standards under the more rigorous California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, which replaces the former STAR tests.

About 41 percent of Sacramento County students met or exceeded English-Language Arts standards, compared to 44 percent of students statewide. Roughly 33 percent of Sacramento County students met or exceeded math standards, similar to the statewide rate.

Education leaders warned that the new results cannot be compared to past performance given the dramatic difference in how Common Core-based testing is conducted. But under the old tests, 54 percent of Sacramento County students scored at or above proficient on English-Language Arts STAR tests in 2013 and about 59 percent of the county’s students scored at or above proficient on math STAR tests.

The math and English tests, administered to 3.2 million California students in third through eighth grades and 11th grade, will serve as a baseline to measure progress in future years and should not be compared to results from the state’s previous STAR tests, said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a statement.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson

“California’s new standards and tests are challenging for schools to teach and for students to learn, so I am encouraged that many students are at or near achievement standards,” he said. “However, just as we expected, many students need to make more progress. Our job is to support students, teachers and schools as they do.”

Students in Placer and El Dorado counties fared better than those in Sacramento County, with a small majority meeting or exceeding English standards. None of the region’s four counties, which also includes Yolo, saw a majority of students meet math standards, though Placer and El Dorado students came close.

At the district level, Roseville Joint Union High School District posted the best English scores as 78 percent of its students met or exceeded standards. The lowest English scores were at the Robla Elementary School District, where 25 percent of students met English standards.

Sacramento-area school districts have been preparing parents for lower test scores for some time. San Juan Unified posted a letter to parents on its website and in a newsletter warning about lower test scores.

“Everybody from the school district to the state is trying to message that it will take some time,” said Kim Minugh, San Juan Unified spokeswoman. “We are asking a lot from our students that we haven’t in the past. The scores aren’t going to reflect that immediately. We do need some time.”

She said the district is using the data from the state assessment as well as its own tests to adjust instruction. “We need to do better and we think we already are starting that journey,” she said.

Other states also have experienced a significant performance decline in the first year of the new test. In 2013, the percentage of New York students that scored at a proficient level fell from 55 percent to 31 percent in English and language arts and from nearly 65 percent to 31 percent in math.

The potential for that kind of drop put parents and educators on edge. California education leaders have decided not to use this year’s test to determine each school’s Academic Performance Index, a compilation of student test scores that in past years allowed for school comparisons across the state.

Parents will see big differences when they get individual student scores in the coming weeks. Gone are the “advanced,” “proficient,” “basic,” “below basic” or “far below basic” performance levels of the previous Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) results for English and math. In their place are “standard not met,” “standard nearly met,” “standard met” and “standard exceeded.”

Eric Heins

Eric Heins

California Teachers Association President Eric Heins issued this statement today about the state’s release of student test scores from the new California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP):

“Educators and parents know that a statewide test score is just one component of measuring student progress. Any true assessment of student achievement always includes multiple measures, including classroom assignments and assessments by local teachers. 

Our students will always be more than a test score. We need to allow all students time for exploration, discovery and awe. We need to let them experience the wonder of learning. With the state’s school funding formula and more community control over targeting resources, students, parents, educators and administrators are working together in exciting ways. It’s a work in progress, but it’s also a work about real progress that’s being made by educators, parents and communities coming together to help all students fulfill their dreams.” 


Deal requires California state workers to pay ahead for retiree health care

This is a start yet will barely put a dent in the $71.8 BILLION unfunded liability.

kick the can down the road

Sacramento Bee: Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration has reached a tentative deal with a key employee union that would require state engineers to contribute toward their retirement health care benefits, likely establishing a template that will be applied to other state employee unions to help reduce a growing financial liability.

Under the three-year agreement, which still must be ratified by the union’s members and the Democratic-dominated Legislature, the Professional Engineers in California Government in mid-2017 would have to begin paying one-half of 1 percent of their pre-tax salaries into a fund to chip away at the fiscal millstone.

The contribution, including the dollar-for-dollar match by the state, would rise to 2 percent of the workers’ salary by July 2019, though a union spokesman noted that the group is scheduled to return to the bargaining table in early 2018.

For employees hired after Jan. 1, the deal lengthens from 20 years to 25 years the amount of time it would take to become fully vested in the retiree health care program. And the amount the plan would pay for those employees would be reduced from 100 percent for primary beneficiaries and 90 percent for dependents to 80 percent for both.

The Brown administration did not comment on the deal. But it represents a victory for the Democratic governor, who wanted current state employees to begin paying for retiree health care and future employees to have more modest benefits.

The California Association of Highway Patrolmen six years ago became the first state employee union to agree to help fund retiree health benefits.

While the engineers’ tentative contract does not technically affect the other unions because they bargain separately, generally agreements reached earlier tend to establish limits for later pacts. Terms of the deal are likely to be applied to three other state worker bargaining units without contracts and more than a dozen others whose contracts expire next year, ultimately affecting the entire state workforce.

The new payment toward health care could be at least partially offset by raises. The engineers’ deal – retroactive to July 2 – gives the union’s 13,000 members a 5 percent raise in July 2016 with a 2 percent raise one year later. It is set to expire on June 30, 2018.

Last year, then-Controller John Chiang pegged the unfunded liability of the state providing health and dental benefits for its retirees at $71.8 billion as of mid-2014. The balance is particularly burdensome because unlike guaranteed public employee pensions, which are funded as employees remain on the job, the state only covers what’s needed to pay for the costs as they come due.

Bruce Blanning, the engineers union’s executive director, cited the pension issue in describing how the negotiating team approached the new contribution. In 2011, most state workers began paying an additional 3 percent toward their retirement benefits, a figure offset by employee raises.

“I think it’s a reasonable ask,” Blanning said of the health care piece. “The administration wanted to start jointly putting aside money … to build up a fund, and from our end of it, (we thought) ‘OK, that’s an understandable objective.’”

Unionized state engineers are among the highest-paid employees in government, with regular annual pay averaging $94,147 for calendar 2014, according to state payroll data. They last received a 3.3 percent raise on July 1.

The engineers union released news about the raises to the media on Monday. It waited until Tuesday, however, to publicly disclose the new out-of-pocket costs because it wanted to break that news directly to its members first.

Some agreements contain “most-favored nation” clauses that allow a union to reopen talks if a later contract with another group is more generous. The engineers’ contract, however, does not contain such a clause.

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Shocker, not: Despite strong returns, California pension funds’ fiscal hole got deeper

kick the can down the road

Sacramento Bee: With a new ballot proposal reigniting debate over government retirement benefits, the latest federal figures show California’s public pension debt in 2013 stood at $4,425 for every man, woman and child in the state, despite strong investment returns by public retirement funds.

The per-capita obligation ranked 11th highest among U.S. states, according to a Sacramento Bee analysis of latest data by the U.S. Census Bureau. California’s total pension debt, $610.3 billion, is the largest in the nation.

Such statistics will likely pour into a complex debate over state and local public retirement benefits in the new few months. The ballot proposal aimed for the November 2016 election would, among other things, change California’s constitution to require that voters approve public pension enhancements. Unions oppose the measure as an attack on working people disguised as voter empowerment.

California, the nation’s most populous state, also has more government workers than any other. Nearly 1 in 10 Californians belongs to one of 85 government pension systems, according to a new report by Kevin Cook of the Public Policy Institute of California. About two in three pension members belong to either the California Public Employees’ Retirement System or the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.

Those two public pension funds, the largest and second-largest in the nation, respectively, are still recovering from the losses during the recession. Despite significant investment gains in 2013, the disparity between the plans’ obligations and the value of assets stood at $62 billion for CalPERS and $74 billion for CalSTRS.

CalPERS has since raised rates on employers in the fund, and lawmakers have approved higher contributions to CalSTRS. A 2013 law also rolled back benefits for new public pension system members.

Cook says the gap between unfunded liabilities and assets suggests that the systems “have been underfunded over time.” Retirees are living longer, further pressuring the funds, he said.

math is hard

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Most new California licenses go to drivers in country illegally


Fox News: More than half of all new California driver’s licenses this year have gone to people who are in the country illegally, the state said Friday

The California Department of Motor Vehicles reported it has issued roughly 397,000 licenses to people who live in the country illegally. A total of 759,000 licenses have been issued in the first six months of the year. The DMV only issued 435,000 licenses in the first six months of 2014.

The new law initially generated huge interest causing long lines at motor vehicle offices in January and February. The DMV expects to see about one million more applicants over the next three years who are covered under new law. “We hope that all of those people will be able to pass the testing and have the necessary documents to obtain” a license, said DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez.

Supporters of the law say giving licenses to people regardless of their immigration status makes the road safer for everyone. New drivers say having a license means they can travel more freely for work or pleasure.

“It’s great that people are taking advantage of this new law,” said Jackelin Aguilar, community organizer for Placer People of Faith Together, an Auburn, California-based group that supports the new licenses. “It’s definitely a step forward for the families, and having identification is huge,” Aguilar said.

Opponents say people who get into the country illegally shouldn’t be rewarded.

Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, which advocates for legal and limited immigration, criticized California for making life easier for people in the country illegally, at the expense of citizens and legal residents. “There are now 400,000 more signals to people all over the world that working illegally in California is encouraged by the government itself,” he said.

About 687,000 people have applied for the licenses issued to illegal immigrants. Applicants must pass driving tests and show proof of residency and identity. The new license is marked differently than those issued to other drivers in the state and is not considered a valid form of federal identification, for example, to board an airplane.

More than 1.1 million people who qualify for the new licenses took the written driver’s test between Jan. 2 and June 30, and 436,000 have also taken a behind-the-wheel driving test.