Thursday, September 24, 2009

Newspaper association wants tax relief, not a bailout

President Obama says he's "happy to look at" a bailout plan for the newspaper industry, which some believe would amount to a virtual government takeover. But the Newspaper Association of America isn't interested, according to Advertising Age.

Proposals such as the Newspaper Revitalization Act, introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., would have "limited application" in the industry, The NAA's Paul Boyle tells the ad industry publication.

Instead, how does the NAA suggest helping struggling newspapers?

So the Newspaper Association of America is pursuing efforts that would benefit all kinds of for-profit businesses -- including newspapers. One big goal, for example, is legislation that would let big businesses apply their net operating losses to their taxable income going back five years instead of the current two years. Businesses with revenue under $15 million got that break in the economic stimulus package, but the newspaper association and many others want the provision extended and expanded to larger businesses.

Another big issue, particularly next year, is pension relief. The stock market's decline means companies may need to use cash reserves to meet federal funding minimums for their pension funds, the association said, instead of protecting jobs or investing in business activities.

Wow, what a concept. When their own ox is being gored, newspaper industry bigwigs discover the virtues of tax and regulatory relief for big business. Interesting.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bucking the trend?

The Old Farmers Almanac is when it comes to its long-range weather prediction for northern and central California. From the California Farm Bureau Federation:

Northern California can expect above average precipitation this winter, according to the Old Farmers Almanac. However, it says Southern California will be drier than average. The book predicts that snow will be plentiful in the north with storms in November, December and January, and that precipitation will be above average throughout the state in April and May. The almanac uses sunspot activity and earthbound weather to develop its forecasts. It claims an 80 percent accuracy rating overall, but says last year its rating was 88 percent.

That's about the opposite of what just about everyone else in the know has told me about the developing El Nino pattern -- namely, that the best chance for above-average rainfall is in Southern California, not in the north. I'll be flushing that out in the upcoming issue of Capital Press.

Of course, I'm sure many of you are hoping the Old Farmers Almanac is right and the people I talked to are wrong.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Water in the capitol: thick with discontent

The conference reports are out, and with tomorrow's deadline looming, discontent is clouding water policy in the capitol.

In Sacramento, the water conference committee has finished its conference report, reworking five delta-related bills for approval in both houses by tomorrow, the last day of this year's regular session.

But the prevailing atmosphere seems to bolster the cynics' oft-heard doubts of the legislature's ability to approve a historic delta solution this year. Republicans have already referred to the conference committee's proceedings as a "dog and pony show," and Sen. Dave Cogdill (R-Modesto), who sits on the committee, yesterday dismissed the bill package as a failure:

"The conference report is an unbalanced package of bills that ignores the need for a reliable water supply and only caters to the interests of extreme environmentalists. These bills will guarantee that we never improve the failing condition of California's water system. We had hoped that the Democrats had listened to the numerous hours of public testimony before drafting their conference report but it appears they haven't heard the cries of farmers, farm workers, businesses and residents throughout the state. As Republicans, we wholeheartedly agree that we must fix the fragile Delta while at the same time bolstering our economy. This package of bills disregards the co-equal nature of these goals and will do nothing to create jobs and keep water flowing in this state."

None of the committee's Republican members signed the final conference report.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), the committee's co-chair, acknowledged the package's lack of a bond to pay for water-system improvements (including new storage) that Republicans have pushed for and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has demanded, and that Democrats have lately come to support. Republican and Democratic bond proposals are currently on the table.

Steinberg's statement:

“I am proud that the conference committee process has produced legislation that will enhance the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and ensures California will have clean, reliable drinking water for years to come. This package represents crucial advancements in resource infrastructure for the state, but it is incomplete with out a financing plan to go with it. I will continue to work with members and the stakeholders in the coming days to make sure California can pay for the important improvements that this water package offers the Delta ecosystem and California’s water delivery system.”

And in today's Sacramento Bee, Steinberg expands a bit on why the conference report is an imperfect compromise.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Hanging in suspense

A deadline for producing legislation has come and gone, and water stakeholders continue hanging in suspense.

The conference committee that has spent the past week hashing out a package of water legislation focusing on the future of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta faced a Tuesday deadline for finalizing its conference report, which would then go to the floors of the Senate and Assembly for approval by Friday, the last day of this year's session.

But the committee never met yesterday, its 14 members preoccupied by long floor sessions. The committee is again scheduled to meet today, whenever the chairs —Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass — call it.

Some terse words have been offered by Republicans on the effectiveness of the conference committee, saying Republican input hasn't been heeded.

Steinberg's response:

“Over the past three weeks the Legislature has held six lengthy public hearings with full Republican input. ... I have assured Republican members that the policy pieces will not be debated on our floors until they are joined with a comprehensive finance proposal. I urge my Republican colleagues to hold their judgment until that work is completed, which will be no later than Friday.”

The circumstances seem to bolster the pessimistic comments one often hears regarding lawmakers' chances of passing historic water legislation on such a tight deadline, after years of failure on the issue.

Even so, the progress has been measurable, with Democrats and Republicans narrowing the gap on an infrastructure bond — Republicans having adopted the environmental projects that Democrats want, and Democrats overcoming their own aversion to storage infrastructure.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Farm news is portable, tractor ready

Apparently you can read the Capital Press while on the tractor, especially if it's a GPS-guided machine. This photo shows the Aug. 28 edition of Capital Press from the driver's seat of a John Deere 8230 rototilling bluegrass on the Stacy Kniveton farm near Ralston, Wash.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Again, Arnold rejects card-check unionizing

For the third time, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed a farmworker-unionizing bill. On Wednesday, the governor rejected SB 789 by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).

The bill would have allowed "card-check" balloting for union representation as an alternative to the secret-ballot process. It was opposed by farm interests.

From the governor's veto message:

This process fundamentally alters an employee's right to a secret ballot election that allows the employee to choose, in the privacy of the voting booth without coercion or manipulation, whether or not to be represented. While I support the right of agricultural employees to voluntarily seek and choose representation if they wish, and ensuring that existing labor laws are enforced is a top priority for my administration, I cannot support this alteration of the secret ballot process.

Employers argue that card-check voting exposes workers to coercion by the union; United Farm Workers says the secret-ballot process exposes them to coercion by employers. 

From UFW:

Farm workers are subjected to sexual harassment, heat illness, abuses and intimidation at the work place. Yet, the governor, again and again, has failed to protect farm workers and continues to support employers who are responsible for at least 95 percent of the reported violations during union election campaigns.

Capitol Weekly links the veto to a $1 million donation to a UFW political action committee focused on opposing new water bonds. A water bond to accompany developing water legislation is among Schwarzenegger's top priorities.

Schwarzenegger to Obama: lift delta fish rules

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday released a letter he sent this week to the Obama administration pleading for intervention in the state's water crisis — specifically, a repeal of the salmon and delta smelt biological opinions contributing to this year's reduced water pumping from the delta.

Schwarzenegger's office gives figures of 35,000 jobs and $710 million in farm revenue lost to this year's water shortages. State and federal water managers have attributed nearly a quarter of this year's pumping reductions to the biological opinions. 

From Arnold's letter:

It is clear that we are trapped in an outdated and rigid bureaucratic process that dictates fish protection actions one species at a time rather than evaluating the entire ecosystem and addressing its many stressors. State and federal water pumps clearly impact the Delta, but regulating as though they are the only influences ignores the complexity of the situation and creates new problems while failing to solve others. 

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