Friday, February 25, 2011



That sound you hear coming from Texas officials when the subject of California comes up is no longer chortling. It’s more like choking.

For no one has been more gleeful about California’s plight as it sank deeper and deeper into deficit than the leading officials of Texas. They even used tax dollars to pay for studies on how to take business away from California. Not from other states, just California.

Leading Texans starting with Republican Gov. Rick Perry made frequent forays into California over the last few years trying to convince California business owners to move operations and headquarters to the Lone Star state, and even convinced a few to go. Some California politicians, mostly notably Republican Meg Whitman while she ran for governor last year, called for emulating the low-taxes and weak regulations of Texas and even brought Perry in for advice. But hardly anyone seeks his counsel any more.

For the buccaneer-like approach used by Texas government and Texas businesses in their relations with California have been muted. Some of the Texas companies that tried to exploit Californians illegally during the energy crisis of the early 2000s are extinct, starting with the biggest pirate of them all, Enron. And after hiding the truth for more than a year, Texas state government now admits to a two-year budget deficit of $25.5 billion, similar to California’s shortfall on a per capita basis.

The Texas budget gap comes to about 30 percent of the state budget; California’s to less than one-fourth of recent yearly spending. Things are so tough that ever-lax Texas has begun cracking down on Internet retailers, demanding they pay sales tax if they have a physical presence in the state. This caused to close its lone Texas warehouse, the retail giant griping about an “unfavorable business climate” – the same words Texans use while trying to lure California businesses.

The Texas troubles are largely driven by the “supply side” economic beliefs of Perry and other Republican leaders in that solidly “red” state, who have long been convinced their government could survive and thrive with the third-lowest tax rates in the nation, when levies on income, sales and property are combined. Lower taxes, they’ve argued, would lead to more business growth and more jobs, producing more actual tax dollars for the state budget than would higher rates.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. Yes, unemployment in Texas is lower than in California just now, about 8.3 percent and rising in January, while California unemployment has held steady about four percentage points higher for a year. But Texas, with real estate values far below California’s, had virtually no price bubble to burst and was therefore not afflicted with as great a foreclosure crisis or as much of a dropoff in housing construction jobs. Take away housing factors and Texas unemployment is about the same as California’s.

Meanwhile, Texas business growth has been slowing since mid-2010, reported an Austin business newspaper.

While California Gov. Jerry Brown is trying to exempt public education from most upcoming deficit-driven budget cuts, top Texas officials appear to have no compunctions about slashing public schools and colleges.

“A lot of things we (state government) are doing arguably aren’t priorities for the people of Texas,” Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told a reporter. “People could stake me and Gov. Perry on the ground and torture us, and we still would not raise taxes.”

Those “low-priority” items include Medicaid, about to be cut by about one-third in Texas, far more than California's looming reductions. Only time will tell if that leads to epidemics or higher health care costs when poor Texans switch from doctors’ offices to emergency rooms for many problems. Per-student public school spending – already about $1,000 a year below California’s – figures to be cut about $1,200 yearly to about $7,800, while California’s level will not sink below $9,000 even if Brown fails to secure the tax extensions he says are needed. Caps on class sizes in Texas will also disappear.

At the same time, one in every three Texas families that include at least one wage-earner remains below the federal poverty level of $22,300 per year income for a family of four. This more than doubles California’s 15.3 percent 2010 rate.

The difference in poverty numbers indicates that Texas features many more low-paying jobs than California, another factor depleting meaning from the difference in unemployment rates.

So Texas has very little to chortle about these days and the upcoming education cuts will harm its prospects for future growth, since businesses tend to like places with well-educated work forces.

There’s certainly no cause for Californians to gloat over the newly-acknowledged woes of Texas the way leading Texans did while California appeared worse off. But there’s also no longer any way to claim, as many have over the last two years, that lower taxes and fewer government regulations assure economic success for Texas while dooming California to decline.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit


It’s high time for Gov. Jerry Brown to use the bully pulpit that comes with his office. The somewhat vague but nonetheless real deadline for getting legislative approval to put his budget plan before the voters this June now draws near and he still hasn’t won over a single Republican lawmaker.

Brown has almost exclusively played an insider’s game so far, trying to jolly the GOP into giving him the handful of state Assembly and Senate votes needed to reach the two-thirds majority required to get a special election vote on his ideas for resolving California’s $26 billion deficit.

Simply put, Brown’s budget plan depends on a combination of severe cuts and a five-year extension of several temporary taxes in effect since 2009. With a legal June 30 deadline for passing a budget, Brown must have an early June vote on his plan or he’ll have to come up with alternatives that involve only cuts.

The reductions already in Brown’s plan will close many state parks, place new burdens on homebound seniors and the developmentally disabled, increase class sizes in public schools while decreasing course offerings, severely limit doctor visits by Medi-Cal patients and much more. So far, the governor has spoken only vaguely about the consequences if voters reject his ideas, but it’s clear reductions would then be much wider and deeper. He’s said he will accept that if it’s what the people decide in a fair election.

But he believes it would unwise, maybe even immoral, for legislators to deprive the public of a chance to vote. Yes, Brown as an almost lifelong politician is well aware of the pressures on Republicans, who have seen every party mate who went along with the 2009 increases booted from office.

Which means it’s high time for him to create a different kind of pressure on those same lawmakers. Enter the bully pulpit.

Ever since President Franklin Roosevelt used “Fireside Chat” radio broadcasts during the Great Depression to build both national morale and public support for his economic programs, politicians have commandeered radio and television time to go over the heads of Congress or state legislatures.

So far, Democrat Brown has confined himself to lobbying the lawmakers and has won praise even from Republicans for reaching out to them. He set examples of frugality for all of state government by cutting off half the state’s array of cell phones, slicing hundreds of cars from the state fleet and ordering a hiring freeze. He even flew sans retinue on a Southwest Airlines flight from Sacramento to one speech in Los Angeles, a highly symbolic contrast with ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who usually traveled with an entourage on a private jet. It was one of only a handful of forays Brown has made outside the capital since his election last fall.

Still, he has not changed even one Republican vote. Brown knows this better than anyone.

Which means he must do more. Brown needs to ask television stations everywhere in California for 15 minutes or half an hour of air time soon in order to reach masses of voters. Expect this soon. “Stay tuned,” press secretary Gil Duran said when asked whether it will happen.

The last California governor to use this tactic with any frequency was Ronald Reagan, who later employed the same technique to reach beyond Democratic majorities that dominated Congress during most of his presidency. As governor, Reagan went straight to the people to explain why he cracked down on students at the University of California’s Berkeley campus. He also did it to plump for a property-tax cutting initiative he sponsored in a 1973 special election. The tactic eventually won Reagan the “Great Communicator” sobriquet, even though he didn’t always achieve his immediate aims.

Brown’s most effective campaign commercial last fall was one where he concluded a pitch by looking straight into the camera and making the simple promise “No new taxes without voter approval.”

Now he needs to look the voters in the eye again. The image of a governor flying coach class with the hoi polloi only goes so far. Brown must ratchet up the debate by showing voters all over California exactly what they stand to lose if they’re deprived of a chance to vote on his budget plan.

If he makes the case that further cuts would devastate programs beloved by partisans of both parties, he might arouse enough public pressure to convince reluctant Republican legislators their future depends on a yes vote, especially with the new “top two” primary election system looming in all their futures.

One thing for sure: Brown will have to do this soon and probably more than once, if he's to generate the groundswell he needs.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Thursday, February 17, 2011




Because Republicans in Congress have steadfastly stymied attempts to get the federal government to act against global warming and climate change, critics of California’s new carbon trading rules usually get little contradiction when they insist those regulations will see this state going it alone and putting itself at an economic disadvantage.

But they’re wrong, at least in large part.

For California isn’t going it alone at all. Long before this state's Air Resources Board voted 9-1 to start a system of trading in pollution allowances next year, a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative set up a similar system in 10 northeastern and mid-Atlantic states. There was also the Western Climate Initiative covering seven western states and four Canadian provinces, setting a regional target of reducing heat-trapping emissions (mostly carbon-related) 15 percent below 2005 levels.

And there was the similar Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord covering seven states and two more Canadian provinces. There’s also New Mexico, going it alone with rules as tough as California’s, which may or may not be attacked by that state’s new Republican governor.

Altogether, this means California is among at least 24 (maybe 25) states and six provinces taking similar but not identical actions against climate change because the federal government will not.

They join the European Union, whose own carbon trading system is about to enter its second four-year phase.

Altogether, the American states involved account for well over half the nation’s populace, most of its industrial production and just under half its geographic territory.

Yes, this may make a few companies locate new factories in other states, mostly those in the Republican-dominated Southeast, but those who want to locate near their largest markets will have to contend with the new regulations, whether in California or the other states involved. Which means that if California has placed itself at a competitive disadvantage, it’s not a great one.

And figures like Gov. Brown and ARB chairwoman Mary Nichols may be correct when they say the new rules here and elsewhere will give the state a big advantage as new technologies are developed to reduce pollution and make the companies that do it more profitable because they can then sell off any rights they have to produce their former levels of emissions.

All this has plenty of complications, and California’s rules may be more complex than those elsewhere.

One example is Massachusetts, a member of the Northeast group, whose rules call for heat-trapping gas emissions to be cut 25 percent below 1990 levels by the end of this decade. That’s an even tougher standard than California’s goal of simply getting back down to 1990 levels by 2020.

Like California officials, the Massachusetts energy and environment secretary insists his state’s new rules will produce net gains in jobs and “put the lie to the Chicken Little-oriented debate that equates reducing emissions with economic disruption.”

The Massachusetts tactics include incentives like “pay as you drive” insurance rates that price coverage according to how far people drive, a system that is in its infancy in California, with only two insurance companies so far set to try it. There is also a cap-and-trade system for electric utilities and there are major incentives for power companies to switch from fuels like oil, coal and natural gas to renewable sources like wind and solar.

These moves in large part are imitations of California’s cap-and-trade plan, which sets specific goals for various industries, from transportation to power generation to construction.

Under the rules adopted here, companies that produce less gases than their quotas (the cap) will be able to sell the difference to others that can’t or won’t get down to their required levels (the trade). The prices of such pollution credits have yet to be determined, along with what the state will charge for emission credits it will grant. Companies will also be allowed to sell carbon-sequestration credits if their assets (including forests) absorb more carbon gases from the air than the company produces.

The idea is to set up incentives for companies to clean up their operations: the cleaner a company gets, the more money it can make by selling pollution credits. The caps, though, will get lower each year the system exists. Eventually, California’s plan may link to those of other states and Canadian provinces with similar cap and trade systems, with prices set on an international exchange operating much like the stock market.

The bottom line: California’s rules may be tough, but there are tougher ones in some other states. Which means the state should not succumb to the whining of industries that simply don’t want to clean up their acts.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




The Census is over, its findings known and California has a brand-new redistricting commission made up of citizens who have never before been public figures.

The big remaining question: Will all this lead to lots of new faces in both Sacramento and in California’s delegation to Congress?

The best guess here is probably not.

From the start, the idea of taking the once-a-decade chore of drawing new legislative and congressional districts was embraced by Republicans who wanted fewer Democrats in office and by reformers who wanted to see more competitive districts than this state has had in many years.

It’s a rare election where even one Congressional seat changes parties; just as unusual to see a switch in the state Senate or Assembly. Out of 173 total seats available, perhaps two or three might change party in any election cycle, a rate of about 1 percent or 2 percent.

But there’s a surprising likelihood about the new districting reality: It might not change this situation very much. In fact, it stands a chance of placing even more Democrats in office than we see now, when the party dominates both Legislative houses and the congressional delegation.

Here’s why: The Citizens Redistricting Commission is charged with making new districts conform as nearly as possible to city limits, county lines and logical geographic divisions like rivers and the crests of ridges and mountain ranges. At the same time, federal law demands the districts be drawn so all ethnic groups have a decent chance at representation.

There can be no clumping of all Latinos in one large county into just one district, for instance. Nor can there be splintering of any ethnic group to make sure it has no chance of getting representation or influence. The latter two requirements stem from a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Many of the old districts were plainly gerrymandered, a term derived from the 19th Century Massachusetts politician Eldridge Gerry, who wanted to keep Whigs in office in the early 1800s. To this purpose, he drew one district in the shape of a salamander, complete with long, thin tail. Combine Gerry’s name with the shape he used and you get a gerrymander. California has seen lots of those, especially in its most populous areas.

The purpose of California’s most recent gerrymandering was to make sure Republicans and Democrats stayed represented at about the same levels they were in 2000. Republicans agreed not to fight a Democrat-drawn plan so long as all their incumbents were safe in the new districts.

It's worked just that way for the last 10 years, as there was very little change in the proportions of the Legislature or the congressional delegation controlled by either big party.

In that arrangement, most Democrats won by very large margins and most Republicans did, too. Districts with races decided by fewer than 10 percent of the vote were rare. For there is no federal law against drawing lines around a few city blocks known to contain many Republicans to make sure they’re all within one district.

Add to all this the simple fact of a large Democratic voter registration advantage, amounting to about 2 million during last November’s election.

But the 2000 agreement is dead. Membership on the new commission is made up equally of Democrats, Republicans and folks not in either party -- plainly out of proportion to the actual voting preferences of Californians, with Republicans and independents over-represented. But for sure, there will be no attempt made to dump Democrats or Republicans into different districts just to create safe seats for either party.

Instead, the lines will supposedly be drawn without regard to any of that. Enter two other factors: Persons with similar ethnic, economic and educational backgrounds tend to cluster together. So there will still be mostly-Latino districts and mostly-black districts and mostly-Anglo ones.

But the fact there are 2 million more Democrats than Republicans now becomes a factor. If lines are drawn without regard to party, chances are in most districts there will have to be more Democrats than Republicans.

Which means there may be closer races in future elections, but Democrats will have the best shot at winning the bulk of them by sheer dint of their numerical preponderance.

All of which means the usually inept California Republican Party may have shot itself in the foot again by not thinking through the ultimate consequence of their knee-jerk backing of the new redistricting commission. We’ll know much more about all this come early November, 2012.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




Gravitas is the single attribute most essential for any new California attorney general to be taken seriously and operate effectively.

It’s a quality California’s new Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris couldn’t quite establish in six years as district attorney of San Francisco and a year on the campaign trail running for her new office.

She has glamour. She appeals to celebrities. The “transition leadership team” she set up just days after the final vote count on November’s election established her as a razor-thin winner over Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, with a margin of about one-half of 1 percent, established those two qualities, but raised doubts about how seriously she can be taken.

The big names on her “team” (it’s not quite clear what they actually did) included former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, former Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and George Schultz, longtime liberal Los Angeles lawyer Connie Rice and Kathleen Sullivan, former dean of the Stanford Law School. Harris is also a personal friend of President Obama.

The question when she announced her team and its several committees was why? The announcement came less than three weeks before she was to assume office, so it was hard to see what they could accomplish, especially since no meeting dates were announced.

In fact, the transition team Harris announced dwarfed anything Gov. Jerry Brown did between the election and his inauguration. Brown named just a few new officials during that time and set up no committees, while employing no celebrities at all.

Maybe Harris recruited her big-name team members (even if she has made no discernable use of their talents) because she felt somewhat insecure. Her victory margin was the narrowest among statewide winners in the last decade. Some analysts thought she won the Democratic nomination (just barely) last spring mainly because she was the only woman in a field of six credible candidates and because her name recognition factor was highest in the field after being highly visible in San Francisco.

Starting out by calling the criminal justice system “broken” might also not play so well with the unpretentious but tough new governor, who was himself attorney general until Jan. 4.

Harris also must overcome a wide perception that her signature program as district attorney, a job-training system for 18-24 year-old low-level drug offenders called “Back on Track,” was nothing special at best and an abysmal failure at worst.

One nasty example of an individual who came through that program was Alexander Izaguirre, who avoided prison by entering the training program even though he was an illegal immigrant and would not have been eligible to hold any job he trained for. While out of prison, Izaguirre mugged former San Francisco resident Amanda Kiefer and fractured her skull.

Harris reworked the program after realizing illegal immigrants were enrolled, saying “I believe we fixed it.”

The low-level offenders in that program were nothing compared to the criminals Harris might have to deal with if county jails can’t handle the prisoners Brown proposes sending back to them as part of his budget plan.

Her signature issue, she says, will be trying to stop recidivism, the common phenomenon of released prisoners committing new crimes and returning to prison. A 2010 UC Berkeley study indicated that having a job is the key factor that helps some ex-convicts stay out of prison, so look for Harris to start another job-training program to go along with the education programs prisons have run for decades. If she can get the money to do that.

“We need to bring new methods to bear on key areas such as gang crime, truancy, protecting our environment, combating mortgage fraud and identity theft,” she said.

There are already laws governing all those areas, and like any attorney general, Harris will be able to choose which ones she tries to enforce and which ones she’ll ignore.

As she adjusts to far wider responsibilities than she’s ever had, Harris might be viewed as a new “wunderkind,” in the mold of Obama in 2007-8. She’s the first African-American statewide officeholder in almost three decades and the first Indian-American one ever. She can be a frequent national talk-show guest if she wishes.

But that’s all in the glamour/celebrity department. If Harris wants to advance to the next level and be a serious contender for governor in 2014 or beyond, she’ll need to establish herself as someone to be taken seriously, too.

Step one might be to avoid any more grandstanding moves like her pointless “transition team” announcement.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




Almost no one running for president ever campaigns in California once the February primary election is over. This state is so strongly assumed to be true-blue Democratic that voters here don’t even see the most inventive, interesting and controversial campaign commercials.

Ted Costa – the man who filed the petitions to recall ex-Gov. Gray Davis, a move that eventually made Arnold Schwarzenegger governor in 2003 – wants to end that and has just started circulating a proposed initiative to make a big change that would very certainly draw candidates to California.

He has a point. But one that makes sense only if every other state in America does the same thing.

Costa wants to carve up California according to congressional districts. As it stands, every state gets one Electoral College vote for each such district, plus two more for its two senators, giving California 55 electoral votes, 15 more than No. 2 Texas.

But Costa’s Electoral College Reform Act would give the winner in each district one electoral vote, and the overall statewide winner two more. If that system had been in force two years ago, Barack Obama would have won 44 of California’s votes, with 11 for Republican John McCain.

Even though California now has 20 Republicans in Congress, nine of their districts went for Obama in 2008.

This sounds eminently sensible, and it would certainly remove California from anyone’s list of states people take for granted. Candidates of all stripes would have to spend campaign time and money here, taking away from what they now spend in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida.

The only problem is that it’s not fair if California takes this action by itself (OK, California wouldn’t be completely alone; tiny Maine and Nebraska now have similar systems).

“The way it now stands, rural and suburban parts of California are not represented in the electoral vote,” says Costa. He’s right. Places like San Diego, Orange and Placer counties, which almost always vote strongly Republican, are drowned out in the final tally for president.

But something similar applies in other states, most notably Texas, which now has 40 electoral votes. Like California, the Lone Star state is taken for granted. It hasn’t gone Democratic in decades. But Democrats nevertheless dominated significant parts of it.

The state capital of Austin, also home to the University of Texas, is a hotbed of liberal and environmental activism, taking many steps to fight climate change even as state officials headquartered right there won’t hear of doing anything similar.

The state’s largest city, Houston, has not had a Republican mayor since the early 1980s, has long been represented in Congress by liberal Democrats and has not voted Republican for president since the 1970s. Its third-largest city, San Antonio, is politically dominated by Latino Democrats.

Like the California areas that don’t get electoral votes of their own, those Texas cities are unrepresented in the last stage of presidential elections. Like California, Texas rarely sees candidates once the primary season is over.

It’s much the same in rock-ribbed Republican (during presidential votes) states like South Carolina and Georgia, which contain plenty of Democratic areas. Example: Two of South Carolina’s six congressional seats are now held by Democrats.

That makes Costa’s attempt at electoral voting by congressional district a thinly transparent Republican ploy, as long as other states don’t do the same, and even Costa doesn’t think he stands much chance of getting it onto the ballot.

“I have people committing to me to gather 200,000 petition signatures,” he said. But he would need 550,000 of those and so far no financial angel has appeared with money to fund a big petition drive, as Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of San Diego County did for the recall. Of course, Issa hoped to run for governor in that recall when he donated the money, backing off only after Schwarzenegger entered the race and questions arose over his own past.

All of which makes Costa’s effort a bit quixotic. He knows it stands little chance. Nor should it, until the idea is adopted far more widely around America.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




From almost the moment in 2008 that voters passed Proposition 1A and authorized $9.9 billion in state bonds for a high speed rail (HSR) system spanning much of the state, opposition became loud and determined.

In places from Palo Alto to Washington, D.C., there has been screaming about things like bait-and-switch, poor route planning, false estimates of ridership and the charge that this will just plain be another government boondoggle.

Those crying out against the plan have included city councils and congressmen, farmers and residents of cities to be bisected by 15- to 40-foot-tall viaducts that will carry trains whooshing along at a top speed of 220 mph.

There have also been allegations of conflict of interest against HSR board members who serve on other boards and city councils, including the authority’s chairman Curt Pringle, a former Republican speaker of the state Assembly who is the longtime mayor of Anaheim. Coincidentally or not, Anaheim is a major stop on the planned system.

All this provides a sense of urgency for project backers, who want desperately to get something solid on the ground to show voters before someone qualifies another ballot measure cancelling out the 2008 vote.

Enter the stretch from the practically non-existent hamlet of Borden in the southern part of Madera County, just across the San Joaquin River from Fresno County, to Bakersfield. That’s where the rail authority plans to build its first segment, one that won’t even be used until other stretches link it to big cities in either Northern or Southern California. By itself, then, this stretch will serve no one.

The moment the planned first segment was announced, critics began deriding it as a high-speech path to nowhere.

But the choice was probably dictated the moment the Obama Administration last fall earmarked $715 million in federal money for Central Valley high speed rail development. Those dollars need to be spent, or at least committed, quickly or there’s the threat that the new Republican majority in the House might try to make them go away, along with another $600 million added later. It still might happen. There was no chance the HSR authority would simply kiss off what amounted to a gift of more than $1 billion toward the $4.3 billion total estimated cost of the segment.

The authority also knew it would almost surely get bogged down in lawsuits and other objections to its plans for the more congested, higher-use stretches of the rail line, designed to reach from San Diego and Los Angeles to San Francisco, with an eventual spur into Sacramento.

Never mind that building segments between San Diego and Los Angeles or from San Jose to San Francisco could serve myriad passengers right away, before the largely rural area now chosen, whose main urban component, if it’s built, would cut through downtown Fresno.

The agency isn’t talking about its real motives, but another one surely was to let the rest of California – and Congress and Obama – see as many as 80,000 new jobs generated by the time ground is broken on this part of the project, scheduled for no later than Sept. 12 because of deadlines for use of federal stimulus money.

There’s also the fact that Bakersfield Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the new No. 2 man in the GOP’s congressional hierarchy, has talked about forcing the HSR authority to give back $2 billion in stimulus funds. Commit them to this quickly, and that might no longer be possible, even assuming President Obama would let it happen.

In short, this segment won’t serve anyone soon, but it would be a “fact on the ground,” allowing high speed rail proponents to say that stopping work before the entire thing is built would waste what’s already been done, even if the tracks could be converted for use by normal trains.

It now seems likely that the high speed rail authority will get that much done. But the volume of opposition, and its merits – questions about everything from eminent domain issues and effects on farming to apparently inflated ridership and revenue estimates and whether Chinese loans or investment should be allowed at some point – clearly call for the authority to reconsider parts of its plan and go for something a bit more modest.

Perhaps the planned Pacheco Pass segment, running over the Coast Range along Highway 152, and connecting San Francisco Peninsula segment, too, should be reconsidered in favor of a northern terminus near Livermore, with tracks running over the Altamont Pass beside Interstate 580. The terminus could be linked to special Bay Area Rapid Transit trains running non-stop into San Francisco, or possibly stop in Oakland en route.

That would largely mimic what Amtrak does now, with buses running from its trains in Emeryville to San Francisco. It would also save billions of dollars in land and construction costs, not to mention untold years of lawsuits.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




Gov. Jerry Brown now wants to put a single budget-balancing proposition before voters in a June special election to “let the people decide” how to solve the state’s persistent financial problems.

If an election comes off involving that plan or some amended version, voters would be opting either for a compromise solution with both budget cuts and a tax extension (a yes vote) or a cuts-only version (a no vote), but they would not have the option of keeping all state programs virtually intact by authorizing a new tax or two,

Why not offer voters all three choices? Way back in September, while still a candidate, Brown foresaw the very problems now facing his budget plan and the possible special election.

“If we can’t get an agreement,” he said in an interview then, “we might just put all the choices before the people. I might ask the Republicans in the Legislature to present a budget proposal and the Democrats to put forward their plan and then we’d have my ideas.”

He knew any plan he offered with either a tax increase or an extension of several present levies that are due to expire soon would face solid Republican opposition that could prevent him from staging the vote this spring or force him to use convoluted legal tactics to do it, thus setting up his ideas as purely partisan.

That’s exactly what’s happening now.

Republicans in the Legislature are adamant they will not only refuse to vote for Brown’s proposed tax extension, but will also try to block a special election of any kind, even though an election would give voters a chance to establish that their party’s absolutist no-new-taxes stance is the majority’s real preference.

“The simple answer is no,” said state Senate Republican leader Robert Dutton. “Holding special elections is not what the people elected me to do. As for three propositions, there is no way possible to put a complicated thing like that on the ballot (by June) and dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.”

In short, even though voting for a three-proposition special election would not violate the no-new-taxes pledge he and most of his party cohorts have taken, Dutton doesn’t want a popular vote on the issue.

“Now, if you want a proposition to disband the Legislature because it’s completely ineffective doing its job, I’m all for it,” Dutton chuckled. “You give me a solution that actually solves the budget problem and encourages economic recovery and job growth and brings spending under control and I’ll go for it.”

Dutton doesn’t come right out and say he wouldn’t work on a Republican version of the budget, but that idea is implicit in his comments.

So why doesn’t Brown try to just push ahead with the three-fer idea he floated last fall? Leading Brown advisor and former campaign manager Steve Glazer says the governor isn’t quite ready for that.

“We’ve already proposed a downsizing of government that is unprecedented in the career of any Republican in Sacramento,” he said. “It does a lot of what they say they want. So we think we’ve already got a compromise plan that accommodates the feelings of all the major players. And so far, we think we’ve only seen the Republicans’ opening hand in negotiating.”

That’s why, he said, the three-proposition idea isn’t yet openly on the table. Would Brown go to it if his plan were essentially frozen by the GOP, which can’t block the majority vote now needed to pass a budget, but could prevent the two-thirds majority usually needed to call a tax-approving special election?

“We won’t deal with a hypothetical like that,” Glazer said.

But a three-proposition budget election (yes, it would technically be five, including two unrelated initiatives that have already qualified for the next statewide vote) would give voters a clear choice, which is what Republicans often say they want. If all three should somehow pass, the one with the most votes would be the only one to become law.

The bottom line: It’s hard to understand why anyone would oppose a an election that would confront voters with specific choices between losing or truncating programs they like and opting to pay more for them. That’s why, if Republicans won’t go along, you can expect Brown to roll the dice and go for a vote without their consent on either one or three propositions.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit