Spending California’s surplus, how lobbying affected one consumer protection bill, and what came of Schwarzenegger’s Million Solar Roof goal – CALmatters

Good morning, California.

“We’re playing to win, and California will be an important part of our success. We’re thrilled to have Mayor Liccardo as part of the team.”—Kevin Sheekey, campaign manager for former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s presidential run, to Politico’s Carla Marinucci

  • San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo became the first high-profile Californian to endorse Bloomberg.

New push for expanded aid

Assemblyman Phil Ting, September 2019 (Photo by Anne Wernikoff)

Some Democratic lawmakers are renewing their push to use some of California’s projected $7 billion budget surplus for expanding assistance to undocumented immigrants.

Assemblyman Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat who chairs the Assembly Budget Committee, released a budget blueprint in a call to reporters on Monday that includes:

  • Expanding Medi-Cal coverage eligibility to undocumented immigrants who are 65 and older
  • Annual cost: $163 million the first year, $255 million after, with costs rising as the senior population grows
  • The state already provides health coverage for undocumented immigrants up to age 26.

Separately, Ting proposes to authorize as many as 388,000 low-wage undocumented immigrants to claim Earned Income Tax Credits from the state.

Annual cost: $117 million to $167 million.

Ting said lawmakers will have to be careful not to overcommit. Despite an expected surplus, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst recommends no more than $1 billion in ongoing spending and $4 billion in total spending if the federal government declines to approve a tax on managed care organizations.

  • Ting: “I think we’re going to be able to make some strategic budget increases. But $1 billion goes really quickly when you’re talking about higher education, health care, housing and homelessness.” 

Earlier this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers blocked expansion of the tax credit and health care for undocumented immigrants because of cost concerns.

Drilling dental patients’ wallets

Legislation to curb dental credit cards was watered down.

Synchony, a Connecticut bank, had no lobby presence in Sacramento at the start of the year.

Then, Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat, introduced legislation aimed at its CareCredit arm, which provides credit to dental offices nationwide.

The Fresno Bee’s Manuela Tobias detailed the impact of that product on unsuspecting dental patients, writing that they could face years of debt after signing up for high-interest credit cards to finance dental treatment, often while in the dentists’ chair awaiting care.

What’s more: Some dentists appear to be inflating bills and pressuring patients to put their services on a credit card, according to Tobias’ report, which is part of the The California Divide, a CalMatters collaboration examining economic inequality.

Synchony retained a Sacramento lobbying team on April 3, spent $373,000 by the end of September, and succeeded in watering down the legislation in the Assembly Business and Professions Committee.

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom signed it in into law, but it won’t take effect until July 2020.

Familiar ring: WhatMatters reported on the legislation in April, after a Laguna Beach man testified about the bad experience with the credit card.

To read Tobias’ full report, please click here.

To read other California Divide installments, please click here.

Beyond the SAT

A UC Davis egghead sculpture outside the university’s library

A University of California faculty committee is examining alternatives to requiring the SAT or ACT as a condition of admission. CalMatters higher education reporter Felicia Mello tells us what comes next.

If UC drops the high-stakes exams, the university could:

  • Allow students to submit scores from standardized tests they already take in the 11th grade
  • Put more emphasis on other measures such as class rank, or rely on information it already gathers from students’ grades, essays and recommendations

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ: “We know California high schools really well. I’m not sure we do need a substitute test.”

SAT performance is strongly associated with family income and race, studies have found. Jettisoning it could lead to a more diverse UC. 

It also could inspire an increase in applications to the already-overcrowded university. More than 70,000 qualified students were turned away from UC and CSU last year because of lack of space, according to the College Futures Foundation. 

What’s ahead: The faculty task force is set to deliver its recommendations early in 2020.

To read Mello’s full look at UC’s options—including what happened when the University of Chicago went test-optional, please click here.

Cell phones have their day in court

Photo illustration

A trial opened in Manhattan on Monday over the $26 billion merger of T-Mobile and Sprint. 

Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s deputies, along with attorneys representing a dozen other states and Washington D.C., are challenging the merger, contending it would hamper competition.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero is insisting on wrapping up the trial relatively quickly, The Wall Street Journal Reports.

  • T-Mobile pressed hard in Sacramento to win approval of the merger, spending $781,000 on lobbying in the first three quarters of the year and offering sweeteners, including creation of a 1,000-employee customer service center in Kingsburg, 30 miles south of Fresno.

Meanwhile: The U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling authorizing Berkeley to require warnings on cell phones sold within city limits, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

  • The notice: “If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is ON and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF radiation.”

Telephone companies claimed the notice violated their First Amendment rights.

Take a number: 1,046,792 

Solar panels being installed in Sacramento

Remember Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Million Solar Roof initiative, announced back in 2005? 

His stated goal was to have solar installed on a million roofs and small businesses within 13 years. Those panels would produce 3,000 megawatts, enough to power those homes. 

California crossed the 1 million solar roof threshold in July, The California Public Utilities Commission believes. Now, the count is 1,046,792

Because of improved technology, those solar panels produce 8,730 megawatts of electricity, approaching the equivalent of four nuclear power plants the size of Diablo Canyon.

Schwarzenegger will travel to Buchanan High School in Clovis on Thursday to declare that his goal has been met, and probably to urge a new one.

Commentary for CalMatters

Dr. John Maa, San Francisco surgeon: An entire generation of youths has been exposed to the dangers of a lifetime of nicotine addiction by Juul’s actions. As California is home to Juul, we have a special obligation to take the lead in ending this epidemic. 

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Are California’s voters getting turned off by  constant pleas for new taxes? A new study of what happened in very affluent, very liberal Marin County suggests that “tax exhaustion” may be developing.

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See you tomorrow.