While drafting the Constitution of this great nation, the Founding Fathers were gravely concerned about preventing the tyranny inherent in concentrated centers of power. Therefore, the principle on which our Constitution was founded is the separation of powers - a form of governance in which each branch of government is tempered and cooled by the authority of the other. Each state that entered the union based their own state constitutions on the same premise.
Here in the California Legislature, our responsibility to oversee government entities is still as important as it was during the birth of this nation. I would like to take a moment to highlight a few recent examples of how the Legislature has been working to oversee government agencies to improve safety, increase efficiency, and protect the livelihoods of all Californians.
The first example concerns Caltrans' method of inspecting foundations for road structures, including bridges, sound walls, and freeway signs. A recent investigative report by the Sacramento Bee found that an unscrupulous inspector had falsified reports. This episode of malfeasance raises serious questions about procedures and management within the agency.
As Chair of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, we called Caltrans' management and staff into a public hearing to examine this issue in greater detail. I also requested a criminal investigation into these activities. Millions of Californians rely on roads to conduct the business of their lives; therefore, Caltrans must take every step necessary to ensure that our freeways are safe. We will be holding additional hearings to look further into the issue.
The second example is the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). As Chair of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, I am seriously concerned with MTC's misuse of toll funds. Rather than properly spending your bridge tolls on seismic retrofitting and maintenance of bridges and the reduction of traffic congestion, MTC has decided instead to spend more than $160 million to relocate its headquarters from downtown Oakland to downtown San Francisco.
Consequently, the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee held a series of hearings on Bay Area regional governance. We closely scrutinized MTC's actions and its organizational structure, as well as investigated how all the regional agencies in the Bay Area interact with each other. Based on what I have learned from these hearings, I plan to author legislation to improve efficiencies in all the agencies.
The third example is regarding the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA). CalHFA provides home loans to low-income, first-time home buyers to help them achieve the American dream of homeownership. The agency prohibits buyers from using the loans to purchase property for speculation or investment purposes.
Recently, the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes published a report entitled, "Good Deeds Punished: California's State-Run Mortgage Lender Forecloses on Californians Current on Their Loans." The report found that CalHFA had enforced this policy unjustly, evicting responsible residents who were diligently paying their mortgage but no longer living in their homes. Homeowners had been forced to move due to changes in life's circumstances: marriage, growing families, employment opportunities, health related reasons, among others. Due to the financial meltdown, many were upside down on their property, and thus unable to sell their homes. Like any responsible homeowner concerned with meeting their mortgage obligations, they rented their homes and used the money to pay their CalHFA loan. You can therefore understand their confusion and outrage when they lost their homes to foreclosure.
Once the report was published, the Senate President pro Tempore and I denounced this practice as deplorable. We wrote a letter urging CalHFA to stop this unfair practice and to reevaluate their policies. CalHFA responded by taking immediate steps to reverse the policy in the short term. They have also initiated a review of the practice and may take further action in March to permanently reverse this policy. Regardless of those efforts, I am also authoring SB 447 to clearly prohibit CalHFA from foreclosing in these types of cases.
These three examples are a small sample of the many ways that your Legislature is overseeing the administration of government to protect the people of this great state. While we do our best to stay vigilant, we equally depend upon citizens like you to come forward when you discover problems. If you find problems with public agencies that should be addressed by the Legislature, please do not hesitate to contact me or my office at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (925) 942-6082.
Senate District Seven
Featured In January's Newsletter
- Foreclosure Prevention Seminar - Understanding Your Options
- State Budget Update
- Town Halls on the Budget - Have Your Voice Heard
Foreclosure Prevention Seminar: Understanding Your Options
On Saturday, February 4th, my office will host a foreclosure prevention seminar. Housing experts will be on hand in an effort to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. The seminar, to be held at the Antioch Community Center, will provide critical information about the foreclosure process, loan modifications, tax liability, debt forgiveness, state and federal assistance programs, as well as how to get help to keep your home.
Panelists include representatives from a wide variety of state agencies, including: California Department of Corporations, Keep Your Home California, California Housing Finance Agency, and Franchise Tax Board. Additionally, the panel will feature two U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approved housing counselors and the executive director of Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, a local legal aid organization.
Come learn more about the assistance and options available to those who are struggling to make their monthly mortgage payments. Please call my office at (925) 942-6082 if you have any questions about this seminar. Or click here if you would like to attend. The details are below:
Foreclosure Prevention Seminar
Saturday, February 4, 2012
1:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Antioch Community Center
4703 Lone Tree Way
Antioch, CA 94531
State Budget Update
Last year, the Governor and Legislature worked together to enact a Budget that took meaningful steps to fix California's persistent budgetary problems. By making government more efficient, eliminating needless waste and enacting deep cuts to vital services, we reduced the structural deficit from $20 billion to $5 billion. However, despite these successes, we still have difficult choices ahead of us as we attempt to meet the increased need for services with declining revenues.
This month Governor Brown released his proposed 2012-13 state budget. In presenting his budget, the Governor stated the following:
"The budget that I am submitting today keeps the cuts made last year and adds new ones. The stark truth is that without some new taxes, damaging cuts to schools, universities, public safety and our courts will only increase.
That is why I will ask the voters to approve a temporary tax increase on the wealthy, a modest and temporary increase in the sales tax and to guarantee that the new revenues be spent only on education. I am also asking that the voters guarantee ongoing funding for local public safety programs. This ballot measure will not solve all of our fiscal problems, but it will stop further cuts to education and public safety and halt the trend of double-digit tuition increases.
My budget plan also includes important reforms. It improves government efficiency and pays down debt. It reorganizes state government to make it more efficient and saves tax dollars by consolidating or eliminating functions. It restructures social service programs to better support working families. It gives substantially more flexibility and decision-making to local school districts.
The plan also calls for bold investments in our future: to assure a reliable water supply, build high speed rail and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As California's economy continues to slowly recover - and recover it will - our plan will provide fiscal stability and make California government more transparent and responsive to the people."
As a member of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee and the chair of Budget and Fiscal Review Committee Subcommittee #3 dealing with the funding of health and human services programs, I am concerned with increased cuts to critical services for Californians who are already living on the edge. I will be participating in and chairing several hearings on the budget in the weeks ahead. My goal is to make sure that we pass a budget that is on time, fair, and fiscally responsible.
The Budget and Fiscal Review Committee has a summary of the Governor's proposed budget for 2012-13 available on-line. As the Legislature begins to publicly debate the proposed spending plan, the Budget and Fiscal Review Committee and Subcommittee #3 will develop more detailed reviews of the Governor's proposal. Please check my website for those reviews and other updates as we begin to deliberate the budget.
Town Halls on the Budget - Have Your Voice Heard
As discussed above, in the months ahead, the Legislature will be debating the state budget. To be sure that you can participate in that debate, in the next few weeks, our office will be holding a series of town hall meetings on the state budget. This is an opportunity for you to share your concerns and ideas for improving state government budgeting, programs and tax systems.
Concord Budget Town Hall
Thursday, February 2, 2012
7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Concord City Hall, City Council Chambers
1950 Parkside Dr., Concord, CA 94519
Pittsburg Budget Town Hall
Thursday, February 16, 2012
7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Pittsburg City Hall, City Council Chambers, 3rd Floor
65 Civic Ave, Pittsburg, CA 94565
Lafayette Budget Town Hall
Thursday, February 23, 2012
7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Lafayette Community Center, Manzanita Room
500 St Mary's Rd., Lafayette, CA 94549
San Ramon Budget Town Hall
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
San Ramon City Hall, City Council Chambers
2222 Camino Ramon, San Ramon, CA 94583
Please visit my website periodically for updates on the budget and on these town halls, or call my office at (925) 942-6082.