Screaming for Oversight

Wow. This week Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones announced he appointed a “public advisor” to assist “consumer groups with the intervener process.” What exactly will this public advisor do and more importantly, why? Has he finally realized that people are questioning his cozy relationship with Consumer Watchdog? It’s high time the insurance commissioner reaches out to members of the public. If they’re legitimately interested in lower insurance rates they shouldn’t just turn over millions of dollars to Consumer Watchdog.

We know that last year Harvey Rosenfeld and friends pocketed 100% of the intervener fees last year and collected $7.5 million since Prop 103 passed. Like we’ve pointed out before, Harvey and friends inserted a self-serving provision in to Prop. 103 to keep their lavish lifestyles of the rich and famous afloat at the expense of rate and taxpayers.

We also know Insurance Commissioner Jones seems pretty cozy with Harvey and friends. In fact, Dave Jones campaigned with Consumer Watchdog just a few months ago on a measure to increase their access to intervener fees.

And these fees are no small matter. Check out the report from the California Department of Insurance here.  Those are some pretty hefty profits.

This relationship and new position is once again screaming for legislative or journalistic oversight. In fact, last May Senator Juan Vargas called for more oversight after noticing Consumer Watchdog is the only group receiving intervener fee payouts. And yet, no one stepped up.  Who’s watching the watchdog?


Tone Deaf

Who is Jerry Brown’s greatest political adversary these days? 

Molly Munger you say?  Yeah, maybe, but it seems she’s headed to a more glorious defeat in November than the Governor.

Legislative Republicans?  Not really.  They are eager to pass his pension reforms, although he doesn’t seem to care.

Gavin Newsom?  Not yet, but he could be someday.  Unless he finds it easier to just be a TV talker.

No, to find Jerry Brown’s worse political adversary he only needs to look in the mirror.

Jerry’s his own worst enemy.

Walking a perilously difficult path to secure voter approval of his tax increases in November, Brown, often the master of political symbolism, is literally railroading himself out the credibility he needs with voters.

Always infatuated with “big ideas,” Brown’s championing of High Speed Rail will leave voters struggling with the incongruity of committing to billions of new debt while the state flirts with insolvency.

True, voters approved HSR bonds, but that was at a different time and the plan presented to them is not the cost overrun plan of today, nor is the current plan necessarily the “bullet train” voters were promised.

Of additional concern for Brown, should be last week’s Field Poll finding that voters deeply dislike that education bears the force of “trigger cuts” that will go into effect if the taxes don’t pass.  One may say, “but that’s exactly the point, to coerce a vote for the taxes.”  Ok, but it seems just as likely that voters in the Field Poll get the joke and are deeply bitter that the Sacramento politicians appear to be blackmailing them into tax increases.  When was the last time the voters succumbed to the “bastards in Sacramento” as opposed to lashing out against “the bastards in Sacramento”?

Sounds risky.

Brown’s tax measure is perched in the low 50s approval as we hit the dog days of summer.  History suggests that the measure needs to be in the high 50s in order to ultimately pass.

Voters have not passed a tax boost since increasing income tax on high earners in 2004 to fund mental health programs. They have rejected taxes in 2009 (despite pleas from teachers and firemen on TV ads). 

In 2010, they rejected a simple $18 a year car tax to “keep parks open.”  Proponents spent $7 million.  Opponents spent about $60k.

Five weeks ago, even a tobacco tax failed to pass. Why?  Voters had doubts about how the money would be spent.

Doubts could likely doom November taxes as well. Voters will apply common sense.  We’re building train lines to places most people don’t need to go, while threatening to gut education spending unless new taxes are passed.  That sounds screwed up.

If his tax measure fails, Brown will have no one to blame but himself.  His best hope may be to pivot more swiftly than he did during his first term when he ardently opposed Prop. 13 only to become it’s biggest fan the day after it passed.

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