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Notes from Sacramento on school testing, pension reform and more

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Posted: Friday, February 3, 2012 2:50 pm



We drove up to Sacramento this week and heard from some of the top politicians there.

Here are five takeaways from the gathering, an annual event sponsored by the California Newspaper Publishers Association:

• Economically, things are looking up in the Golden State. "We can't say we've turned the corner. But we can at least see around the corner," said Senate Pesident pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg. Controller John Chaing agreed things are improving, at least a little: Unemployment has ticked down to 11.1 from a high of 12.6.

• Democrats are pushing for a revision of state school testing. There is too much emphasis on academic testing data, said Steinberg, who contends, at least for high schools, graduation rates, drop-out rates and college acceptance rates should be part of the mix.

• The Democrats are going to propose pension reform this year. A hybrid plan that will retain a defined benefit feature will be on the table, according to Steinberg. Reform, he said, will likely stop double-dipping and pension spiking.

• The plan will be a step in the right direction, and is pretty strong medicine, but it is apparently a long way from a cure. Controller Chiang said the state carries a $74 billion unfunded pension liability. (You may have read Chiang made news this week by warning the legislature to take action before the state runs out of cash in March. Chiang reports that steps are needed to make sure the states doesn't delay paying tax refunds or issuing IOUS.)

• Democrat leaders have sued Chiang for witholding their pay last year. Chiang contended the lawmakers had not passed a balanced budget as called for under Proposition 25. Assembly Speaker John Perez maintains it is not about the pay but the principle: Who is Chiang to decide if a budget is balanced? He said Chiang's action reflects a dangerous power grab which is "destablizing." Chaing said he has a Constitutional requirement to make sure the budget is balanced.