SB562: California Single-Payer Health Care (Why 80% of Colorado Voters said “NO”)

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In November 2016, approx 80% of Colorado voters said “no” to Amendment 69–dubbed “Colorado Care”–a plan which would have reverted the state’s health care to a what is known as a singe-payer system.

Employers would have had to pay a new tax of about 7 percent of workers’ wages. Employees would have had a payroll tax of about 3 percent. There would have been no deductibles or co-pays. The funds would have be transferred into a separate authority run by an elected board of directors.
(Source: CBS Denver Article-see link in above paragraph)

According to the plan’s critics, ColoradoCare’s estimated $36 billion budget would have dramatically exceeded state government spending. Interestingly, even fervent well-attended rallies from single-payer advocate Bernie Sanders could not turn public opinion away from their wallets.

Apparently, even heavily-progressive minds are equally protective of their personal health care plans. According to 2014 census information, Colorado has a population of approximately 5.37 million. Utilizing the provided figures, ColoradoCare’s estimated budget breaks down to around $24,000 in costs per person, annually… which–on paper–does have the appearance of being the ‘Maserati of health-care plans’.

SB562–mentioned in an article earlier this year–(set for committee hearing April 26th) is a single-payer health plan, for all Californians, devised by members of the California State Senate.

According to 2016 budget figures, California’s overall medicaid (Medi-Cal) healthcare costs are approximately $41 billion ($19 billion paid from state funds, $22 billion paid from federal) to cover approximately 13.5 million caseloads (people). That breaks down to about $3,057 per person–per year–which is considerably less than ColoradoCare estimated to pay for their citizens… and is even less when one takes into account that 38 million Californians (more than double the current caseload) will be covered if SB562 is made into law. If no further federal or state funds are procured to help cover that increase, then California’s healthcare budget will reduce down to $1,078 per person.

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Even more disconcerting, if the Trump Administration goes through with its implied threat of withdrawing federal funding from sanctuary areas–which includes the entire state of SB54 is enacted by the State Assembly–then the amount of funding available per person in California may be cut in half.

In an off-the-record conversation with a Covered California employee, I brought up SB562; the employee did not even know about the legislation, but when the details were described, he chuckled.

“Oh, that will never go through,” he said with humor. “Californians with high-tier health plans will never allow that to happen.”

Article by L. R. Styles; Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

California Gas Taxes: Existing & SB1 $$$

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Can Californians afford an extra $10 a month? Apparently, we can according to a majority of our state legislators. Both Senate and Assembly passed SB1 yesterday in dual marathon sessions which lasted late into the night, despite impassioned opposition on both sides of the aisle.

(S) Senate Floor SB1 4-6-2017 (10 of 1)
CA Senator Jim Nielsen – Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

As of this morning, SB1 was on the governor’s desk… awaiting signature.

The bill was introduced by Senator Beall, with principal coauthor Assembly Member Frazier, coauthors: Senators Atkins, Dodd, Hertzberg, Hill, McGuire, Mendoza, Monning, Skinner, Wieckowski, and Wiener and Assembly Members Low, Mullin, and Santiago.

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CA Senators Beall & Weiner, Senate floor (SB1) – Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

Governor Brown–as well as several California legislators–have been campaigning hard for Senate Bill 1 a 10-year plan which would boost gasoline excise taxes for the first time in more than two decades, an increase of 43% (or, about .12 cents per gallon) a percentage which is slated to rise automatically with inflation. The aforementioned plan estimates that the average motorist will pay less than $10 per month more than they already do.

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Governor Brown  & CA Senate Pro-Tem DeLeon campaigning for SB1

The plan also includes a ‘sliding fee’ on vehicles, with owners of cheaper vehicles paying less. The fee which is separate from annual vehicle registration fees will range from $25 a year–for vehicles worth less than $5,000–to $175, for cars worth $60,000 & higher.

Minority state senators aren’t the only ones who think the gas tax is unnecessary. According to Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the state has plenty of money that could be “redirected to transportation funding” without the need for raising state-level taxes, which are already among the highest in the nation.

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4-6-2017 on the floor of the California Senate (SB1) – Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

Jon Coupal suggested that the state “redirect money” from various floundering projects, as well as reduce department staffing.

It is unnecessary and insulting to the taxpayers of the state of California… there is so much money sloshing around in California that could pay for this, we don’t need another tax.  – Jon Coupal, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

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4-6-2017 CA State Assembly floor (SB1) – Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

In a 2015 San Jose Mercury News Q&A article, traffic & transportation journalist Gary Richards answered a reader’s question regarding how much of California’s gas taxes actually go to roads:

… Most gas tax money is earmarked for transportation. The state has been diverting $100 million of the $5 billion raised annually to the general fund, according to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, along with $1 billion in annual truck weight fees to pay debt on general obligation bonds.

  • About 85 percent of the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents a gallon goes to highways, and the remaining 15 percent goes for transit.
  • On the state side, our 48.6 cents-a-gallon tax brings in around $5 billion a year. Of the total, about 57 percent goes to highways, 36 percent for cities and counties (for various needs, mostly streets and roads) and 7 percent for transit. Put it together, and you get a 90/10 split between roads and streets versus transit. (Source: Gary Richards, San Jose Mercury News)

According to the most recent statistical data available on the Board of Equalization website (for fiscal year 2014-2015) California took in over $5.3 Billion in Fuel (Excise) Taxes. There are several mentions of the “Fuel Tax Swap” in the report, which comes to us care of a former governor:

(S) Global Warming Solutions Act commemoration 10-5-2016 (16 of 1)
Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

In March 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed two fuel tax measures (AB x8 6 and SB 70), commonly referred to as the fuel tax swap, which adjusted the rates of the sales and excise tax on gasoline, effective July 1, 2010. The fuel tax swap legislation was designed to be revenue neutral, ensuring overall state taxes paid by consumers at the pump are the same as they would have paid under the prior tax structure.

Thus, the fuel tax swap legislation does not produce a net revenue gain in overall state taxes paid at the pump. The legislation mandated the Board of Equalization adjust the excise tax rate every year by March 1. The new rate is effective July 1 of each year.

(S) Senate Floor SB1 4-6-2017 (8 of 1)
4-6-2017 CA Senators Leyva & Weiner on Floor (SB1) – Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

So, how much of the money “earmarked” for transportation actually goes to fixing roads? According to the Legislative Analysts Office website, under 1/3 of the money generated by existing gas taxes. For the 2016-2017 budget only $1.6 billion was budgeted  to “maintain and rehabilitate core aspects of the state highway system—pavement, bridges, and culverts—as well as local roads.”

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Governor Brown, 2017 infrastructure press conf. Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

So, where’s the other $3.8 billion in existing gas tax revenues going, if they’re not being spent on road, highway, bridge & culvert maintenance?

Gas tax revenue aside, let’s talk about where our vehicle registration fees go. Again, the Legislative Analyst’s office supplied the most concise answer that I could find:

The MVA (Motor Vehicle Account), which receives most of its revenues from vehicle registration and driver license fees, primarily supports CHP and DMV. Due to expenditures outpacing revenues, the MVA has faced an operational shortfall in recent years and will continue to experience a shortfall in 2016–17, absent corrective actions. (Source: Legislative Analyst’s Office website)

In order to address the above-mentioned “shortfall”–and to support “proposed new expenditures” the Governor proposed to raise the vehicle registration fee by $10 for the 2016-2017 budget and index the “fee” to inflation. Even with these corrective measures, in the same report the LAO predicts that the MVA will be “barely balanced” and is “likely face an operational shortfall” in the tens of millions by 2019–20.

Asking taxpayers to pay hundreds of dollars a year in more taxes when we’ve not spent one dime more on transportation from the general fund in years makes no sense. We have plenty of money … we just need to spend it on the right priorities.                      State Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula

(S) Senate Floor SB1 4-6-2017 (13 of 1)
4-6-2017 CA Senator Jeff Stone – Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

There is a silver lining in the loss of all this green: under SB1 “zero-emission” vehicles will now have to pay an annual fee of $100 to help pay to maintain the roads they shared alongside gasoline-fueled vehicles.

Article by L. R. Styles. Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

Sacramento Ballpark Cuisine: From Stands To Storefronts

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Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

Raley Field has officially upped the ante on what Sacramento residents and visitors consider ‘ballpark’ food. Home of MiLB The Sacramento River Cats, Raley Field took it upon themselves to entirely re-vamp a baseball tradition… the concession stand.

They completely gutted six food-alcove interiors on the concourse, encouraged the respective owners to design & build their own, themed “storefronts” and then invited the media in to see & sample the fruit of their collective labors.

The result? Fetching Deliciousness.

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Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

The first ‘storefront’ on our tour–guided by Executive Chef Tim Benham & River Cats president Jeff Savage–was at The Coop & Kennel Pub, complete with dark-stained wood, Kelly-green walls, beer on tap and a branded-oak-barrel sign. Their proffered sample loquaciously named “Irish Nachos”, a crisp pile of thick-cut potato slices drizzled in creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with fresh scallions and a heady, beefy mixture commonly found in Shepard’s Pie.

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Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

Next stop: Cadillac Diner–looking a dive straight out of the fifties–with glinting, rounded chrome, burgers frying, polished counters and records on the wall, proudly offering burgers, hot dogs and old-fashioned shakes.

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Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

Their special was the Clint Eastwood, an all-beef hot dog adorned with Red Hot Sauce and cool blue cheese, an impressive step-up from the simple ball-park dog.

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Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

Oso’s Mexican Cantina was next in line, with a menu apparently in high-demand among Raley Field attendees, according to team president Jeff Savage. The weathered tin awning, fire-red accent lamps and exposed brick decorations lent the storefront a pleasant Cal-exico charm.

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Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

The Pollo Asado Taco: marinated chicken on a pillow-y flour tortilla heaped high with tangy, medium salsa, Pasilla cheese and fresh, chopped cilantro. It was indeed a light, zesty alternative to burgers and hot-dogs.

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Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

The Golden Spike Chophouse offered a barbacoa burger on fresh buns, a spicy take on a ballpark standby.

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Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

When I asked Chef Tim Benham–whether the storefronts offered kosher and gluten-free options–he was quick to assure me that The Golden Spike was working on just such a menu item, to be available by season opener. Face aglow, he reeled off wonderful-sounding ingredients: a falafel burger topped with feta cheese & a fresh cucumber-yogurt sauce. He wasn’t the only one enthralled by the description; I may have to return to Raley Field, just to sample it.

costumes raley field storefronts
Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

At each storefront, employees in themed costume stood greeting all visitors with cheerful faces and shouted welcomes.

The  tour wouldn’t be complete without a nod to its namesake, the Raley’s storefront, which sported weathered planking, a colorful veggie mural, platters of sandwiches and a ruby-red sign.

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Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

The employees within hawked mouth-watering made-to-order “specialty” sandwiches, like smoked turkey with Peppadew cheese & chipotle sauce on focaccia bread.

Raley Field Media Tasting 3-30-2017 (2 of 68)
Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

Almost stuffed to capacity, we headed to the last stop, for dessert. The Sweet Spot offers ice-cream and other cool desserts, perfect for the warm spring days and the hot summer afternoons of Sacramento. Decked out in robins’-egg blue and white trim, the smiling folks in straw hats stood behind a phalanx of old-fashioned root beer floats. The tall glasses harbored a Tahitian Vanilla-Bean Ice Cream so thick that spoons were provided instead of straws.

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Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

A brief, subdued hush fell over the corporate reps and collective media as we set aside our cameras and partook. All the gourmet choices notwithstanding, the favorite snacks of American baseball were still present all round, in unapologetic variety, including peanuts and cracker-jack:

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Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

Not only did Raley Field listen to its numerous visitors but it allowed visible and tangible transformation of ballpark cuisine to take place upon its echoing concourse.

Now, saying “take me out to the ballgame” in Sacramento means one can have a gourmet ‘foodie’ experience while sitting under the shady brim of a baseball cap, cheering at the top of one’s lungs at The River Cats’ season-opening game tomorrow night.

Article by L. R. Styles. Photographer: Steven Styles/Belator Media

 

Photojournalism: Emotion In Hand

Contrary to the alarmingly-accepted belief that news-people have little-to-no feelings, there are many moments where the photojournalist behind the camera–and also the photo editor–are reminded that we are simply documenting humanity… and–during that process–we are confronted with all the various emotions that go with being human.

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Fear, anger, loss, hope, horror, elation, panic… not even a seasoned photojournalist is completely enured to it, and he wrestles emotions while adjusting F-stops, composure and shutter speed.

However, nothing more invokes human feeling like taking & viewing images from the periphery of a quadruple homicide… indeed, the worst such crime to hit in Sacramento in 17 years.

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Photojournalist Steven Styles snapped these images outside police lines, soberly standing with neighbors, passers-by and community leaders as they watched officers and CSI quietly don plastic hazard suits and masks.

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What little information was shared among those present still included the awful fact that a mother and her children had met an untimely end. One young lady walked up the sidewalk from a neighboring house with her mother; when the pair saw which house the police were going into, the girl suddenly realized why her school-friend, Mia Vasquez (14), hadn’t been in class that day.

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Her grief had a profound effect on our photojournalist, even from a distance; as he took the image, he thought of his own daughters and how such a tragedy would affect them. The girl ran off in tears and many in the crowd felt a little of her pain.

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The scene within the house affected even those routinely exposed to the aftermath of homicide; one image appears to catch a police officer offering his fellow an ear of sympathy:

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Later, at a candlelight vigil, the horrible crime had a visible effect on Mayor Steinberg and Councilman Guerra as they respectfully stood with neighbors and community leaders, holding lit candles to remember the four lives lost in the house behind the yellow police tape.

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Even though it’s a photojournalists’ job to see a moment and capture it, emotions play a large part in deciding whether or not to take an image. In this case, it was acceptable to do so. Through this photographer’s lens, the victims were not merely bodies being photographed for necessary criminal investigation purposes, but their memory was being recorded in the faces around the scene, itself, in the loss apparent in the eyes of each neighbor and relative… and in the slender, invisible thread of humanity wound around every observer, binding together strangers, pedestrians, media and officers alike.

Even in processing the images I felt the full gambit of emotions present, noting each sad expression, each sloped shoulder, each bent head, each questioning look from a child and each media figure–holding a camera–with their face harboring an unspoken question: “Should I take this picture?”

We document human moments–not in spite of emotion–but with it firmly in hand; that, is photojournalism.

Article by L. R. Styles. Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

Governor Warned California Lawmakers: Refrain from Massive New Spending

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Governor Brown – Photographer: Steven Styles/Belator Media

Back in May 2016, Governor Jerry Brown urged lawmakers to refrain from any massive new spending programs, due to the possibility of an economic slowdown or recession.

“Right now, the surging tide of revenue is beginning to turn,” Governor Jerry Brown said,  at a press conference where he announced a revised $122.2 billion state budget and potential deficits ahead due to expiring tax increases.

Perhaps the governor’s admonitions for less spending were prophetic, given President Trump Administration’s executive order to cut off funding to sanctuary cities. State democrats have decried the idea and some media outlets report that lawmakers may be considering withholding state tax revenues from Washington DC if federal monies are withheld from The Golden State.

On top of the usual state expenses, the governor’s bond accountability web-page has posted an alarming need for $500 billion to be spent on California’s deteriorating infrastructure:

California faces over $500 billion in infrastructure needs to meet the demands of a population expected to increase by 23 percent over the next two decades.

(S) Gov Brown Flood Press 2-24-2017 (6 of 1)
Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

In November 2006, the voters approved the first installment of that 20-year vision to rebuild California by authorizing a series of general obligation bonds totaling $42.7 billion, however, the same bond accountability website also points out that “if California is to maintain its highly valued quality of life and continue its economic growth” that the consequences will be the governor proposing an additional $42.3 billion of bonds to fund infrastructure improvements over the next decade.

In spite of this apparently ‘immediate’ need for infrastructure spending–and Governor Brown’s May warnings for fiscal conservancy–several 2017 legislative bills, from both Assembly & Senate appear to call for even more spending while simultaneously thumbing their nose at the federal government. SB562, for example, which would revamp the state’s health care, would add billions to the state’s budget annually by more than doubling the current Medi-Cal caseload, even more if Trump withhold federal funds, which pay a little over half of MediCal’s current annual cost.

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Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

Another costly plan, unveiled earlier this month by state Democrats, is to make tuition & living costs free for state college students.

“California is taking the boldest step in the nation for making college debt-free,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, said in a recent press conference.

The cost for the ‘free college’ program would come at a price tag of $1.6 billion per year, phased in over five years and would be paid for using money from the state’s General Fund, lawmakers say. Proponents say existing tax revenues will cover the cost, but other projections to provide universal college came in at a much higher cost of $3.3 billion annually.

Question: Can California afford to pick a fight with Uncle Sam?

California receives more federal money than any other state.  According to the California Budget & Policy Center, more than 1/3 of California’s annual budget is made up of Federal Funds:

The current state budget includes nearly $96 billion in federal funds for 2016-17, the fiscal year that began last July 1. This is more than one-third (36 percent) of the total state budget, which also includes more than $170 billion in state funds for the current fiscal year. – Fact Sheet, December 2016 · By Scott Graves

Just under one third of federal funds allocated to California, or $102 billion, go to retirement benefits, including Social Security payments and veterans benefits. Less than one third, or $99 billion, was spent on non-retirement benefits, like Medicare, food assistance, and unemployment insurance.

2nd Question: if federal funds are indeed withheld from California, then who will cover the shortfall for our current spending, let alone all the new spending pending in the legislature?

Article by L. R. Styles. Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

California’s Progressive High Cost of Living

Capital Music Man color
Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

California is widely-considered to be a “deep blue” state, a veritable bastion of liberal and progressive thinking, with corresponding legislation and the federal funding to back it up.

Despite a plethora of publicly-funded programs–California is one of the most expensive states to live in … especially for those in the lowest income-brackets.

According to 2015 US Census data, 15% of Californians live below the poverty line… but, according to the California Poverty Measure (CPM), that number is closer to 21%.

Even more disconcerting: according to a 2015 study by the United Way SCA, the US Census figures don’t even begin to cover the daily cost of living here in California; the aforementioned study estimates that 1/3 of California households cannot cover basic monthly costs.

One in three California households (31%) do not have sufficient income to meet their basic costs of living. This is nearly three times the number officially considered poor according to the Federal Poverty Level. Source: United Way SCA 2015 Study

The high cost of living in California is most notably reflected in the amount of money folks spend on food per month:

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Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

a typical household of 2 adults & 2 children spend $879 a month on average, according to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator for California ; the same calculator puts the necessary annual income (before taxes) for the same family at $57,986. According to the Department of Numbers, an ACS survey shows the median per capita income for California was $31,587 in 2015.

Not surprisingly, California receives the highest dollar amount of federal funds of any US state; in FFY 2012-13 (the most recent publicly-available stats I could find) the state received $343 billion from the US government.

A little over 2.2 million households utilize 2 housing assistance programs to pay their monthly rent and approximately 4.2 million Californians receive supplemental nutrition benefits (Food Stamps). Putting that in perspective locally, according to an article by the Sac Bee The Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency currently receives money enough to offer housing vouchers to over 12,000 households. According to a fact-sheet by CPPB.org 115,738 Californians were homeless in 2014.

Money generation, however, doesn’t appear to be an issue in The Golden State.

California is widely-regarded as the 6th largest economy in the world, with a mind-blowing $2.44 trillion dollars GDP annually, according to The Bureau of Economic Analysis’s report on state growth. And yet as of December 2016 EDD reports that only 18,165,400 California residents are currently employed, in a state of just under 40 million people.

Given the trillions of dollars being generated by the state’s economy, it is no small question to ask how California’s monies–both state & federal–are being spent.

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Included in Governor Brown’s 2017 Budget was the above pie chart. According to the chart, Education–both elementary & higher–gets 54.5% of all state spending. With that kind of money, the average taxpayer would expect California to be on the Top Ten List regarding student performance…. but, no:

test scores California 2016

According to the above image, from a 2016 poll of test scores, and from Wallet Hub’s 2016 findings, California’s in the bottom 10 worst school systems in the nation.

Noble intentions aside, for many taxpayers California’s high cost of living has yet to justify its expense.

Article by L. R. Styles. Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

Underneath the CA Capitol

(S) CA Capitol Book Store Shoot (17 of 1)Within the halls of the California Capitol Building in Sacramento state legislators, lobbyists, staffers, guards and visitors roam the mosaic-tiled floors among the many pieces of framed art, statues and historical artifacts on display.

Completed between 1861 and 1874, the Neoclassical structure sits at the west end of Capitol Park and, according to figures obtained by Politifact.com attracts over 1 million visitors each year. s-ca-capitol-book-store-shoot-4-of-1

Underneath the echoing steps, whispering tourists, marble statues and decorative murals is an area of the state park known as the “Capitol Basement.” On one side of the basement–tucked under a quaint, brick archway–resides an oddity unique to California, a gift shop run by a local non-profit, the sales of which benefit art programs for adults with disabilities.

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The shop is one of the few official purveyors of California seal-themed items and offer a plethora of such from key chains, to T-Shirts, cigar boxes and marble paperweights.

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Run by DDSO, the cozy store harbors a wide variety of California history books, kids games, gifts… and a historical placard depicting the tale of “The Crack.”

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Also in the Capitol Basement is the California Capitol Museum, located in basement Room B-27, next to the Basement Theater (where free films are shown daily) as well as a cafe-style restaurant /espresso bar (Rush Cafe) and a large bronze statue of President Reagan.

Little-known fact: an organization or constituent can request to reserve portions of the Capitol Basement for “special events” by obtaining the sponsorship of a legislative member.

Article by L. R. Styles, Photographer: Steven Styles/Belator Media