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.

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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

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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:

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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

Will Single-Payer Healthcare Work For California? (SB562)

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Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

SB562 is a California Senate Bill authored by CA Senators Lara (D) and Atkins (D), also known as ‘The Healthy California Act’. Proposed right before the new legislation deadline passed on February 17th, SB562 aims to “replace private medical insurance with a government health care system covering all 38 million Californians — including its undocumented residents).”

This bill is the latest in a rash of legislation aimed at transforming state health system into Single-Payer systems. The term “single-payer” describes the funding mechanism, referring to healthcare financed by a single public body from a single fund, not the type of delivery or for whom physicians work. Canada adopted just such a system approximately 25 years ago, a publicly-funded insurance program where costs are controlled and both hospitals and doctors are private. It is called single payer because there is only one “payer”; there is no alternative program, such as private health insurance that Canadians can turn to.

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Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

Question: is this legislation even necessary for California? According to a Forbes article by Tim Worstall, Medicaid is already a single-payer system with multiple providers:

“The Feds pay for (mostly) everything but it’s all the hospitals and doctors out there that provide the treatment in return for the government’s cash. The US does have a single payer, single provider, health care system, that run by the VA. This is not, to put it mildly, regarded as a model for the health care for everyone else to follow.” – Tim Worstall, Forbes

California legislators have attempted passage of a single-payer bill before–as early as 1994, and the first successful passages of legislation through the California State Legislature, SB 840 or “The California Universal Healthcare Act” (authored by Sheila Kuehl), occurred in 2006 and again in 2008. Both times, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill.

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Photographer: Steven Styles/ Belator Media

Single-payer legislation has failed to pass in other states, most recently in Colorado. During the 2016 November election, about 80% of voters cast ballots against ColoradoCare measure Amendment 69 according to a tally by the Denver Post and despite heavily-publicized rallies in its favor by single-payer advocate Bernie Sanders. Fears of rising costs seem to have quieted calls for change in Colorado.

Regarding California’s costs (of the current health-care system) the state’s share of Medi-Cal costs breaks down into percentages based on a set formula, according to the LAO (Legislative Analyst’s Office) 2016-2017 Analysis of Medi-Cal Budget:

“For most families and children, SPDs, and pregnant women, California generally receives a 50 percent FMAP—meaning the federal government pays one–half of Medi–Cal costs for these populations. However, a subset of children with higher incomes qualify for Medi–Cal as part of the state’s CHIP. Currently, the federal government pays 88 percent of the costs for children enrolled in CHIP and the state pays 12 percent. Finally, under ACA (Affordable Care Act), the federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs of providing health care services to the newly eligible Medi–Cal population from 2014 through 2016. Beginning in 2017, the federal cost share will decrease to 95 percent, phasing down to 90 percent by 2020 and thereafter.”

In his 2017 budget, Governor Brown identified a net increase in General Fund costs relative to the June 2016 budget package, including $1.8 billion in costs related to Medi–Cal. In 2016, the governor allocated $19.1 billion General Fund for Medi–Cal, an increase of $1.4 billion—or 8 percent—above the estimated 2015–16 spending level. (The Governor’s budget assumed total annual Medi–Cal caseload of 13.5 million for 2016–17, an increase of 2 percent over revised 2015–16 caseload.)

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Photographer: Steven Styles/Belator Media

According to the California bond accountability website—established by Governor Schwarzenegger– California’s population expected to increase by 23 percent over the next two decades.

The Golden State currently relies on about $22 billion in federal funding annually to cover private insurance subsidies linked to plans purchased through the state’s health insurance exchange; the federal government also pays for a provision of the law that greatly expanded Medicaid — a health care program for the poor, known as Medi-Cal in California. The percentage of Medicaid costs paid by the federal government is known as the federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP).

According to the California State Senate website, SB562 has been printed and may be acted upon on or after March 23, 2017.

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

Sacramento Valley Station Spruces Up

s-sac-station-grand-opening-2-23-2017-55-of-1At 401 I Street, Sacramento looms a red-brick visual reminder of the city’s busy past, present and rosier future. Built in 1926, the 68,000 sq ft original Sacramento Valley Station was the terminal of the Central Pacific Railroad, designed by the San Francisco architectural firm of Bliss and Faville for the Southern Pacific Railroad in the Renaissance Revival style.

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As part of a grand-scale plan for revitalizing downtown Sacramento, today the city celebrated the grand reopening of the Sacramento Valley Station, showcasing renovations and improvements including the addition of 25,000 square feet of mixed-use leasable space. Not merely a surface renovation, the building’s infrastructure received upgrades as well as new Amtrak offices.

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The new, old station improves the experience for rail and transit users and restores treasured features of the building. – City of Sacramento press release 2-20-2017

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Members of the media, city staff and workers attended an invitation-only event, arriving to the flowing sounds of jazz serenades, compliments of Dave Bass Music. Speakers included Congresswoman Matsui, Mayor Darrell Steinberg and City councilman Jeff Harris, with the event emceed by Sacramento Republic FC’s Erica Bjork. After the ceremony, the public was invited to tour the improvements.

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According to the city, Sacramento Valley Station’s complete makeover was possible thanks to a U.S. Department of Transportation’s $15 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grant program championed by U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui.

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

Steinberg Bridges MLS Gap

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Photographer: Steven Styles/Belator Media

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg is due credit, after facilitating 2 days of negotiations at the “Sacramento Soccer Summit” on behalf of Sacramento Republic FC fans and the city’s future.

According to a joint press release by Steinberg’s office this morning, Sacramento Republic FC and Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings (SSEH) have come to an agreement, in principle, regarding the acquisition of Sacramento Republic FC (SRFC) by Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings (SSEH) to “present a united front to Major League Soccer (MLS) during the upcoming expansion process.”

Under the agreement in principle, which–according to the released statement–was facilitated by Mayor Steinberg, and fomented after “two days of marathon negotiations”, Sacramento Republic FC will indeed be the name and brand of Sacramento’s potential MLS team.

“At long last, Sacramento stands before MLS as one team and one community,” said Kevin Nagle, Chairman and CEO of SSEH.

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Photographer: Steven Styles/Belator Media

Warren Smith and his current ownership group are projected to continue to own and operate the USL franchise until the start of MLS play; once the MLS team is officially formed, Kevin Nagle and SSEH will be the new owners of the team. Nagle and SSEH will continue to lead the MLS expansion bid process, including the proposed MLS stadium at the downtown Railyards.

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“On behalf of Sacramento Republic FC and all of its fans and supporters, I want to thank Mayor Steinberg for his leadership during these meetings,” said Warren Smith, President and Co-founder of Sacramento Republic FC. In the coming weeks, both parties are expected to draft and execute documents corresponding with the agreement in principle.

1-30-2017, SSEH submitted an expansion application to MLS on behalf of Sacramento and is considered a leading contender for the next MLS expansion teams to be awarded. MLS has stated that it intends to announce the next two expansion teams in 2017.

– Article by L. R. Styles; photographs by Steven Styles/ Belator Media

The Other Side of Bull-Riding

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(Photographer: Steven Styles/Belator Media, taken in “the shark cage”)

All high-octane video clips of Bull-Riding notwithstanding, this last weekend I became acquainted with another side of the sport: a visual story of stage hands, production crews, tense moments of worry (followed by relief), camaraderie and patriotism.

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As Photo Editor for Belator Media, it is my privilege to select, process, filter, crop, keyword and upload each and every photo that makes it to our main website. What I saw in the images from photojournalist Steven Styles were all the people who make the PBR shows possible, as well as the more human side of the seemingly Herculean feats being performed in the hazy, sawdust-laden air of the ring.

In stark contrast to the roar of the crowds above, a sober calm filled the halls below the Golden 1 Sports Center, as riders and stage crew of the PBR BFTS Sacramento Clash (Jan 27th-29th 2017) show escorted the photographers out to the stage:

s-pbr-bull-riding-1-27-2017-222-of-9 (Steven Styles snapped the above image of PBR hands walking with Getty photographer Ezra Shaw)

The show began with much fanfare. Even as the riders were introduced, many of them bore expressions of intense concentration… and, perhaps a hint of respect for the powerful animals they were about to ride.

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A brief time of quiet ensued as the national anthem was sung. Hats removed, the riders and staff stood with local firefighters to unfurl and honor their flag; the audience stood with them until the very last notes of the anthem died away.

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The show began in earnest with harrowing moments of intense activity as rider after rider burst from the gates to the auctioneer-like voice of the announcer booming over the Center’s advanced sound-system. Multi-color behemoths–in the form of bulls–leaped forth while feet away, crouching in what show hands referred to as “the shark cage” Steven Styles caught nearly 1-ton animals performing maneuvers that the nimblest of acrobats would envy:

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The audience alternately yelled for their favorite and gasped in horrified surprise during each 8-Second battle of man and beast. A family affair, many youngsters braved the noise and crowds to enjoy the show.

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Not to be outdone, the bull-riders exhibited practiced moves of their own, whether in their control and rhythm in hanging on to the flat, braided rope, or in rolling off the bulls to safety, or ‘falling’ off with practiced professionalism.

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Often the riders were thrown…

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… or had the appearance of being trampled underfoot.

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But, every time the rider would rise and dodge deftly away from the mangling power of the hooves, usually with only a small trickle of sweat upon the brow. s-pbr-bull-riding-1-27-2017-221-of-9

As impressive as these athletic feats were to behold–even in stills–the production crew and show staff were also captured, performing their parts just as admirably, proving the notion that the whole is indeed nothing more than the sum of its parts.

Ensuring the safety of the riders, respect for the bulls and the smooth transition of one spectacle to the next appeared to be no easy task.

Properly called bull-fighters (what many folks mistakenly call “rodeo clowns”) the darting forms in bright shirts were in nearly every shot, aptly distracting the angry, wound up bull away from their respective riders the moment they hit the sawdust, running away with apparent ease from a nearly-1-ton animal intent on goring the first thing it sees…

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In the midst of the action and danger, humanity was also present in the form of the sports s-pbr-bull-riding-1-27-2017-256-of-2medic standing warily in the stage door, ready to spring out at the mere suggestion of need, or in a simple, wordless gesture of sympathy… a pat on the shoulder as a rider stumbled by, having come just short of the required 8 seconds.

What fascinated me most was the full range of expressions of both the bull-fighters and fellow riders and production staff–watching from around and behind the protective gates–which displayed elation, heartfelt winces, anticipation and then unreservedly shouted support at their top of their lungs.

My favorite shot was a true ‘decisive moment’, which appeared to show a production manager in a nice sports jacket–and some photographers–hastily scrambling up the gates as a loose bull thundered by…

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Photojournalism can be interpreted so broadly these days, often associated with breaking news, violent altercations, exotic travel destinations or extreme weather, but, for myself–and for many others–the word is most significantly displayed in the photographs of the ‘everyday’… even in something as simple as a production crew member’s silent satisfaction of a job well done:

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Article by L. R. Styles 1-31-2017. Photographer: Steven Styles/Belator Media.

(Click this link to view the full PBR Golden 1 Center 3-day event album)