State’s 2 biggest school districts begin Potemkin village-ization

Some 225 years ago, when empress Catherine the Great visited the Crimea region, legend has it that a Russian public official named Potemkin ordered construction of “villages” that looked great from afar but were actually just facades. Think the fake small town the good guys built in “Blazing Saddles.” Now many California school districts are beginning their Potemkin village-ization. To cover compensation costs that top 90 percent or more of operating budgets, everything must go until there are just facades of schools left. Everything must go, that is, but pay and pensions for veteran and retired teachers.

The upside to downer court ruling: John Chiang is screwed

Tuesday’s tentative court ruling that the Legislature had the sole authority to determine whether the budget it enacts is “balanced” is terrible news for California because it means Proposition 25 — the 2010 measure allowing state spending plans to pass on a simple majority of the Assembly and Senate — has no enforcement mechanism to prevent fake budgets from being treated as balanced. We’re likely to be on an even faster road to ruin as a result. But if you’re looking for a reason to smile, remember this: The guy who tried to rein in the Legislature and force it to produce more honest budgets is Controller John Chiang. So much for Chiang’s political future. The failure of his single major attempt to do right by California’s public — as opposed to its public employees — has a delicious double whammy effect. It’s now once again certain that the right (and taxpayers who follow the news) will never forgive his union duplicity. But unions will never forgive Chiang for his betrayal. Next stop for Chiang? May I be the first to quote the great Margita Thompson one-liner about Cruz Bustamante and suggest the union-defying Chiang has a future as a casino greeter.

The Pap Politics of Jerry Brown

It was 33 years ago today that Newsweek famously put Jerry Brown and then-girlfriend Linda Ronstadt — who were en route to Africa — on its cover. The headline: “The Pop Politics of Jerry Brown.” Let’s look at what Newsweek wrote back then about the once and future gov and feel sorry for ourselves. Jerry circa 1979 was a quirky and different politician. Jerry circa 2012 is just a quirky spokesman for a failed status quo. Bring back old Jerry!

Is San Diego ballot pension fight heir to Prop. 13? It could well be

In 1978, Howard Jarvis launched the U.S. anti-tax movement in California with Proposition 13, which capped annual increases in property taxes and kept people from being forced from their homes during real-estate bubbles. A generation later, the Golden State could be on the brink of launching another populist movement, one driven by anger over government compensation practices. A key battleground is San Diego. In June, voters will decide on Proposition B, the Comprehensive Pension Reform Initiative. It would end defined-benefit pensions for all new city hires except for police officers, instead providing pensions similar to 401(k)s. It would prevent pay sweeteners from being added to base salary when calculating pensions, and it would require city workers to pay a bigger share of their pension costs. Finally, Prop. B would mandate a five-year salary freeze.

Dan Richard and the bullet train: Still putting lipstick on a pig

The narrative that held the California High-Speed Rail Authority had finally figured out a smart path forward thanks to the stewardship of new board Chairman Dan Richard took a huge hit last week when the authority abruptly reversed course and said it would include Orange County after all in its first phase. So much for new realism and new austerity. This week, Richard’s rep took another hit with his bizarre likening of the bullet train fiasco to a Southern California Association of Governments’ long-term plan that has all kinds of dedicated funding sources. Yo, Dan: We’re paying attention. Acting confident and aggressively trying to cow journalists who pose tough questions can only take you so far. At some point, everyone will figure out you’re still putting lipstick on a pig.

What Arnold’s memoirs need: A chapter on his betrayal of California

Smart new essay in Cal Watchdog:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s offbeat request last week on his Facebook page for the public to tell him what to write about in his pending memoirs got the result he wanted: lots of attention. “More than 2,000 people responded: Talk about bodybuilding, your childhood and your time on movie sets, they wrote,” said an account in the Sacramento Bee. “Talk about politics. And sex.” But the former governor’s upcoming book is unlikely to truthfully detail perhaps the most profound and far-reaching action of Schwarzenegger’s life: his decision to betray Californians and saddle their economy with a permanent burden because of his determination to be remembered as a green icon.

Bullet train’s cruel charade: getting up the hopes of Orange County’s dopes

I roared with laughter when I saw the alert saying the geniuses at the California High-Speed Rail Authority had changed their minds and added a direct Orange County line back to their revised business plan. All that praise for being realistic and for bringing the mythical cost down to $68 billion and the kudos from Sen. Feinstein for smartly avoiding construction in crowded urban areas? Never mind. It’s back to the selling of the bullet train as political pork once again. Yo, Edmund G. “Jerry” — thanks for the guffaws. That extra layer of spectacle and silliness you’ve added to this mess since going all-in last year? It’s been a treat!

The CTA’s pending good deed: It’s going to kill the bullet train

This Chris Reed fella, writing in the L.A. Daily News, has some good news about the California High-Speed Rail Authority:

Why would the [California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers] turn on their normal allies and oppose plans for the bullet train? Because of the growing evidence that Gov. Jerry Brown thinks the only plausible way to fund the project is with the fees that heavy industries pay for the right to pollute under AB 32, the state’s landmark 2006 anti-global warming law. The state Legislative Analyst’s Office expects the fees from the “cap and trade” system to generate billions of dollars annually — perhaps as much as $14 billion by 2015.

L.A. nears insolvency; Steve Maviglio oddly silent

The L.A. Times’ Friday report

Los Angeles’ top budget official raised the specter of bankruptcy on Friday in a sweeping report in which he called for new taxes, major pension reform and possibly layoffs.

Chief Administrative Officer Miguel Santana said rising employee costs combined with flat-lining revenues have left the city in a precarious position. Even after reducing its workforce by 4,900 positions in recent years, the city faces a $222-million budget shortfall, he said, a number that is expected to rise to $427 million by 2014-15.