Letters for June 16, 2005

Fun with education math

Re “You flunked!” by Jill Stewart (SN&R Capitol punishment, June 9):

I believe that this column on education spending missed a very important point—namely, the cost of living—when comparing the per-pupil expenditures for the various states. Simply comparing per-pupil spending on a dollar-per-dollar basis and then reaching the conclusion that California is “about average” ignores the fact that it is more expensive to live and deliver services here than in most other parts of the country.

I went to the National Center for Education Statistics Web site and downloaded the expenditure-per-pupil table (nces.ed.gov/ccd/pubs/npefs03/tables.asp). I found the chart that contains the data you were quoting.

I then went to the National Association of Realtors and downloaded the sale price of existing homes in 2004 (www.realtor.org/Research.nsf/files/REL0504EHS.XLS/$FILE/REL0504EHS.XLS). This file contains the average sale price of homes in four major regions of the country (Northeast, South, Midwest and West).

I then used the average sale price per region compared with the nationwide average as a deflator to equalize the expenditures between the areas. While California’s per-pupil expenditure of $7,552 does rank it 27th when you compare the raw dollar expenditures, if you factor in the average price of housing, its rank falls to 43rd.

The average price of housing is, of course, only a very rough estimate of the true cost of living, but it does give you some idea of how profound the cost-of-living differentials are when comparing state-government expenditures nationwide. Further, the average housing sale price for the West in 2004 is listed as $263,000. Obviously, this in itself is very low for California.

Certainly, a more sophisticated analysis that includes cost-of-living indexes is called for when evaluating California’s budgetary commitment to education.

Michael B. Derrick
via e-mail

Diversity or racism?

Re “Keep diversity in the district” (SN&R Guest comment, June 9):

The writers are legislators representing the Black Caucus, the Asian-Pacific Islander Caucus and the Latino Caucus.

If they were a lobbyist for the Italian Caucus, the German Caucus, the Polish Caucus or White Caucus, they would be called racist with the loudest voice and largest type setting of every newspaper in California.

What is wrong with this picture?

Lou Meyer

At home with Diana

Re “Feeble ‘witch hunt’ defense” (SN&R Letters, June 2):

I have been with Diana [Griego Erwin] for more than 20 years, although our divorce is one of the personal crises she discussed [in “Scandal-stung Bee columnist talks to SN&R,” SN&R News, May 19].

Diana did not ever need to make up facts, people, issues or events. Her family, our daughters and I, often joked that she had an invisible tattoo on her forehead reading “Talk to me!” She has a gift that few journalists have—people trust her; know that she will listen; and, in the past, knew their story would be told with compassion and respect to a broad audience that would typically not take the time to listen.

It’s disturbing that “popular topic” journalists like R.E. [Graswich] and Josh du Lac try to expand into an area of life they don’t belong in. Diana told stories that were far more important to Californians than what R.E. discovered and wrote in his three-dot column, and why would du Lac even venture to write a letter about Diana?

I went with Diana to the bar that “started” this all and sat with her while an employee of the bar discussed the potential circumstances that could have led to the situation she wrote about that the Bee editors ultimately questioned. I believe the Bee was wrong, and my couple of hours there confirm to me that Diana told the truth about that story.

Why will Diana not answer the Bee’s questions, or du Lac’s feeble attempt to insert himself in an area he doesn’t belong in? She, too, has lost trust.

She can speak for herself if she wishes, but she enriched Sacramento for more than 10 years with news and stories that would not have otherwise been told on any page of the Bee, certainly not by R.E. or du Lac.

I believe she has lost interest in whether the editors, who provided little support for her during her tenure at the Bee, or Armando Acuña (who is trying to catapult himself in his new position on the “Diana issue”) question her writing.

Diana was an ethical writer, telling people’s stories that would not have been told in the Bee otherwise.

Ed Erwin

The real reason Arnold’s after CalPERS

Re “Will Arnold smash state employees’ piggy bank?” by Ron Russell (SN&R Cover, June 2):

There are few rational arguments in favor of the governor’s move to end defined benefit (DB) plans for new public employees after June 2006. So, why the initiative?

First, some want to feed at taxpayer/public-employee expense. The median defined contribution (DC) plan returned 6.86 percent from 1990 through 2002, while CalPERS returned 8.9 percent. It costs .37 percent to administer the CalPERS DB plan but more than 1.5 percent per year for a DC plan—without death/disability benefits or inflation protection for existing retirees.

By next year, California funds will have assets close to $500 billion. Under a DC plan, money managers would pocket an extra $5.65 billion while earning $10.2 billion less for public-employee retirements every year.

Second, the initiative will help Schwarzenegger raise $50 million for TV spots and other exposure just before his re-election campaign.

Most importantly, Schwarzenegger will become a national hero to CEOs if he can, as Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association said, put an end to “the social engineering and corporate governance agenda” of CalPERS.

Despite their appearance, elections held by corporations are not democratic. Shareholders typically get to vote for corporate nominees or to “withhold” their vote. If corporate candidates get just one vote, they win. The only alternative is an extremely expensive proxy contest.

In 2002, I petitioned the Securities and Exchange Commission to allow shareholder use of proxy proposals to nominate and elect directors. A watered-down version received more support than any proposal in the SEC’s history, including strong support from CalPERS and other public pension funds.

Although CEOs, organizing through the Business Roundtable and Chamber of Commerce, were able to kill the proposal, they know it could be enacted by a future administration. If Arnold can kill public pension funds, the movement to create more democratic corporations will be put to rest for a long time to come, and CEOs will remain largely unaccountable.

James McRitchie
publisher, Corporate Governance

Karma will catch you

Re “Will Arnold smash state employees’ piggy bank?” by Ron Russell (SN&R Cover, June 2):

Thanks for the information as to how ugly it is going to get for the working class. Being fortunate to be a CalPERS member, it makes me sad to think people I will work with in the future will be paying the price of this political time.

The trend seems to be to screw as many good, hardworking people and their children as much as you can. What an ugly political climate!

I just can’t stomach the Republicans’ wish to place greed and ignorance before common decency in this country. I would like to let them in on a secret: Someday, they will feel the impact of all this, too. You can run, but you can’t hide. Life will catch up with you.

Crystal Phipps
Nevada City

Even good drivers kill with SUVs

Re “That’s why it’s called an accident” (SN&R Letters, June 2):

With regard to SUV-pedestrian deaths and the recent cases involving child fatalities, am I alone in figuring the obvious? If you are staring straight ahead in a regular car, you are more likely to spot things (or kids) up close and in front than if you are sitting five or six feet in the air with a fat hood sticking out in front of you.

SUVs killed more than 13,800 of the 42,800 people who died on American roads last year. And, if you’re hit by an SUV, you are nearly three-and-a-half times more likely to die than if you are hit by a regular car. These are the cold facts that the government, the auto industry and the antisocial morons who buy these death traps cannot deny.

Instead of blaming the victims, perhaps we should just admit that these badly designed vehicles are unsafe for their owners and everyone else using the roads. If we factor in the blatant waste of fuel and the needless pollution they cause, it would seem appropriate for the government to be working on ways to discourage their proliferation, rather than giving tax breaks to purchasers. Ha! Stop me. I just went crazy for a second.

Jon Crossland