Monday night vote on ‘cliff’ deal very likely, Sen. Corker says


[UPDATE: 3:40 pm] Republican Senator Bob Corker said it is “highly likely” that the U.S. Senate will vote Monday night on a bill to avoid the brunt of the “fiscal cliff.”

[3:30 pm] Republican Senator Jon Kyl also said the chamber is still hopeful that negotiations will advance to the point that a vote is possible later on Monday.

The United States was on track to tumble over the “fiscal cliff” at midnight on Monday, at least for a day, as lawmakers held back from supporting an eleventh-hour plan from Senate leaders to avert severe tax increases and spending cuts.

The U.S. House of Representatives looked unlikely to vote on a Senate “fiscal cliff” plan before midnight, possibly pushing a legislative decision into New Year's Day, when financial markets will be closed.

The plan was heavy on tax increases and light on spending cuts, which was unlikely to appeal to Republicans in the House.

It would raise income taxes on high-income Americans, but leave taxes at current levels for the middle class, a key goal of President Barack Obama.

But there was discontent among Senate Democrats worried that the proposal did not go far enough in taxing the rich. The Democrats asked for a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden to have him explain the talks he was having with Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“The caucus as a whole is not sold” on the plan, said a Senate Democratic aide. “We just don't have the votes for it.”

If Congress fails to act, about $600 billion in tax increases – m uch steeper than those in the Senate plan – and government-wide spending cuts will begin taking effect after midnight, harsh measures that could lead to a recession.

But lawmakers could still vote for a deal on New Year's Day or later and prevent the worst of the fiscal cliff effects.

The House expects to reconvene on Tuesday at noon, Republican Representative Steven LaTourette said. He added that House members had been told to stay close on Monday evening and that they may be called back to continue negotiations.

Under the Senate plan, income above $450,000 per household or $400,000 per individual would be taxed at 39.6 percent, up from 35 percent. Income up to those levels would be taxed at the current, reduced tax rates put in place under former President George W. Bush.

The Senate plan would raise estate taxes on inherited wealth and permanently fix the alternative minimum tax, or AMT, so that it did not threaten each year to sweep in millions of middle-income Americans for whom it was not intended.

The plan also postpones for two months the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts in defense and domestic programs that are part of the fiscal cliff, Senator John McCain said.

SENATE DEMOCRATS UNSURE

Some Senate Democrats did not like the $450,000 threshold for raising taxes on the rich – they wanted $250,000 – or the higher threshold for raising estate taxes. Democrats also are upset there is no agreement yet to put off the first round of $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts.

Republicans already are pushing for switching those across-the-board cuts to savings in the Medicare and Social Security healthcare and retirement programs and threatening to block a debt limit increase in February unless they get their way. But that is a fight that would most likely play out in January and February.

Some Senate Democrats aides were dispirited that Biden, a fellow Democrat, had gone further than they wanted in the fiscal cliff talks, j u st as he did in December 2010 when all Bush tax cuts were extended for two years.

Shortly after the plan emerged, Obama said agreement was within sight, but he sounded a cautious note.

“There are still issues to resolve, but we're hopeful that Congress can get it done, but it's not done,” Obama, a Democrat, said at a White House event.

U.S. stocks rose on the day, with the market closing before the latest news broke about the House not voting. The benchmark Dow Jones industrial average closed up 1.3 percent at 13,104.

Even if the country tumbles over the cliff, legislative action afterward could soften the blow.

Final legislation can be backdated to Jan. 1, for instance, said law firm K&L Gates partner Mary Burke Baker, who spent decades at the Internal Revenue Service.

“The important date is the date in the legislative language … no matter what day the Senate or House pass the law, or the date the president signs it,” she said.

Former Obama administration Treasury Department tax official Michael Mundaca agreed, although he said there would likely be delays in filing for many taxpayers as the IRS gets its computers into gear.

A deal on Tuesday will likely leave unsolved the issue of the “debt ceiling,” which caps how much debt the federal government can hold.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in a letter to congressional leaders that the government would suspend some investments in pension and health benefit funds for federal workers beginning on Monday in a move that allows it to keep borrowing for the meantime.

Napolitano talks security funding cuts with Jewish leaders


Janet Napolitano, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, met with leaders of the New York Jewish federation to discuss security for nonprofits in the wake of substantial funding cuts.

“DHS recognizes the important role the nonprofit community has in our homeland security efforts,” Napolitano said in a statement after meeting at the White House with the UJA-Federation delegation. “We work closely with nonprofit organizations throughout the country—including the faith-based community—to share information, offer training, conduct risk assessments and provide resources to give the nonprofit sector the tools to address threats and help keep communities safe.”

Napolitano discussed the recent slash in funding for such programs, from $19 million last year to $10 million this year. The bulk of nonprofits receiving the money are Jewish.

“DHS sustained funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program despite significant overall cuts to grants in order to support target hardening and physical security enhancements at nonprofit organizations that are at high risk of terrorist attack,” she said in the statement, adding that nonprofits would now also be able to apply for funds through a different program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

William Daroff, the director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America, said his group appreciated Napolitano’s “continuing recognition that since Sept. 11th, nonprofits generally, and Jewish communal institutions specifically, have been victims of an alarming number of threats and attacks.

Daroff said his group would continue to seek “adequate” funding for the programs.

Other groups lobbying for Homeland Security funding for security for nonprofits are the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America.

Editorial Cartoon: The Sacramento Chainsaw Massacre


Jewish groups praise security grants, despite major cuts


Jewish groups praised the Obama administration and Congress for $10 million in new homeland security grants while noting that the allocation was nearly halved from last year.

“While tough decisions were made by Congress and the Administration, we appreciate the outreach both branches of the Federal government have made leading up to today’s funding announcement, and we are grateful for, although not delighted about, the reduced allocation,” William Daroff, the Washington director of the Jewish Federations of North America, said in a statement Monday.

Last year’s allocation to non-profits was $19 million. The bulk of the grants in recent years have gone to Jewish institutions for security upgrades, including video systems and barriers.

Daroff said the cuts come at a time of heightened security threats.

“Since the inception of the Nonprofit Security Grant Program in 2005, there has been ample evidence, supported in the public record, of threats, plots and attacks against ‘soft’ Jewish communal targets at home and abroad,” he said. “Today, we as a community are faced with emerging and growing security concerns emanating from Iran and through its proxy, Hezbollah, as tensions rise surrounding Iran’s nuclear ambitions and American-led sanctions to rein them in.”

The Orthodox Union, an umbrella group that with JFNA and Agudath Israel of America led the lobbying for the allocation, noted that the cuts come at a time of austerity.

“While the allocation of $10 million is a lower allocation than in recent years, the Department was contending with severe cuts made by Congress to its overall grants budget for the current fiscal year,” the OU said.

Nefesh B’Nefesh cuts staff, salaries


The aliyah organization Nefesh B’Nefesh says it has slashed18 percent of its staff and is cutting the salaries of its remaining employees.

The organization last week made across-the-board cuts of 15 employees. Salary cuts were instituted at all levels as well, according to Yael Katsman, NBN marketing and communications director. The cuts were first reported Thursday in Haaretz.

Services to olim will not be affected, Katsman stressed.

Katsman told JTA that the global financial climate so far in 2011 required NBN to make the cuts.

NBN receives funding from the Israeli government for each immigrant it brings to Israel. It does some fundraising, in the form of targeting major donors to sponsor planeloads of olim and other programs. Though it has not done any grassroots funding, “as we grow and grow the fundraising has to grow also,” Katsman said.

The staff and salary restructuring is a way to make sure that “the most money possible goes to the olim,” she added.

NBN works in partnership with the Jewish Agency to bring olim from North America and Britain to Israel. It also provides assistance to the olim, including job counseling, once they arrive in Israel.

Haaretz reported last week that the Jewish Agency is looking at restructuring its departments, which would include closing the Aliyah Department and transferring its field of operation to operational and program units.

State Budget Crisis Threatens Jewish Social Service Programs


Four Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles programs that serve the elderly, disabled and frail may end up casualties of the state budget crisis, which leapt to a new level of urgency Tuesday as California lawmakers failed to pass budget revisions before a July 1 deadline.

More than $4 million in state funding for JFS could be zeroed out if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has his way; budgets currently working their way through legislative committees also require significant cuts on top of previous cuts made during last September’s budget negotiations. If no budget compromise is reached in the legislature before California runs out of money, JFS could be forced to close down programs that aim to keep indigent elderly and disabled clients out of institutions, and another that gives shelter to victims of domestic abuse.

JFS fears clients’ lives are in the balance.

Huge portions of the state’s social service network are in jeopardy. Even best-case scenarios significantly cut programs that serve the poor, disabled, elderly, ill and abused, and most recipients in programs throughout the state will see cuts in multiple resources they access.

“We have long said that we like to see ourselves as an important part of the safety net,” said Paul Castro, CEO and executive director of JFS, a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “As a result of all this the safety net is going to be broken. Where in prior years when the net was broken we had been in a position to catch people if they fell through, our best hope now is to just help break the fall, because we aren’t going to be able to catch them.”

Schwarzenegger and the legislature passed an 18-month budget last February that had been meant to remain in effect through June 2010. But California’s declining revenues and the failure of the May 19 propositions to free up initiative-locked dollars rendered the February budget worthless, a situation lawmakers failed to remedy when they couldn’t come to agreement on budget revisions by July 1. A gap of $25.3 billion now lingers, on top of the $15 billion in cuts made in February.

JFS has received notice that Medi-Cal funded programs will continue to be paid through July, though other budget areas may receive IOUs from State Controller John Chiang that the state started issuing July 2.

Still, JFS is bracing for the worst. It is prepared to begin informing clients of potential closures; lay-off notices that it hopes it won’t have to implement already went out to staff; and JFS and the union that represents most of its staff have agreed to a 45-day closure of affected agencies so it can regroup if funding disappears.

The largest JFS program targeted is ” title=”http://www.sco.ca.gov/5935.html” target=”_blank”>http://www.sco.ca.gov/5935.html

Could economic slump — which means less giving — kill Jewish community innovation?


The past decade has seen a groundswell of innovative Jewish nonprofits — from the birth of a Jewish pop culture magazine, Heeb, to the creation of a slew of trailblazing Jewish social service organizations, to an array of projects that allow Jews to express their Judaism through ways other than the prayer book.

But as these initiatives reach adolescence and eye expansion, the spiraling economy and financial crisis threatens to stunt their growth and thwart the next generation of startups from even getting off the ground.

Story after story has been written about fears that the economic downturn will hurt philanthropy. The thinking goes that when people feel economically unstable, the first thing they do is cut their discretionary spending — and charity, no matter the moral or biblical obligation, is still viewed by most as discretionary spending.

Until recently, most of the concern had been based on speculation; charities had been holding out hope that they would be able to avoid significant cutbacks. But, according to a survey taken in late September by the private wealth research firm, Prince & Associates, the cuts have arrived.

According to Forbes magazine, Prince spoke to 439 high-net-worth families, with 73 percent of respondents saying they had been significantly hurt by the economic downturn. Fifty-one percent said they planned on giving less next year than they did this past year — and only 16 percent said they planned on giving more.

The concern about such trends was detectable recently at the Manhattan launch party for the 2008 edition of “Slingshot,” an annual guidebook to innovative Jewish organizations put out by the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Foundation. The leaders of several of the most well-regarded and established innovative Jewish projects expressed concern, saying they are expecting to feel the pinch.

“Most recently, we are starting to hear, ‘We love what you do. We think that it is really, really great. And because of the economy, we are not going to fund any new projects this year. We are going to fund the things that we already fund.’ And that is only over the past few weeks,” said Aaron Bisman, who runs JDub, the nonprofit Jewish record label that produced Matisyahu’s first album. “I had heard it was maybe going to be a possibility, but we are really starting to hear that as a definitive answer.”

JDub, the product of two incubators of Jewish startups, Bikkurim and the Joshua Venture, is widely regarded as one of the most successful young Jewish projects to get off the ground in recent years. For the last five years, Bisman’s budget has increased as funders have taken notice of the group and JDub’s record sales have started to bring in additional income.

Early this summer, Bisman was talking about expansion. Those plans were based on being able to tap into new revenue streams, attract new donors and entice foundations to become new investors.

But by late September, Bisman was talking cutbacks — in both programming and staff.

Bisman’s experience reflects what most philanthropy experts see on the horizon. Philanthropists may not completely shut their coffers, but new grants — the lifeblood of young organizations — are going to be the first to get cut because, like any investment in any startup, they are risky proposals that may not pay dividends.

“Everybody is looking to this as a real event that they are dealing with, and especially for groups that are young and startup and in a growth phase, it is challenging,” said Rabbi Eli Kaunfer, the cofounder of Kehilat Hadar, an egalitarian, traditional-style minyan in New York that is a model for the independent minyan movement.

Hadar has yet to lose any grants, but Kaunfer has been told to brace for next year.

That is when the real crunch could come, especially for those who rely on funding from endowed foundations. Those foundations are required by law to give away 5 percent of their assets each year, based on the assets from the previous fiscal year. As the market drops, that 5 percent shrinks, leaving less for foundations to give away.

To put it in perspective, the Washington Post reported that the Community Foundation for the National Capital Area, one of the area’s largest grant makers and comparable in size to the Koret Foundation, the Pritzker Foundation and the Mandel Fund, lost about $40 million between July and September. The fund had approximately $330 million in assets at last reporting.

Back in 2006, Hadar was able to raise enough funds to launch an egalitarian yeshiva. Kaunfer said he’s unsure if the founders could have pulled it off in the current climate.

“Today would be a very hard day to start an organization and raise the soft dollars,” Kaunfer said.

Such projects — especially those focused on building Jewish identity — could be facing an even greater challenge in the coming months if they need to compete with social service agencies that are getting squeezed on both ends as they face greater demand for services and shrinking revenue streams.

But a bad economy does not need to be the death knell for Jewish innovation.

Those who run new organizations that have established a foothold for themselves and are looking to grow, like JDub, have won recognition in the Jewish organizational mainstream. Their leaders have become regular speakers at federation events and at the federations’ annual conference, the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities.

At last year’s GA in Nashville, organizers dedicated a plenary session to young Jewish innovators and gave them a chance to address several thousand federation lay and professional leaders. Though they will have to work hard to secure funding, many of them have at least one foot firmly in the door.

And most of the newer operations have an advantage over established organizations: They tend to operate on relatively small budgets of under $2 million and so are not yet in need of megagrants.

There may even be hope for those looking to start nonprofits, as the Joshua Venture — the incubator that helped launch this movement, but then went on hiatus in 2006 — has announced on its Web site that it is now seeking new applicants.

Nina Bruder, who runs the UJC-funded incubator Bikkurim, said she is hopeful.

“When the economy is bad, the need for basic human services goes up and the funding for basic human services goes down,” she said. “In the circles that are concerned about that, there is going to be a big push about [the fact] that basic subsistence needs are going to have to be met.”

“But I think there is a whole other part of the funding community that doesn’t focus on that and still has an attention for other kinds of creative cultural and special needs areas,” Bruder went on. “I think we are going to have to wait and see what happens.”

This article was adapted from Jacob Berkman’s blog on the nonprofit sector, which can be found at www.fundermentalist.com.

Briefs: Western Wall dig starts, Israel and U.S. back gays at U.N.


Israel Starts Western Wall Dig

Israel began a controversial dig in the Western Wall Plaza. Bulldozers from the Antiquities Authority broke ground Tuesday near a ramp connecting the plaza to the Temple Mount, with officials saying the aim was to search for historical artifacts before fixing weather damage to the structure. Footage relayed live on Middle East television stations prompted Arab leaders to accuse Israel of trying to undermine the Al-Aksa Mosque and another major Muslim shrine on the Temple Mount.

“I appeal to all our Palestinian people to be united and to rise up together to protect Al-Aksa,” Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said.The Antiquities Authority’s director of excavations, Gideon Avni, denied that such a threat existed.

“Nothing in the work touches the wall of the Temple Mount,” he told reporters.Israeli police went on high alert for possible riots and restricted Palestinian access to the site.

Adelson Gives $25 Million to Birthright

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson pledged $25 million to Birthright Israel. The money will allow the organization to double the number of free trips to Israel that it offers Jewish youth this summer, bringing the total to 20,000. The gift is being made by the Adelson Family Charitable Foundation, founded recently by the majority owner of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson.

According to a Birthright spokesman, the foundation anticipates making similar $25 million gifts for the next several years. In December, the Adelson foundation gave $5 million to Birthright to pay for 2,000 free trips for Jews aged 18 to 26. Adelson, whose net worth was estimated in September at $20.5 billion, is America’s third wealthiest man behind Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

“The Birthright Israel program is one of the best ideas our time has seen because it has the greatest potential for establishing Jewish continuity,” Adelson said.

Jewish Groups Urge Budget Fight

A coalition of Jewish groups urged Congress to fight President Bush’s budget cuts.

“We urge you to fight cuts that would be harmful to the vulnerable populations we advocate on behalf of,” said the letter sent Monday to every member of Congress and signed by 16 national groups and 62 local and state groups.

It identified programs such as the Social Services Block Grant, the Community Services Block Grant, Food Stamps, State Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program as “critical to the elderly, refugees, children and persons with disabilities. Please keep these populations in mind as Congress develops its budget resolution.”

The letter was spearheaded by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; signatories include the American Jewish Committee, United Jewish Communities federation umbrella group, and the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform streams. Programs favored by the Jewish community that face significant cuts in the president’s budget released Monday include Medicaid and Medicare; a Housing Department program that funds independent living for the elderly; and block grants to states for social services that pay for adoption services, refugee assistance and other programs.

British Jews Urge ‘Independent’ Stand on Israel

A group of Anglo-Jewish notables urged Jews to take a more “independent” stance on Israel than do mainstream community groups. In a statement posted Monday on a Web site linked to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, the left-leaning group Independent Jewish Voices called for equitable treatment of Israelis and Palestinians, and deplored anti-Arab bigotry as akin to anti-Semitism.

The group, comprised of dozens of Jewish intellectuals and celebrities including actor Stephen Fry and film director Mike Leigh, hinted that it sought to break from the umbrella Board of Deputies of British Jews, which has backed Israel in its recent conflicts with Hezbollah and the Palestinians.

Anti-Semitism Monitor Gets Top Radio Post

A scholar known for his work monitoring anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli activity in Europe was named president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Jeffrey Gedmin starts in March, according to a statement released last Friday by the congressionally funded pro-American radio network. In a 2004 interview Gedmin, who has headed the Berlin office of the influential Aspen Institute since 2001, said anti-Israel sentiment in Europe was rooted in the continent’s anti-Semitic past.

Group Mounts Bone-Marrow Drive

Ezer Mizion will hold a nationwide bone-marrow testing drive in Israel on Feb. 14. The largest Jewish bone-marrow testing registry is looking for a match for an 8-year-old Jewish leukemia patient. The Brooklyn-based organization hopes to screen some 20,000 people at dozens of testing stations around Israel. For information, call (718) 853-8400.

Israel, U.S. Back Gays at U.N.

Israel and the United States were among a minority at the United Nations in favor of accrediting a gay-rights group. The Coalition of Gays and Lesbians of Quebec applied this month for registration with the United Nations Committee on Nongovernmental Organizations, but was rejected by a majority vote of mostly Muslim countries. Voting in favor were Israel, the United States and four other countries. A motion to admit a second gay advocacy group, the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, was deferred by the NGO committee.

Agudah Rabbis Call for Pollard’s Release

Agudath Israel of America’s rabbinical councils called on “all caring Jews” to appeal to President Bush to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, who was sentenced to life in 1987 for spying for Israel.

“Mr. Pollard’s life sentence — a penalty far more severe than that imposed upon others who committed similar or even more serious crimes — is difficult to comprehend,” said the statement issued Monday by the fervently Orthodox group’s Council of Torah Sages, Rabbinic Presidium and nearly 100 signatories from its Conference of Synagogue Rabbis.

“At this time, it appears that all legal avenues through the judicial system have been shut off. Only the president of the United States, by granting Mr. Pollard executive clemency, can save him from spending the rest of his life behind bars.”

Agudath Israel says it will join other Jewish organizations in asking its members to phone the White House daily between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EST until Passover.

The phone-in is primarily organized by the National Council of Young Israel.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Math Problem


It’s spring in Sacramento, and that means the Capitol steps are jammed again with protesters against government cuts — the first protesters to show up in mid-March were thousands of community college students demanding that California taxpayers continue paying the nation’s steepest college subsidies per student.

In light of his March 2 election victories, some say the governor can withstand the emotions that will crescendo this summer, as they have in recent years, with large numbers of wheelchair-bound recipients of state monies zipping through halls to stare down uncomfortable legislators in tense hearings.

He may be able to withstand the emotional pressure, but a bigger question may be whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger can withstand the math.

Last year, facing a historic deficit that dwarfed the budgets of some smallish countries, the Legislature cut very little — roughly $4 billion from an operating budget of nearly $80 billion. Now, the governor has proposed $7 billion to $9 billion in cuts for fiscal year 2004-05.

But the Legislature won’t give him all the cuts he wants, and he needs to close a gap of $14 billion. So his 150-person performance review team is scouring the state to identify waste, abuse, fraud and duplication for further cuts.

Mindful of the governor’s popularity, Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez of Los Angeles, a savvy negotiator, is smoothing the waters between the anti-cut Democrats and the anti-tax Republicans. He’s joined Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco), the unapologetic big government liberal, in saying the Democrats won’t repeat 2003 by digging in their heels for taxes and failing to seek cuts — the stubborn legislative stance that sacrificed their governor.

In a highly unusual shift, the Democrats are holding hearings into how efficiently state programs operate. Nunez said the hearings are designed to cut waste and abuse.

Maybe that’s what the Dems are doing — or maybe not. A major hearing March 15 was on child care, an area with little potential waste.

The hearing seemed designed to make the governor squirm, as people testified about how badly low-income families need child care. Were legislators really trying to show the governor planned to save billions by making sure nobody gets extra milk and cookies?

But there’s still room for optimism. Daniel Pellisier, chief of staff for Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Granada Hills), said, “It’s heartening to see that the Dems will look toward eliminating waste and inefficiency in the budget before asking taxpayers to pay more money.”

The fresh-thinking Richman, a socially moderate Jewish pol, is one of very few leaders in Sacramento with moderate ideas, so the governor seeks him out regularly.

“Hopefully,” Pellisier said, “in the weeks ahead, the Democrats will look at things that will generate significant savings in areas such as health care administrative costs, the Department of Corrections and the education bureaucracy.”

Still, it’s instructive to look back at December, before Democratic leaders witnessed Schwarzenegger’s last success, when twin Propositions 57 and 58 to refinance the state’s huge debts and put a spending cap on the Legislature won by landslides.

Back in December, Democratic leaders rejected Schwarzenegger’s request to place a true spending cap on the March ballot. The spending cap voters approved, which makes it difficult but not impossible for the Legislature to overspend, was fashioned by the Democrats.

In arguing for a softer spending cap, Burton said, “It is our job to implement our own vision, and that of voters…. We owe voters not just what they think is right at the moment but also our independent assessment of what is best.”

Deploying that philosophy, Burton was the fiercest fighter in Sacramento against budget cuts in 2003. He emerged victorious — if you could call it that.

Californians should expect that by about May or so, after the Democrats’ hearings have failed to find a whole lot of cuts that don’t create fury among the well-padded public employee unions, the two parties’ divergent philosophies will reassert themselves.

As one Republican insider noted, “The Democrats started their waste-cutting hearings with child care? C’mon. What about waste at Caltrans, which we’re told doesn’t have enough money now to pursue many transportation projects? Why do we still pay 7,000 state engineers? Are they sitting, like, with their little pencils poised in the air?”

Sacramento is so resistant to trimming down, that state department heads are notorious for refusing to say where savings exist in their own departments. Richman sued former Gov. Gray Davis’ Department of Finance to get access to reports Davis ordered from department heads showing where they would make 20 percent budget cuts if they had to.

Davis vowed to cut the size of government but later lost his nerve. He refused to show the 20 percent-cut documents to the Legislature for fear of angering public unions.

Recently, Richman lost his suit. The Legislature never did learn what California’s department heads said about where they’d cut.

Schwarzenegger has access to those reports. Among his other difficult tasks, he may become the first governor in years to seek big layoffs or wage cuts from a work force of about 230,000.

The governor has one modest escape hatch. Borrowing can close part of the gap. The $15 billion bond issue approved by voters March 2 to refinance the Davis debt included $5 billion or so in unassigned borrowing. The governor wants to use it over the next three years to close modest budget gaps that persist as he hacks away at deeply embedded overspending.

He might, for instance, direct the money toward the huge Medi-Cal program, now that the courts have said California can’t further reduce the fees it pays doctors without conducting lengthy studies.

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger and his finance czar, Donna Arduin, are actually seeking out waste and abuse in government. If the Dems launched their efficiency hearings with less than honorable intentions, they will look like phonies and obstructionists by summer, just as several Democrats face down tough legislative races.

If that happens, the students may be the ones on the Capitol steps now, but it is the Democrats who could get an education.

Community Briefs


Cooper Visits Sudan, DiscussesSlavery

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, spent an eventful 21 hours in Sudan in mid-February when he met with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to discuss the country’s ongoing slave trade and a peace treaty with Sudanese rebel.

“The whole notion of enslavement in the 20th and 21st century really has sparked concern and anger in many, many corners,” Cooper told The Journal.

That could change through negotiations to end two horrific decades of civil war between the Muslim-dominated government in Sudan’s north and Christian rebels in the south. At the Sudanese presidential palace in Khartoum, Bashir listened to Cooper’s recommendation to allow anti-slavery activists free reign in traveling across Sudan, seeking to help end slavery.

“Whatever can be done to speed that along,” he said.

Mohammed Khan, a second-generation Pakistani American in Los Angeles and adviser to the American Sudanese Council, traveled with Cooper.

“The Sudanese government is making it very clear that they have nothing to hide,” Khan said.

Decades of civil war mean that “the Sudan was viewed by the U.S. as a kind out outpost and welcome mat for terrorists,” Cooper said. “With all of the bloodshed and everything else that’s taken place, number one, the terrorists are gone.”

The rabbi said he felt comfortable walking around war-torn Khartoum.

“It’s been a long, long time since the people over there have seen any Jews,” he said — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

JFS to Give More to Russian Outreach

Following complaints from elderly ex-Soviet Jews, JFS Family Service (JFS) has scaled back its planned shutdown of a decade-long Santa Monica program of entertainment, social services and twice-monthly meetings for about 150 Russian and Baltic Jewish senior citizens.

JFS instead is allocating more money to the Russian Outreach Program, but the program coordinator has quit because JFS cut her weekly hours from 15 to four.

“I will not work four hours a week and I don’t know who can,” Lina Haimsky said. “There is no possible way anyone can run the program working four hours a week.”

JFS Executive Director Paul Castro said that following a Feb. 16 meeting with concerned senior citizens, JFS decided to cut Haimsky’s hours, but increase the Russian Senior Program’s annual activity fund budget from $1,500 to $2,000 and increase JFS case management for program participants.

“This essentially reinstates the program, but at a smaller level, a lower level,” Castro said.

Retiree Rachel Flaum, who lobbied JFS to save the outreach program, said, “On the one hand, it’s very good because they gave us more money for our activity. But on the other hand, they cut the salary for the coordinator, so she quit. For a short time, we will try to do something without a coordinator, just to keep the people together.” — DF

Social Services Battle SacramentoCuts

Jewish social service agency leaders are planning a spring Sacramento pilgrimage to seek mercy from state legislators planning extensive cuts in health and welfare budgets.

“This is a pretty tough year in Sacramento; there aren’t too many people who are really speaking for the poor and the underrepresented,” said Coby King, association director of the Jewish Public Affairs Committee (JPAC). The statewide coalition of mostly Federation-based groups led a Feb. 11 delegation to Sacramento and is a planning a similar May 10-11 lobbying trip, King said, “to try to lessen some of the damage that’s being done up there.”

Paul Castro, executive director of Jewish Family Service, said JPAC’s Feb. 11 trip had Jewish agency leaders meeting with state Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge), plus senior staff from state senators and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office to discuss medical service cuts.

“Everybody’s sympathetic. I don’t think there’s any clear solution,” Castro said. “There’s a little bit of guarded optimism [about Schwarzenegger]. I guess there’s a sense that he’s not tied into one place or another.”

H. Eric Schockman, executive director of the West Los Angeles-based MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, did not attend the Feb. 11 trip but is monitoring proposed budget cuts in the food stamp and child-care programs.

“Cuts into child care force families to spend more on food resources,” Schockman said. “These all have rippling effects in both our economy and our social fabric. Food is a basic building block for everything else.”

For information about JPAC’s May 10-11 Sacramentolobbying trip, contact Coby King at (310) 489-2820 or visit www.jpac-cal.org . — DF