Voters face hundreds of local tax measures

California voters have seen a deluge of local government tax and bond measures in recent elections and will face even more this year.

The California Taxpayers Association has counted 231 local sales and parcel tax increases and bond issues (which automatically increase property taxes if approved) on the March 3 primary ballot alone.

Hundreds more are headed for the November ballot as local officials capitalize on the higher voter turnouts of a presidential election year.

Turnout in March will be very lopsided in favor of Democrats due to the state’s increased role in choosing a presidential nominee of their party and November’s turnout also will be heavily Democratic, given the unpopularity of President Donald Trump.

Democrats are generally more willing to increase taxes than Republican or no-party-preference voters, so it makes perfect political sense to load up this year’s ballots with taxes.

Do cities, counties and school districts really need all of the new taxes they want voters to approve, given the strong increases in revenues from existing taxes they’ve enjoyed during nearly a decade-long economic boom?

Oddly enough, many do, because their costs, particularly for pensions and health care, have been rising faster than revenues — but don’t expect local officials to acknowledge those costs as they make their pitches to voters.

They will vaguely tell voters that the additional funds are needed for “public safety” or such popular services as parks.

Why the deception? They fear voters will be less willing to vote for new taxes if they are told the money would be spent on retirement costs, and they know their unions are less willing to finance candid campaigns.

The pending measures do comply, at least sketchily, with a recent state law that local officials dislike, requiring them to declare in their ballot summaries the tax effects of their proposals.

Last year, the Legislature voted to partially repeal that law, but Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the measure.

“I am concerned that this bill as crafted will reduce transparency for local tax and bond measures,” Newsom wrote in his veto message.

Yes, the measure would reduce transparency, and that was the whole point. Its author, Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, publicly declared his concern that telling voters how much their tax burdens would increase might discourage them from approving local tax measures.

At least one March tax measure also regenerates a simmering dispute over the vote margins needed to raise taxes for specific purposes.

Long-standing state law says that general purpose local taxes require only simple majority voter approval, but those for specific purposes take two-thirds votes.

A few years ago, the state Supreme Court indirectly hinted that special purpose taxes placed on the ballot by initiative petition might require only simple majority approval. Since then, local judges have both affirmed the two-thirds requirement and ruled that simple majorities are sufficient, creating a legal conflict that only the Supreme Court can resolve.

Overarching the battles over local taxes is whether the high Democratic turnouts this year will also favor a statewide measure to modify the iconic Proposition 13 property tax limit, enacted in 1978, and thus allow increased taxes on commercial property.

At the moment, polls indicate that it’s a tossup, but that’s before public employee unions and commercial property owners spend tens of millions of dollars to sway voters one way or the other.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.org

How a Fake Rationing Scare Highlighted the Absurdity of California’s Actual Water Policies

Stamping out incorrect social-media information is like trying to halt those computer viruses that multiply bad files every time you close one. You can sometimes convince someone that the story isn’t quite right—only to see it pop up on myriad other feeds. After trying to serve as the “truth police” recently, I finally gave up. There are so many real problems to worry about, but lots of people seem determined to be upset by bogus ones.

The specific story involved water rationing. Former Gov. Jerry Brown signed two conservation-related laws in 2018 that were supposedly going into effect on Jan. 1. According to various social-media and blog posts, the new laws banned Californians from showering and doing laundry on the same day. Apparently, water inspectors would monitor each person’s water usage—and impose fines of $1,000 a day on water-wasting scofflaws.

In reality, the laws do not impose any such individual water limits. They “set water efficiency standards for utilities to follow in the decades to come,” explained The Sacramento Bee. The 55-gallon daily standards are systemwide average targets (by 2023). Any fines would come from the agencies, so ratepayers could technically be on the hook—but only in an indirect way. The allotments are close to the water levels Californians typically use in a day, anyway.

Nevertheless, it’s obvious why this fake news spread faster than water flowing over Oroville Dam’s collapsing spillway. It was yet another example of California’s wacky progressive politics, and the way lawmakers force residents to change their lives in the name of environmental uplift. Because the information was inaccurate, liberal wonks could easily dismiss the hullaballoo as a conspiracy theory with no connection to reality.

Yet despite the story’s bogus claims, conservatives are onto something serious—namely, a state water policy that prioritizes environmental interests over human uses, and that ultimately could lead to the kind of rationing that some people wrongly believed was happening now. The outrage is California policy makers have time to deal with a coming water crisis, but are doing little to avert it. Many seem almost eager for a world of rationing and limits.

The state’s historic drought is over, but Gov. Gavin Newsom is pushing a conservation-heavy approach to the water crisis and even is suing to stop the Trump administration’s plan to release more water for farms. California’s lawmakers haven’t built serious new water infrastructure in decades, since the time when the state’s population was roughly half its current size.

If you don’t build freeways, you shouldn’t wonder why the roads are constantly jammed.  If you don’t build water storage, you shouldn’t wonder why the reservoirs are empty during a drought. California officials don’t do much of either, no matter how many tax increases voters approve.

Depending on whose statistics one uses, between 48 percent and 65 percent of California’s water flows unimpeded to the Pacific Ocean. Instead of building new dams to capture water during wet years, California is, for instance, engaged in the largest dam-busting project in the nation—as it plans to demolish some dams on the Klamath River along the Oregon border.

In the midst of the drought, state and federal officials were depleting reservoirs to help a few salmon swim toward the Pacific (where they’re eaten by bass on the way). That epitomizes the state’s water policies—a constant push for “pulse flows,” and less emphasis on saving water for cities and farms. Californians have passed multiple water bonds over the past few years, but very little of it funds new storage. In fact, recent bond money is going to help tear down those Klamath dams, thus reducing storage.

The 602-foot Shasta Dam in the far north was actually designed to reach 800 feet. A plan to raise it a mere 18.5 feet—providing enough water to fill two-thirds of Folsom Lake—has been scuttled after steadfast opposition from environmentalists and state officials. These policies aren’t even helping fish populations, but serve as a handy excuse to always deprive Californians of the water that helps our communities thrive.

“Droughts are nature’s fault,” said U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock (R–Calif.). “But water shortages are our fault. They are a deliberate choice we made in the 1970s when we made the construction of new reservoirs endlessly time-consuming and ultimately cost prohibitive.”

Ultimately, we can pursue water abundance or scarcity. That Bee story rebutting the water-rationing scare quotes a State Water Resources Control Board official who thinks a target of only 40 to 45 gallons a person is more reasonable. That gives the game away. The state can keep lowering the targets until there’s no choice but to ration water.

Sure, those social-media posts were wrong to suggest that water-rationing policies already have arrived in California. But unless state officials take a different approach to water policy, that day may be coming sooner than we think.

This column was first published in the Orange County Register.

Gov. Newsom’s Housing Promises Fail to Produce

A Governor’s Budget summary always boasts more than it has delivered, as well as what it promises to deliver in the future.  Governor Newsom’s description of the 2020-2021 Budget – his second effort – is no exception to that truism.   

The budget document’s so-called “A” pages, summarizing next year’s fiscal blueprint, are full of wishful look-backs, numerous “investment” citations (as if simply spending billions is the solution to a problem) and still more hollow assurances of serenity for the private sector.   

Truth is, the record shows that few of the Governor’s past hoped-fors have come true.  Nor is there much expectation that throwing more of the same – legislation, public policies and money – at complex matters will do any good.  

Take housing, for example. When he ran for office two years ago, candidate Gavin Newsom promised that under his leadership the state would add 3.5 million units of housing to the state’s insufficient total by the year 2025 – equating to about 500,000 per year.  (That might have been asking too much since only twice in its 169-year history has California produced even half that number of new homes in one year.)  The building industry and other housing advocates cheered the vow and expected radical change to follow.

Yet, last year, after the Governor – and the Legislature – spent billions of dollars and purportedly “streamlined” the local approval process, building permits went down, to an annual level of just more than 110,000 units, a full 12 percent, according to the state’s Department of Finance (DOF).  The agency also reported that permits for multifamily housing were down nearly 20 percent. This occurred despite the Governor’s report that with last year’s legislation and administrative actions Sacramento had “paved a way for the state and local jurisdictions to address” California’s housing crisis.  One wonders whether governmental actions were instead “paving a way” to more malaise.

Could it be that lawmakers and the Governor have gotten the housing fix wrong?  After all, the state’s chief executive, in addition to pointing out how he’s taken considerable administrative actions to stimulate desperately needed production, highlights several legislative accomplishments from last year, as well.  For example, although his overview of the housing problem in this year’s budget speaks to the laggard local approval process and mounting local barriers to new construction, in the same document the Governor celebrates bills he signed into law that seriously constrain or discourage it. 

AB 1482 is one of those bills.  AB 1482 (Chiu) among other things, subjects a California landlord’s eviction actions to dispute – typically requiring a court’s review and response.  Such cases are costly, including a loss of rent, and rarely vindicate the landlord. The bill – now a gubernatorial-approved law – also caps state rent increases, ultimately discouraging builders from building.

Governor Newsom doubled down on AB 1482 by spending millions in state funding last year – in keeping with “the need to create stable housing among renters” – to further assist the legal maneuvering of tenants.

Furthermore, in this year’s Budget recap, the Governor lauds as reform of California’s arcane land-use and project-approval practices the enactment last year of SB 113 (Skinner).  He calls it a win for housing. Yet, the legislation, while prohibiting certain local policies which inhibit production (an unmistakable good thing), it preserves housing’s biggest constraints, such as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and locally legislated limits on growth. 

Also in the summary, the Governor has harsh things to say, as he should, about local impact fees – especially since they run as high as $150,000 per house.  But, as the solution he touts a voter-approved bond for K-12 public schools and higher education because theoretically the more money that goes to schools means that districts will demand lower fees.  That’s sort of true since SB 50, which passed in 1998, restricts gouging builders. But, school tariffs add up to less than 10 percent of the problem of locally skyrocketing fees. What about the remainder?   

Finally, the Governor can’t make up his mind between using a carrot or stick in dealing with communities’ reluctance to build new housing.  Indeed, Budget summary rhetoric includes superlatives about local governments, using such terms as “encourage”, “technical assistance” and “working with” to illustrate a more cooperative approach.   

Yet, just a few short paragraphs later the Governor embraces different language, talking about new legal remedies available to state government and threatening to withhold cash from localities which don’t approve housing.  And, in case you didn’t believe his courtroom strategy, remember that the Governor sued the City of Huntington Beach for its failure to identify adequate sites for development.

This year’s Budget summary talks a good game, so far, but we’re still waiting for the Governor to produce matching results.

Timothy L. Coyle is a consultant specializing in housing issues.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.

Homelessness Task Force Isn’t Up To The Task

A state homelessness task force is recommending that local governments be hauled into court if they aren’t moving people off the streets. It’s unlikely to help. The most probable outcome is an increased burden on the courts and a higher dose of politics into an arena where politics have already failed.

The idea is part of a recently released set of proposals issued by the 13-member group appointed last year by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The task force wants to amend the state constitution so that the state could sue counties and cities if they don’t cut their homeless populations. Newsom wants the amendment on the November ballot.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who with Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg is chairing the Council of Regional Homeless Advisors, “argues that the state needs to carry a big stick to convince local governments that they will face consequences if they don’t get people off the streets — including the possible loss of local control.”

Some local governments have already found a way to cut their homeless populations. They herd their homeless residents out of their jurisdictions and into other cities, where they become someone else’s problem. It’s not hard to envision an environment in which an amendment weaponizes the practice and cities play a numbers game, moving the homeless around from locality to locality as if they are pieces in a game of hot potato.

While the ballot measure has received the most coverage, the task force is also, according to Ridley-Thomas’ office:

  • Recommending “strengthening renter protections, cracking down on rent gouging,” which will only make matters worse since those steps will inflame the housing shortage.
  • Hoping to provide the homeless “with rent subsidies and other support to remain housed,” a moral hazard that will swell the numbers of those demanding subsidies and support.
  • And suggesting the “streamlining the construction of permanent supportive housing, affordable housing, and service-enriched temporary shelters,” an idea that is about half right, as the permitting process for all housing needs to be streamlined.

There’s not much from the rest of the task force’s 40 recommendations to inspire confidence. It naturally includes new spending, but only a single reference to the “substance abuse” problems that are a significant part of the problem. Little happens unless that factor is thoroughly addressed.

As PRI’s Tim Anaya has noted, the task force’s members “all represent a government-only approach to addressing California’s homeless crisis.” Meanwhile, the infantry doing the dirty and real work on the streets, made up of the private charities and nonprofit organizations that have no political or bureaucratic agendas to follow, and are not part of the homeless-industrial complex that doesn’t want the problem solved, was shut out. This is a government show, doomed from the start.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

California Asks for Surplus Federal Land to House Homeless

California is asking the Trump administration to provide surplus federal land that could be used to build housing for the homeless, mirroring a new state program.

Gov. Gavin Newsom sent the request in a letter Tuesday to U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson amid an ongoing debate over whether Democratic officials in California are doing enough to ease the state’s homelessness crisis.

The Democratic governor earlier this month directed his administration to identify unused state property by month’s end that local governments or nonprofits can use, so long as it doesn’t delay the development of affordable housing. …

Click here to read the full article from ABC7 News

California State Budget Proposal: More of the Same

With all the breaking national news, many taxpayers have little bandwidth in their attention span to focus on the state budget. Moreover, the state budget process can be indecipherable even for political insiders. But taxpayers should be paying attention for the simple reason that it’s their money that is being spent.

With no pretense at being comprehensive, here are the most important things taxpayers should know about the state budget proposal that was introduced by Gov. Gavin Newsom on January 10th.

First, the proposed 2020-2021 budget submitted by the governor in January almost certainly will be different from the final budget, which must be enacted by June 15, 2020. There is much wrangling among politicians to be done before we get a final spending plan. Also, unlike years past, the budget will likely be on time. Budget stalemates are now rare given that California is awash in taxpayer dollars and legislators no longer get paid if the budget is late.

Second, the governor’s budget is huge. Its proposed $222.2 billion in spending is larger than any in California history. What else would one expect?

To read the entire column, please click here.

California Could Lose Congressional Seat After 2020 Census

We’ve known for a while that California’s population growth has slowed to historic lows in recent years as immigration has dwindled and birthrates have plummeted.

That’s true for some states across the country and the country as a whole.

But it’s not true for every state. As my colleague Robert Gebeloff reported, some states, like Texas, grew rapidly over the 2010s.

And that, experts say, could result in California losing a congressional seat for the first time in history. …

Click here to read the full article from the New York Times.

Change in Priorities for California Voters

The new Public Policy Institute of California poll shows a continuing trend in voters moving their top priority in state spending from K-12 education to health and human services. The homelessness issue is undoubtedly fueling that movement. 

Looking at the current PPIC poll issued yesterday, there is little space between voters’ choosing the top two concerns for California government spending. PPIC asked likely voters which area of state government spending should be the top priority. Likely voters chose health and human services at 40%; K-12 public education 38%; higher education 12% and prisons and corrections 7%. All Adults polled broke dead even on health and human services and K-12 public education at 39% apiece. 

The PPIC release accompanying the poll noted that Californians were slightly more likely to name K-12 public education as the top priority for state spending last January. So there seems to be only a slight difference between the two areas.

But take a look at the trend over the last four years of likely voter responses to the same question.

In January 2015 when PPIC asked the question, 57% of likely voters chose K-12 public education as the first priority. Health and human services got 19%, just above higher education at 17%.

The trends generally continued as measured by the PPIC January polls in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 with K-12 education dropping percentage points and health and human services gaining. No loss or gain was more than 5%—until this year.

The change from 2019 to 2020 for both K-12 public education and health and human services was much more dramatic. K-12 lost 11% from last year as the top priority for likely voters, dropping from 49% to 38%. Health and human services gained 10% from 30% to 40%.

Look no further than the question on the top concern for California voters to find the reason for the shift.

When asked which one issue the governor and legislators should work on in 2020, homelessness topped the list by more than two to one. Likely voters chose homelessness as the top priority at 23% over the second closest concern, housing costs, at 11%.

In another sign of changing priorities for likely voters, jobs and the economy, usually one or two on past lists of concerns, was fifth at 7%, although certainly within the margin of error of the two items before it: environment, pollution, global warming at 9%; immigration, illegal immigration at 8%.

Education funding was not in the top five.  If the new attitudes hold, that could be a significant factor come election time.

Mark Baldassare, PPIC president, CEO and poll master observed as voters go to the polls to vote on tax increases for education measures: “This recent shift in spending priorities could have implications for California voters support for K-12 spending measures in the 2020 election cycle.” 

Joel Fox is editor and co-publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.

California Green New Deal Embraces Far Left Policy Wish List Under Guise of Saving the Planet

Sacramento Democrats have drawn up a Green New Deal for California, which, the public is being told, is necessary to prevent a global warming crisis. The usual empty talking points that are poor substitutes for climate facts have been strung together to create an atmosphere of doom.

But it’s obvious it’s a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing. The green its supporters are talking about is money.

The legislation, designated as Assembly Bill 1839, is based on Washington’s Green New Deal. That proposal, according to Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s former chief of staff, was designed to remake our market economy into a system only a socialist could love.

“The interesting thing about the Green New Deal is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all,” Saikat Chakrabarti was reported to have said last year in a conversation with the climate director for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democratic presidential candidate at the time.

“Do you guys think of it as a climate thing?” Chakrabarti asked. “Because we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.”

The Green New Deal wasn’t the first attempt by politicians and politically powerful officials to fool the public about the true intent of efforts to “fight global warming.” Years ago, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, admitted that the climate-fear campaign was an instrument for replacing capitalism with a more socialist, centrally planned economy.

“This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution,” Figueres said in 2015, confirming that today’s environmental movement is not about conservation and ecological purity but about furtively installing “progressive” and hard-left policies in advanced economies.

The Golden State Green New Deal stays true to that objective. Assemblyman Rob Bonta, the Oakland Democrat who wrote the bill, made this clear when his office declared “that disadvantaged communities benefit from our state’s green advances.”

More is given away in the fourth paragraph of Bonta’s news release:

“Data shows that California has the highest rate of poverty in the United States. Our coalition working on the California Green New Deal believes climate change cannot be addressed without addressing the root causes of inequities including affordable housing, good transportation, equal access to high-quality education and employment opportunities, as well as universal health care.”

So let’s see if we have this right: climate and poverty are inextricably linked, and traditional big-government policies aimed at contracting the wealth and income gaps, and providing increased public services for those at the bottom of the income ladder, will save the climate from the consequences of human fossil fuel combustion.

This can’t make sense even to those desperate to make the public believe it. Increasing energy costs, the inevitable result of any green deal, new or otherwise, hurts the poor the most.

Bonta gives up more of the game when he promises the “people who have been hurt by the fossil fuel economy” will be “first in line to benefit from the new clean energy, green economy.”

Like it or not — and the political left doesn’t — the fossil fuel economy is a free market economy. Despite its unearned reputation as a tool for exploitation of the poor, it has raised more people out of poverty than any other system in history. Forcing a “green economy” will reverse those gains and require a massive redistribution of wealth to those at the bottom because they will be crushed by the higher energy costs.

While the usual empty appeals to “science,” and the conventional hysterics that accompany all discussions of global warming solutions were raised at Monday’s news conference, even a casual observer would conclude they’re a distraction to draw attention away from the true agenda. There was as much emphasis on college debt, social justice, labor justice, union jobs, equity, and injustices as there was on the climate.

No one knows yet what the California version would cost, and, of course, its sponsors and supporters haven’t offered any estimates, an omission that has led to some criticism.

This apparently doesn’t bother Bonta, because he believes “we can’t afford not to pay for it” though “it will be expensive.”

Is this the proper way to make legislation? Shouldn’t lawmakers know what the economic and social impacts of their policies will be?

Of course they should. But when it’s a change-the-entire-economy thing, those are trifling details they can’t be bothered with.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

Sprawling Homeless Camps Vex California

Charles Gibson pushes a shopping cart toward his soggy tent on a tenuous patch of a grassy drainage ditch along a bike trail in Santa Rosa, Calif. He’s one of nearly 200 people living in a sprawling camp here that has sprung up along a popular recreation corridor. It’s a community, Gibson says, that often feels caught between opposing forces who aren’t always listening.

“I mean, they [local officials] want us to be able to govern ourselves, but they are not giving us the tools we need,” Gibson says. “They don’t want you hiding, but they don’t want you in their face, you know?”

Across California and other parts of the country, these growing homeless encampments evoke shantytown “Hoovervilles,” where hundreds of thousands of destitute Americans lived during the Great Depression. The encampments are frustrating residents, raising health and safety fears and fueling a debate over poverty and inequality in one of the nation’s wealthiest states. …

Click here to read the full article from NPR