California Voters Could Be Asked To Impose An Estate Tax

property taxCalifornia voters would consider a state-mandated tax on the assets of wealthy residents, one that could generate as much as $1 billion a year for low-income families, under legislation introduced in the state Legislature on Tuesday.

The bill would ask voters next year to impose an estate tax of a size equal to what was loosened in 2017 by President Trump and Republicans in Congress as part of a broad tax overhaul law. The goal, said the proposal’s author, is to create an overall tax burden for wealthy Californians equal to what existed before the federal tax break was created.

Under Senate Bill 378, the revenues from the tax would be earmarked for programs designed to combat income inequality.

“A California estate tax benefits low-income families by helping them build wealth and end the cycle of intergenerational poverty,” state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) said in a written statement. …

Click here to read the full article from the Los Angeles Times

LAUSD’s Punishing Parcel Tax Proposal

LAUSD school busAmerica’s most dysfunctional school district has stepped in it again. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), apparently coming to the shocking realization that there was no way they could pay for the horrible deal they just cut with the unions, has hurriedly placed on the ballot for June a new property tax that leaves no Los Angeles taxpayer unscathed.

That grassroots taxpayer interests would be opposed to the new levy is no surprise. But several business organizations, usually more tolerant of higher government spending — particularly for education — have had enough. Groups as diverse as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA) and the L.A. County Business Federation (BizFed) have all announced their opposition. None of these organizations is anti-education. In fact, all are pro-education as long as there is demonstrable improvement in the education product we are all paying for. On this score, LAUSD falls way short.

At the core of the broad-based opposition is the abject lack of long overdue reforms at LAUSD.

The list of reasons to oppose the tax is long.

First, taxpayers would be wasting millions of dollars on a special election.

The LAUSD Board voted unanimously to put the tax increase before the voters in a special election to be held on June 4, 2019. The cost of the special election is $12.5 million.

The tax would add hundreds of dollars to tax bills and rents and would do so in a convoluted manner. Rather than a flat tax on every parcel — which would be bad enough — the proposed tax increase would be 16 cents per square foot of building improvements on properties within the district.

That’s $160 for every 1,000 square feet. Property owners (and tenants) should be sitting down when they do the math on this one.

Seniors are ostensibly exempt from the tax, but not from rent increases.

To read the entire column, please click here.

The Vast Attempt to Undo the 2016 Election Has Failed

Robert MuellerWell, I am going to miss the full-bore SWAT-team raids at dawn against aging political factota like Roger Stone and Paul Manafort. It was really very courteous of CNN to have been parked outside the homes of those hapless victims so that television audiences all across the country could all be edified by these exhibitions of the coercive arm of state power in action. Mr. Mueller could just have had one of his 17 Obama-and-Hillary supporting prosecutors ring up the latest mark and ask him to pop down to headquarters. But that would not have been as dramatic, as expensive, or as cruel.

All good things come to an end, however, and yesterday, after 674 days, the investigation of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, G-Man extraordinaire, finally came to an end when he filed his long-awaited report with the Attorney General, William Barr.

As for what’s in the report, I know exactly as much as you, Rachel Maddow, Jim Acosta, Anderson Cooper, and their brethren in the Fourth Estate, that is, nothing at all.

Nor is it at all certain that we will ever know all that much that’s in the report. Since the law prohibits the dissemination of potentially damaging information about people who were investigated but not charged with a crime, there are bound to be large sections of the report that will remain forever under lock and key, especially now that James Comey and Andrew McCabe are not in the FBI to leak them.

All we really know at this point pertains not the the contents of the report per se but rather to the future action of the Special Counsel. There will be no more indictments.

How that announcement must have stung the NeverTrump fraternity. Here they were, huddled around Bill Kristol’s Twitter feed for the last two-plus years, praying, predicting, posturing that very soon now, any day in fact, Robert Mueller would descend into their midst, the deus ex machina through whose instrumentality they were to be delivered at long last from the nightmare of Donald Trump and his unacceptable record of robust economic growth, hundreds of constitutionally-minded judicial appointments, rising wages, historically low unemployment, a more rational and business-friendly regulatory environment, deeper ties with Israel, a revitalized military, and serious attention to our immigration crisis and the growing threat of an increasing militant China. Yes, it’s been a bad couple of years for the NeverTrumpers.

And even though Robert Mueller has hung up his spurs, their travails are not yet at an end. Mr Mueller indicted a slew of individuals and three Russian companies. He extracted seven guilty pleas from various people close, or formerly close, to President Trump, from the shyster Michael Cohen, at one time Trump’s personal lawyer, to Michael Flynn, briefly the president’s National Security Adviser before he was set up by the FBI and ruined financially by the-process-is-the-punishment legal fees.

The really splendid thing about Mueller’s indictments, though, is that not one of them pertains to the ostensible subject of his investigation, to wit: possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians to steal the 2016 election.

The question is, however, what comes next? Last May in these virtual pages, writing about the efforts of Devin Nunes, then Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, to get to the bottom of the skullduggery that instigated the Mueller investigation, I wrote that

‘What is being exposed is the biggest political scandal in the history of the United States: the effort by highly placed — exactly how highly placed we still do not know — members of one administration to mobilize the intelligence services and police power of the state to spy upon and destroy first the candidacy and then, when that didn’t work, the administration of a political rival.’

John Brennan, James Clapper, James Comey, Sally Yates, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, John McCain, Christopher Steele, Glenn Simpson, and others did their best to undo the results of the 2016 election. The Mueller investigation was their not-so-secret weapon upon which vast hopes rested.

It has, unfortunately for them, been increasingly clear for some time that Robert Mueller was coming up empty-handed, at least on the main task, which was to unseat the President. Hence the newly energized efforts by Rep. Jerrold Nadler and others to construct an ‘insurance policy’ in the form of impeachable offenses that might be brought against the president should, horrible dictu, Robert Mueller’s efforts at decapitation fail. As I wrote here a few weeks ago, ‘no one not named Bill Kristol now thinks that Mueller’s expensive, long-running entertainment will issue in any actionable charges against the president.’ Nevertheless, Nadler and his colleagues have opened a sweeping corruption probe in a desperate search for compromising tidbits from Donald Trump’s past business dealings that could plausibly form the basis for articles of impeachment.

It’s a fool’s errand. That chapter is closed. There may be a few backwards glances as the story moves forward, but moving forward it is, and not in a direction that the NeverTrump fraternity and the anti-Trump coven in the media and the government will like. Here we are just a day after Mueller pushed his report over the transom at Main Justice and we’re getting headlines like this: ‘As Russia collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges.” That story begins:

‘We now have strong evidence that retired British spy Christopher Steele began his quest in what ultimately became the infamous Russia collusion dossier with a series of conversations with top Justice Department official Bruce Ohr between December 2015 and February 2016 about securing evidence against Manafort.

‘We know the FBI set up shop in the U.S. embassy in Kiev to assist its Ukraine–Manafort inquiry . . . while using Steele as an informant at the start of its Russia probe. And we know Clinton’s campaign was using a law firm to pay an opposition research firm for Steele’s work in an effort to stop Trump from winning the presidency, at the same time Steele was aiding the FBI.’

Uh oh. And there is a lot more where this came from.

Schadenfreude is an unlovely emotion, one it behooves us to renounce, especially in the midst of Lent. But I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot of it abroad in the coming weeks and months as the beady eyes of the FBI swivel away from Donald Trump onto those who have spent the last two and a half years trying to destroy him.

This article was originally published by The Spectator

Who keeps buying California’s scarce water? Saudi Arabia

DroughtFour hours east of Los Angeles, in a drought-stricken area of a drought-afflicted state, is a small town called Blythe where alfalfa is king. More than half of the town’s 94,000 acres are bushy blue-green fields growing the crop.

Massive industrial storehouses line the southern end of town, packed with thousands upon thousands of stacks of alfalfa bales ready to be fed to dairy cows – but not cows in California’s Central Valley or Montana’s rangelands.

Instead, the alfalfa will be fed to cows in Saudi Arabia.

The storehouses belong to Fondomonte Farms, a subsidiary of the Saudi Arabia-based company Almarai – one of the largest food production companies in the world. The company sells milk, powdered milk and packaged items such as croissants, strudels and cupcakes in supermarkets and corner stores throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and in specialty grocers throughout the US.

Each month, Fondomonte Farms loads the alfalfa on to hulking metal shipping containers destined to arrive 24 days later at a massive port stationed on the Red Sea, just outside King Abdullah City in Saudi Arabia. …

Click here to read the full article from The Guardian

Threat of Sacramento Teacher Strike Spurs Criticism

Charter schoolTeachers in the Sacramento City Unified School District have authorized a strike, hoping to follow in the footsteps of teachers in Los Angeles Unified and Oakland Unified and secure substantial raises after a brief walkout.

But in key ways, the dynamics appear different. In Los Angeles and Oakland, the public and the local media were clearly sympathetic. Teachers had not had significant raises in years, and with the cost of housing going up arguably have lost purchasing power in recent years.

In Sacramento, however, the argument that the local school district simply can’t afford raises because of the huge long-term increase in pension costs and loss in state funding because of declining enrollment has resonated far more than similar warnings did in Los Angeles and Oakland. Coverage in regular and social media has repeatedly emphasized three points:

  • The Sacramento City Teachers Association secured an 11 percent raise for most members in September 2017 after threatening a strike. The Sacramento County Office of Education warned at the time that without significant cuts, the district faced fiscal disaster. But the local teachers union has rejected calls to reduce the cost of health benefits that the state Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) says are the most generous in the Sacramento region.
  • The warning from school officials that even without having to provide new raises, the district faces a $35 million hole in a nearly $400 million annual budget and is on track to run out of money in November. At that point, under state law, the district could seek an emergency loan from the state Legislature, but on the condition that it accept an appointed administrator to make key financial decisions going forward, taking away most of the school board’s and Superintendent Jorge Aguilar’s powers. The primary goal of hose decisions would be ensuring the district pays back the state loan.
  • The fact that the four other employee unions in Sacramento City Unified have sided with Aguilar’s warning that a raise could seal state control of the school district for a decade or more, as has happened in other California districts that have been unable to pay their bills. They don’t buy the teachers union claim that the district has failed to honor the contract it signed in 2017, thus making a strike necessary even though state law says such a strike would be illegal since the teachers are still under contract.

Writing Monday, Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton warned the teachers union that it risked disaster not just for the district and its 42,000 students but for a city that has built up civic momentum in recent years under Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

“Sacramento’s efforts to sell itself as a place for companies to invest would be damaged because a major selling point is good schools,” Breton wrote. “How many investment opportunities would be lost if Sacramento became known as the city whose schools were bankrupt?”

Aguilar arrived in 2017 at the district and is given good marks in most circles for his determination to avoid financial disaster. But a FCMAT audit released in December pointed out a vast array of problems in Sacramento City’s management that dated back many years. It cited incompetence and poor communications by the district’s business team and a failure to properly analyze budget data that indicated the headaches to come.

Union leaders say these management failings are not their responsibility and should not be held against their push for better pay.

The union’s hope that a strike authorization vote would lead to new concessions hasn’t happened so far. A union statement said the strike was coming “at a date likely in the next month.”

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Proposed Homeless Shelter in the Heart of San Francisco Sparks Community Outrage

sanfranciscohomelessThe prospect of a 225-bed homeless shelter on the Embarcadero, one of San Francisco’s most scenic and economically vital areas, took residents by surprise. Only eight days earlier, the proposal had been unveiled to turn what is now a parking lot — Seawall Lot 330 — into the largest homeless shelter of its type in the city. Neighbors arrived en masse at the Port Commission hearing to express their views. It was standing-room only, with people crowded on floors and in aisles, and spilling out the door.

After a brief presentation by Jeff Kositsky, executive director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, who touted the merits of the “Navigation Center” — as the new shelters are called — local homeowners, renters, and workers were granted two minutes each at the mic. All spoke passionately about their ties to the neighborhood and how the shelter would erode safety and quality of life. They worried that it would intensify drug use and other illegal activity and draw additional homeless people onto their property, leaving more needles and feces behind. Several described how their toddlers have already been poked by discarded syringes and had to take HIV tests. A father explained that his baby stroller was stolen as he was placing her in her car seat; a senior citizen recounted being chased by “a crazy person.”

Their testimonies were often agonizing. A few broke down as they pleaded with the commissioners to reject the proposal. Many emphasized that the waterfront is a jewel of the city. Placing an enormous homeless shelter in the center of it, in such close proximity to the prized Ferry Building, is bizarre. The location, they pointed out, is also a poor choice because few amenities like hospitals or grocery stores are nearby, and police response time in the area is slow. With no requirement for shelter residents to be sober, drug dealing, overdoses, and crime would proliferate.

Port Commissioners Kimberly Brandon, Willie Adams, and Doreen Woo Ho sat poker-faced. The Port of San Francisco owns Lot 330, and the proposal depends on their consent, which seems likely. Mayor London Breed supports the idea. The site itself was likely chosen for expediency, because the Port of San Francisco oversees the location, and commissioners are appointed by the mayor and approved by the Board of Supervisors.

“The community is feeling blindsided and shortchanged in regard to public process or a sincere desire for public input,” says Jamie Whitaker, who lives a block away from the site. “They cast us as millionaires who don’t care about the homeless, which is completely wrong. We just do not have faith in the city to provide the right kind of place for them and us. For example, there should be serious talk of building a mental hospital. It’s clear we have schizophrenic people in this city and they need help.”

After community members expressed their objections, a small contingent of homeless-rights activists spoke, trivializing their neighbors’ concerns as NIMBYism, and, predictably, accusing them of hating the poor. Most of the residents, however expressed compassion and praised the nearby Delancey Street Foundation, a self-supporting residential community for ex-convicts, addicts, and homeless people, because it provides vocational and social skills training in a drug and alcohol free setting. It’s a critical difference but the activists are deaf to nuance and unconcerned about anyone with homes, children, or businesses.

More crucial, though, is the attitude of city leaders and the media. The San Francisco Chronicle ran an editorial headlined, “San Francisco Neighbors are Wrong to Fight A New Homeless Facility,” dismissing the concerns of residents as “the magnetizing fear of a homeless influx,” and implying that elitism fueled their protest. But the Chronicle also admitted that those living on the streets are “often struggling with addiction or mental illness.” The proposed Navigation Centers are neither psychiatric hospitals nor substance-abuse facilities, both of which the city desperately needs.

Further, the Navigation Centers have not reduced homelessness. At last count, approximately 7,500 people were living on the city’s streets on any given night; shelters aren’t making a dent because so many homeless people are “service-resistant.” No one is required to go or stay, and many don’t. Tents and illegal activity mushroom around the shelters, despite so-called good-neighbor policies that are supposed to maintain a modicum of safety in the surrounding area.

The city, however, refuses to guarantee that there will be no uptick in crime and vagrancy. “We feel swindled,” says Wallace Lee, a retiree living in the area. “Something strange is going on. I used to be a lawyer and how this city works is confusing even to me. What I do know is that city officials don’t care about our concerns. I’ve been coordinating people to show up at these meetings. We will challenge the legislation. I’ve made this my full-time job, I stay up until midnight. I heard from a lot of people who want to continue to fight and I’m encouraged.”

And now Mayor Breed claims that she is “ready for battle over housing, homeless.” Her attitude is making enemies of tens of thousands of San Franciscans. An us-versus-them approach is counterproductive. At worst, she’ll get what she’s preparing for: a war with the people who care most profoundly about the city. The commission vote is expected on April 23.

Proposed legislation would redirect federal funds away from California high-speed rail

High speed rail constructionTwo House bills introduced this month by Republicans from California seek to redirect federal funds from the state’s high-speed rail project and use the money for other purposes. The Trump administration in February demanded funds back from the controversial project, which has been plagued by cost overruns and delays.

A bill introduced by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy would “repurpose” about $3.5 billion worth of federal funds for the rail system to water infrastructure projects to help the state cope with future droughts. A second piece of legislation, dubbed the “High-Speed Refund Act” and introduced by Rep. Doug LaMalfa, requires that any funds the Transportation Department provided to the high-speed rail development go instead to “important freight and highway projects.”

“The California high-speed rail project is a boondoggle that California and American taxpayers must move on from,” McCarthy said earlier this month. “Since its inception, the project’s costs have ballooned while oversight and accountability within the California High-Speed Rail Authority has been nonexistent.” …

Click here to read the full article from CNBC

Your One-Party Government at Work

legislatureHere’s what one-party government looks like in California: the voters make decisions at the ballot box and the majority party elected officials shrug and move forward to overturn those decisions not fearing a rebuke when up for re-election.

We’ve seen such moves twice in the last week initially on the death penalty then on rent control.

First, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on the death penalty despite voters defeating a measure to abolish the death penalty and, in fact, supporting a measure to speed up of the death penalty process.

Newsom figures in blue state California there will be no threat from Republicans when he runs for re-election.

No sooner had Newsom signed his executive order, a dozen legislators filed a proposed constitutional amendment to abolish the death penalty all together. Do any of them fear voters would take away their seats and give it to a Republican?

Doubtful that this one issue would flip a seat from blue to red. Perhaps there are one or two (sort-of) competitive districts that a single vote on the death penalty could have an impact but Democratic majorities are large enough and leadership has enough votes to give those one or two representatives in those districts a pass if the majority wants to push the amendment onto the ballot.

Repealing the Costa-Hawkins bill that restricts cities’ ability to create or expand rent control was defeated handily last November when it appeared on the ballot as Proposition 10. Less than six months later Democratic legislators to encourage and promote rent control and renter protections have introduced a slew of bills. Most notably among them is Assemblyman Richard Bloom’s AB 36 that would alter Costa-Hawkins and expand rent control opportunities for local governments.

One would think that the voice of the people on a measure debated and voted upon so recently would carry weight with legislators. But, apparently not when one party is so dominate that there is little consequence to face at the ballot box when they run for re-election.

The governor and legislators hope their actions will give the voters a second chance at considering these matters. No doubt, there are cases when particular issues came back to voters and the voters collectively expressed second thoughts, but that usually occurs over a longer period of time.

In the case of rent control, legislators are looking for answers to the state’s housing crisis, which is understandable. But in pure political terms, challenging a decisive vote of the people so soon can more comfortably be attempted when one-party rule dominates the state politics. That is the point here.

With the Republican brand damaged in this state, Democratic elected officials feel unrestrained in challenging the voters’ judgment.

ditor and co-publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Bill Blocking ‘Rent Gouging’ Draws Attention in Capitol

housingLess than six months after voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure that would have gutted a 1995 state law banning new types of rent control on all single-family homes and all rent control on apartments or condos built after the law passed, state lawmakers hoping to help Californians deal with the extreme cost of housing have introduced four new bills.

By far the most buzz is going to Assembly Bill 1842 by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, that is being framed as much different than Proposition 10, which lost by 18 percentage points in November. Chiu says his bill would prevent “rent gouging.”

Instead of the hard caps on rent increases seen in many local rent control ordinances adopted by California cities before 1995, Chiu’s measure would ban landlords from increasing rents each year by more than an as-yet-undetermined percentage more than inflation.

Oregon recently became the first state in the nation to adopt an “anti-gouging” rent law. The measure limits annual rent increases to inflation plus 7 percent for existing tenants in buildings that are at least 15 years old. Rents can go up by more than that when apartments are vacated, but the law contains additional protections meant to prevent landlords from seeking to evict tenants with solid records of timely rent payments solely so they can raise the rent.

UC Berkeley researchers concluded that if a similar law passed in California, 4.9 million homes, condos and apartments would be covered.

Some landlord and business groups didn’t oppose the bill as it moved through the Oregon Legislature – seeing it as preferable to the harder, smaller caps that some state lawmakers and activist groups preferred and that polls suggest are popular.

But stronger and more consistent opposition to Chiu’s bill looms in California. “We need to encourage new housing, not create policies that stifle its creation,” Tom Bannon, CEO of the California Apartment Association, told the Bay Area News Group. He said any state law capping rent increases would be counterproductive and ineffective at remedying the housing crisis.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has not taken a public stand on Chiu’s bill. Last month, however, he told lawmakers at his State of the State address, “Get me a good package on rent stability this year and I will sign it.”

Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, has also once again introduced a bill including more traditional rent control provisions. Assembly Bill 36 would allow local governments to mandate rent control on apartments and single-family homes as soon as they were 10 years old. Landlords with only a few units would not be covered.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, has also once again introduced a bill meant to make it significantly more difficult to evict tenants. Assembly Bill 1481 would set a statewide “Just Cause for Evictions” standard. Most cities already have such policies.

The least controversial measure affecting renters was proposed by Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland. Assembly Bill 724 would set up a state housing information clearinghouse that would list all available units, their monthly rents, how long units were vacant and how many tenants are evicted. Landlords would be required to submit this information on a timely basis.

Wicks thinks this would lead to more informed decisions on housing by the Legislature and the Newsom administration.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Gov. Newsom has a $500 million plan for homelessness

Tent of homeless person on 6th Street Bridge with Los Angeles skyline in the background. California, USA. (Photo By: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and a dozen other California mayors asked Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday to allocate more state money for homelessness than what the governor has proposed.

Newsom’s proposed budget includes $500 million for homelessness — the same amount that was included in the state’s 2018-19 budget. The mayors did not say how much more money they’re requesting.

“We deliberately did not put a number in there because it’s a different relationship with this governor. He’s made housing a priority,” said Steinberg, who chairs the Big City Mayors group that met with Newsom at the Capitol. “He’s already said, and it’s backed up by his budget, that housing and homelessness is a priority. Of course we want to bump the number up … but we’re going to do it with him.”

Newsom did not commit to an additional amount of money, Steinberg said. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee