New Tax Proposals Hurt the Middle-Class

TaxesNo one disputes that California has a big budget surplus. According to the Office of the Legislative Analyst, California has budget reserves in excess of $18 billion. Our budget reserves exceed the entire state budget of eighteen other states.

One would think that the funds available for discretionary spending would chill any appetite for higher taxes. But this is California.

Despite the highest income tax rate, the highest state sales tax rate and the second highest gas tax, both our newly elected governor and our extremely progressive legislature desire to impose yet even higher taxes.

The most surprising thing about two of the new tax proposals is that they hurt the very groups the majority party claims that it is trying to help.

During his tenure as governor, Jerry Brown succeeded in shepherding through several tax hikes. However, he was unsuccessful in pushing a new 911 surcharge and a precedent-setting tax on water.

But as is common in California, new tax proposals never really die and these two have been resurrected in Gov. Newsom’s proposed budget.

To read the entire column, please click here.

California Sen. Kamala Harris announces 2020 presidential bid

Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris urges funds for tracking prescription drugsIn 2008, Barack Obama, a freshman Democratic senator, became the first African-American man elected president of the United States. A decade later, another first-term Democrat from the Senate is making a bid for the White House, this time to become the first African-American woman to lead the nation.

Sen. Kamala Harris of California announced Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that she is running to unseat President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

“I feel a sense of responsibility to stand up for who we are,” Harris said.

Harris, 54, plans to launch her campaign at a rally Sunday in Oakland, California, where she was born and raised. In 2017, Harris, whose mother emigrated to the USA from India, became the first South Asian-American, and the second African-American female, senator in history, according to her biography on her Senate page.

“The future of our country depends on you and millions of others lifting our voices to fight for our American values. That’s why I’m running for president of the United States,” Harris says in a campaign video released on social media. …

Click here to read the full article from USA Today

L.A. Teachers Strike To Preserve Their Ruinous Monopoly

Teachers unionLast week, 31,000 Los Angeles Unified School District teachers represented by the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) union went on strike for the first time in 30 years.

Substitute teachers and administrators make up a skeleton crew that is keeping schools open, and about one-third of the 640,000 district students are attending class.

The strike is exacting a tremendous toll on parents, many of whom are poor and who must decide whether to take time off of work to care for their children or send their children to grossly understaffed schools.

The issues underlying the strike highlight the challenges facing public school administration, teacher unions and school funding, and shows what must change if U.S. public schools are to increase student achievement.

The strike is about teacher pay, classroom size and increasing the number of school support staff, including counselors, librarians and nurses. But at a deeper level, the strike is really about suppressing the state’s charter schools, which are the major competition facing traditional schools.

Charter schools, which grew out of interest in having public alternatives to traditional schools, began in 1992 and now enroll over 600,000 students within California. Charters have become increasingly popular, and their number has doubled over the last decade. …

Click here to read the full article from The Hill

Are Water Rights Sufficient to Protect Water Users?

Drought water crops“The judiciary is the safeguard of our liberty and of our property under the Constitution,” said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes in Elimra, New York in 1907.

That quote exemplifies the reason that five irrigation districts on tributaries to the San Joaquin River as well as the city of San Francisco filed lawsuits recently against the State Water Resources Control Board. They are defending their water rights. 

In December, ahead of the Water Board hearing, Governor Brown and Governor-elect Newsom both asked the Water Board to hold off and let the districts, the State, and the federal government finalize the voluntary agreements. But that didn’t happen and the problem is now in Governor Newsom’s lap as his Water Board will likely have to turn its attention to defending its decision in court.

“We file suit not because we prefer conflict over collaboration. On the contrary, we continue to encourage and participate in settlement discussions on our rivers, and support science on the Stanislaus. But we also have an indisputable responsibility to reserve our legal rights and protect our ag and urban customers,” said Peter Rietkerk, General Manager of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District (SSJID).

Unfortunately, sometimes, the courts are your only recourse.

The State Water Board’s decision on December 12, 2018 doubles the amount of water the State will take away from farms growing food, the parks and sporting fields where our children play, and even the water we drink from our taps at home and bubbling out of drinking fountains at schools. And if flow requirements can be imposed on the San Joaquin River they can be imposed anywhere.

The sad thing is there was an alternative available, but the Board has so far rejected it. Farmers in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, irrigation districts, the Department of Water Resources, Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Bureau of Reclamation, worked collaboratively at the behest of both Governors Brown and Newsom, to propose a voluntary plan designed to quickly accomplish more for fish and the environment without the drastic harm water users expect from the water cuts.

Under these proposals farms and cities would still give up billions of gallons of water to the river during times that science tells us that it’s needed, as well as implement projects that improve habitat for fish, reduce predators and enhance ecosystems far beyond what the Board’s water-only plan could achieve. The voluntary proposals, expected to produce more salmon than the plan adopted by the State Water Board with less harm to the economy, would have been a win for all – farms, fish and folks.

“Our voluntary agreement will ensure water security and reliability, includes environmental improvements, enhances fish populations far beyond what is projected in the state’s current plan and most importantly, guarantees timely implementation,” said Modesto Irrigation District Board Vice President John Mensinger. “Their (the Board’s) plan threatens not only Central Valley ag and urban water users, but also the water supply of more than two million people living in the Bay Area.”

There is still an opportunity for the Water Board to adopt a voluntary path toward ecosystem restoration and faster solutions to restore dwindling salmon populations. The question is, will they do it or will former Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes words be put to the test again?

Executive Director, California Farm Water Coalition.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Civil Rights Attorneys Sue over Greenhouse Gas Regulations that Affect Housing

urban-housing-sprawl-366c0In what may signal the beginning of the end of alarmism over climate change, a group of civil rights activists is suing the California Air Resources Board. The issue is CARB’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by effectively limiting new housing construction. The lawsuit says this is driving up the cost of housing, worsening poverty and particularly victimizing minority communities.

The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32), signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, committed California to a goal of reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions. The California Air Resources Board was required by AB 32 to write “scoping” plans every five years detailing how the specified GHG reduction targets would be met.

The 2017 scoping plan includes “guidelines” for new housing that the lawsuit calls “staggering, unlawful and racist.”

The group that is suing is called The Two Hundred. It’s a Bay Area organization made up of longtime civil rights advocates who have spent decades fighting against discrimination. They say CARB’s new GHG housing provisions have a “disparate effect on minority communities,” which is illegal and unconstitutional.

CARB’s provisions “increase the cost and litigation risks of building housing,” intentionally worsen traffic congestion and raise fuel and electricity costs, the activists contend.

The lawsuit says CARB’s scoping plan calls for new housing in “California’s existing communities (which comprise 4 percent of California’s lands).” The idea is to reduce “vehicle miles traveled” by limiting sprawl. But the civil rights activists say this is leading to resegregation of California’s urban areas as older affordable housing is demolished to make way for high-density housing that is unaffordable.

A better solution, the group says, is to build homes on land that is outside the current urban boundaries, but CARB’s 2017 scoping plan is preventing that. Its “guidelines” are helping to block new housing developments.

CARB tried unsuccessfully to get the lawsuit thrown out. Fresno County Superior Court Judge Jane Cardoza issued an order in October allowing it to go forward.

Unless there’s a settlement, the courts will decide whether “California’s climate change policies, and specifically those policies that increase the cost and delay or reduce the availability of housing, that increase the cost of transportation fuels and intentionally worsen highway congestion to lengthen commute times, and further increase electricity costs, have caused and will cause unconstitutional and unlawful disparate impacts to California’s minority populations.”

Not to mention their impact on everybody else.

There are four “GHG Housing Measures” at issue. They attempt to limit “vehicle miles traveled,” set a “net zero” GHG standard for new housing developments and add a “CO2 per capita” measurement to local “climate action plans.” There’s also a set of policies to encourage “vibrant communities.”

CARB says these “GHG Housing Measures” are only “guidelines,” but the lawsuit calls them “unlawful underground regulations” that were imposed without a formal rulemaking process.

Something else that CARB skipped, the lawsuit charges, is the legally required economic analysis that “accounts for the cost of these measures on today’s Californians.”

Yes, civil rights activists are demanding that climate regulations meet the law’s required standard of cost-effectiveness.

But California’s climate regulations can’t meet any standard of cost-effectiveness.

As the lawsuit explains it, “California’s reputation as a global climate leader is built on the state’s dual claims of substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously enjoying a thriving economy. Neither claim is true.”

The statewide economic growth numbers are misleading, the lawsuit says, because the averages are boosted by capital gains in the wealthy Bay Area tech sector, while most of the state struggles with low wages and high costs. And while Californians were paying too much for housing, fuel and electricity in order to achieve greenhouse gas reductions, other states actually had greater GHG reductions without doing anything.

“California’s climate policies guarantee that housing, transportation and electricity prices will continue to rise while ‘gateway’ jobs to the middle class for those without college degrees, such as manufacturing and logistics, will continue to locate in other states,” the lawsuit states.

This is something new in California. Civil rights activists are attempting to hold climate activists accountable for worsening the housing crisis and increasing poverty.

Maybe it’s the political climate that’s changing.

olumnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Why Gov. Newsom Wants to Pay for the Health Care of Illegal Immigrants

Gavin NewsomCalifornia’s new governor, Gavin Newsom, wants it understood that he’s not declaring war on Big Pharma, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.

Yes, he wants to give Medi-Cal more power to negotiate drug prices and, yes, he wants to make those prices significantly lower.

But Newsom was surprisingly candid when we spoke Wednesday about his healthcare agenda.

He told me he gained a whole new appreciation for the value that drug companies can bring to people’s lives while seeing his father grapple with dementia for months. William Newsom, a retired state appellate court justice, died last week at age 84.

“I don’t see Pharma as the enemy,” Newsom said. “I’m not saying anyone’s evil.”

He paused, shifting gears back into politician mode. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times

Are LAUSD Teachers Underpaid, or Does it Cost Too Much to Live in California?

Teachers in the nation's second-largest school district will go on strike as soon as Jan. 10 if there's no settlement of its long-running contract dispute, union leaders said Wednesday, Dec. 19. The announcement by United Teachers Los Angeles threatens the first strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District in nearly 30 years and follows about 20 months of negotiations. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) ORG XMIT: CADD303

In California, public sector unions pretty much run the state government. Government unions collect and spend over $800 million per year in California. There is no special interest in California both willing and able to mount a sustained challenge to public sector union power. They simply have too much money, too many people on their payroll, too many politicians they can make or break, and too much support from a biased and naive media.

The teachers strike in Los Angeles Unified School District cannot be fully appreciated outside of this overall context: Public sector unions are the most powerful political actor in California, at the state level, in the counties and cities, and on most school boards, certainly including the Los Angeles Unified School District. With all this control and influence, have these unions created the conditions that feed their current grievances?

The grievances leading the United Teachers of Los Angeles to strike center around salary, class sizes, and charter schools. But when the cost of benefits are taken into account, it is hard to argue that LAUSD teachers are underpaid.

According to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the median salary of a LAUSD teacher is $75,000, but that’s just base pay. A statement by LAUSDin response to a 2014 report on LAUSD salaries challenged the $75,000 figure, claiming it was only around $70,000. They then acknowledged, however, that the district paid $16,432 for each employee’s healthcare in 2013-14, and paid 13.92 percent of each teachers salary to cover pension contributions, workers comp, and Medicare. That came up to $96,176 per year.

The Cost of Benefits is Breaking Education Budgets

This average total pay of nearly $100K per year back in 2013-14 is certainly higher today – even if salaries were not raised, payments for retirement benefits have grown. For their 35,000 employees, LAUSD now carries an unfunded pension liability of $6.8 billion, and their OBEB unfunded liability (OPEB stands for “other post employment benefits,” primarily retirement health insurance) has now reached a staggering $14.9 billion. CalSTRS, the pension system that collects and funds pension benefits for most LAUSD employees, receives funds directly from the state that, in a complete accounting, need to also count towards their total compensation. And CalSTRS, as of June 30, 2017 (the next update, through 6/30/2018, will be available May 2019), was only 62 percent fundedSixty-two percent!

The reason to belabor these unfunded retirement benefits is to make it very clear: LAUSD paying an amount equivalent to 13.92 percent of each employees salary into the pension funds isn’t enough. What LAUSD teachers have been promised in terms of retirement pensions and health insurance benefits requires pre-funding far in excess of 13.92 percent. To accurately estimate how much they really make, you have to add the true amount necessary to pay for these pensions and OPEB. This real total compensation average is well over $100K per year.

To put LAUSD teacher compensation in even more accurate context, consider how many days per year they actually work. This isn’t to dispute or disparage the long hours many (but not all) teachers put in. A conscientious teacher’s work day doesn’t begin when the students arrive in the classroom, or end when they leave. They prepare lesson plans and grade homework, and many stay after regular school hours to assist individual students or coordinate extracurricular activities. But teachers working for LAUSD only work 182 days per year. The average private sector professional, who also tends to put in long hours, assuming four weeks of either vacation or holidays, works 240 days per year – 32 percent more. The value of all this time off is incalculable, but simply normalizing pay for a 182 day year to a 240 day year yields an average annual pay of not $100K, but $132K. Taking into account the true cost of pensions and retirement healthcare benefits, much more than $132K.

This is what the LAUSD teachers union considers inadequate. If that figure appears concocted, just become an independent contractor. Suddenly the value of employer paid benefits becomes real, because you have to pay for them yourself.

California’s Ridiculously High Cost-of-Living

If a base salary of over $70,000 per year, plus benefits (far more time off each year, pensions far better than Social Security, and excellent health insurance) worth nearly as much, isn’t enough for someone to financially survive in Los Angeles, maybe the union should examine the role it played, along with other public sector unions, in raising the cost-of-living in California.

Where was the California Teachers Association when restrictive laws such as CEQAAB 32SB 375 were passed, making housing unaffordable by restricting supply? What was the California Teachers Association stance on health coverage for undocumented immigrants, or sanctuary state laws? What did they expect, if laws were passed to make California a magnet for the world’s poor? Don’t they see the connection between 2.6 million undocumented immigrants living in California, and a housing shortage, or crowded classrooms? Don’t they see the connection between this migration of largely destitute immigrants who don’t speak English, and the burgeoning costs to LAUSD to provide special instruction and care to these students?

From a moral standpoint, how, exactly, does it make the world a better place, when for every high-needs immigrant student entering LAUSD schools, there are ten thousand high-needs children left behind in the countries they came from, as well as less resources for high-needs children whose parents have lived in California for generations?

When you make it nearly impossible to build anything in California, from housing to energy and water infrastructure, and at the same time invite the world to move in, you create an unaffordable state. When California’s state legislature passed laws creating this situation, what was the position of California Teachers Association? Need we ask?

The Union War Against Education Reform

Charter schools, another primary grievance of the UTLA, is one of the few areas where politicians in California’s state legislature – nearly all of them Democrats by now – occasionally stand up to the teachers unions. But why are charter schools so popular? Could it be that the union controlled traditional public schools are failing students, making charter schools a popular option for parents who want their children to have a better chance at a good education?

Maybe if traditional public schools weren’t held back by union work rules, they would deliver better educational results. The disappointing result in the 2014 Vergara vs. California case provides an example. The plaintiffs sued to modify three work rules, (1) a longer period before granting tenure, (2) changing layoff criteria from seniority to merit, and (3) streamlined dismissal policies for incompetent teachers. These plaintiffs argued the existing work rules had a disproportionate negative impact on minority communities, and proved it – view the closing arguments by the plaintiff’s attorney in this case to see for yourself. But California’s State Supreme Court did not agree, and California’s public schools continue to suffer as a result.

But instead of embracing reforms such as proposed in the Vergara case, which might reduce the demand by parents for charter schools, the teachers union is trying to unionize charter schools. And instead of agreeing to benefits reform – such as contributing more to the costs for their health insurance and retirement pensions – the teachers union has gone on strike.

Financial reality will eventually compel financial reform at LAUSD. But no amount of money will improve the quality of LAUSD’s K-12 education, if union work rules aren’t changed. The saddest thing in this whole imbroglio is the fate of the excellent teacher, who works hard and successfully instructs and inspires their students. Those teachers are not overpaid at all. But the system does not nurture such excellence. How on earth did it come to this, that unions would take over public education, along with virtually every other state and local government agency in California?

California Businessowners Take the Homelessness Crisis to Court

Homeless hungry foodLast month, the downtown San Diego franchise of the Burgerim restaurant chain closed its doors, contending that chaotic conditions caused by large numbers of homeless people in and around nearby Horton Plaza Park had driven customers away and made it impossible to operate, even during the Christmas season. The shuttering of the Burgerim location, which had been open for little over a year, was a warning signal to the San Diego business community—and to city hall, too. Burgerim would not be leaving quietly. The franchisee, backed by parent company Burgerim USA, intended to sue in state court, claiming that neither its landlord nor the City of San Diego had lived up to their responsibilities to keep the city’s historic Gaslamp Quarter clean and suitable for business.

Burgerim’s legal action will be of special interest to members of the multi-billion-dollar homelessness industry nationwide. (In Seattle alone, $1 billion a year gets spent on the city’s 11,500 homeless people). San Diego County’s homeless number about 8,500, which means this beautiful Southern Californian region has the nation’s fourth-largest homeless population (after New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle), a rank it has held for several years. The San Jose area is fifth.

Despite the many billions spent on homelessness, however, the problem is getting worse, especially in California. Along with homeless encampments come deadly outbreaks of hepatis A, typhus, and other communicable diseases, driven by attending drug addiction. Some parts of the city are littered with syringes. A desperate San Diego now steam-cleans its streets and sidewalks. Even in expensive neighborhoods, unguarded greenery is often strewn with trash and toilet paper, revealing where homeless people have spent the night. The city tries to keep the squalor at bay with improved shelter programs. It even plans to provide 500 bins, where the homeless can stash their belongings, but that effort alone will cost the city about $2 million a year in overtime for the cops who guard the lockers. Advocates suggest that these overtime millions could be better spent placing hundreds of homeless in their own studio apartments.

Will Burgerim’s lawsuit have any effect on this complex, expensive, and apparently intractable social issue? Can retail and restaurant tenants really use the courts to force landlords and municipal governments to protect them against a problem that no one seems able to solve?

Absolutely, says Niv Davidovich, a lawyer for Burgerim. “There is ample case law that will allow the Burgerim lawsuit to move forward,” he maintains. “Landlords and the city are responsible for reasonably maintaining the common areas of any commercial property. If they fail to do so, they are violating the lease terms, violating their covenant of good faith and fair dealing with the tenant, which is implied into the lease by operation of law, and are acting negligently, thus subjecting themselves to liability both in tort and contract.”

Whatever the fate of Burgerim’s lawsuit, it’s difficult to foresee how legal action will affect the homelessness crisis long-term. If held liable for problems caused by people over whom they have no control, private landlords at least have the option of going out of business—a nightmare scenario that has already destroyed large sections of urban America. But what about municipal government? Can the law force cities to end or control homelessness?

For decades it’s been an open secret that “homeless” is, for the most part, a euphemism for chronic afflictions that have proven very difficult to treat. The overwhelming majority of homeless people end up on the streets either because they are mentally ill, or because they engage in self-destructive behaviors, or because they live in a cruelly compassionate “non-judgmental” society that no longer grants itself the moral authority to distinguish between illness and health.

In the mid-1980s, when I worked in New York’s City Hall, Mayor Ed Koch commissioned a detailed study of the city’s single homeless men. I no longer have the report, but I recall its main conclusions, which divided this population into five main groups. A large segment of homeless men were clinically diagnosed as seriously mentally ill; occasionally dangerous, they were for the most part frightened, confused, and unable to cope with life. A smaller group suffered from severe personality disorders. They weren’t necessarily sick, but they had a hard time interacting with others. If they held a job, they would fight with the boss; get them an apartment, and they would fight with the landlord. Another 20 percent of the persistently homeless were crippled by substance abuse (though men in all five groups used drugs and alcohol to some extent). Hardcore slackers—what we used to call “bums”—made up about 15 percent of the total. They were generally healthy, and often had job skills, but preferred not to be tied down to regular jobs. They might work or panhandle long enough to buy a bus ticket to Florida or San Diego, but wherever they went, they would soon wind up back on the streets.

The remaining segment—roughly 10 percent of the homeless—were simply down on their luck. They had lost a job, they had been burned out of their apartment building, or they had seen a marriage break up. They needed a helping hand to get back on their feet. Find them a job, and they would keep it. Get them an apartment, and they would take care of it, and pay the rent. The report concluded that only this last 10 percent of the homeless population could be helped in any meaningful way, an observation that sheds light on why, despite billions in spending and hundreds of social programs, homelessness and the chaos it creates has reached the crisis point in cities and states across the country.

Will Gavin Newsom’s Drug Pricing Plan Save You Money?

Pills health careGov. Gavin Newson wants to deliver lower drug prices by harnessing the full weight of the state against the pharmaceutical industry, but it’s unclear whether his team can get a better deal without giving up something Californians want.

In his first act as governor, Newsom issued an executive order creating the largest single purchaser of prescription drugs in the country.

It combines negotiations for some 13 million people in government-administered plans like Medi-Cal and eventually invites other organizations to join. His argument centers on the idea that a bigger organization can extract a better price from pharmaceutical companies.

“We believe this will significantly reduce costs,” he said at a press conference last week, adding that he’d ask other governors if they want to participate. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

Exporting California’s Redistricting Change

VotedIt is an old adage that California is a bellwether for the nation. Policy changes that happen here often flow eastward from tax revolts to climate strategies. Newly elected governor Gavin Newsom boldly predicted that recent California policies are the future for the rest of the country. Time will tell, but the idea that California political ideas will move the rest of the country is being tested currently, led by another of the Golden State’s governors.

Last week, former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger hosted a Terminate Gerrymandering Summit at his USC Schwarzenegger Institute. On hand were leaders of four states, Michigan, Utah, Colorado, and Missouri, that saw successful ballot propositions approved in recent elections to take the power of drawing districts from legislators and give it to independent committees.

Calling the art of Gerrymandering (the word comes from an 1812 Massachusetts state senate district drawing signed by Governor Gerry with one district shaped like a salamander) a “200-year old scam,” Schwarzenegger celebrated the electoral victories, which he said, now means that one-third of congressional districts nationally are no longer drawn by politicians.

The exuberant former governor went a bit overboard in declaring that redistricting is now “hip.” However, it’s not a stretch to understand that when people listen to arguments about politicians choosing their own voters under Gerrymandering that the fairness issue weighs heavily on the side of change.

Both political parties have practiced the art of Gerrymandering—drawing districts that would guarantee safe party seats.

There are efforts in Texas and North Carolina to undo Republican Gerrymanders and in Maryland to end a Democratic Gerrymander.

The success of the Utah proposition in a solid Republican state was built on campaign material quoting Republicans Ronald Reagan and Schwarzenegger on the undemocratic aspects of Gerrymandering.

Schwarzenegger was a principal supporter of California’s Proposition 11 in 2008 to draw electoral boundaries for state assembly and senate districts. That was followed two years later by Proposition 20, filed by Charles Munger, Jr., to add the task of redistricting congressional seats to the newly created commission’s responsibilities.

Schwarzenegger reminisced about leaders of Democratic and Republican caucuses fighting fiercely when he was governor over some policy issue only to call him later and say they were united in their opposition to his effort to support the initiative to end Gerrymandering. He said then (and now) Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi spearheaded an effort that supplied millions of dollars to defeat the measure.

Kathay Feng of Common Cause, one of the lead organizations attempting to end Gerrymandering around the nation, recalled once receiving a call from a San Francisco legislator (unidentified but a Democrat, of course—San Francisco) demanding that no more Asian voters be put in her district.

Schwarzenegger intends to continue the effort to push his California message nationally during the 2020 elections. He set a goal that two-thirds or more of the congressional districts drawn after the 2020 census will be in the hands of independent commissioners.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily