Newsom Budget Plan – California’s Spend-a-Thon Begins

Gov. Gavin Newsom submitted his budget Friday, outlining how he wants the state to spend a record $227.2 billion in the 2021-2022 fiscal year. And spend California will, as usual on items in no way connected to government’s limited role in our lives.

In addition to the usual largess customarily handed out to the Big 3 of any California budget – schools; health and human services; and prisons, which drain taxpayers through a hungry corrections officers union – conspicuous in the governor’s spending list is a $1.5 billion program to fund the state’s conversion to a zero-emissions vehicle fleet. Newsom calls it an “investment” that will “accelerate our state’s progress toward” “California’s historic commitment to requiring sales of all new passenger vehicles to be zero-emission by 2035.”

Newsom’s ZEV program is neither an “investment” – investment suggests there will be a return on capital – nor is it “California’s historic commitment” – it’s supplemental to Newsom’s October order, which outlawed the sale of new gasoline- and diesel-powered cars after 2034. This is personal with him. The entire scheme has the look of becoming the object of the governor’s affection the same way Jerry Brown adopted the high-speed rail as an ego project.

A particularly revealing clue is that the program is part of Newsom’s planned $4.5 billion in spending for the “business and workforce recovery elements” of his budget, even though it has nothing at all to link it to an economic rebound. It is not unlike Assemblyman Phil Ting’s “climate crisis investment plan.” It’s political lust disguised as a component of economic recovery by the Assembly Budget Committee chairman, who’s shown a particular affinity for electric vehicles.

Newsom’s growing obsession with ZEVs drove him to not only bypass the legislative process when he issued the executive order, but to ignore the science, as well. Because California produces only about one percent of worldwide man-made greenhouse gas emissions, it can do nothing to affect the global climate. The needle wouldn’t move one way or the other if California doubled its greenhouse gas production overnight or if it dropped it to zero.

Fixations have a way of blinding us to consequences and this is true of the governor’s ZEV preoccupation. Though his proposal includes “support for low-income Californians to purchase cleaner vehicles,” the poorest will still suffer the most painful financial hit.

“Zero-emissions vehicle subsidies have always been giveaways to the wealthy,” says PRI Senior Fellow Wayne Winegarden, who has explained how the rush to decarbonize automobiles has produced “Costly Subsidies for the Rich.”

Any form of government support for purchasing cleaner vehicles is less than it appears to be. Subsidies granted to low-income buyers will be offset by “slower economic growth,” which isn’t sufficiently addressed in the budget, says Winegarden, as well as the “higher costs that result from doubling down on the California approach to lowering greenhouse gas emissions.”

Newsom is also proposing to use taxpayers’ dollars to “support” the purchases of “clean trucks, buses and off-road freight equipment,” as well as “construction of electric charging and hydrogen fueling stations necessary to accelerate zero-emission vehicle adoption.” Was he even aware while dreaming up these goals that the world’s largest producer of electric cars, Tesla, was, in effect, run out of the state (along with billions in tax revenues) by lawmakers’ hostile-to-business policies?

With a $15 billion surplus – or what is being called a $34 billion “budget resiliency,” which includes reserves – available to dedicate to his recovery plans, Newsom also wants to spend nearly $800 million on an initiative centered around job creation and retention; regional development; and small businesses and climate innovation. That last item should have been labeled “boondoggle,” because that is exactly what it will be, “a waste of both time and money” that is marked by “extraneous policy or political motivations.”

There’s no denying that Californians need work, though. The jobless rate is 8.2 percent, still far higher than the 5.5 percent registered in March, the month the pandemic lockdowns began, and more than double the 3.9 percent rate of November 2019. But a jobs program is never the answer to a high unemployment rate. A growing economy is. Lower taxes and deregulation will accelerate expansion.

The tax credits included in the initiative will help, as will $71 million worth of waived business fees. But a smoother, straighter path would be to permanently cut taxes across the board. That’s not in Newsom’s budget, though. Rational tax policy is found only outside of California’s state lines.

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.

Gov. Newsom Lifts California’s COVID-19 Stay-At-Home Orders

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday lifted the regional stay-at-home orders across the state — allowing restaurants to resume outdoor dining amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re seeing a flattening of the curve. Everything that should be up is up, everything that should be down is down,” Newsom said at the press conference.

He said the hard-hit Golden State is “not out of the woods,” but its models suggest that it has overcome the most “challenging” part of the latest wave.

“We are in a position — projecting four weeks forward with a significant decline in the case rates, positivity rates — we are anticipating still more decline in hospitalizations and more declines in ICUs, and that’s why we’re lifting that stay-at-home order effective immediately today,” he said. …

Click here to read the full article from the NY Post

Case For A Newsom Recall Continues To Grow

After some fits and starts, the recall effort against Gov. Gavin Newsom appears to be gaining traction. Proponents say they have collected over 1 million signatures.

Media reports of a half-million dollar donation to the effort plus rumors of even more forthcoming are getting the attention of California’s political establishment. If the required 1.5 million valid signatures are submitted before the mid-March deadline and subsequently verified, a special election will be held and California voters will soon thereafter vote on the recall.

That is, unless the California Legislature pulls another fast one as it did in 2017, passing a last-minute change to the rules or the election calendar.

Any such attempt would be extremely unwise, with public confidence in government already low.

On the ballot, the recall question would be accompanied by a separate question of who would replace the incumbent if the recall passed. (In the October 2003 recall election of Gov. Gray Davis, a total of 135 candidates were on the ballot as replacement candidates, including pornographer Larry Flynt and former TV child star Gary Coleman).

Recalls are not easy and are fraught with many unknowns. They are expensive and the complicated politics of multiple replacement candidates, each seeking a plurality of votes, makes the state’s “jungle” primaries seem simple by comparison.

Polling is unreliable in such an environment, and there’s a Wild West atmosphere to the process.  Nonetheless, recalls are a legitimate political remedy when the public loses confidence in an elected official. At least a million Californians have reached that point.

To read the entire column, please click here.

California Lifting Stay-At-Home Orders Monday

California will lift regional stay-at-home orders across the entire state on Monday, sources have told The Chronicle.

A source close to the governor’s office confirmed that the state plans to end the stay-at-home order on Monday morning, moving counties back into the reopening framework based on colored tiers. It will no longer be tied strictly to the number of beds that are available in intensive care units.

Now, with the post-holidays surge lessening, ICU availability in the regions that remained under the stay-at-home order as of Sunday — including the Bay Area and Southern California — are projected to rise above the 15% threshold that triggered the lockdown measures. This is why the Newsom administration has decided to lift the restrictions, according to the source. …

Click here to read the full article from the SF Chronicle.

Environmentalists Increase Influence on Local Governments

In less than a year, three Orange County cities will be in the utility business. Fullerton, Costa Mesa, and Irvine have created a joint powers authority to purchase and distribute electricity to households and businesses in those cities, under what’s known as “community choice aggregation.”

It’s difficult to imagine how this model will result in lower electricity bills, although that’s one of the ways this program was sold to local elected officials who approved the plan. Southern California Edison will still be the primary supplier of electricity and will still manage the distribution. Since SCE only generates 19 percent of the power it distributes to customers, and purchases the other 89 percent, the costs to customers will only go down if this new joint powers authority outperforms SCE in their procurement efforts enough to offset the cost of the new bureaucracy.

As reported by the Orange County Register, “Unbound by long-term contracts many utilities hold, they can adjust the mix to take advantage of lower costs or to favor renewable energy — or both. Additionally, they can be more aggressive than private utilities in encouraging and developing clean local power generation and battery storage.” But which is it? Saving money? Or going green?

The problem with newly formed independent, city owned utilities being “more aggressive than private utilities” in developing clean renewable sources of energy is the existing state mandates are already the most aggressive in the nation, if not the world. California has mandated that public utilities deliver 100 percent carbon-free power by 2045. And SCE’s well on its way. In their 2019 Annual Report they claim they already deliver 48 percent carbon-free power to their customers.

There is a cost for “carbon-free power.” According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, California’s residential rates for electricity in October 2020 were 20.8 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to a national average of 13.6 cents per kilowatt-hour. In Texas, residents only pay 11.9 cents/KWh, in Utah, 10.3 cents/KWh. Even progressive Oregon manages to keep rates lower than the national average, at 11.37/KWh.

By now most rational observers realize that even if global warming is caused by anthropogenic CO2 emissions, the U.S. is only responsible for 15 percent of that, and California’s share is less than 2 percent. Readers of the latest BP Statistical Review of World Energy know that for everyone on earth to consume half as much energy per capita as Americans, global energy production would have to more than double, and that renewables in 2020 accounted for less than 4 percent of all global energy production. This is why China, India, and every other rising economy in the world is developing additional sources of gas, oil and coal as fast as they can, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

So why are California’s legislators hell-bent on developing renewables?

The most charitable answer to this question is their desire to make California an example of environmental sustainability for the world to follow, and a belief that innovations pioneered in California will be emulated worldwide, delivering fantastic profits to Californian entrepreneurs at the same time as the planet is saved.

The problem with this noble explanation is that to accomplish these high minded objectives, California has been turned into an expensive laboratory, with 40 million captive subjects. While policies that elevate costs for electricity benefit public utilities and tech entrepreneurs, millions of ordinary Californians are driven into poverty. And this ideal, to make California a green beacon for humanity, finds expensive expression in far more than just electricity.

The green lobby in California has not only made electricity barely affordable for low and middle income households, but they have declared war on natural gas. In a state where electricity is four times as expensive as natural gas on an energy-equivalent basis, and in a nation where natural gas has never been as cheap or abundant as it is today, the movement to ban natural gas quietly gathers momentum.

As of November 2020, thirty-nine California cities have already enacted new ordinances limiting natural gas in new construction. The California Energy Commission is considering enacting a statewide ban effective in 2022. With a mandate already in place that requires new vehicle sales to be all-electric by 2035, it is clear that policymakers are determined to turn California into an all-electric, carbon-free state before anyone else, no matter what the cost.

This goal of a carbon-free society in California is also evident in housing policies, based on the theory that the denser California’s urban areas become, the less need for energy to be spent on transportation. While this theory rests on dubious foundations, it is already the primary rationale for countless local and state restrictions on development, which in turn is the primary reason housing is unaffordable in California.

Open land along freeway corridors is plentiful in California, but when attempts to develop it are mired in prohibitively expensive regulations and endless litigation, the only logical place to increase housing stock is within existing cities. The efforts in Orange County by local activists to advocate for this are typical. One such activist organization, People for Housing, announces on their website “Cities that are now on a new path.” They claim recent victories for their city council candidates in Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, and Tustin.

One of the goals of these local housing advocates, echoed in pending state legislation such as Assembly Bill 68, passed in 2019, is to stimulate a “backyard building boom,” whereby homeowners can build new smaller homes in their backyards. Additional state legislation abounds, all of it designed to densify neighborhoods, and absolutely none of it designed to facilitate construction of new single family neighborhoods on open land. Meanwhile, residents who relied on zoning laws to preserve the spacious ambience of their suburbs are stigmatized as NIMBYs, racists, and “deniers.”

There is no effective opposition to California’s drive to confine its residents to existing cities, nor to challenge the move to a carbon-free, all-electric society. Both goals are impractical and extremely expensive. Shorn of the supposedly enlightened motivations behind these goals, their impact is explicitly misanthropic, and it hurts everyone.

The influence of environmental activists is the reason for California’s unaffordable cost-of-living. It is a form of economic oppression, justified on environmental grounds, but also a convenient cover for opportunistic special interests. Along with the high tech industry, the clean power industry, public utilities, real estate investors, and subsidized housing developers, California’s powerful public sector unions are big winners.

With every new regulation, and every time a private enterprise is coopted by a new government agency, more jobs are created in the public sector. This translates into more dues paying union members which results in more political spending by union leadership on the candidates of their choice. At the same time, whenever environmentalist activists block public spending on new infrastructure that might enable more suburban development, that money is redirected to pay and benefit increases for public sector workers.

There is a tremendous symbiosis between California’s economic elite, its environmentalist activists and their allies in the social justice movement, and the unionized public sector. But despite all the rhetoric about helping the disadvantaged, the biggest victims are those Californians who can least afford to fund the bleeding edge.

This article originally appeared on the website California Globe.

Newsom Recall Gathers Momentum

With over 1.2 million signed petitions already collected, and tens of thousands more arriving daily, the chances have never been higher that Gavin Newsom will have to fight for his political life in a special recall election.

How the proponents have built a powerful coalition of committees is an example of innovation that offers a new model for qualifying initiatives, recalls and referendums, one that will not be restricted to billionaire corporations or one-party legislatures.

According to lead proponent Orrin Heatlie, the volunteer signature gathering army that has been growing all summer is now deploying over 5,000 people every weekend to gather signatures. “They’re tired but they keep plugging along like they always have,” said Heatlie, adding that “more and more people volunteer as they learn about the progress of the movement.”

The latest counts, confirmed by representatives at both of the main committees, indicate over 200,000 signatures have already been collected via a direct mail effort, and over 1,000,000 signatures have now been gathered by volunteers. The original volunteer committee, the California Patriot Coalition led by Heatlie, has been active since June 2020. The committee running the direct mail campaign, Rescue California led by Anne Dunsmore, has only been doing mass mailings for a few weeks.

Using direct mail instead of professional signature gatherers is a risk that appears to be paying off. Paid signature gathering campaigns currently face the multiple obstacles of COVID restrictions on where they can set up, as well as the impact of AB 5 which destroys the traditional business model of hiring signature gatherers as independent contractors. Even before these new hurdles were added, the costs for signature gathering had already gone up because the number of firms able to do statewide campaigns consolidated at the same time as the number of well-funded special interests willing to pay whatever it takes increased. For example, Uber, or the real estate industry, or the association representing dialysis clinics, and others, can easily spend tens of millions of dollars on a signature campaign. But activist groups rarely have unlimited funds.

This is why the synergy generated by the original committee, the California Patriot Coalition, which successfully recruited a grassroots army, combined with the innovative approach of direct mail being used by Rescue California, may become a precedent setting breakthrough to be emulated in future initiative qualification campaigns.

“It is exciting to see the response to our effort,” said Anne Dunsmore when reached for comment. “We are way ahead of our projections, and we absolutely expect to reach our goal of 700,000 signed petitions via direct mail. The signed petitions we receive are validating at the astonishing rate of 98 percent, each response averages over two signatures, and we also have received donations from over 8,000 people, including over 500 in the past week.”

Dunsmore also recognized the tremendous contributions of the original recall committee, saying “We are enormously pleased with our partnership with the California Patriot Coalition and their volunteer effort.”

A key member of the California Patriot Coalition is Robin McCrae, who echoed Dunsmore’s sentiments about the synergy between the two committees, saying “we are all well intentioned, passionate people who care about making change for the better and we all have a common goal and common purpose and our parallel efforts will get the job done.”

With thousands of active volunteers, managing the logistics and messaging of the group is a challenge. Heatlie explained how that challenge was recently complicated by Facebook. “We have 75 local Recall Gavin groups on Facebook with over 200,000 members,” said Heatlie, “and in the days following the events on January 6 in Washington DC, all of our administrators were locked out of posting or commenting on posts. Over 150 of our administrators and regional managers were locked out of their Facebook groups. The ban won’t lift until January 23rd.”

The irony of Facebook leaving these group pages up but locking out the administrators is that the group leaders lost the ability to screen user posts and comments. This meant the risk of non-administrators leaving posts or comments that might offend Facebook went up, not down, by virtue of their ban. “If violations were entered on our Facebook pages,” said Heatlie, “we couldn’t remove them anymore.”

Opponents of the recall point to incendiary comments online, attributable to a few people and often posted in the heat of the moment. But a few objectionable comments only represent a minute fraction of the vast movement behind the recall. It worth wondering who is helped when Facebook prevents recall organizers from even moderating their online forums.

McCrae offered additional thoughts that might summarize the motivations of the vast majority of recall supporters when she said “The heart and soul of this recall are hard working volunteers who are dedicated to saving California. They are fighting for the right to work, to save their businesses, and protect their freedom from government overreach. They recognize that California is no longer thriving. Our beautiful state is deteriorating and we are trying to save it.”

Dunsmore summed up the opportunity represented by tapping tremendous grassroots energy and supplementing that with traditional professional campaigning. “We are working together with passion, but not reckless passion. That’s hard when people are coming up with policies that are so atrocious and polarizing. When something is really important and it’s bad, you can’t just get mad, you have to fix the problem with a level head.”

What Newsom faces with this recall is a new coalition. A populist movement that is growing in political and logistical savvy every day, allied with a group of seasoned professionals who dove in against the odds to support them. There are many politicians in California that have, at least in the minds of millions of voters, failed to recognize and correct the challenges facing Californians. As they watch the “walls close in” on Newsom, they may rest assured they will be next.

This article was originally published by the California Globe.

Frustration Amid the State’s COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

Patricia Reber walked out of the vaccine clinic at L.A.’s Lincoln Park pumping her arms overhead like a champion. A friend told the 80-year-old she had waited four hours for a shot at Dodger Stadium, but Reber was in and out within 30 minutes.

“This was wonderful,” Reber said from beneath a Kobe Bryant face mask. “I think they’ve done the best they can with the lack of federal help.”

But in the chaotic rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, the triumphs were matched by heartbreaking disappointments and confusion as older residents struggled with appointment websites that crashed because of huge demand while workers waited for official information that never came.

Aria Shafiee, 53, was almost in tears because her attempt to enter the vaccination site at Crenshaw Christian Center in South L.A. had been flatly denied. Shafiee knew she was younger than the 65-year minimum for vaccination under California’s rules but hoped she could get an exception due to her health. …

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

Restaurants, wineries sue Newsom over dining ban

A group of more than 50 wineries and restaurants across Napa and Sonoma counties are suing to overturn a state ban on in-person dining, saying their constitutional rights are being trampled as they slip into financial ruin.

It’s the latest litigation brought over the restrictions that have blanketed much of the state since early December, when coronavirus cases began soaring.

The Wine Country Coalition for Safe Reopening filed the suit Tuesday against Gov. Gavin Newsom. It arrives just over a month after capacity in intensive care units dipped below 15% in the San Francisco Bay Area, triggering a regional order that shut down outdoor dining — and drinking — among other restrictions. Tomás Aragón, director of the California Public Health Department, is also named in the lawsuit. …

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

California Labor Unions Are Trying To Reverse the Outcome of an Election

In his first inaugural address in January 1911, California’s progressive Gov. Hiram Johnson detailed a far-reaching “people’s reform program” that would help wrest control of the state’s government from what his contemporaries called “The Octopus”—a reference to muckraker Frank Norris’ 1901 novel about the outsized power of Southern Pacific Railroad.

As Norris explained, the Cyclopean sea monster was a “symbol of a vast power, huge, terrible, flinging the echo of its thunder over all the reaches of the valley, leaving blood and destruction in its path.” Drawing heavily from that corporate-power theme, the new governor touted something that would define California politics for the next century: the initiative, recall, and referendum.

California’s emerging experiment in direct democracy would “prevent the misuse of the power temporarily centralized in the Legislature,” Johnson argued, noting that supporters of these reforms believed in the ability of the people to govern themselves. However opponents “may phrase their opposition, in reality (they) believe the people cannot be trusted.”

Ironically, modern California’s progressives have become increasingly hostile to the direct democracy concept, as evidenced by their repeated attempts to place limits on these voter initiatives. The reason has less to do with political ideology and more to do with raw political power.

Democrats exert ironclad control of the Legislature and don’t like the Johnson era’s checks on its power. For example, the state’s Democratic-heavy electorate nevertheless took remarkably conservative positions on the statewide ballot initiatives during the Nov. 3 election—and gave lawmakers a comeuppance on some key issues.

We’ve seen these anti-democratic tendencies arise in recent days, which is ironic timing given the fracas in Washington, D.C. I’ve also been appalled at Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of a legitimate presidential election even as 60-plus courts, state legislatures, and federal agencies rebuke his claims. Apparently, California Democrats now share Trump’s litigious approach: they support elections, but only if they yield the desired result.

For starters, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced last week a lawsuit challenging the results of Proposition 22, which exempted drivers for companies such as Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash from the ominous provisions of Assembly Bill 5. That’s the “landmark” legislation that mostly bans companies from using contractors as their workforce.

The voters were unequivocal, given that the proposition passed with a nearly 59-percent “yes” vote. That result is not a huge surprise. The law obliterated moderate-income service jobs—and not just in the burgeoning gig economy. Because of the blowback from freelancers losing their livelihoods in the midst of a pandemic, the Legislature exempted 100 industries from this bad law’s provisions.

In their wisdom, California voters added additional exemptions and they assured that the companies they’ve come to depend upon will continue to exist. Yet Democratic leaders are much less trusting in the intelligence of the people than their ideological forebear, Johnson.

“Prop. 22 not only created a permanent underclass of workers in California—it stripped the Legislature of its power to step in and improve the working conditions for … app-based workers,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), who authored A.B. 5. She’s peeved that “corporations can use the initiative process to write their own laws with artificial barriers designed to block elected representatives from doing their jobs.”

Ironies abound. I understand that Gonzalez doesn’t like Proposition 22, but that’s an issue that voters had a chance to consider. Furthermore, the unequivocal purpose of the initiative process—and I’d recommend that she spend some time studying California’s political history—was to block elected representatives from doing their jobs.

Whatever their claims, such opponents simply don’t trust the people, as Johnson understood. Certainly, SEIU and the opponents of this (or any) initiative have the right to challenge its constitutionality, just as Trump had the right to file his election-challenging lawsuits. That doesn’t make it the right—or democratic—thing to do.

Gonzalez complains about the power of corporations to use the process, which is another irony, given that direct democracy targeted corporate power. Yet Democratic lawmakers have nothing to say about the modern-day robber barons who more commonly place initiatives before voters: public-sector unions. Note that the failed property tax hike measure (Proposition 15) was largely a union endeavor.

In another fit of hypocrisy, Democrats last week blasted the movement to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom. “This recall effort, which really ought to be called ‘the California coup,’ is being led by right-wing conspiracy theorists, white nationalists, anti-vaxxers, and groups who encourage violence on our democratic institutions,” said California Democratic Party Chairman Rusty Hicks. He didn’t provide evidence to back such inflammatory allegations.

Again, I’d refer Hicks and his Democratic cohorts to Johnson’s inaugural words. He said the initiative, referendum, and recall are not panaceas, but they give voters “the power of action when desired, and they do place in the hands of the people the means by which they may protect themselves.”

This column was first published in The Orange County Register.

California braces for a surge in evictions

California courts are bracing for eviction cases to double over the next year as pandemic-related financial woes deepen for thousands of renters across the state.

Landlords are expected to file 240,000 new eviction cases — twice what occurs in a typical year, according to estimates by state court officials. The projection takes into account the looming expiration of state eviction protections, which end in late January.

While Gov. Gavin Newsom hopes to extend the renter safeguards, he’s also asked the Legislature to increase the judicial system’s funding so that courts can prepare for an eventual surge in evictions.

“If cases in fact do not double, and we certainly hope they won’t, these funds will be returned,” Newsom spokesman Jesse Melgar said. …

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