A crackdown on misuse of taxpayer money?

TaxesAs documented in this space on several occasions, local government officials throughout California have been thumbing their noses at a state law that prohibits them from using taxpayer funds for political campaigns.

Officials in cities, counties, school districts and special purpose districts routinely hire campaign management firms, often with multi-million-dollar fees, to manage every stage of their ballot measures seeking voter approval of new taxes or new bond issues (which require new taxes to service).

The consulting firms conduct polling of local voters and then draft the ballot measures to conform to what those polls indicate voters would find acceptable. The political pros then design campaigns for the measures, under the guise of “education,” to persuade voters to approve them.

Typically, the “education” campaigns are misleading, promising that the proceeds of the taxes and bonds will be used for popular facilities and services, such as police and fire protection or parks, while ignoring the underlying real reasons, such as to cover rapidly increasing employee pension and health care costs.

The consultants often boast of their high passage rates, and with good reason, because most of the carefully crafted and marketed measures do, in fact, win voter approval.

The practice is, as mentioned earlier, illegal. A specific state law prohibits it. But it continues unabated because local prosecutors, who sometimes share in the proceeds of the measures, have consistently refused to pursue cases against their fellow politicians.

Lately and belatedly, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) has dived into the increasingly blatant misuse of taxpayer dollars, but it lacks the power to prosecute the miscreant officials. Rather, it has in some cases taken the indirect action of trying to compel the offending governments to file campaign donor reports.

Filing such reports would be tantamount to admitting that the law had been broken, so of course, local officials have dragged their feet on complying.

Local prosecutors appear to be adamant in turning a blind eye to this obvious law-breaking, so the FPPC is now asking the Legislature to give it the power to prosecute cases.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, a Democrat from Bell Gardens, has introduced Assembly Bill 1306, which would give the FPPC the power to bring civil and administrative actions against those who misuse public funds.

“The rules should apply to everyone,” said Garcia, who’s been an outspoken advocate of political reform. “I’m all for giving the FPPC more teeth to bite down on those who misuse taxpayer resources.  It’s quite convenient that the campaign laws enforceable by the FPPC didn’t include public officials or public entities within our own government entities. The FPPC noticed this gap in their enforcement ability and this bill now sends a clear message that California won’t tolerate public agencies, or elected officials, spending taxpayer dollars on campaign activities.” 

“This bill simply holds those in power to the same standard we hold those who are not,” Garcia added.  “Government shouldn’t get a pass just because it makes the rules. Fair is fair and we must hold individuals, and entities, accountable by empowering our oversight entities to dole out more than a fix-it ticket fine. No one is above the law, including our government.”

What happens to Garcia’s bill as it winds its way through the Capitol will be very instructive. Logically, legislators should be willing to put some teeth into the law they enacted, but logic doesn’t always prevail in politics.

If lawmakers continue to let their counterparts in local government off the hook, they should be ashamed of themselves.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.org

California Snowpack at 162% of Average, 4th-Highest Ever

Los Angeles SnowCalifornia’s snowpack is officially 162% higher than average, the fourth-highest ever recorded, after state officials performed the annual measurement this week in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

“Department of Water Resources officials announced a measurement of 106.5 inches of snow at Phillips Station, good for a snow-water equivalent of 51 inches,” the Sacramento Bee reports. Phillips Station itself was actually at 200 percent of normal.

The California winter and early spring have been cold and wet, as the state — particularly in Northern California — has been hit by a series of “atmospheric rivers” carrying moisture from the Pacific. San Francisco endured one rain storm after another, and the mountains received record-breaking amounts of snow in short periods of time. Los Angeles endured its coldest February in 60 years, when the temperature never reached 70 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time ever.

The deep snowpack is welcome news for Californians — especially for farmers, who suffered through the state’s record-breaking drought from 2012 to 2018. Much of the state’s water supply comes from the Sierra snowpack, which melts throughout the spring and summer. In addition, heavy snows have been a boon to the state’s ski resorts.

However, the huge snowpack also poses a challenge, especially the risk of flooding. State officials opened the new spillway this week at the Oroville Dam — the nation’s highest — to prevent flooding later in the spring as runoff begins to fill the lake.

Despite the heavy precipitation, state and local authorities continue to plan for the next drought. Whether through climate change or a reversion to the historic norm after the unusually wet 19th and 20th centuries, California is likely to be drier in future — and will almost certainly face greater demands on scarce water resources, regardless.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Central Valley Angered by Newsom’s Bullet-Train Plans

High speed rail constructionGov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement in his State of the State speech in February that he didn’t believe California had the resources to complete its $77 billion statewide bullet-train project produced a backlash that Newsom didn’t seem to expect. Within hours after the speech, his aides said the media was inaccurately reporting that Newsom’s only commitment was to build a $12.2 billion, 119-mile high-speed link between Merced and Bakersfield in the Central Valley and nothing more. They said he remained a supporter of the full project.

But nearly two months later, the initial reaction to Newsom’s speech remains the enduring takeaway for most Capitol watchers: He’s off the bullet train bandwagon. Building unions and green lawmakers who believe in the statewide project’s potential to help in the fight against climate change remain among the most upset.

Yet easily the most intense reaction is in the area where Newsom still wants the project to proceed: the Central Valley.

Coverage from The Bakersfield Californian, the Los Angeles Times and small newspapers in the region reflect anger over how the valley has been treated. Valuable farmland and family homes have been acquired with eminent domain for a project that no longer will link the area with the rest of the state – despite promises from Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown.

‘My mouth was just open with shock’

“I don’t want to talk political because I don’t do it very well,” Fairmead resident Vickie Ortiz told the Times. “But you know, you had a governor that was pushing-pushing-pushing for the high-speed train, and we started getting used to the idea that we can’t stop a train but maybe we can use it to help the community. But then you get another governor and he says: ‘No, I don’t want to do that any more.’ My mouth was just open with shock.”

In the Antelope Valley Press, retiree Bill Deaver, a former official in the Federal Railroad Administration, blasted the “politics and ignorance” of project critics who he blamed for Newsom’s decision.

“Politicians used [high-speed rail] to score political points rather than supporting something that will be able to handle huge increases in traffic projected in coming years. That sort of behavior is one of the biggest barriers to progress.”

Newsom’s decision didn’t surprise some in the Central Valley who never believed a statewide bullet train would get built. “People lost their homes and businesses. And for what?” Visalia farmer Randy Van Eyk told the Times.

Some see commitment to help region

But other remarks the governor made about the Central Valley have resonated more positively – and created an expectation that he will do more than past governors to help the region.

“The people of the Central Valley endure the worst air pollution in America as well as some of the longest commutes. And they have suffered too many years of neglect from policymakers here in Sacramento. They deserve better,” Newsom said in the same speech in which he outlined his views on the bullet-train project’s future.

Bakersfield Californian columnist Robert Price said if Newsom was serious, he should help Kern County diversify its economy away from “two industries under assault in the Central Valley: agriculture and, especially, oil and gas.”

Anna Smith, another columnist for the Californian, also said Newsom should promote economic diversification. But she also called on him to address the Central Valley’s social ills, including “high rates of illiteracy and obesity, lack of access to quality education and health care (especially in rural communities), water contamination and extreme poverty.”

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Killing the California Dream

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image14115451Californians need to give up on their dream of a “ranch-house lifestyle” and an “ample backyard” and the state should become “more like New York City,” writes LA Times columnist George Skelton (reprinted in the Mercury-News and East Bay Times in case you run into the LA Times paywall). After reading his article, the Antiplanner has just one question: Why?

Skelton argues that California’s population has grown in the last 70 years and is still growing. But he doesn’t seem to realize that the vast majority of the state is still rural. The 2010 census found that urban areas covering just 5.3 percent of the state is urban and houses 95 percent of the state’s population.

In 2000, California conducted a housing supply study titled Raising the Roof. The full text of the study is no longer available on the California housing department’s web site, so I’ve posted it here. Chapter 3 assesses how much land in each county is available for development, data summarized in exhibit 13(previously cited here).

The study concluded that the four counties surrounding San Francisco — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, and San Mateo — had 595,000 acres of developable land. Santa Clara County (San Jose) had 235,000 acres, while Los Angeles and Orange counties had 509,000 acres. Even after deducting wet lands, prime and unique farmlands, flood zones, special natural areas, and areas needed by endangered species, the San Francisco area had 245,000 acres, San Jose 80,000, and LA-Orange counties more than 280,000 acres.

If these lands are available, why aren’t they being developed? Chapter 4 of the study pointed out that “the majority of California cities and counties have adopted one or more growth control and/or growth management measures.” These measures make it impossible to build more than one house at a time on rural lands, and make even building that one house difficult.

California counties also charge developers severe impact fees to cover infrastructure costs. “The problem with this system is that it doesn’t work,” says the study, because the impact fees are so high that developments aren’t feasible. In addition, the California Environmental Quality Act has been interpreted in the courts to prevent counties from development rural land without an environmental impact report that costs around $20 million, and counties won’t pay that cost and developers can’t afford to.

As a result, the amount of land that was considered undeveloped but developable in 2000 is almost all still undeveloped today. Opening that land to development would allow California to grow out, not up, which is a lot more affordable. As the Antiplanner has noted before, both land prices and construction costs are higher for dense development than for low-density single-family homes.

Skelton is just one of many Los Angeles residents who don’t understand their region.

• Many consider it sprawl, yet it is the densest urban area in the United States: 7,000 people per square mile vs. 5,300 for the New York urban area (and a national average of 2,500), so to become more like New York it would have to add 350,000 acres to its land area.

• Many think it has been paved over with freeways, yet it has the fewest freeway miles per capita of any major urban area: about 53 miles per million residents vs. 68 in New York (and 122 for the national average urban area), so to be more like New York would require building 188 miles of new freeways.

• Many think that all it needs is to build more rail transit, yet for every new rail transit rider it has gained, it has lost five bus riders, meaning rail transit is more harmful to transit riders than even Uber and Lyft.

• Finally, many think it has run out of room, when in fact there is plenty of undeveloped land available.

Contrary to popular belief, most Millennials would rather live in the suburbs, while only 17 percent want to live in big cities. California cities and counties have effectively conspired to deny people this dream. LA Times writers such as Skelton should take a closer look before supporting that conspiracy.

Randal O’Toole is the director of the Independence Institute’s Transportation Policy Center and author of the recent book, Romance of the Rails: Why the Passenger Trains We Love Are Not the Transportation We Need.

This piece originally appeared on The Antiplanner.

Cross-posted at New Geography

 

California bans state-funded travel to South Carolina

xavier-becerraCalifornia Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Tuesday announced a ban on state-funded travel to South Carolina, citing a measure on the books that enables faith-based foster agencies to “discriminate” against gays and others.

“The State of South Carolina recently enacted a measure that sanctions discrimination against families in the placement of children in need of homes,” said Becerra, a Democrat. “The State of California strongly stands against any form of discrimination.”

Becerra said the ban becomes effective April 15 and will prohibit state-funded and state-sponsored travel to South Carolina.

According to Becerra’s office, the “discriminatory provision” in the South Carolina law, known as H-4950 and enacted on July 5, 2018, was “buried deep within a general budget bill.” It said the provision contains wording …

Click here to read the full article from CNBC

Grand Bargains To Make California Affordable

new houseThe good life in California is out of reach to ordinary people. The reason for that is simple: homes cost too much, energy costs too much, water costs too much, and transportation infrastructure is inadequate. In each of these critical categories, however, grand bargains are possible that would bring California’s cost of living back down to earth.

Unaffordable housing is the most obvious, talked about problem. The solutions being considered in Sacramento are either inadequate or flawed. The most significant proposal currently being considered in the state legislature is SB 50, which would require cities and counties to allow apartment building redevelopment in any place that is either within a half-mile of a rail transit station, within a quarter-mile of a “high-frequency bus stop,” or within a “job-rich” neighborhood. SB 50 would also remove the requirement for developers to provide adequate parking.

It is possible that SB 50 will pass. When it does, developers will be able to purchase homes in qualifying residential neighborhoods, demolish them, and construct apartment buildings up to 55 feet in height.

There are a lot of things to criticize about SB 50, most notably the fact that it overrides local control of these zoning decisions. More to the point, there is the disruptive impact to residents who invested their lifetime earnings into paying off a mortgage to own a home in a spacious, quiet neighborhood, who will see that ambience destroyed. Not only should these residents be able to rely on the zoning laws that were in place when they purchased their homes, but it is likely they cannot afford to move. If they sell, they will have to pay taxes on any profit over $500K, and once they’ve moved, they will no longer have California’s property tax protections for long-time property owners. Fixed income retirees will be harmed the most by SB 50.

Not everything SB 50’s opponents bring up is necessarily valid, however. The accusation that SB 50 will just cause more gentrification is based on cases where new high rise developments were made in the heart of downtown areas, on some of the most expensive real estate on earth. Of course those developments will only attract wealthy buyers. But whenever new housing units are put on the market, basic laws of supply and demand still apply. The wealthy buyers who choose these ultra expensive new units will not be purchasing the alternatives. Whenever more homes are built, then up and down the value chain, from exclusive penthouses to trailer parks, buyers have more choices.

The key factor in reducing housing prices in California depends on increasing the supply of homes. SB 50 recognizes this, but only addresses half the problem. SB 50 increases the density of cities, but it doesn’t touch the other fundamental problem, which is the need to expand the footprint of cities. Because of this, it is unbalanced, and as such, it is going to cause far more havoc on existing neighborhoods than would otherwise be necessary. And it won’t fix the problem.

No realistic assessment of housing policies, or the history of urbanization, can fail to acknowledge that as populations increase, existing neighborhoods are disrupted. Increasing housing density in the urban core as more people arrive is inevitable. But at the same time, outlying suburbs must be allowed to expand.

There is Plenty of Land in California for New Homes

Here is where the fundamental assumptions of California’s political elites are at odds with history and at odds with the natural preferences of millions of ordinary Californians. By forcing development into urban service boundaries, not only does it become far more difficult to create an adequate supply of new homes, but millions of people who want to raise families in detached single family dwellings with yards are denied that opportunity.

The justifications for denying urban expansion are not beyond debate. First of all, there is no shortage of land in California, which is only five percent urbanized. Entire new cities can spring up along the I-5 and Highway 101 corridors, along vast stretches of mostly empty land stretching over 500 miles from north to south. Basic facts contradict the arguments for “smart growth.”

Encompassing 164,000 square miles, California is only 5 percent urbanized. According to the American Farmland Trust, California has 25,000 square miles of grazing land (15 percent), 28,000 square miles of non-irrigated cropland (17 percent), and 14,000 square miles of irrigated cropland (9 percent). The rest, 54 percent, is forest, oak woodland, desert, and other open space.The above chart depicts three urban growth scenarios, all of them assuming California experiences a net population increase of 10 million, and that all new residents on average live three people to a household (the current average in California is 2.96 occupants per household). For each scenario, the additional square miles of urban land are calculated.

As the chart shows, adding 10 million new residents under the “low” density scenario would only use up 3.2 percent of California’s land. There is no reason why any of this growth has to occur on irrigated cropland. For example, if all the growth were concentrated onto grazing land—much which is being taken out of production anyway, it would only consume 21 percent of it. If all the growth were to fall onto non-irrigated cropland, which is not prime agricultural land, it would only use up 19 percent of that. Much growth, of course, could be in the 58 percent of California not used either for farming or ranching.

The grand bargain? Streamline the process for reasonable urban densification but mitigate the impact (and enhance the benefit) by also streamlining the process for urban expansion onto open land.

Competitive Development of Enabling Infrastructure

Policymakers might also strike grand bargains in the areas of water, energy and transportation, all critical to making and keeping California affordable as the population grows. In all three areas, not only are policy solutions available, but the array of solutions increases every decade as new technologies become available.

Creating Abundant, Affordable Water

The following chart depicts several projects that could be funded through a combination of revenue bonds – to attract private financing, and general obligation bonds – to reduce costs to ratepayers. While these projects are expensive, they are well within the capacity of California’s economy to support, and if constructed, they would guarantee consumers affordable water abundance for several decades, possibly forever. And it is important to note, these are California cost estimates. With appropriate reforms to provide relief from litigation and overregulation, these costs could be dramatically reduced. The capital costs for desalination plants in Israel, for example, per unit of capacity, came in at one-sixth what the costs were for the Carlsbad plant in San Diego.

For water, as with everything else that matters, compromise on a grand scale is necessary to negotiate a grand bargain. Environmentalists would have to accept a few more reservoirs and desalination plants in exchange for plentiful water allocations to threatened ecosystems. Farmers would have to pay more for water in exchange for undiminished quantities. While private financing and revenue bonds could cover much of the expense, taxpayers would bear the burden of some new debt – but in exchange for permanent access to affordable, secure, and most abundant water.

Creating Abundant, Affordable Energy

It is difficult to imagine how any state, or nation, could do worse than California’s done when it comes to providing electricity to its residents. With that ingratiating introduction to the topic, here’s why: Renewable energy has to be priced based on providing a 24 hour, 12 months per year, uninterrupted supply. As it is, renewable energy providers are permitted to sell their electrons based on their direct costs, and utilities are required to purchase it. Meanwhile, when the sun goes down or the wind dies down, utilities have to find power elsewhere. This is extremely expensive, because these backup plants cannot produce continuous power, meaning their construction costs and fixed overhead costs have to be priced into part-time operation.

Michael Shellenberger, an energy expert and advocate for nuclear power with impeccable environmentalist credentials, recently published a blistering takedown of renewable energy in Forbes. Entitled “Why Renewables Advocates Protect Fossil Fuel Interests, Not The Climate,” the article provides revealing details about how fossil fuel corporations are pouring money into environmentalist nonprofits that advocate renewables. And why not? By stigmatizing nuclear power into oblivion, the only reliable way to balance intermittent flows of renewable energy is to build more natural gas fueled power plants.

The solution to providing California with abundant energy is to retrofit, expand and recommission existing nuclear power complexes and build new ones, along with building more natural gas power plants. The grand bargain? Environmentalists get cleaner air, but have to accept nuclear power. Special interests that advocate renewables can still sell their products, but have to price in the costs for them to cover their nightly and seasonal production deficits. Fossil fuel interests can continue to operate, but have to compete with nuclear power. And California’s power consumers will see prices in a competitive market come back down to national standards.

Creating Effective Transportation for the 21st Century

California’s roads are poorly maintained and inadequate. Meanwhile, the most egregious waste of public funds perhaps in history, the “bullet train,” continues to hang on to life as a truncated boondoggle still planned to connect Merced to Bakersfield. Explaining the folly of high speed rail in California may also explain the benefits of alternative solutions.

Within a few decades, self-driving cars, some owned for personal use, others privately owned but serving the public, will zoom along smart hyperlanes at speeds well in excess of 100 miles per hour. They will convoy with each other, running close together, using linked navigation systems, to facilitate far more throughput per lane mile than today’s freeways. Overhead, within a few decades, electric drones will shuttle people to and from their chosen destinations at speeds well in excess of 200 miles per hour. And far overhead, at around 50,000 feet, supersonic planes , electric VTOL/turbojet hybrids, will fly at speeds well in excess of 1,000 miles per hour.

This is the future of transportation in California, a future that demands upgraded roads and new modes of FAA administered airspace. As for rail, upgrading existing rail might have tremendous practical value. But why take a bullet train, when within a decade or two you’ll be able to dial up an aerial Uber on your cell phone, and at speeds exceeding the most optimistic HSR projections, fly from any rooftop in San Francisco to any rooftop in Los Angeles?

A Completely New Mentality is Needed for 21st Century Development

The good life can be recaptured for all Californians. The weather’s still great. The land is still beautiful and bountiful. The economy remains diverse and resilient. But California’s current policies have stifled innovation and created artificial scarcity of literally every primary necessity – not just housing, but water, energy and transportation. Each year, to comply with legislative mandates, government agencies and private developers alike spend billions of dollars to pay attorneys, consultants and bureaucrats, instead of paying engineers and heavy equipment operators to actually build things. The innovation that persists despite California’s unwelcoming policy environment is inspiring.

California’s policymakers have adhered relentlessly to a philosophy of limits. Less water consumption. Less energy use. Urban containment. Densification. Fewer cars and more mass transit. But it isn’t working. It isn’t working because California has the highest cost of living in the nation. Using less water and energy never rewards consumers, because the water and energy never were the primary cost within their utility bills – the cost of the infrastructure and overhead is always the primary cost. And nearly all these policies – high speed rail is the perfect example – diminish if not ignore potential technology breakthroughs on the horizon.

Within the next few decades, there will be modular, plug-and-play desalination units that coastal municipalities can put offshore to supply abundant water to consumers. In turn, these desalination units can be powered by modular, safe, plug-and-play nuclear reactors, scaled to whatever size is required, and nearly maintenance free. It doesn’t end there. Within the next fifty years or so, energy will be beamed from orbiting solar power stations to earth-based receivers to deliver uninterrupted electricity. We’re also probably less than fifty years from having commercial, scalable fusion power.

A completely new mentality is required, incorporating a vision of abundance instead of scarcity that encompasses every vital area of resource consumption. A completely different approach that could cost less than what it might cost to fully implement scarcity mandates. An approach that would improve the quality of life for all Californians. Without abandoning but merely scaling back the ambition of new conservation and efficiency mandates, embrace supply oriented solutions as well.

These are the grand bargains that would make California affordable again.

This article originally appeared on the website California Globe.

Rising California Pensions Costs Major Concern for Credit Rating Agencies

CalSTRS1A new Public Policy Institute of California poll shows the number of state residents worried about the cost of government pensions is at a 14-year low. In recent remarks to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, new state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond rejected the idea that pension costs were generally a major problem for school districts around the state.

But a recent comprehensive review by the Bond Buyer painted a starkly different picture. Based on interviews with officials in credit-rating agencies and the state’s Fiscal Crisis Management Action Team (FCMAT), as well as reviews of financial records from large school districts across the state, it forecast a wave of state takeovers of districts under the provisions of a 1991 state law that provides emergency loans to districts that can’t pay bills. But the loans come with the condition that district superintendents and school boards lose considerable autonomy over their budgets, which must have as a first priority repaying the loan to the state.

Nine districts have taken out such loans since 1991, and the Sacramento City Unified School District could become the 10th this fall when it is expected to run out of dwindling cash reserves.

A Fitch Ratings analysts told the Bond Buyer that about 50 of the 124 school districts it tracks have such low reserves that if an economic slowdown froze or reduced state revenue, those districts could quickly lose their capacity to pay bills. The same problems seen by Fitch in the larger districts that it monitors are likely to be seen in the 1,000-plus smaller districts it doesn’t track.

Low birth rate hurts enrollment

Since California’s overall population keeps going up, that’s obscured a key complication in school finances: The fact that school enrollment in much of the state is in the middle of a broad, long-term decline driven by changing demographics and birthrates that in 2017 hit an all-time low for the Golden State. FCMAT CEO Michael Fine estimates that 65 percent of the state’s 1,200 districts have fewer students than they used to. Perhaps the most dramatic decline is in Inglewood Unified, where present enrollment is 8,000 – about 40 percent of what it was in 2004.

Because state funding is based on the Average Daily Attendance formula, the enrollment declines can hammer districts even in a decade in which state funding for education has increased by more than 70 percent. That’s because many school districts don’t reduce their staffs by an amount equal to the lost enrollment. A FCMAT report on Oakland Unified issued last May called this a key factor in the financial strain faced by the district.

Another issue is that retirement benefits in some districts don’t just include pensions from the California State Teachers’ Retirement System. Some districts, including Los Angeles Unified and Sacramento City, offer generous health insurance to retirees for as long as they live.

S&P rating service downgraded LAUSD’s bonds last month. Fitch downgraded some of Sacramento City’s bonds in February, and further downgrades seem certain.

CalSTRS needs booming market

Officials with CalSTRS remain optimistic that healthy investment returns can reduce CalSTRS’ present unfunded liabilities of about $100 billion. Boom markets on Wall Street have at times allowed CalSTRS to keep mandatory pension contributions relatively flat for years at a time.

But the 2007 recession hammered CalSTRS, forcing the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to pass a bailout measure in 2014 that will roughly double annual contributions from districts, the state and teachers by July 2020, when its final increase is phased in.

But hopes that profitable investments will be a big help in reducing liabilities aren’t coming to pass. The Sacramento Bee reported recently that CalSTRS only had a 1.62 percent return on its portfolio for the first eight months of fiscal 2018-19 and was not expected to meet its target of a 7 percent annual return.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Gavin Newsom wants California to be its own nation-state in the Trump era

Gavin newsomJust five weeks into the job, Gov. Gavin Newsom has crystallized his vision of what California will look like in the Trump era: It won’t just be the hub of the resistance against the president; it will be its own nation-state.

But before Newsom can create a country-within-a-country, he had to defuse two multibillion-dollar grenades that his predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, left in his in-box: high-speed rail and the delta tunnels project. In proposing Tuesday to scale back both of Brown’s unpopular legacy projects, Newsom hopes he can preserve enough political capital to get his own legacy projects on the fast track.

If he can do that, he can lead California down its own path for as long as Trump is president. California must go it alone, because Trump’s portrait of America is “fundamentally at odds with California values,” the governor said Tuesday in his first State of the State speech. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle

California May Be Reaching the Point of ‘Taxuration’

taxesThe phenomenon of “taxuration” occurs when taxpayers are so saturated with new tax-hike proposals that they start to rebel. According to a new poll, taxuration may have finally arrived in California, if hasn’t been here already.

Last week, the Public Policy Institute of California released the findings of a survey showing that a majority of likely voters in the state aren’t very happy with the tax burdens they are forced to pay. Most Californians say the state’s tax system is unfair, which is a reversal from the same question asked in March 2017. More importantly, a solid majority of likely voters in California think they pay more taxes to state and local governments than they should.

While perception is often not correlated with reality, it appears that Californians have a fairly realistic understanding of the tax burden in the state relative to other states. According to the report, “The public’s perceptions are somewhat in line with fiscal facts: California’s state and local tax collections per capita in 2015 were 10th-highest in the nation,” citing the left leaning Tax Policy Center. Note that another think tank, the Tax Foundation, ranks California even higher in tax burden.

It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone paying attention that citizens are reaching the breaking point on tax hikes. Every day seems to bring a new big tax-hike proposal emanating from the state Capitol. Just one example that popped up this week was a proposal to bring back California’s estate tax, which was repealed by voters in 1982. Other tax-hike proposals in the mix include higher income tax rates, a water tax, a soda tax, sales tax on services and a so-called “carbon intensity” tax. (Don’t ask.)

To read the entire column, please click here.

Trump Administration Sues California over Bay-Delta Plan

Delta TunnelsThe Trump administration sued California’s State Water Resourced Control Board (SWRCB) in federal court in Sacramento on Thursday, escalating a legal war over the fate of the water in the San Joaquin River valley system.

The San Joaquin River and its tributaries provide crucial water supplies to farming communities in the Central Valley — and also provide the vast majority of the drinking water supply to San Francisco and surrounding areas.

However, environmentalists, fishing interests, and Native American communities have claimed that overuse of the river system’s waters has resulted in a steep decline in native fish populations in the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta.

Last December, the SWRCB approved a controversial plan that would require the San Joaquin River and its tributaries to maintain an average of 40% of “unimpeded flow,” i.e. the flow that would exist in the river system without human activity, for the late winter and spring months of February through June.

Environmentalists argued the plan does not go far enough, saying 60% of unimpeded flow would have been necessary to make a real difference in boosting fish populations. Farmers countered that other factors are affecting fish populations, including predation by non-native fish species in the Delta.

The board approved the plan despite efforts by then-Governor Jerry Brown and incoming Governor Gavin Newsom to broker voluntary water conservation agreements between the state and the local water districts that would involve fewer restrictions. The Trump administration was also critical of the plan, and Republicans urged the administration to block it.

Once the plan was approved, the various water users — rural and urban — filed dozens of lawsuits. And one of Newsom’s first acts as governor was to replace the SWRCB’s chair, Felicia Marcus, an environmental attorney.

Now the U.S. Department of the Interior has joined the fray. The Sacramento Bee notes: “The lawsuit …  says the state water board’s plan would violate California’s own environmental laws, as well as foul up the federal government’s ability to deliver water from New Melones reservoir on the Stanislaus River to member agencies of the Central Valley Project.”

The legal fights are likely to go on for years unless a comprehensive set of voluntary agreements can be reached.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California