Pinole can’t stop taxing and the rest of California needs to watch

Pinole is a small city near the Carquinez Strait that leads to the Sacramento River and our state capitol.  The Point Pinole Regional Shoreline has some terrific view points.  But lately what Pinole is becoming known for is its chronically out-of-balance city budget and its’ taxes, taxes, and more taxes.  The reason for the deficit and new taxes is the city has spent too much on public employee union salaries, and especially their most generous pensions and medical benefits.  The city has just 18,729 residents but even after cuts has well over 100 public employees.  What the city obviously needs to do is fix the problem of salaries and benefits by lowering them to manageable levels.  But the city won’t do so because of opposition by public employee unions.  So they just keep raising taxes instead, and the new taxes are never enough to fix the problems the unions won’t allow to be reformed.

The City knew it was in trouble as early as 2006 and started making some woefully inadequate adjustments by reducing some bloated staffing to more reasonable levels and attempting to reduce some costs by changing its staff medical plan from a defined plan under CalPERS to a fully paid Kaiser medical plan for the Police department in particular.  But these changes still were not enough to address top-heavy salaries and pensions benefits dragging the budget into deficit.  Yet instead of looking to themselves and taking the hard decisions needed to fix the city, Pinole’s city council turned to the taxpayers.  Repeatedly.

In 2006, voters were asked to pass Measure S, which raised sales taxes 1/2 cent from 8 1/4% to 8 3/4%.  The Measure passed with about 60% of the vote.  The Measure was supposed to increase general funds to a level to fix Pinole’s public employee salary and pension problems.  But it didn’t.

So in November 2012, the city put Measure M on the ballot, to extend a utility tax placed directly on residents utility bills.  It passed with nearly 80% of the vote.  But that still didn’t raise enough money to keep pace with public employee union salaries, pensions and benefits approved by the city council.

As a result of Proposition 30, which raised the state’s portion of sales taxes to the highest levels in the nation, Pinole’s sales tax today stands at 9%.  But the city council doesn’t think that is enough for residents to pay.  So in November, it is likely the city council will put another sales tax hike on the ballot, lifting the sales tax locals pay to 9 1/4 cents, rather than trim back burgeoning public employee pay and benefits.

Pinole’s serial tax increases are sadly becoming a typical refrain in cities across the state.  Rather that deal with the problem – out-of-control public employee union pay and benefits – elected officials (many of whom are elected as a result of public employee union political spending and are therefore beholden to the unions) simply punt to the taxpayers, who are expected to pass tax-and-tax to solve a problem created by the cabal of public employee unions and liberal Democratic office holders they control.  (It is also a terrible omen for pension liability in future that a line firefighter, for example, made $350,000 in salary last year in San Francisco, a pay level grossly out-of-whack with comparative salary data for the private sector.)  The result is economic devastation for the rest of society as high consumption taxes to support the salaries and benefits make the poor poorer, and small businesses and their job creating potential suffers as well.  Why would anyone on a budget want to buy an automobile or other major item in Pinole at a 9 1/4% tax rate when the sales tax average for the rest of the state is 8%, and in many cities the tax rate is the state minimum of 7 1/2%?

In coming years, as the pension crisis gets larger and cities fail to address the real problems, California residents will be asked again-and-again to approve new local taxes for trumped-up reasons: to fix roads, or improve police and fire services.  But the cities ought to be providing these services competently to begin with.  Just as giving a dollar to the drunk panhandler doesn’t solve the long-term problem for the drunk, these new “targeted” taxes will not solve the ever growing needs for fixing public employee pensions in the state, and the only way thatcarquinez_bridge problem will ever be fixed is for citizens to stop giving government the extra money in the first place.

 

 

Oakland Still a Most Dangerous City

The news reports this week of an Oakland Tribune photographer being robbed of his cameras by two armed gunmen while on assignment in broad daylight in West Oakland inspires me to offer readers some additional insights about that troubled California city.

I was born in Oakland and am a Raiders fan, so when I started writing my new book “Taxifornia: Liberal’s Laboratory to Bankrupt America,” there was no doubt that I would have my eye out for data about Oakland, one of the state’s leading cities.

On the other side of the San Francisco Bay from San Francisco, it has always played second fiddle to “The City,” but nevertheless has made its historical mark in many ways.  Oakland’s port is one of the biggest in the state, and handles more commerce than San Francisco.  Oakland has also been home to a long list of exceptional Californians: author Jack London; Hall of Fame athletes such as Major League Baseball’s Joe Morgan and Ricky Henderson, the NBA’s Bill Russell, as well as entertainers such as the Pointer Sisters.  Jerry Brown served as Mayor for eight years.

But current Governor Jerry Brown’s long stint as Mayor of Oakland didn’t do much anything at all to reduce violent crime in Oakland.  Today the FBI considers Oakland, a city of 400,000, the 3rd most dangerous city in the country, with 130 murders per year (90% gun related), more than 270 forcible rapes and upwards of 4,000 robberies per year.  These data suggest that if one lives their lifetime in Oakland, there is a statistically significant likelihood that one will be a victim of a violent crime.

Oakland is one of the poorest cities in California but its local governments offer public employee union jobs that pay such high salaries that they alone could be the focus of an “income inequality” debate at nearby U.C. Berkeley.  A Bay Area Rapid Transit District employee who operates the train maintenance yard in Oakland made $271,000 in 2012, which is more than the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court is paid.  When city electrical workers went on strike last year, their public employee union representative told the press “the working class in Northern California are mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.”  What the union representative didn’t tell the press was that the electrical workers were already making an average salary and benefits package of $133,825 per year, much more than the average salary of $52,000 in California, and far exceeding the average real “working class” salary of $30,672 in Oakland, where 71,599 individuals live in poverty.

The news of the news media being robbed while on assignment in Oakland is recent, but apparently not a unique event.  According to the Oakland Tribune “in recent years, several news photographers and television camera crews have been robbed of their equipment in Oakland. Another (Bay Area News Group) photographer was robbed twice at gunpoint. Some TV stations now send armed guards with media crews covering stories in Oakland.”

California’s liberal politicians are ignoring the high poverty rates that their policies, specifically the highest consumption taxes in the nation, contribute too.  Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters has observed that the Governor essentially ignored recognizing in his “State of the State” speech last month that California’s poverty rate is now the highest in the nation.  What Brown might also have ignored is the terrible violent crime plaguing many California cities today, including Stockton, and how his own eight years as Mayor of Oakland was useless in fighting it.

 

 

Obama Administration “Pay Back” in D’Souza Indictment?

The sketchy four-page Federal Grand Jury indictment of conservative author and Obama Administration critic Dinesh D’Souza has some pretty strong and unsavory political “pay back” overtones.  The indictment alleges that D’Souza knowingly made $20,000 in contributions “in the name of another,” which violates disclosure rules and also exceeds his own contribution limit of $5,000 (according to published reports), to a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in New York in 2012.  The candidate has subsequently been identified as a friend that D’Souza went to college with.

D’Souza had produced a provocative movie that aired during the 2012 Presidential campaign that was highly critical of President Obama’s policy motivations, labeling them “anti-colonial.”

Yet the indictment brings to mind the old lawyer’s adage that a good prosecutor can indict “a ham sandwich.”  While the case against D’Souza might have some legs, the question of whether it should be treated as a routine “civil” violation as opposed to a special “criminal” violation is a very open one.

Under the Federal Election Campaign Act (“FECA”), the over-whelming number of alleged violations are handled in cases through an enforcement mechanism by the Federal Election Commission itself, which possesses civil authority under the law to conduct investigations and enforce the law using an administrative apparatus that allows imposition of civil fines.  Under the facts alleged in the indictment of D’Souza, the case could have been handled directly by the FEC’s enforcement staff, and on a finding of a violation, D’Souza could be subjected to stiff fines, perhaps as much as the $20,000 he is alleged to have illegally channeled to the Senate candidate.  A fine in the amount of the illegal contribution usually is seen as an accomplishment by campaign finance prosecutors.

However, the Justice Department, and its network of U.S. Attorneys, “share” jurisdiction with the Federal Election Commission over the FECA, and has the exclusive power to enforce separate criminal sanctions to resolve violations of the Act, even if the FECA has proceeded on civil grounds.  But it is rare that the U.S. Attorney will involve itself in most cases, especially relatively minor ones like the D’Souza case.  Since the Justice Department has the option of “prosecutorial discretion,” it almost always opts to not move forward in a matter when the FEC can easily handle it.  There are some cases where both the FEC and the U.S. Attorney will proceed at the same time.  For example, both the U.S. Attorney and the FEC proceeded together in the case of Mark R. Weinberg, who made $54,000 in illegal contributions “in the name of another” to then sitting California U.S. Senator Alan Cranston’s 1984 campaign for President, at a time when the contribution limit was just $1,000.  It took years for the cases to wing their way through the courts.  But unlike D’Souza, Weinberg was a special prosecution.  He was also wearing a wire for FBI agents at about the same time in an effort to lure crime figures into an illegal investment scam.  Weinberg was quite an operator, and was involved in questionable contributions in huge amounts to a host of California Democratic candidates, including more than $200,000 to successfully beat a Republican and help elect a Democrat District Attorney in Los Angeles.  Weinberg ended up being separately sentenced in 1993 in a different case to five years in state prison for defrauding investors of around $1 million.

Dinesh D’Souza is no Mark Weinberg, and using criminal discretion to proceed against him when he has no history of violating campaign laws, let alone any criminal laws, seems an abuse of discretion to this writer (and campaign finance expert).

The person prosecuting D’Souza, who got the indictment from the Federal Grand Jury, is Preet Bharara.  Like D’Souza, Bharara is of Indian descent.  Both D’Souza and Bharara are naturalized citizens, having both been born in India.  (It is interesting to note that the Times of India is covering the D’Souza prosecution.)  The liberal media, which hates D’Souza’s film about Obama, loves Bharara, and he has been featured as a tough prosecutor on the cover of Time magazine.  Bharara’s career has had the benefit of patronage from very partisan Democrats.  Appointed U.S. Attorney by Barack Obama, Bharara is a former aide to the very partisan Democratic U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York, and could be a candidate for the top office of Attorney General in Obama’s second term, should Eric Holder leave office for the private sector, or in a future Democratic Administration.

The Justice Department has made it clear to the U.S. Attorneys that because of limited resources, they should only pursue major and important cases for criminal prosecution.  In a recent Memorandum for Selected U.S. Attorneys, the Justice Department pushed back against prosecution of Federal laws against marijuana, and instructed that “the Department is also committed to making efficient and rational use of its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources. In general, United States Attorneys are vested with “plenary authority with regard to federal criminal matters” within their districts. USAM 9-2.001. In exercising this authority, United States Attorneys are “invested by statute and delegation from the Attorney General with the broadest discretion in the exercise of such authority” and as a result, the Department called on the U.S. Attorneys to refrain from initiating investigations and criminal actions, and to basically overlook enforcement of federal laws in “medical marijuana” states.

If the Obama Administration can overlook its criminal laws regarding marijuana, it ought to also be able to defer to the Federal Election Commission to handle the claims in the D’Souza case.  The fact that it has opted instead to prosecute D’Souza, a man with no criminal history, on what truly amounts to a routine and “relatively” minor violation of the law by FEC standards, sadly speaks volumes about abusive selective prosecution under the current Administration, and is a developing tragedy of justice in America.

Failures of San Francisco City College, not Accrediting Commission, Ought To Be Focus of Politicians

Now two liberal Democrat Bay Area members of Congress are joining the efforts of the public employee unions to keep discredited San Francisco City College open – and they are doing it by blaming the messenger – the Accrediting Commission – rather than demanding a probe of the out-of-control payroll department that helped cause the de-accrediting of the school.

Congressmembers Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo think S.F. City College should keep offering meaningless degree programs even after the college failed in a year-long effort to convince the Accrediting Commission that it had fixed 12 separate areas where it had fallen short of acting like a real institution of higher learning.  Among the problem areas identified was a lack of financial controls so profound, that teachers were routinely paid for work – teaching classes – that they did not perform.

Accountability at California’s largest public school still remains allusive.  The Accrediting Commission has not made public the information about who exactly was responsible for the failings in the payroll office; how many teachers were paid for “no show” work; or whether salary over-payments were returned to the school (and the taxpayers).  The San Francisco Chronicle has done an awful job covering the scandal, by failing to dig into the lack of financial controls and “naming names.”  Instead, the newspaper has preferred to quote teacher union representatives, whose comments of course are oriented to protect the teacher-administrators involved in the rip-off.

At a time when California’s fourth graders rank 46th and 47th in the nation in reading and math, enforcing minimum academic standards at all California schools, especially our Community Colleges, is essential to the future economic security of the state.  California needs an educated workforce.  If standards fall and degrees become meaningless scraps of paper, we all lose, not just the student cheated out of a decent education.  Today there are at least 20 Community Colleges statewide on academic probation.  Speier and Eshoo can help Californians a lot more by probing the question of why our schools are failing, rather than trying to keep a failing school in business.

Obama needs NSA to implement ObamaCare

Barack Obama Oath of Office Michelle Obama

With his popularity at an all time low as a result of the botched implementation of the Affordable Care Act by the IRS and Department of Health and Human Services, what Obama ought to do to save his health program and thereby regain his popularity, is shift all responsibility to implement it to the National Security Agency.

With the NSA running things, time spent on the online application process could be greatly reduced, since under Obama, that spy agency has everybody’s information already stored in a supercomputer in Maryland.  There shouldn’t be any need at all to fill-out private information, since NSA has it all at its fingertips, or can get it from other snooping of Goggle, Facebook and Twittier accounts the New York Times says it is hacking.

It is indeed an irony that ObamaCare’s cyber start could be so awful, with just six sign ups in the first day nationwide,  at the same time the NSA is successfully collecting data even from European leaders smartphones.  The only commonality between the NSA’s success and ObamaCare’s cyber failure is that we are all losing our privacy and rights, worldwide.

 

Luddite SEIU strikes over BART’s insistance to use email reports instead of long-hand

It is a little hard to fathom.  The Service Employees International Union and their allies that work for the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, have reached an agreement on economic terms to renew their contract, but decided to go on a full-blown strike Friday, inconveniencing tens of thousands of commuters, over disagreement on “work rules” which includes the union’s opposition to BART’s request that workers file management reports by email rather than by writing them out in long-hand.

The Luddites were 19th-century English textile artisans who protested against newly developed labor-saving machinery from 1811 to 1817.  The SEIU leadership in the BART negotiations are Luddites by that definition, who want high salaries and pensions, but who don’t want to allow BART to use even basic cost-saving technologies like a lap top and email system for communications.  SEIU’s opposition to use of what can only loosely be termed these days as “advanced technologies” includes insistence on personal delivery of paper paycheck stubs to employees at work locations rather than electronic transmission of them, according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

One would think that the usually media-savy SEIU would not expose themselves to potentially bad press coverage by making their stand in a terribly disruptive strike over “work rules” as simple as opposing use of email.  Even a person of below average intelligence who lacks critical thinking skills can see that it is a stupid position for SEIU to take, given the prevalence and convenience of email today, and that BART management is right to insist on it, and deserves the upper hand in the public debate on it.  But the San Francisco media is generally favorable to the SEIU, and the fact that SEIU’s selfish strike rests on opposing email and electronic transmission of payroll deposits, even close to the heart of the Silicon Valley, will hardly get the SEIU any of the critical media coverages its idiotic strike deserves.

Imagine a world where the BART public employee union member who makes $271,458 a year managing traffic at the train storage yard in Oakland is forced to use email on the job against his will; or where the fare booth watcher at the Fremont station who makes $167,784 to be on the look-out for “jumpers” is required to receive confirmation of her paycheck by email rather than on a hand-delivered paper payroll receipt?  No way, if the Luddite masters at SEIU win their strike with the help of a complacent Bay Area media.

 

Community Colleges need audits, not their Accrediting group!

City College of San Francisco, the state’s single largest public school, is a mess.  Rampant payroll abuses have resulted in teachers being paid for work they didn’t do.  The quality of teaching is very poor.  City College needs to be audited and the results need to be made public so taxpayers can see for themselves if they are getting their money’s worth.  But the teachers’ union wants to audit the Accrediting Commission, not the school, for giving the school a bad review, according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, here: http://www.sfgate.com/education/article/College-accrediting-panel-chief-draws-scrutiny-4876584.php.  Yet the facts of financial impropriety and poor teaching at City College of San Francisco have hardly been reported in any true detail by the same San Francisco Chronicle.  

 

While the paper has covered the de-accreditation process, it has yet to write about the exact details of the collapse of financial controls in the administration at the school, and to “name names” of those who may have illegally benefited and those who failed to meet the public trust.  City College of San Francisco had it’s academic accreditation terminated after a one-year evaluation period by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges helped reveal the almost total lack of financial controls at the College.  The College can appeal the termination, which cited  “lack of financial accountability” as well as “institutional deficiencies in the area of leadership and governance” for its decision.  Predictably, the California Federation of Teachers, attempted to overturn the decision in court, claiming to the U.S. Department of Education that the Accrediting Commission overstepped its authority.  Nevertheless, an otherwise sympathetic news report concluded that money management at City College “is rife with problems,” including unauthorized payroll changes and overpaid employees.  Plagued by distracting labor union issues, the college was unable to address 12 of 14 serious deficiencies cited by the Commission in the delivery of education to its students, and its future operations as an accredited college are now in doubt.  Sadly, City College of San Francisco does not stand alone as a failing higher educational institution in California.  Compton Community College lost its accreditation in 2005. As many as eight other California community colleges are currently in the “warning” process and risk losing their accreditation, likely because of fiscal mismanagement and poor administration, including two in the Los Angeles Community College system. In all, as many as 20 of California’s community colleges are facing some sort of accreditation challenge, according to the system’s Chancellor.

 

The failures of California’s secondary and higher education institutions puts job opportunities at risk.  The important relationship between attainment of higher education and employment opportunities has been well measured by the Lumina Foundation of Indianapolis, Indiana.  Lumina, which describes itself as a “private foundation focused solely on increasing Americans’ success in higher education,” believes that California is slipping in education attainment.  The slippage means job opportunities will be lost in future.  According to its report, “A Stronger Nation through Higher Education,” 38.7 percent of working-age Americans (25-64 years of age) had two or four-year college degrees in 2011, and the number of degree holding Americans is growing.  However, the same statistics fall far short in California, which reports a low attainment rate below the national average, especially in the Central Valley, with Stockton at 26.75 percent, Fresno at 27.90 percent and Bakersfield-Delano at just 21.35 percent.  “Research tells us that 65 percent of U.S. jobs will require some form of postsecondary education by 2020,” said a spokesperson for Lumina. With California so far behind in educational attainment, the need for focus on educational success could not be more urgent in the state.

But in the case of City College of San Francisco, rather that express concern and support for reforms that will make a degree from the institution meaningful, and increase transparency and accountability to taxpayers, the teachers’ union is attacking the head of the Accrediting Commission for hiring her husband, a fellow educator, to be a part of the review team that de-accredited the college.  Thus, the union wants the de-accreditation reversed on this unrelated detail.  If there is any issue here, it is irrelevant to and should not overshadow the reality of the awful management at City College.  The reality is that San Francisco City College is failing by any measure, including the most important ones observed by the experts at the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, whether there are family relations among its scorers or not.  Observers should have a keen eye to the teachers’ union willingness to engage in the politics of personal destruction to try to change the subject in this case, which is a sad example of why efforts to reform and improve education in this state have not gained as much traction as needed, and helps explain why California academic performance remains sub-par.

 

 

 

 

Goodbye Filner!!

Bob Filner’s resignation form office is a good thing.  Even though he was able to negotiate a settlement with the City Council that covers some of his legal bills, the $90,000 or so for his lawyers and agreement to represent him in one specific case is well worth the closure that gets Filner out of office and the important city of San Diego on with the process of selecting a new Mayor.

Democrat majority on San Diego City Council should strip Filner’s Mayoral budget

Early last month, before revelations of San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s serial sexual harassments were widespread, a divided San Diego City Council, dominated by a 5-4 Democratic majority, passed over Republican objections a budget offered by Filner that provides for $2.75 billion in spending in the new fiscal year that just started July 1.  Given the Filner controversy and the fact that almost all national and county Democratic leaders have now called on Filner to resign, the Democrats who run the City Council ought to do their part and effectively zero out any future spending authorizations for the Office of Mayor.  Doing so could help hasten Filner’s departure while at the same time saving some money that could be better used, for example, in helping to close the city’s $2.2 billion pension deficit.

The Office of the Mayor consists of 26 full-time employees at a cost of $3,524,705 in the fiscal year just started.  The Mayor receives a $100,000 plus annual salary.  The City Council could pass an ordinance that simple defunds the entire office of the Mayor as a budget revision, and direct the city administrator to just stop issuing checks for any office spending, including salaries.  Filner would try to veto that, but if Democrats hold firm, they can over-ride any Filner veto with support from the two Republican councilmembers.  Filner and perhaps some of his staff could try to counter the effort by going to court, but the Republican City Attorney could pass on representation, making it difficult for Filner to counter the defunding.  Filner could probably convince a court that his office should not be completely defunded – as he is the legally elected Mayor – however, there is no rule that he could use to force the city to maintain his full complement of 26 full-time employees, or his office expense and travel budget.  His staff could be cut back drastically, basically to one or two clerical positions, if the Democratic City Council has the resolve to do so.  Filner has tried to cut the budget of Republican City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.  The City Council ought to do the same, and in spades, with the Mayor’s portion of the City Budget.  After Filner is out of office, the City Council could even up with any collateral damage Filner caused among the City’s bureaucrats.  Without staff or ample funding for staff, Filner can be increasingly isolated and forced to do what the people really want him to do, which is to resign!

Obama’s Support Tumbling in “Blue” California

A new statewide poll by the respected Field organization reveals that President Barack Obama’s support in California, one of the Democrats’ “bluest” states, has dropped 10 points since February, from a near high of 62%, to 52% job approval, one of the steepest drops in popularity during his Presidency.  Obama’s biggest percentage loss in approval came from women, whose approval rating of him dropped a whopping 15 points, from 68% to 53%, over the last five months.  Of those polled, 35% disapprove of Obama’s performance as President and 13% report no opinion.

While Obama’s job approval rating has fallen to 52%, his “image appraisal” or favorable rating is slightly higher at 57% while 35% have an unfavorable rating of the President.

Though he continues to have the job approval of a slight majority in California, much of Obama’s loss of popularity has occurred among traditional Democratic supporters.  Observers have credited recent press accounts disclosing Federal surveillance of citizens for homeland security as a possible reason for the drop in support among liberals.  But surely revelations of political bias in the Internal Revenue Service and hearings on the Administration’s poor response to the Benghasi terrorist attacks of last year have contributed to the erosion of Obama’s support as well.  Only 17% of Republicans in California give Obama a positive job performance, and that is down from 20% in February.