Editorial: As state superintendent race tightens, Tuck the best choice

In this editorial, the Orange County Register reaffirms it’s endorsement of Marshall Tuck for state superintendent of schools:

Let’s not bury the lede: California’s school superintendent race has drawn nearly three times the campaign spending as the race for governor. It has generated more than double the spending of the last three superintendent races combined. It has featured a clash of union interests, billionaires, charter schools and Hollywood stars.

And yet, according to an Oct. 30 Field Poll, challenger Marshall Tuck and incumbent Tom Torlakson are tied at 28 percent – with 44 percent of voters undecided.

The campaign resembles something of political trench warfare: Each side lobbing shells, but gaining little ground. Field Poll’s Late August/Early September results found a 3 point split in favor of Mr. Tuck, 31-28, with 41 percent undecided.

In other words, after $30 million dollars of combined campaign spending – a number compiled by Oakland-based education think tank EdSource, roughly 80 percent of it independent expenditures – California voters are in about the same place they were two months ago.

The Register has previously endorsed Mr. Tuck for the office, calling him a “mission-driven education reformer.” We reaffirm that endorsement, and the results of the recent Field Poll give us even more confidence in his candidacy.

Read the full editorial here

CA’s $12.3 Billion in Proposed School Bonds: Borrowing vs. Reform

“As the result of California Courts refusing to uphold the language of the High Speed Rail bonds, the opponents of any bond proposal, at either the state or local level, need only point to High-Speed Rail to remind voters that promises in a voter approved bond proposal are meaningless and unenforceable.”

–  Jon Coupal, October 26, 2014, HJTA California Commentary

If that isn’t plain enough – here’s a restatement: California’s politicians can ask voters to approve bonds, announcing the funds will be used for a specific purpose, then they can turn around and do anything they want with the money. And while there’s been a lot of coverage and debate over big statewide bond votes, the real money is in the countless local bond issues that collectively now encumber California’s taxpayers with well over $250 billion in debt.

Over the past few weeks we’ve tried to point out that local tax increases – 166 of them on the November 4th ballot at last count, tend to be calibrated to raise an amount of new tax revenue that, in too many cases, are suspiciously equal to the amount that pension contributions are going to be raised over the next few years. For three detailed examples of how local tax increases will roughly equal the impending increases to required pension contributions, read about StantonPalo Alto and Watsonville‘s local tax proposals. It is impossible to analyze them all.

As taxes increase, money remains fungible. More money, more options. They can say it’s for anything they want. And apparently, bonds are no better.

At last count, there are 118 local bond measures on the November ballot. And not including three school districts in Fresno County for which the researchers at CalTax are “awaiting more information,” these bonds, collectively, propose $12.4 billion in new debt for California taxpayers. All but six of these bond proposals (representing $112 million) are for schools. Refer to the list from CalTax to read a summary of what each of these bonds are for – “school improvements,” “replace leaky roofs,” “repair restrooms,” “repair gas/sewer lines,” “upgrade wiring,” “renovate classrooms,” “make repairs.”

To be fair, there are plenty of examples of new capital investment, “construct a new high school,” for example, but they represent a small fraction of the stated intents. On November 4th, Californians are being asked to borrow another $12.3 billion to shore up their public school system. They are being asked to pile another $12.3 billion onto over $250 billion of existing local government debt, along with additional hundreds of billions in unfunded retirement obligations for state and local government workers. They are being asked to borrow another $12.3 billion in order to do deferred maintenance. We are borrowing money to fix leaky roofs and repair restrooms and sewers. This is a scandal, because for the past 2-3 decades, California’s educational system has been ran for the benefit of unionized educators and unionized construction contractors who work in league with financial firms whose sales tactics and terms of lending would make sharks on Wall Street blush. These special interests have wasted taxpayers money and wasted the educations of millions of children. Their solution? Ask for more money.

Nobody should suggest that California’s public schools don’t require investment and upgrades. But before borrowing more money on the shoulders of taxpayers, why aren’t alternatives considered? Why aren’t educators clamoring for reforms that would cut back on the ratio of administrators to teachers? Why aren’t they admitting that project labor agreements raise the cost to taxpayers for all capital investments and upgrades, and doing something about it? If their primary motivation is the interests of students, why aren’t they supporting the Vergara ruling that, if enforced, will improve the quality of teachers in the classroom at no additional cost? Why aren’t they embracing charter schools, institutions whose survival is tied to their ability to produce superior educational outcomes for far less money? Why don’t they question more of these “upgrade” projects? Is it absolutely necessary to carpet every field in artificial turf, a solution that is not only expensive but causes far more injuries to student athletes? Is it necessary to spend tens of millions per school on solar power systems? Does every high school really need a new theater, or science lab? Or do they just need fewer administrators, and better teachers?

And to acknowledge the biggest, sickest elephant in the room – that massive, teetering colossus called CalSTRS, should teachers, who only spend 180 days per year actually teaching, really be entitled to pensions that equal 75% of their final salary after only 30 years, in exchange for salary withholding that barely exceeds what private employees pay into Social Security? Thanks to unreformed pensions, how many billions in school maintenance money ended up getting invested by CalSTRS in Mumbai, Shanghai, Jakarta, or other business-friendly regions?

How much money would be saved if all these tough reforms were enacted? More importantly, how much would we improve the ability of our public schools to educate the next generation of Californians? Would we still have to borrow another $12.3 billion?

Here’s an excerpt from an online post promoting one of California’s local school bond measures: “It will help student academic performance, along with ensuring our property values. If you believe that strong schools and strong communities go hand in hand, please vote…”

Unfortunately, such promises are meaningless and unenforceable. The debt is forever.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Could the High Speed Rail Ruling Imperil the Water Bond?

Proposition 1, the $7 billion water bond, has broad support from both Democrats and Republicans.  Unlike the previous version of the bond – which had an $11 billion cost – the updated version has less pork and a few more promises for actual water storage.  While HJTA opposed the previous version (and indeed we signed the ballot argument against it) we have taken no position on Proposition 1.  Our neutrality is compelled, at least in part, by the recognition that California does indeed have legitimate needs for improvements in our statewide water infrastructure.

But now we have a new concern.

The California Supreme Court has recently declined to hear an appeal in one of the many lawsuits challenging the California’s High Speed Rail project.  This is a case we originally won in the trial court which blocked the issuance of the High Speed Rail bonds because the project bore no relationship to the project that was promised to the voters back in 2008.  But in a ruling that stunned taxpayers, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court which correctly found that the Constitution expressly requires the state prove that issuance of the bonds is “necessary or desirable.”   This constitutional mandate ensures that government lives up to the promises it makes to the voters.

A proper interpretation of the California Constitution would require voter approval of, not just the amount of the debt, but specification of the project to be funded.  In our lawsuit, we argued that the current HSR plan so deviates from the proposal presented to voters in 2008 that voter approval of the former proposal should not be deemed approval of today’s plan.  We presented evidence showing that today’s plan is not the true high-speed train that voters were promised.  The HSR bond measure promised that the project would be built with federal and private matching funds.  But today’s plan calls for a system that is not truly “high speed” and is funded primarily by California taxpayers.  (And, by the way, the projected costs have now tripled).

So how does the high court’s inaction impact today’s Proposition 1, the Water Bond?  The fact that the judiciary will not uphold expressed requirements in a bond proposal raises the specter that, no matter what a bond proposal promises about what will be built with the bond proceeds, those promises are meaningless.  In other words, when California voters are asked to approve a bond, are they just approving debt for any purpose at all?  This is the very definition of a blank check.

As the result of California Courts refusing to uphold the language of the High Speed Rail bonds, the opponents of any bond proposal, at either the state or local level, need only point to High-Speed Rail to remind voters that promises in a voter approved bond proposal are meaningless and unenforceable.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This article originally appeared on HJTA.org

Are benefits of Prop. 1 being oversold?



2014-10-23-Prop1coverProposition 1 — a $7.1 billion state bond to pay for a variety of water projects — was billed as a huge improvement over bloated past proposed water bonds when it emerged from the Legislature this summer. Now Gov. Jerry Brown’s political warchest and Sean Parker of Facebook and Napster fame are funding an ad campaign that aggressively pitches the measure and the Prop 2 rainy-day fund as crucial for California’s future.

Last week, however, one of the relatively few think tanks that specializes in water issues came out with a 26-page analysis that in low-key fashion suggests Prop 1’s merits are being exaggerated. The Pacific Institute, based in Oakland, says it is neutral on the measure. But its concluding chapter strongly  suggests that the bond is likely to disappoint anyone who sees it as a game-changer for state water policy:

We note that nothing in this proposition will provide immediate relief from the current drought or offer short-term assistance to those suffering the consequences of current water challenges. If Proposition 1 passes, if the funds are designated for effective projects, and if those projects are well-designed and well-implemented, the long-term benefits could include a reduction in the risks of future droughts and floods as well as improvements in the health of California’s aquatic ecosystems. A key priority of the bond is to augment the state’s water supply and improve water supply reliability, with more than $4.2 billion in taxpayer funding dedicated to that priority.

As was the case with the 2010 bond, there is substantial funding in the 2014 bond for the public benefits portions of surface water or groundwater storage projects. The 2010 bond included $3.0 billion directly for water storage; the current language includes $2.7 billion. Because the total size of the 2014 bond is smaller than the 2010 bond, the proportion of total funding committed for storage increased from 30% to 36%. Beyond the eduction in the total allocation from $3 billion to $2.7 billion, the water storage language in the proposed 2014 bond is almost identical to the language in the original 2010 bond.

Far less of the bond funds are available for other water supply and demand management options, including recycled water, stormwater capture, and efficiency. Yet, these options can typically provide more water at lower cost than most storage projects. Funding for water conservation and efficiency is especially low, at only $100 million, or about 1% of the bond.

 A down payment on water future “at best”

The think tank also worries that once the bond money is in hand, allocation decisions may be poorly handled.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of Proposition 1 funds in addressing California’s overall water problems will depend on how the funds, if passed by the voters, are actually allocated and spent. If Proposition 1 passes, the Institute recommends that the California Water Commission develop a rigorous, independent, and transparent evaluation of the process governing the evaluation and quantification of the public benefits of proposed storage projects. It also recommends that decisions about the rest of the funds be made with a focus on meeting public and ecosystem needs for safe and reliable water, improvements in efficient use, and reductions in the risks of future droughts and floods.

If good projects are identified and supported, these funds can help move the state forward in the broader effort of designing, building, and managing a 21st century water system. But voters should not expect immediate relief from Proposition 1 for the impacts of the current drought; nor should they expect these funds to be the last investment that is needed for better institutions, smarter planning, and more effective water management strategies. It can be, at best, a down payment on our water future.

The obvious solution that may someday be forced on us

ws_infographics_outdoorI’ve always thought that California’s water problems are seen through a distorted lens — one which doesn’t acknowledge that if water use is prioritized, genuine nightmares harming our quality of life are easily avoided.

The U.S. EPA says one-third of residential water use goes to maintain lawns. That’s nearly 9 billion gallons a day. And much of that is wasted.

If we ever had a water shortage so severe that it threatened our economy, stopping the use of water for what might be called cosmetic purposes would be an obvious step. Sorry, but using precious water so folks can have a green lawn should be the lowest water priority of all if the megadrought some expect for the Southwest comes to pass.

Brown lawns or dead lawns, in the grand scheme of things, are not genuine nightmares.

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com

Election Nears, Republicans Go Soft On Social Security

With the Senate potentially within the Republicans’ grasp, some GOP candidates are flip-flopping on how they view Social Security, the Washington Examiner reports.

The ads, run by Crossroads GPS, have appeared in North Carolina, Arkansas, and California, and show Republican candidates aggressively defending Social Security and attacking Democratic opposition.

Georgia is a prominent example, in which the National Republican Campaign Committee viscerally attacked Democratic Rep. John Barrow for “leaving Georgia seniors behind.” Republicans at this hour in the game are gunning for electoral support from the more senior demographic. Seniors reliably turn out at a higher rate to the polls in non-presidential elections than other groups.

According to the polls, both parties appear to support Social Security, but how the Republicans will manage entitlements in light of priorities of fiscal responsibility remains to be seen if they take a majority in one or both chambers. Allegations of hypocrisy have been flying since the incident in Georgia, as Democratic opposition to Social Security, according to Democrats, is part of the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson plan. In other words, Republicans are supposed to agree to raise taxes, and Democrats will in turn agree to reduce spending, to bring down the $17.9 trillion dollar national debt.

A former Republican senator from New Hampshire struck back against the few Republicans trying to trap opponents in an awkward position.

“It really is inappropriate for Republicans to attack people who stand up for entitlement reforms, especially hard reforms to Social Security and Medicare along the lines of what Simpson-Bowles proposes,” Judd Gregg told The Washington Post.

However, some Republicans point out that the whole issue is completely overblown in the first place—nothing more than an election ploy. The campaign against the Bowles-Simpson plan isn’t gaining any ground and is relegated to a few states, where Democrats, too, have broken the bargain. In Louisiana, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu has criticized her opponent for wanting to raise the retirement age.

“Entitlement reform has always been the most difficult piece of the debt-reduction equation,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, noting how politically fraught and heated the issue is around election time.

This article was originally published on the Daily Caller News Foundation

Michelle Steel’s Chance

After the 2012 presidential election, politicians, pundits and pollsters were obsessing over the staggering 71 percent of the Hispanic vote that President Obama received. What many ignored was the fact that there was an even more incredible figure about a racial group that had, until recently, voted Republican. That group is Asian Americans, giving Obama 73 percent of their vote on Election Day.

In Orange County, Republicans are trying to change that. One of those Republicans trying to change this status quo is Michelle Steel, currently the highest-ranking Republican constitutional officer in California and candidate for Orange County’s Second Supervisorial District.

Born in South Korea, Steel came to the United States and received degrees from Pepperdine and USC. While studying at Pepperdine, she met Shawn Steel while taking tennis lessons at the Ambassador Hotel. He noticed her because “she looked like she could really hit that ball and slam it well.” Soon after that first encounter at the tennis courts, they started dating.  Her now-husband, Shawn Steel is a former Chairman of the California Republican Party and currently serves as California’s Republican National Committeeman. Married in 1981, they settled in Palos Verdes and, then, Orange County with their two children, Cheyenne and Siobhan.

While in college, Steel worked at her mother’s clothing store. She had to support her mother, who didn’t speak English. And because her parents were hard-working small business owners, Steel has “always been about family values, smaller government and not accepting government handouts. I’m a first generation immigrant, and as a first generation immigrant, I had to be a Republican.” These conservative values would be put into great effect as CA government policies often attempt to abuse small business owners.

Steel’s mother encountered these abusive policies and regulations when she owned her clothing shop. The Board of Equalization accused her of cheating the state out of her taxes, and knowing that it would be impossible for her to fight the government and win, Steel explained, “My mom paid the taxes she didn’t owe, along with the penalty and interest on top of it.” Seeing this direct abuse by the government, Steel became actively interested in politics. “I can’t just sit at home and be a housewife. I wanted to be a bridge” between the people and their representatives in government.

At first, Shawn tried to keep her from going into politics, attempting to protect her. But he could not hold back her desire to help small business owners and implement the conservative values her experiences have instilled in her.

Her first political position was an appointment by then-mayor of Los Angeles, Richard Riordan, to the Los Angeles Fire Commission. And in the years following, she secured positions on multiple national boards including the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

After she was elected to the Board of Equalization, which is the state agency in charge of taxation, she saved California taxpayers $42 million in 2007 alone. Last year, she returned over $200 million back to the taxpayers through her efforts at BOE. Representing more than 8 million people — a quarter of California’s population — she has stood in defense of the taxpayer when it comes to pocketbook issues and has tried to save the people of California from abusive taxation by the government. Her experience on the BOE would be a worthy asset to her as supervisor because, as Steel points out, she “works with taxpayers. I work with them individually. Looking at the budget, I know how to save.”

This contrasts with her opponent, Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, who Steel claims “has always been about public offices and never really worked in the private sector.” Because of her prior experience, Steel knows “how the private sector is trying to survive” under the weight of California’s massive amount of taxes and regulation. Assemblyman Mansoor, who has held elective office for the past 12 years, “was the one who raised taxes” on his fellow Californians according to Steel.

As the country’s highest-ranking Korean American elected official and the highest-ranking Republican woman in California, Steel knows how to reach out to both women and minorities, two groups with which Republicans need to make serious inroads. “The Republican Party is changing. We need to learn how to relay our message because we are not really good at that,” as exhibited in recent elections. Her endorsements from countless Republican officials, conservative organizations, and community leaders demonstrate the confidence people have in her and what she is capable of accomplishing for her constituents.

Steel’s life story, her conservative beliefs, and her appeal to both women and minorities represent a bright light in, what could be, a fading future for the Republican Party. Hopefully, voters will see that and elect Michelle Steel, the taxpayer’s advocate, as Orange County Supervisor.

Tyler Warman is a junior attending Hillsdale College, where he studies politics and classical education. Tyler can be reached at twarman@hillsdale.edu.

Astounding number of tax increases on November ballots

When voters go to the polls November 4, they will decide the fate of a large number of school bonds, parcel taxes, sales taxes, utility users’ taxes and other measures that will impact their family budgets.

Despite the improving state economy that is increasing government revenue under existing tax rates, 53 jurisdictions are seeking sales tax increases, 40 are asking voters to approve parcel taxes, and school districts have placed 113 school bond measures on the ballot. If all of the school bonds are approved, taxpayers will have to repay more than $11.7 billion in new bond debt, plus interest.

While an overwhelming number of tax and bond measures have the support of local newspapers, as is historically the case, several of the measures on the November ballot have drawn opposition from newspaper editorial boards.

For example, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, which often supports tax increases, urged readers to reject Measure N, a utility users’ tax increase that the newspaper said would “fuel a growing chasm between richly funded public safety agencies and all other city services.” The newspaper said a previous ballot measure set a guarantee for police and fire spending that has hamstrung the city because the measure “didn’t account for an historic recession or the skyrocketing cost of retirement benefits.”

As is often the case, many local governments are using taxpayer-funded resources to campaign for tax measures. The Albany Unified School District’s website, for example, has a “news and announcements” section that describes a parcel tax measure as the “Preserve Funding for Albany Schools Act of 2014,” and states that “concerned parents, educators, and community members are joining together to support a replacement parcel tax.”

CalTax’s table summarizes the local tax and bond measures on the ballot in every county where such a measure will go before voters:  www.caltax.org/homepage/101714_elections.html

This article was originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily.

Covered CA caught in Prop. 45 crossfire

On Proposition 45, some Democrats are feeling as if they got a transfusion of the wrong blood type. The initiative would give the state insurance commissioner the power to approve changes in health-insurance policies, including those by Covered California, this state’s implementation of Obamacare.

Normally Democrats back more regulation, and plenty support Prop. 45. But it would affect not only private health insurance companies, but Covered California as well. Yet Covered California’s smooth success, unimpeded by state second opinions, is crucial to Obamacare’s national success.

Few have admitted it, but the roots of the conflict ultimately stretched back to the very nature of Covered California’s successful establishment. At a time when other state exchanges, such as Oregon’s, were failing in a way that imperiled Obamacare’s implementation, the success of Covered California had become all-important. Without enough signups, insurers whose products were mandated for purchase under Obamacare couldn’t deliver rates the public would accept.

As a result, Covered California became a crash effort to tap California’s substantial population for exchange signups. Enrollees without adequate paperwork or identification were provisionally allowed into the program. No-bid contracts went out to close associates of Covered California officials, who knew how to leap regulatory hurdles quietly and quickly. Once the publishable number of signups rose high enough, and Obamacare stabilized, the administrative cleanup could begin. A central part of that effort would include revisiting rates negotiated with insurers.

A political curveball

But if passed, Prop. 45 would scramble such planning. Incumbent Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones holds a strong interest in supporting Prop. 45, which would give him new powers if he’s re-elected. He’s running against Republican Ted Gaines, a state senator from Roseville. Gaines opposes Prop. 45 and has challenged Jones to a debate on it.

Embracing Prop. 45 was an apparently safe bet for Jones, who had powerful Democrats in his corner, including both of California’s Democratic U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

Insurance companies, to no one’s surprise, were opposed. The dynamic had all the makings of a predictable election-season matchup if there had been no Covered California.

The current train wreck could have been predicted by observers thinking a few steps ahead. The unsettled scope of Covered California’s regulatory authority teed up a classic bureaucratic turf war of the kind routinely on display in Washington, D.C.

For Covered California officials, it was essential to ensure  they could pursue their organization’s agenda unimpeded. That meant establishing direct negotiations with insurance companies themselves — without interference by state-level bureaucrats.

Adding to the administrative jockeying were the implications of the state health exchange itself. Though nominally a market in health care merely established by California through federal law, the exchange inherently politicized the cost of health insurance.

In a free market, for insurance, rates are set by company calculations. In a state-supervised exchange, by contrast, rates become subject to price manipulation based on the imperatives of keeping the exchange economically viable and politically palatable.

Shifting battle lines

From the outset, Prop. 45 threatened to complicate the ability of Covered California officials to independently pursue those imperatives. As the Sacramento Bee reported this summer, at least some influential exchange officials explicitly argued against Prop. 45 on the basis of politics. Diana Dooley, an HHS official who also chairs the board of Covered California, warned against the measure’s provision allowing challenges to rates Covered California negotiated.

For Dooley and her allies, the nightmare scenario involved activist conservatives using the challenge system to undermine trust in Covered California and reduce its efficacy.

But objections to rate-setting without adequate insurance commission oversight have been raised most frequently by Consumer Watchdog, the frequent opponent of large corporations that sponsored Prop. 45 to begin with. Because Covered California officials failed to imagine that anti-corporate sentiment would turn Californians against their plans, they walked into an election-year morass.

The predicament has left opponents of Prop. 45 falling back on a familiar strategy: advocating for additional time before Obamacare is judged wanting. In an editorial dismissing Prop. 45, the Los Angeles Times argued, “Covered California should be given the chance to fulfill its mission to the best of its ability before the state adds another layer of complexity to an already complex process.”

For his part, Jones is remaining adamant in favoring an initiative that would increase his office’s powers. He wrote on his Facebook page, “Vote YES on Prop 45 and make health insurers justify their rates!”

But the split within his own party, combined with plentiful insurance-company ads against the measure, could thwart his wishes.

This piece was originally published on CalWatchdog.com.

Prop. 1 Roots Go Back to Water Bonds that Built California

You might say that Proposition 1, the water bond, carries the DNA of bonds that promoted a growing and prosperous California. Water bonds helped build the Los Angeles Aqueduct in the early 1900s to make possible the growth of one of the world’s great cities. Another bond helped build the State Water Project half-a-century later, which, among other things, helped spur the state’s agricultural abundance. With the state facing a drought of staggering proportions, Proposition 1 would continue California’s long history of providing and caring for precious water resources.

The seven-plus billion dollar bond contains money for protecting watersheds, cleaning contaminated groundwater, and water recycling among other projects. But unlike water bonds passed in the last decade, the heritage that the Prop 1 bond shares with the bonds that helped build California is the $2.7 billion set aside for water storage projects, dams and reservoirs, almost 40-percent of the total bond.

As Governor Pat Brown’s biographer, Ethan Rarick, points out his book, California Rising, the Life and Times of Pat Brown, the physical aspects of the Central Valley and Southern California are good for neither plants nor people. Rarick dedicates a chapter of the book to the history of the State Water Project and the campaign for the bond that narrowly passed. Pat Brown set out to, in his own words, “correct an accident of people and geography.”

Pat Brown’s State Water Project stored water behind dams and moved the water to where it was needed. The storage aspect of Proposition1 is essential for building up the water supply as the drought deepens.

The dams that stored the water to help create the California we know today were considered so important that President John F. Kennedy came out to California to help dedicate not one but two dams.

President Kennedy dedicated the San Luis Dam that created the San Luis Reservoir in August of 1962. He was back a year later to dedicate the Whiskeytown Dam six miles west of Redding before a crowd of 10,000 people. Fox and Hounds contributor Joe Mathews wrote a history of Kennedy’s visit to the Whiskeytown Dam on the Zocalo Public Square website last year, which you can read here.

Kennedy talked about conservation during his Whiskeytown Reservoir speech. But he also said the dam would allow water to be used to “irrigate crops on the fertile plains of the Sacramento Valley and supply water also for municipal and industrial use to the cities to the south.”

In environmentally conscience California, dam building has been controversial. It was in the 1960s and opposition has certainly grown over time. Interestingly, the State Water Project was built with revenue from both the bond passed by the voters and from state money earned from offshore oil wells. Can you imagine such a proposal being pushed today? Certainly, it would meet loud opposition.

Still, voters and politicians recognize the need to have a safe and adequate water supply. Pat Brown’s son, Governor Jerry Brown, recognized the need and included storage in the water measure he negotiated.

That day in Whiskeytown, President Kennedy, speaking of the dams and reservoirs, acknowledged “the wise decisions that were made by those who came before, and the wise decisions that you are making now.” We will see if the voters of today continue to make wise decisions about water.

This piece was originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily.

Prop. 47 — CA no longer tough on crime?

Thanks to a new ballot measure, Proposition 47, voters in California could soon eliminate the last vestiges of the state’s tough-on-crime reputation. In a sea change from the 1990s, when high-profile, grisly crimes seized the state’s attention, Californians have helped drive the national conversation about criminal justice toward a kinder, gentler approach.

But the reality propelling interest in the new measure is that California has proven unable to effectively run its prison system the way that courts — including the U.S. Supreme Court — have demanded.

Major changes

Proposition 47 landed on the ballot with the backing of San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and former San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne. If the measure passes, the most frequent current crimes that carry felony convictions will be downgraded to misdemeanors. Prison time will be lowered, too, for such crimes to one year at most from the current three-year maximum.

That, as the Los Angeles Times reported, would be good news for Californians convicted of “drug possession, petty theft, possession of stolen goods, shoplifting, forgery and writing bad checks.” Those crimes made up 58,000 of the Golden State’s 202,000 felony convictions (based on 2012 figures, the most recent available). “Analysts say about 40,000 such cases would be reduced to misdemeanors; the initiative exempts offenses involving more than $950 and people with criminal records that include violence or sex offenses.”

The arguments for and against Prop. 47 haven’t surprised many California residents. On the one hand, it has long been common knowledge that California’s incarcerated population is high — by absolute measures, and relative to other states’ levels. In a black eye for Gov. Jerry Brown, his administration has been ensnared by the courts in a complex and awkward process called “realignment,” a way of shifting inmates from crowded state prisons into the county jail system.

On the other hand, Californians have not forgotten their state’s more sensational and frightening crimes. One of the worst even received mention during the recent gubernatorial debate between Brown and Neel Kashkari, his Republican challenger.

To ease overcrowding, California released Jerome Sidney DeAvila from prison; soon thereafter, in 2013 he committed a heinous crime involving rape and murder. The state’s police chiefs’ association has decried Prop. 47, saying the “dangerous and radical” measure will “endanger Californians.”

Easing up on convictions and sentencing would give California’s justice system a much-needed reprieve as it struggles to obey court orders to de-crowd. Yet it would be certain to ratchet up the risk of more violent crime — perhaps to a historic degree. In short, Prop. 47 has become associated with two different outcomes, one which many Californians desire, and one which none do.

An unprecedented coalition

With the measure poised between competing outcomes, its fate in November may come down to a public relations campaign. Oftentimes, ballot measures sink or swim depending on how voters view their fiscal implications.

Not so with Prop. 47. Although it would save the state some money, the amount recouped — a few hundred million dollars — would be a relative trifle given the size of California’s budget of more than $100 billion a year for the general fund.

That has placed a premium on presentation for Prop. 47’s key supporters. In fact, the coalition of activists and public figures behind Prop. 47 has raised eyebrows nationwide — suggesting that America’s traditional political battle lines have been scrambled when it comes to criminal justice reform.

Liberal and progressive support for a softer approach to crime has, predictably, given Prop. 47 a substantial push; George Soros’ Open Society Policy Center, based in Washington, D.C., kicked in $1 million.

At the same time, observers took special notice when former Republican U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, also a 2012 presidential candidate, teamed with billionaire Wayne Hughes to promote Prop. 47 in an opinion piece for the Times. If conservative-heavy states in the South could reform their own prison systems, claimed Gingrich and Hughes, surely California could as well.

The voters will have their say on Nov. 4.

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com