Cap and Trade Costing CA Drivers $2 Billion Per Year

carpool-laneAs fast as California drivers will spend an extra $2 billion at the pump this year to fund the controversial cap-and-trade program, state lawmakers are finding ways to use it, according to two reports released Thursday.

Cap and trade was implemented by a state regulatory board to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, as required by law.

One of several additional costs tacked on an estimated 11 cents to each gallon of gas and 13 cents per gallon of diesel, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, driving average prices to some of the highest in the nation.

“Most drivers have no idea that this is costing them $2 billion per year because it has been largely hidden from them,” said Asm. Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale. “It’s clear that we need to improve transparency for consumers about cap and trade’s costs.”

Where does the money go?

Cap-and-trade money is currently appropriated as follows: 40 percent is unallocated, 25 percent is for high-speed rail, 20 percent is for affordable housing and sustainable communities grants, 10 percent is for intercity rail capital projects and 5 percent is for low-carbon transit projects.

Waiting to spend the money are 36 pending proposals in the Legislature totaling $7.5 billion, which is more than double what was proposed in Gov. Jerry Brown’s draft budget, according to a study by the California Tax Foundation.

The most expensive proposal is SBX1 2, sponsored by Sen. Bob Huff, R-San Dimas. This bill would divert $1.9 billion annually to street and highway construction projects and block further cap-and-trade funds from going to high-speed rail.

In addition to barring further funds from going to high-speed rail (a recurring theme for Huff), the Huff bill is too vague to show whether it will reduce GHGs or not and may “leave itself open to litigation,” according to the legislative analysis.

Another bill, sponsored by Asm. Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, would fund nearly $1 billion worth of projects, including up to $100 million on new toilets. According to the report, many of the initiatives would likely reduce GHG emissions, while other parts of the bill might not.

Other bills include synchronizing traffic lights, implementing a car buyback program, promoting recycled glass and preventing forest fires. And while its unclear what effect most of the proposals would have on GHG emissions, the report was issued to help voters and legislators make that determination.

“This report identifies the auction revenue spending proposals that are active in the Legislature, so they can be given proper scrutiny,” California Tax Foundation Director Robert Gutierrez said in a statement.

Legality

Opponents of the program argue that by collecting revenue from drivers and businesses (those with large GHG emissions) it amounts to an illegal tax, which would have needed to be approved by a two-thirds legislative majority to be legal. A previous court ruling — which is now being challenged — found that the revenue is OK as a regulatory fee and thereby not subject to a two-third’s vote.

In 2006, the Legislature passed AB32, which tasked the state ARB to implement the GHG reduction. Proponents say this mandate gave the ARB the legal authority to auction off emission allowances (there’s a “cap” on emissions and business can “trade” them at auction).

In January, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended lawmakers either narrowly tailor their proposals to unquestionably reduce GHGs or approve the program with a two-thirds majority to avoid legal complications.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Swapping Fantasy Bullet Train for Real Water Storage

RB DroughtLike rampaging Godzilla in all those Japanese monster movies, the unpopular and expensive bullet train has proven almost impossible to kill. However, the project’s critics may have a new weapon that will stop it dead in its tracks. Using the initiative process, opponents hope the public will be willing to trade the train for an increased and more reliable water supply, a seemingly attractive proposal after years of drought.

Looking back, it is clear the 2008 campaign that convinced voters to approve a $10 billion bond to kick off the bullet train, was a con. It was built on fantasy. You can almost hear the cigar chomping carnival barker calling out, “Step right up, get on board, we’ll whisk you between Los Angeles and San Francisco in only a couple of hours for the inconsequential sum of just 50 bucks.”

Additionally, voters were promised the entire project would come in at less than $35 billion, the balance of which would come from private sector investment and the federal government.

An independent study of the project, The California High Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report by the respected Reason Foundation, clearly documented that the actual cost of the project would be closer to $100 billion and serve far fewer riders than claimed by backers of the bullet train. Turns out that all the negative predictions about High Speed Rail set forth in that study have not only come to pass, the project is even worse than thought.

Although the critical report was released before the election it was not enough to change the outcome. The duplicitous campaign in favor, paid for by labor unions and contractors that expected to benefit from the project, was augmented by the title and summary for the ballot measure, which were prepared by the Legislature – the same politicians who placed the Proposition 1A bond on the ballot. The title and summary were so over the top favorable to the bond proposal that alert taxpayers sued over its misleading content. The court agreed that the Legislature’s sleazy manipulation of the ballot process violated the Political Reform Act. But the decision was months too late to have any real effect because voters had already approved the new bond.

Over time, the public came to realize that they had been had. Previous support turned to dismay as it was revealed that the train would not be high speed; it would be a “blended” system that would nearly double promised travel times and the cost for tickets would double as well.

When Jerry Brown was returned to the governor’s office in 2010, he adopted the train project as his own legacy. His father, who served as governor from 1959 to 1967, is still revered in many quarters as the great builder of universities and highways. But it proved impossible to entice the private sector to participate because no sane investor thinks the project is based on a sound business model. And when the federal government turned off the spigot, the governor was forced to convince the Legislature to divert cap-and-trade funds to keep his pet project on life support.

But now, thanks to an initiative authored by George Runner, a member of the State Board of Equalization, and Senator Bob Huff, voters in November may have the option of trading in the $8 billion that remains unspent from the bullet train bond, for new water storage facilities and other programs to increase supply.

Of course, like any measure that spends billions of dollars that must be repaid by taxpayers, voters will want to carefully vet this measure. Still, with water consumption limits imposed by state and local agencies that have Californians taking fewer showers and replacing their lawns with rock gardens, voters may be willing to trade the bullet train fantasy for the security of knowing, when they open the tap, water will be there.

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.

Originally published at HJTA.org

CA Will Give Free High School Diplomas To Kids Who Flunked Out

The state of California is poised to award thousands of high school degrees to dropouts by passing a new law retroactively removing the requirement to pass a high school exit exam.

college graduate student educationThe California High School Exit Exam (CASHEE) was created in 2004, and is intended to make sure that students have a rudimentary grasp of English and mathematics before being awarded a high school diploma, and to counter the phenomenon of students receiving passing grades while learning almost nothing. The test is hardly complex. The math test, for instance, only covers 8th grade-level material and can be passed if students answer 55 percent of questions correctly. About 80 percent of California high schoolers take and pass it on their first try while in the 10th grade, and overall passage rates for the class of 2014 were above 97 percent.

But now, a bill passed Thursday by the California legislature, which Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign, suspends the exam through 2018, while also retroactively suspending it back to 2004. That means thousands of students who failed to ever pass the exam but otherwise completed all other requirements will now be able to receive diplomas.

According to SFGate, about 40,000 people will benefit from the change by becoming newly eligible to graduate. The number could be higher, though, as249,000 students failed to pass the test by the end of senior year from 2006 to 2014.

CASHEE was already scheduled to be on hiatus for several years while educators created a new test more in line with Common Core, which California has adopted. But the exam caused a ruckus over the summer when the state abruptly canceled a summer administration of the test and left several thousand students unable to graduate. Lawmakers moved quickly to let 2015 graduates receive diplomas without the test, but Brown then urged them to go further, and allow all prior students to receive a diploma as well.

Opposition has come from California Republicans, who argue that the test is remarkably easy and giving diplomas to those who can’t pass it will simply devalue California diplomas in general.

“It is not that rigorous,” Sen. Bob Huff told SFGate. “At least it’s something that we have a measure that they met some educational requirements. I think it’s a dumb move.”

Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

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CA Senate Approves Bill to Bring Back Redevelopment

affordable housingCalifornia has moved one step closer to the return of redevelopment and the controversial power to seize private property through eminent domain.

The state Senate approved legislation Wednesday that would give local governments the power to create new entities, known as community revitalization authorities, to stimulate economically-depressed or crime-ridden areas. Assembly Bill 2 would grant these new government agencies broad powers to issue bonds for the purpose of investing tax funds in infrastructure, affordable housing and economic revitalization projects.

“Redevelopment was a multi-purpose tool that focused over $6 billion per year toward repairing and redeveloping urban cores, and building affordable housing, especially in those areas most economically and physically disadvantaged,” argues the bill’s author, Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, according to a legislative analysis. “Since the dissolution of redevelopment agencies, communities across California are seeking an economic development tool to use.”

However, property rights advocates warn that the bill’s language contains no restrictions on eminent domain and could resurrect the abuses made possible by the Supreme Court’s controversial Kelo decision.

“Today, the state Senate passed a land grab bill that will make it easier for government to seize homes, businesses and places of worship by eminent domain!” the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights, an opponent of the bill, posted on itsFacebook page.

4 GOP Senators Join Democrats to Pass AB2

Republican Senator Anthony Cannella of Ceres, who introduced the bill on the Senate floor, argued that AB2 will provide economic stimulus to disadvantaged communities.

“This will grow jobs, reduce crime, repair deteriorating and inadequate infrastructure, clean up brownfields and promote affordable housing,” he said.

With Cannella’s support, the bill passed on a 29-10 vote — with the support of all but one Democrat and four Republicans, including Sen. Tom Berryhill of Twain Harte, Sen. Bob Huff of Diamond Bar and Sen. Sharon Runner of Antelope Valley.

Under the bill, a Community Revitalization Investment Authority could be created by a city, county or special district if certain conditions are met. The first requirement is that the area have an annual median household income that is less than 80 percent of the statewide median. Additionally, three of the following four conditions must be met:

  • Unemployment that is at least 3 percent higher than the statewide median unemployment rate;
  • A crime rate that is 5 percent higher than the statewide median crime rate;
  • Deteriorated or inadequate infrastructure such as streets, sidewalks, water supply, sewer treatment or processing, and parks;
  • Deteriorated commercial or residential structures.

Private Property Rights Threatened

Only one senator, Republican Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, spoke in opposition to the bill.

“This is the resurrection of the redevelopment agencies – the failed redevelopment agencies,” he said. “They absolutely exploited and will continue to exploit – under the provisions of this bill – the seizure of private property under eminent domain.”

Eminent domain is mentioned in the bill 21 times. The Legislative Counsel’s bill digest explicitly states, “The bill would authorize an authority to acquire interests in real property and exercise the power of eminent domain.”

Although the bill subjects private property to eminent domain, government agencies would receive a special carve-out from the practice.

“Property already devoted to a public use may be acquired by the agency through eminent domain, but property of a public body shall not be acquired without its consent,” the bill states.

Sen. Bob Huff: “We led the charge to save redevelopment”

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. New London that government agencies have the power to seize property for economic development. The decision was widely criticized across the political spectrum and inspired states to pass tougher laws limiting governments’ eminent domain powers. Here in California, the momentum for property rights reached its zenith in 2011, when Gov. Jerry Brown pushed through a plan to end redevelopment as part of his plan to balance the state budget.

Huff, who until recently served as Senate GOP leader, downplayed the “scare stories” of eminent domain abuse by private property advocates and reminded his colleagues of his past work with Sen. Rod Wright to save redevelopment agencies.

“We led the charge to protect redevelopment because it was one of the few economic developments that cities had,” Huff said on the Senate floor in support of AB2. “It was also one of the few ways to generate revenue for our affordable housing.”

With the Senate’s approval, the bill returns to the state Assembly for concurrence, where it is expected to pass with widespread support.

In May, AB2 passed by a 63-13 vote – without a single member – Republican or Democrat – voicing opposition. A dozen Assembly Republican lawmakers, including Assembly GOP leader Kristin Olsen, joined the Democratic majority in backing the bill.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Chad Mayes Selected as Next Assembly Republican Leader

Come January, Assembly Republicans will have a new leader.

On Tuesday, the 28 Republican members of the lower house selected Assemblyman Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley as their next leader. The caucus did not release the specific tally for the caucus vote nor indicate any other candidates for the leadership post.

“I am fortunate to inherit a Caucus that is united in its commitment to fiscal responsibility and meeting the needs of a 21st Century economy,” Mayes said in a press release following the announcement. “For California to thrive, legislative leaders must provide solutions that offer a pathway to prosperity. Too often politicians take actions that limit opportunity in the very communities they claim to serve.”

He added, “I look forward to working with our Caucus to make California a better place to call home.”

Mayes, who was elected to the state Assembly in 2014, will take over for current GOP leader Kristin Olsen when the Legislature reconvenes on January 4, 2016.

Second consecutive GOP leader to reject anti-tax pledge

Mayes said that he intends to carry on Olsen’s philosophy and approach to the post.

Dollar Puzzle 02

“I am humbled by my colleagues’ confidence in my ability to lead the Caucus,” Mayes said. “I plan to build upon Kristin’s vision of bringing the Caucus and its supporting operations into the 21st Century. She has worked tirelessly to position our Caucus and its members for maximum success.”

Since taking over as minority leader, Olsen has embraced a more moderate approach and rejected the anti-tax rhetoric that is considered orthodoxy to traditional conservative Republicans. In 2012, Olsen publicly criticized the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a promise by elected officials to oppose higher taxes.

“The problem with the no-tax pledge is that entrenched special interests interpret what is or is not a violation of the pledge in order to serve their own agendas – and sometimes their interpretations defy logic,” Olsen wrote in a Sacramento Bee opinion piece before taking over as leader. “To grow the Republican Party, we have to get away from relying solely on ‘No’ messages. We are better than that, and Californians deserve and desire solution-focused leadership that will help bring legislative Democrats over to our side on the need for lower taxes and substantive reforms.”

As a candidate for state Assembly, Mayes similarly rejected the anti-tax pledge. Mayes told the Desert Sun last year that “he’s not the kind of Republican who is out to blow up government … and said he declined to sign the taxpayer protection pledge.”

Mayes brings experience from more than a decade serving at the local government level. He was first elected to the Yucca Valley Town Council in 2002 and was twice re-elected. During his time on the town council, Mayes served as president of the Desert Mountain Division of the League of California Cities.

He also worked as a political staff member at the county-level, serving as chief of staff to San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford.

Olsen’s tenure as leader

Olsen earned praise from her colleagues for her tenure as leader.

“Kristin may have been a transitional leader in terms of time, but she has been transformative in her impact on Caucus operations,” said Assembly Republican Caucus Chair Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita. “Her changes set a pathway to Republican relevancy and she worked to lay the foundation for a Republican majority in the near future. Thanks to Kristin, our Caucus is united, focused, and motivated.”

Olsen, who is termed out of the state Assembly next year, welcomed the leadership transition and said she’s proud of her accomplishments, which included a major staff shake-up as part of an effort of “modernizing caucus operations.”

Kristin_Olsen_Picture“My goal as Assembly Republican leader has been to unite our caucus and advance core principles that resonate with Californians and will revitalize our state: good jobs, great schools, and a more transparent, effective, and citizen-driven government,” Olsen said. “I am pleased that we have been able to accomplish this while modernizing our Caucus operations, hiring top-notch staff, and becoming pro-active and solution-focused.”

Mayes will have company learning the ropes as a new Republican leader. Last week, the Senate Republican Caucus announced that Sen. Jean Fuller of Bakersfield had unseated Sen. Bob Huff as Republican Senate leader.

Huff is running for an open seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to replace longtime Supervisor Mike Antonovich. Other candidates for that seat include gang prosecutor Elan Carr, Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian, Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander and Kathryn Barger, Antonovich’s chief of staff.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Tom Steyer’s $1 Billion “Green-Jobs” Initiative is a Bust

prop. 39California’s initiative process has sometimes been a boon to taxpayers — think Proposition 13, which checked the uncontrolled growth of property taxes. On other occasions, however, it has yielded some mighty boondoggles. Chief among these are the “boutique initiatives” advanced by celebrities and Silicon Valley billionaires to make themselves feel good or to advance pet political causes — think Proposition 10, Hollywood director Rob Reiner’s early-childhood-development measure that created a host of busybody commissions funded by cigarette taxes.

Boutique initiatives usually come with boutique prices. Among the costliest is Proposition 39, a 2012 measure that hiked corporate taxes on out-of-state businesses to “create energy efficiency and clean energy jobs” and fund “green energy” projects. Prop. 39 was the brainchild of hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer, who happened to make a substantial chunk of his fortune from coal and other “dirty energy” investments. Steyer poured $29.6 million of his own money into the campaign. Opposition was negligible; even several large corporations that would face hefty tax increases, such as General Motors, backpedaled from their initial opposition. Sixty-one percent of California voters approved the measure.

Three years on, the results are in: Proposition 39 is a massive waste. An Associated Press investigation found that the state legislature spent half of Proposition 39’s tax revenues “to fund clean energy projects in schools, promising to generate more than 11,000 jobs each year. Instead, only 1,700 jobs have been created in three years.” Moreover, the initiative has fallen well short of the revenue the state Legislative Analyst’s Office projected it would generate. According to the AP, “Proponents told voters in 2012 that it would send up to $550 million annually to the Clean Jobs Energy Fund. But it brought in just $381 million in 2013, $279 million in 2014 and $313 million in 2015.”

Naturally, Steyer and his allies didn’t respond well to the AP’s revelations. State senate president pro tem Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat, defended Proposition 39’s record in a joint statement with Steyer published Monday: “It’s irresponsible and more than a little misleading to prejudge a long-term, multi-year program this early in the process. We are disappointed that the Associated Press did not take time to present an objective or comprehensive analysis of what is still a developing program.” Would Steyer say the same about a three-year, private-sector investment that turned sour?

De Leon and Steyer have been super-glued together of late. As the Bakersfield Californian reported, “Steyer, a major donor to Democrats nationwide, is pouring money into the California Capitol, and de Leon is introducing bills that echo Steyer’s environmental agenda.” Steyer has appeared at hearings for de Leon’s Senate Bill 350, which would mandate a 50 percent cut in gasoline consumption in the Golden State by 2030. The only way to achieve that goal would be to increase prices substantially. Hardest hit by Proposition 39 and the scorched-earth environmentalism of SB 350 would be de Leon’s own constituents in East Los Angeles, one of the poorest areas in a state with the highest poverty rate in the nation. Working- and middle-class Californians with long commutes or who drive trucks for a living would suffer the consequences.

De Leon and Steyer’s protests notwithstanding, the AP investigation might spur some corrective action in Sacramento. “It’s clear to me that the legislature should immediately hold oversight hearings to get to the bottom of why yet another promise to the voters has been broken,” insisted Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff of San Dimas. “We should hold some oversight hearings to see how the money is being spent,” said Fresno Democratic assemblyman Henry Perea, “where it is being spent and seeing if Prop. 39 is fulfilling the promise that it said it would.”

At least somebody is getting a nice piece of the action: of the $297 million already doled out to public schools, half went to consultants and auditors. Turns out that “green jobs” means more green for government contractors. Maybe voters will respond more wisely the next time Steyer tugs at their environmental heartstrings.

Stop sign cameras in mountain parks may take a hike

Stop sign photoThe Santa Monica Mountains are home to nearly 400 species of birds, more than 50 threatened or endangered plants and animals, and seven threatened or endangered photo-enforced stop signs.

State Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, wants to save the ticket-mailing stop signs from extinction, but Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, has introduced a bill to kill them off. In January, Senate Bill 218 will return to the Senate Natural Resources Committee for a second time, after Pavley, chair of the committee, blocked it in May.

“I find it promising that some of my colleagues believe, as I do, that no matter how noble the goal, the MRCA needs to better justify its stop sign camera enforcement program,” Huff said.

MRCA is the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority. It was formed in 1985 when the Conejo Recreation and Park District and the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District joined with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to acquire, develop and conserve park and open-space lands. Today MRCA manages 72,000 acres of public lands from Ventura County to the San Gabriel Mountains.

MRCA’s noble goal is the safety of park visitors, whether they are hiking, dog-walking, bicycling, pushing a baby stroller or driving.

In pursuit of this goal, MRCA operates seven photo-enforced stop signs in its parks, which together generate $1.5 million annually in gross revenue. The automated system sends out about 25,000 tickets a year at $100 a pop, jumping to $500 for the third violation within 12 months.

The tickets are mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle as identified from a photo of the rear license plate. Appeals of violations are handled internally at MRCA and then can be taken to the Superior Court — about 50 percent of the tickets are tossed out. They are administrative citations, which don’t count against an individual’s driving record, but unpaid tickets are turned over to a collection agency.

It is disputed whether MRCA’s system, unique in California, is legal under the state’s vehicle code, and whether the placement of the signs is really motivated by safety concerns. Supervising ranger Jewel Johnson told the Senate committee the signs are thoughtfully placed to protect pedestrians and to slow down speeding commuters who use park roads as a shortcut.

But a recent visit to two of the parks calls that claim into question.

Near the entrance to Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park, located at the south end of Reseda Boulevard, a photo-enforced stop sign is placed at a mid-point in the road where there is no intersection. A crosswalk in front of the stop line leads to a hiking trail on one side, but it seems unnecessary to force every car to come to a complete stop on the road leading out of the park if no one is waiting to cross.

The Top of Topanga Overlook is a narrow walkway where visitors can see a wide view of the San Fernando Valley. The tiny park has 16 parking spaces, three picnic tables, a few benches, some deceased shrubs and a photo-enforced stop sign. It nails drivers as they exit the park in a right-turn-only lane that puts them on northbound Topanga Canyon Boulevard. The placement of the sign doesn’t protect pedestrians or slow traffic in the park. It’s just a stop sign at the end of a right-turn lane, and the fines for rolling through it go to MRCA.

The fines also go to Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., a Phoenix company that makes red light camera systems and speed enforcement cameras as well as the stop sign setups.

In June, former Redflex CEO Karen Finley pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges for giving money to officials in Columbus and Cincinnati in order to land contracts. And last year, Chicago ended its relationship with Redflex after a federal grand jury issued a 23-count indictment accusing the company of paying off city officials to get $124 million in public contracts.

Here in California, Redflex has spent $1.2 million lobbying the state Legislature since 2009.

Redflex is opposed to Sen. Huff’s bill, which would make photo-enforced stop signs illegal in the Santa Monica Mountains and everywhere else in the state.

“We all share a common love for our public parks and want people to have a safe and enjoyable experience while visiting them,” Huff said. “We shouldn’t be punishing people who are enjoying a day in the park with an arbitrary ticket.”

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Ling Ling Chang Will Vie for State Senate in 2016

lingling changAssemblywoman Ling-Ling Chang, R-Diamond Bar, has announced her campaign to replace termed-out State Senator Bob Huff.

Chang’s campaign for the 29th State Senate district sets up a showdown with former Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang for a seat that Democrats see as an opportunity to reclaim their supermajority in the upper house. Her campaign came at the urging of the Senate Republican Caucus, which sees the former mayor of Diamond Bar as the strongest candidate to replace the termed-out Senate Republican leader.

On Friday morning, the Republican Assemblywoman, who has been on the job for less than six months, announced her campaign with endorsements from Huff, Rep. Ed Royce and Asm. Young Kim. With a united front behind a top-tier candidate, Republicans hope to take the 29th Senate seat off the table in 2016.

Chang: Self-Described Tech Geek

In just her first term in the State Assembly, Chang has quickly risen to the top of the freshman class. A powerhouse fundraiser, Chang raised more than $632,000 for her 2014 Assembly campaign.

That fundraising prowess helped her land a spot on Asm. GOP leader Kristin Olsen’s leadership team as Republican Whip. In addition to serving as Vice Chair of the powerful Assembly Rules Committee, Chang holds key spots on the Appropriations Committee, Business & Professions Committee and the Privacy & Consumer Protection Committee.

Senator_Bob_Huff

Her current district includes substantial portions of the 29th Senate district. Prior to representing the 55th Assembly District, she served on the Diamond Bar City Council and Walnut Valley Water District Board of Directors.

“My mom didn’t understand why a young girl would be so obsessed with computers, so she would try and prohibit me from going online. I found my way around it until my mom started removing the keyboard,” Chang told the Sacramento Bee earlier this year. “Now she completely regrets it. Technology, to me, it’s like second nature. I can actually work something without having to read the user manual.”

The self-described “tech geek” has endeared herself to her colleagues by being a team player. In advance of the 2014 general election, she contributed more than $60,000 to party committees and legislative targets, including colleagues Kim, David Hadley, Tom Lackey, Marc Steinorth, Catharine Baker and Eric Linder. However, she’s also stumbled in her first few months in the state legislature, backing a plan to bring back redevelopment that is strongly criticized by property rights advocates.

Shaw expected to withdraw from the race

Chang’s candidacy changes the dynamics of the race and likely brings to an end the short-lived candidacy of fellow Republican Tim Shaw, who currently works as an aide to Huff. A La Habra City Councilman, Shaw has struggled to raise money since announcing his campaign in February. He had yet to file a campaign finance report, according to the state’s financial disclosure database.

Sukhee KangAs a result of Shaw’s perceived weaknesses, Democrats recruited former Irvine mayor Sukhee Kang to run for the seat. During his final term as mayor of Irvine, Kang won praise from liberal Democrats for his plan to ban single-use plastic bags. That’s helped him secure early backing from prominent statewide Democrats, including Senate Pr­­esident Pro Tem Kevin de León and former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Kang’s candidacy has its own baggage. Namely, he only recently packed his bags and moved into the district. He’s also weighed down by the ongoing audit of the Orange County Great Park. According to OC Weekly, while on the Irvine city council, in an alliance with former councilman Larry Agran and councilwoman Beth Krom, “Sukhee Kang diverted more than $174,000 per month in park funds to three political operatives — George Urch, Chris Townsend and Arnold Forde — allegedly performing ‘public relations’ for a government park that still hasn’t been built — and then shrugged their collective shoulders about why there was no money left for the noble endeavor.”

In 2012, Kang unsuccessfully challenged Rep. John Campbell for the 45th Congressional District. A first-generation Korean immigrant, Kang hoped to appeal to the district’s more than 89,000 Asian American voters in a uphill race against Shaw, a white Republican.

As the first Taiwanese-born woman to serve in the state Assembly, Chang undercuts the Democrat’s campaign strategy. According to voter registration statistics from Political Data, Inc., there are approximately 10,000 more registered voters with Chinese surnames than Korean surnames. Voters in the 29th Senate district have requested nearly twice as many Chinese language ballots than Korean ballots.

Kang’s campaign adviser Garry South seemed unfazed by Chang’s announcement. “See ya in a presidential year!” he said, welcoming the news.

Republicans hold a 3.5 percent edge in voter registration, with 37.3 percent of all registered voters in the district, according toAroundtheCapitol.com. The district’s high overall registration rate makes it difficult for Democrats to invest in a registration program to close that gap. The GOP has 15,000 more voters than Democrats. Orange County makes up more than 70 percent of the 29th State Senate district, which also includes portions of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. In 2012, Huff retained the seat with 55.1 percent of the vote, after spending minimal funds on his reelection campaign.

Under the state’s revised term limits law, Chang is eligible to serve two terms in the State Senate as well as one additional term in the State Assembly.

CA Politicians Reach Into Transportation Funds, Ignore Crumbling Infrastructure

california roads infrastructureNow there is no question that road and bridge maintenance is lagging in the Golden State. Most counties have an average pavement rating of “at risk” or “poor” according to a finding by the California Transportation Commission. In addition to the safety hazards caused by poor road maintenance, there is a direct cost to the average California driver of hundreds of dollars for vehicle maintenance and tire wear.

Before assuming that that the Sacramento politicians are justified in seeking to dig deeper into drivers’ wallets, it is important to point out that billions in transportation tax dollars have been spent on other programs. State government has been diverting a billion dollars a year in annual truck weight fees to pay debt service on general obligation bonds and another $100 million annually in gas tax revenues to the general fund.

Now, in theory, all transportation tax revenues are to go for transportation purposes. Voters have passed several propositions they were assured would guarantee this result.

However, Sacramento has used slight-of-hand to divert these revenues. For example, after voters approved $20 billion in transportation bonds in 2006, bonds that were to be repaid from the general fund, officials later decided to use transportation tax revenue for bond repayment, freeing up general fund revenue for other purposes.

Some will argue that it is appropriate that transportation taxes repay transportation bonds, but voters were lead to believe the money would come from the general fund. When the state passes school bonds, they are repaid from the general fund.  When water bonds are passed, they too are repaid by the general fund. There is no reason transportation bonds should be different. By using transportation tax revenue to pay off bonds, there is not enough money left to maintain the improvements the bonds pay for.

Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff has a better idea that will slap the hands of those who have been reaching into the transportation tax cookie jar and diverting funds from road and bridge maintenance. Huff’s legislation, Senate Constitutional Amendment 7, would close the loopholes and stop this theft of transportation dollars. SCA 7 is the only plan in the Legislature that would provide funds to improve state roads and highways without raising taxes.

However don’t look for quick or easy passage of SCA 7. Its flaw? It does not require a tax increase and for the majority party in Sacramento, which is obsessed with extracting more money from taxpayers, this flaw is likely to be fatal.

It is hard to blame California drivers if they feel a like a lot like the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield who would complain, “I don’t get no respect.”

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Originally posted on HJTA.

Anaheim Teachers Union Faces A Gathering Storm

If you drive by Palm Lane Elementary School in Anaheim, California, nothing seems amiss. With modern buildings, partially surrounded by a park, the school seems like a tranquil refuge. Like so many settings in sunny Southern California, palm trees and sycamores compete for space on the spacious lawns, beckoning skyward, swaying in the warmth of a slight breeze. By appearances, Palm Lane seems a perfect place to send your children to get an education.

Appearances can be deceiving. Palm Lane does not deliver educational excellence to its students, and it is the latest epicenter of an escalating war for control of California’s failing public schools.

Despite investing to create and maintain an impressive campus, academic achievement at Palm Lane has been sadly deficient. According to a report earlier this month in the Wall Street Journal, “In 2013 a mere 38 percent of students scored proficient or better on state standardized English tests and 53 percent in math. About 85 percent of its students are Latino and 60 percent aren’t native English speakers.”

Parents at Palm Lane School were not aware of the school’s designation as a failing school, but they noticed improvement when a new principal, Roberto Baeza, arrived in 2013. During 2014, however, the Anaheim City School Board (ACSB) demoted Mr. Baeza and he now works at another school. Parent protests led to the involvement of Senator Huff’s office, along with former State Senate majority leader Gloria Romero.

Back in 2010, Senator Huff, a Republican, joined with Democratic Senator Gloria Romero to pass “Parent Trigger,” a law that permits parents to take over the management of a failing school if a majority of them sign a petition. To get onto the list of eligible schools, among other things, a public school has to fail to meet academic performance improvement goals for four consecutive years. Palm Lane has failed to meet improvement targets for over a decade.

While concerned parents began to organize to gather signatures to invoke the provisions of Parent Trigger, the Anaheim Elementary Teachers Association – that’s “teachers union” in plain English – tried to discourage the effort. As noted in the Wall Street Journal article, “In an October newsletter, the union warned teachers that ‘If you see signature gatherers or unusual people on your campus, contact the office, and depending on the situation, approach them and inquire why they are there or what they need.’ While teachers by law can’t tell parents not to sign the petition, the union said ‘it is okay to make statements such as: If I were a parent at this school, I wouldn’t sign the petition.’”

Eventually, signatures representing about 65 percent of students were gathered despite efforts by teachers to discourage it. Under Parent Trigger, petitioning parents may choose from among a group of options, one of which allows them to turn the failing school their children attend into a charter school. That is the option selected by the Palm Lane parents. That’s the worst possible option for the teachers union.

How the union is handling this challenge to the status-quo is revealing and typical. They have positions of authority over these children and the ability to influence parents both through their children and through meetings and communications directly with parents. Since the petitions were turned in, the union has been organizing meetings with parents, where, needless to say, the charter school option is not presented in a positive light. In one of these meetings, one of Senator Huff’s district representatives, who was invited to the meeting by concerned parents, had to contend with physical and verbal intimidation from union operatives.

There is understandable reluctance on the part of the Anaheim Elementary Teachers Association to see a change in management. But the way they are handling the situation is creating a movement. There are hundreds, if not thousands of schools in California that have failed according to the criteria specified in the Parent Trigger law.

Charter schools work. They work because they have the management flexibility to, for example, terminate incompetent teachers and retain excellent teachers even during layoffs. Each charter school has the independence to try creative approaches to effective teaching. They are laboratories where the science of education is advanced far more quickly than in highly regimented traditional schools where student achievement must be accomplished without violating union work rules. Even more important, when charter schools fail, and some of them do, they can be swiftly shut down or reorganized. Charter schools offer hope to literally millions of K-12 students in California.

If Parent Trigger succeeds in turning Palm Lane into a charter school, it won’t end there. The teachers union knows this. But all their money and influence cannot stand up to a grassroots, bipartisan movement of parents who love their children, and activists of diverse backgrounds and ideologies who care about the future. They know that, too.

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