Sexual misconduct in the California Legislature – Outside firm hired to investigate

Nancy Skinner

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, is among more than 140 women who signed the letter detailing sexual harassment in politics and demanding that it end. (Bert Johnson/KQED)

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, announced on Tuesday that the state Senate will hire outside firms to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct at the Capitol in Sacramento – allegations referenced in an open letter signed by women claiming widespread harassment while working in California politics.

“There’s always more employers can do to protect their employees,” de León said. “Everyone deserves a workplace free of fear, harassment and sexual misbehavior and I applaud the courage of women working in and around the Capitol who are coming forward and making their voices heard.”

The open letter was published on wesaidenough.com.

“The time has come for women to come together, to speak up and to share their stories,” part of the letter read. “The time has come for good men to listen, to believe us, and to act as strong allies by speaking out against harassment in all its forms.”

Below the text was a box to share and submit a story of your own to the group.

“If you see – or experience – inappropriate behavior, don’t sweep it under the rug. Speak up, speak loud, and know there is a community of people who will support you. Let’s work on the solution together,” the letter added.

In particular, the writing criticized the Legislature’s procedures for dealing with such complaints, with some women arguing they fear speaking out over concerns that it will put their professional life in jeopardy.

“If you hang someone out to dry as a Weinstein of the Sacramento community, that sort of gives folks the political cover to say look we got the bad guy, we fixed this,” lobbyist Samantha Corbin told the Sacramento Bee. “That’s not true. We want long-term culture change where men are held accountable and there is a system where woman can work and feel safe.”

Assembly leaders also said this week that they will launch public hearings, prompting some speculation that the claims are being given a heightened sense of attention in wake of the Harvey Weinstein sex scandal that has rocked Hollywood.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, issued a joint statement with with Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, and Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale.

“First, we must change the climate that has allowed sexual harassment to fester,” the statement read. “Second, we must ensure victims have a safe and dependable environment to come forward and discuss complaints no matter who the perpetrator is and without detriment to their career or environment. Third, we must ensure that sexual harassment is dealt with expeditiously and that the seriousness of consequences match the violations committed.”

The move by de León comes just days after he announced his primary challenge to longtime incumbent U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., likely creating a sense of urgency to quell any criticism that he presided over a toxic and abusive culture while in leadership in Sacramento.

The Law Offices of Amy Oppenheimer will conduct the investigation and CPS HR Consulting will “review the Senate’s policies and practices against harassment, discrimination and retaliation,” according to de León.

One of the more explosive allegations comes from lobbyist Pamela Lopez, who described to several papers an incident where a current lawmaker, who has not been named, shoved her into a bathroom and masturbated in front of her.

The actions come in conjunction with the #MeToo campaign, which is spreading across social media, where victims are documenting their experiences with harassment.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Is California’s Tax Burden “Fair”?

TaxesA recent report by the highly regarded Calmatters.com found that the State of California has been on a “taxing binge” over the past few years, having enacted a whole slew of recent tax increases such as the “gas tax,” the “cap and tax” energy taxation scheme.

The Calmatters.com analysis found that the recent state tax increases “plus a slew of new local government levies and hikes in personal income and taxable retail sales, will raise total tax collections to just under $300 billion, or $50 billion more than they were just two years ago,” according to the report.

“Nearly $200 billion will go to the state and more than $100 billion to schools and local governments,” states the report, which concludes that California likely has the “highest” tax burden in the nation.   (Note:  As good as the original Calmatters.com revenue analysis is, there appears to be several major revenue sources excluded such as “fee” revenue, county revenue sources, and “special district” revenue to name a few.  Based on my rough estimations the total state and local burden is likely closer to $400 billion, possibly more, if “all” revenue sources are included) 

That puts the state’s total estimated tax burden at an estimated $300 billion, which is roughly 11.5% of the state’s economy, based 2016 California Dept. of Finance figures that peg the state’s total economic activity at about $2.6 trillion.

To put this into perspective, the federal budget recently approved by the Senate proposes about $4 trillion in spending, which is about 21% of the nation’s $19 trillion in estimated gross domestic product (GDP), according to figures produced by the Trump Administration.

It must also be noted that these figures fail to adequately account for significant “deficit spending” and “mounting debt” at all levels of government, which have the effect of pushing an increasing tax burden into the future.

Thus, while the federal government is considering a dramatic reduction in tax rates, California government continues on a “taxing binge.”

A new updated report by the California Taxpayers’ Association (Cal-Tax) found that the Democrat-run California Legislature has proposed “more taxes and fees in the first half of the 2017-18 legislative session than in all of 2015 or 2016,” states the report.

The Cal-Tax report found that California Democrat lawmakers have collectively introduced 89 proposals that “cumulatively would cost taxpayers more than $373 billion annually in higher taxes and fees,” states the report.

This “taxing binge” at the state level, has been copied at the local level of government in California in recent years with a record amount of tax and bond measures being proposed in the June and November 2016 elections.

According to a report by CaliforniaCityFinance.com, there was an “unprecedented” 452 tax increases and 184 separate bond measures placed on the November 2016 ballot by California local governments and school districts.  More than 80% of the local tax increases passed and more than 97% of the bond measures passed.

But these overall figures, don’t tell the whole story. The key policy questions that emerge are what are the factors driving this “acceleration” in the California tax burden? And how are California state and local governments spending all this additional tax revenue?

A third question that I believe must be asked yet often is not, is who is paying all these additional state and taxes?

As an expert in state and local finance, I have extensively studied the facts and evidence on all of these questions and drawn some overarching conclusions.

First, the key factor driving the recent “acceleration” in the state’s tax burden is “unchecked” and “unsustainable” increases in the “cost of government” in California at both the state and local levels.

The state’s “public employee pension crisis” is the biggest single driver of the “cost of government,” combined with significant baseline expenditure increases in current and retired public employee health care costs.

Given that labor costs typically compose more than 80% of public sector budgets, and more than 90% of the cost increases, the “cost of government” cannot be addressed without significant mitigation of public employee compensation cost increases.

Second, how are state and local governments spending this additional tax revenue?  This issue is connected to the first question and touches on perhaps one of the most disturbing trends in California public finance—this money is primarily being squandered on “unsustainable” increases in the cost of government, not on improving government services and infrastructure.

Unfortunately, the complex nature of public budgets makes it very easy to hide the nature and extent of cost increases.  But my overall conclusion is simple, the “driving forces” behind both the underlying “need” for the tax increase as well as the actual expenditures themselves are caused primarily by “unsustainable” increases in public employee compensation costs.

In short, baseline public employee compensation costs are rising at rates that far exceed average revenue growth for public agencies.  Based on my review of local and state budgets, during economic expansions stand and local revenue growth averages about 4-7% per year, compared to increases in public employee compensation costs that average between 10-25% of total agency costs.

Thirdly, who pays this increasing state and local tax burden?  This is also a complex question, but there is no question that the heaviest tax burden falls on average Californians and small businesses, particularly the poor.

A 2015 report by the California budget project, found that California’s lowest-income families pay the largest share of their income in state and local taxes, with the bottom 1/5 of all taxpayers paying 10.5% of their income in taxes.

Incidentally, these same low-income and poor families are paying nearly 70% of their income in housing costs, according to the California Legislative Analyst.

That is why the recent tax increases approved by the California Democrat Legislature are so “offensive” because they take a bad problem and make it even worse.

The $5-6 billion increase in the “gas tax” and vehicle fees is highly regressive, and so is the “cap and tax” scheme which creates a new energy tax burden that will be the heaviest on poorer individuals and families, along with small businesses.

As for the whole slew of local taxes, those also tend to fall disproportionately on “average” taxpayers, small businesses, and homeowners, as opposed to special interests who can afford to mount major opposition campaigns, thereby preventing such proposals in the first place.

Ironically, there continues to be calls for “tax reform” in California, but if you look behind these “tax and spend” efforts such as the “Make it Fair Campaign,” they all propose billions in additional taxes, particularly on individuals and small businesses.

But to truly make the state’s tax system “more fair,” that would require limiting future tax increases and lowering taxes on “average” Californians, homeowners, and small businesses.

Unfortunately, there are very few “well heeled” interest groups in Sacramento who are willing to champion that cause.

David Kersten is the president of the Kersten Institute for Governance and Public Policy—a Bay Area-based public policy think tank and consulting organization. Kersten is also an adjunct professor of public budgeting at the University of San Francisco. 

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Gov. Brown signs major bills – How will they affect you?

jerry-brown-signs-lawsSACRAMENTO – In his veto message of two bills that would have banned smoking at California state parks and beaches, Gov. Jerry Brown argued that there must be “some limit to the coercive power of government.” Nevertheless, in a sea of bill signings this week, the governor vastly expanded the power of government to dictate private workplace rules, along with a number of other measures that expand state regulatory prerogatives.

One of the more far-reaching bills, Senate Bill 63, mandates that companies with at least 20 employees provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave to workers to care for a newborn or adopted child. Before the signing, state law required such leave for companies with 50 or more workers. The bill’s backers said it is about simple “fairness,” but the California Chamber of Commerce labeled it a “job killer” that “unduly burdens” small companies and “exposes them to the threat of costly litigation.”

Brown also signed Assembly Bill 168, which bans all employers – including state and local governments, and even the Legislature – from asking for the salary history of any applicant. Instead, the employer must provide a salary scale. It was pitched mainly as a gender-equality measure.

“The practice of seeking or requiring the salary history of job applicants helps perpetuate wage inequality that has spanned generations of women in the workforce,” said Assembly member Susan Eggman, the Stockton Democrat who sponsored the bill. Opponents argue that there are many legitimate reasons for employers to seek out an applicant’s salary history and that the law will cause employers mainly to enlarge the pay range, thus making it much harder for applicants and employers to find the appropriate level of pay.

These bills were part of a package backed by the California Legislative Women’s Caucus. Not all of them were workplace-related. For instance, the governor signed AB10 by Assembly member Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, which “requires public schools serving low-income students in grades 6 to 12 to provide feminine hygiene products in half of the school’s bathrooms at no charge.”

And he signed AB273 by Assembly member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, which “expands the eligibility criteria for subsidized child care services to parents who are taking English as a second language or high school equivalency courses.” Brown also gave the OK to a bill that will subsidize diapers for poor women.

In other topic areas, the governor signed 11 bills on Wednesday designed “to improve California’s criminal and juvenile justice systems, restore the power of judges to impose criminal sentences and reduce recidivism through increased rehabilitation.” These include measures that would seal the records of people who were arrested but never convicted of a crime; allow a parole hearing for juveniles who were sentenced to life without parole; and a bill that gives judges additional discretion regarding the “firearms enhancement” for sentencing decisions.

Furthermore, the governor signed AB1448, by Assembly member Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, which allows the Board of Parole to continue its parole hearings for elderly prisoners who have served at least 25 years in prison after federal oversight of the prison system ends. The state had been under federal court decrees dealing with overcrowding, but has since passed a realignment law and other programs that have reduced the size of the inmate population. In his signing message, the governor said that this elderly-prisoner program has successfully reduced costs involving geriatric prisoners who no longer pose a risk to society.

The governor previously had signed SB384, by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, which creates a tiered sex-offender registry rather than the current system of lifetime registration. The bill received significant law-enforcement support. Supporters argued that “local law enforcement agencies spend between 60 to 66 percent of their resources dedicated for sex offender supervision on monthly or annual registration paperwork because of the large numbers of registered sex offenders on our registry,” according to the Senate bill analysis.

“If we can remove low-risk offenders from the registry it will free up law enforcement officers to monitor the high risk offenders living in our communities,” supporters argued. There was no official, recorded opposition to the bill, but Republican opponents expressed fear in the floor debate that these changes would put the public at risk.

The governor signed a controversial drug-pricing transparency bill, SB17, that forces “drug manufacturers to notify specified purchasers, in writing at least 90 days prior to the planned effective date, if it is increasing the wholesale acquisition cost … of a prescription drug by specified amounts.” The pharmaceutical industry fought vociferously against the measure, which it believes is a first step in a national campaign to impose government price controls.

The governor used some of his strongest – and most ideological – rhetoric in touting this measure. “The rich are getting richer. The powerful are getting more powerful. So this is just another example where the powerful get more power and take more,” he said, according to a National Public Radio report of the signing ceremony. “We’ve got to point to the evils, and there’s a real evil when so many people are suffering so much from rising drug profits.”

This was part of a package of recently signed medical-related consumer-oriented legislation. Other legislation puts limits on the gifts and benefits doctors can receive from drug manufacturers, prevents drug makers from steering consumers to higher-priced medications, creates a licensing system for pharmacy benefit managers, and creates a California Pharmaceutical Collaborative to help government agencies negotiate better deals for pharmaceuticals.

Signings have been far more plentiful than vetoes.

But the governor vetoed a bill that would require people who work for many web-based meal-delivery services that deliver pre-packaged uncooked meals to consumers to obtain a food-handler’s card. In his veto message, the governor wrote that he is “not convinced … that the existing regulatory scheme for food facilities is suitable for this new industry.” Brown vetoed a bill that would have created a new state task force that would examine opioid prescriptions in light of the state’s opioid crisis.

He also vetoed AB63, which would have imposed the same curfew (between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.) on drivers under the age of 21 that now applies only to those under 18. “Eighteen-year-olds are eligible to enlist in the military, vote in national, state and local elections, enter into contracts and buy their own car. I believe adults should not be subject to the same driving restrictions presently applied to minors,” Brown explained in his veto message.

Stay tuned. The governor has until Sunday night to sign or veto the remaining bills passed this session.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Brown signs Sanctuary State law, risking Trump retaliation

As reported by the L.A. Times:

Under threat of possible retaliation by the Trump administration, Gov. Jerry Brown signed landmark “sanctuary state” legislation Thursday, vastly limiting who state and local law enforcement agencies can hold, question and transfer at the request of federal immigration authorities.

Senate Bill 54, which takes effect in January, has been hailed as part of a broader effort by majority Democrats in the California Legislature to shield more than 2.3 million immigrants living illegally in the state. Weeks before Brown’s signature made it law, it was met with swift denunciations from Trump administration officials and became the focus of a national debate over how far states and cities can go to prevent their officers from enforcing federal immigration laws.

Brown took the unusual step of penning a signing message in support of SB 54. He called the legislation a balanced measure that would allow police and sheriff’s agencies to continue targeting dangerous criminals, while protecting hardworking families without legal residency in the country. …

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California Legislature abandons middle class

CapitolDoes anyone honestly think that the California Legislature’s complete abandonment of the middle class is unrelated to the state’s highest-in-the-nation poverty rate?

This past week presented a stark contrast in the Golden State. First, the controller reported state tax proceeds from all categories are exceeding budget projections. Specifically, the state brought in almost $9 billion in August, exceeding projections in the state budget by over $340 million. All three of the major sources of state revenue — personal and corporate income tax plus sales tax — were up over last year. While a substantial portion of this uptick in economic activity can be attributed to the Trump recovery, there is no denying that California remains an economic powerhouse in its own right.

However, about the same time as we were getting cheery news about state revenue, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that over 20 percent of Californians live in poverty. The “Supplemental Poverty Measure,” which takes into account California’s absurdly high cost of living, gives us the highest poverty rate in the country while the rest of the nation has shown improvement.

So how is it that the most economically powerful state in the union has a poverty level that would make even Mississippi blush? In large part, the answer lies in California’s toxic mix of crony capitalism with mindless pursuit of progressive policies. And both were on full display in the final week of this year’s legislative session.

Few bills moving through the last hectic hours at the Capitol could be remotely characterized as helping the middle class. For example, Assembly Bill 1250 is a complete sop to labor interests. It would prohibit counties from contracting out for services “customarily” performed by county workers unless 14 complicated requirements are met. This would drive up the costs of county government — ultimately paid by taxpayers — and would hurt nonprofits which provide low cost, effective services to county governments. Fortunately, it appears that AB1250 has been stymied this year but will be pushed into 2018.

On a more grand scale, little compares to the various bills moving through the Legislature to deal with the housing crisis. Special interests have formed a conga line outside the governor’s and legislative offices to get a slice of the public pie (baked, of course, with taxpayer dollars). First, is a massive housing bond. Keep in mind that a $4 billion dollar bond will likely incur $8 billion in taxpayer costs after interest and the cost of bond underwriting (Wall Street loves California debt). Second, labor once again wants any public dollars spent on housing to be subject to costly labor restrictions such as Project Labor Agreements or prevailing wage requirements. Who pays for the higher costs? Why, taxpayers, of course.

Overall, California’s housing policies being pursued are designed to reward special interests rather than increase housing stock in any significant way. It is totally lost on our elected leadership that the best housing policy would be for government to reduce regulations that stand in the way of housing construction rather than increase regulations. One bill, Senate Bill 35, does provide a little relief from burdensome CEQA requirements but it contains 18 separate provisions that developers must meet in order to qualify for the expedited permit process for residential development.

The only bill of which we are aware that would have significantly helped housing affordability was Assembly Bill 1100, co-authored by Assemblymen Phil Chen, R-Brea, and Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach, to increase both the current homeowners exemption (which provides homeowners with a scant $70 of annual tax relief) and the renters credit. This proposal would require no new government program nor impose new regulations, which probably explains why it lacked popularity in the Capitol. However, it would have put immediate cash into the pockets of all Californians who have to pay for the roof over their heads. That’s what we call middle-class tax relief.

Middle-class Californians have a choice. Stay in California and continue to be the piñatas for progressives and special interests or bail out to other states. Increasing numbers of California’s middle class are choosing the latter.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

This is where California legislation goes to die

Bills and legislationShortly after last year’s presidential election, Democrats in the California Legislature drew headlines by introducing a flurry of bills attacking “fake news.” They called for more resources to teach media literacy, so public school students could better discern facts from the kind of bogus stories that proliferated online during the campaign.

Yet in the months since, all three of those bills have quietly met their demise, victims of the Legislature’s appropriations committees. Officially, the committees—one in each house—are supposed to pull the Legislature’s purse strings, weighing how much a proposal is expected to cost, and comparing bills against one another to establish priorities for spending state tax dollars. Unofficially, the appropriations committee is where bills go to die—especially the ones the ruling party wants to bury with little trace.

This month the appropriations committees quietly killed the last of the fake news bills, a pile of marijuana measures, a proposal to create a “pro-choice” license plate and another to allow cities to keep bars open until 4 a.m.—an issue few lawmakers outside of San Francisco seem to regard as a burning problem.

As befits a good murder plot, lawmakers target potential victims by placing the bills on what they call the “suspense file.” Then, twice a year, the appropriations committees cull through all these bills, allowing some to proceed to a floor vote but stopping many in their tracks. In other committees, lawmakers publicly vote when they kill a bill, attaching their names and reputations to the decision. But there is no public vote when the appropriations committees snuff out bills on the suspense file.

“It’s the closest thing that the Legislature has to a veto power,” said former Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a Los Angeles Democrat who chaired the appropriations committee from 2012 to 2014.

Sure, decisions are based on weighing the costs and benefits of the proposed policies, Gatto said. “But it’s also a cost-benefit analysis politically: How much does the house want to put a bill like this on the floor?”

Euthanizing a bill in this way shields lawmakers from having to cast a difficult floor vote—often choosing between a popular idea and one that aggravates powerful interests in the state Capitol.

A look at some of the dozens of bills that appropriations committees recently axed:

Making school spending more transparent: AB 1321 would have required every school to publish reports on how much money they spend per student. Civil rights groups said it would ensure that funds intended to help needy children are spent in their classrooms. But teachers unions and school administrators—influential forces in the Capitol—spent most of the year opposing the bill by Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of San Diego.

Water under the Mojave desert: Environmentalists backed AB 1000 as an attempt to block a controversial project that would pump groundwater out of the Mojave desert and direct it to more populous communities near the coast. The bill also had the unusual support of Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. But labor and business groups opposed it, and the project developer, a company called Cadiz, is a big political donor. After killing the bill, Senate appropriations chairman Ricardo Lara released a statement saying the project had gone through extensive environmental review and the Legislature shouldn’t interfere. Cadiz stock then shot up 31 percent.

Protecting whistleblowers in their midst: State employees who report government wrongdoing are protected from being fired under the Whistleblower Protection Act—but not if they work for the Legislature. So for four years, Republican Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez of Lake Elsinore has introduced a bill to extend whistleblower protection to legislative employees. And for four years, the bill has been buried by the Senate appropriations committee.

Blocking coastal oil drilling: After President Donald Trump signed an executive order that could expand oil and gas drilling into federal waters off the California coast, Democratic Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara introduced a bill intended to block it. Her SB 188 would have prohibited the state from approving new leases on pipelines or other infrastructure needed to support new oil and gas development. The bill would have cost the state millions of dollars in lost leases. Its demise in the Assembly appropriations committee marked a loss for environmentalists and a win for oil companies—and the Trump Administration.

Watchdogging the police: Prompted by a string of high-profile police shootings, Democrats introduced a handful of bills intended to create more public trust in police. AB 748 would have made public more footage from police body cameras. AB 284 would have required a public report on two years of police shootings in California. Law enforcement groups opposed both bills, but supported another that also was killed: AB 1428, which would have provided the public with more information about the status of complaints against police officers.

In a Legislature that processes thousands of bills each year, the two appropriations committees play a critical role in culling ideas—but many could have been rejected earlier if lawmakers were more willing to say no.

“There are pressures from lobbyists, pressures from leadership, pressures from constituents. And the path of least resistance is for members to rely on this end-game that plays out very quickly on a Friday,” said Steve Boilard, executive director of the Center for California Studies at California State University, Sacramento.

“It allows a critical mass of legislators to get the outcome they want without having to put their name on that hard choice of saying no.”

That might explain why the Assembly appropriations committee quashed a bill that would have reduced the fine for rolling through a red light on a right turn from $100 to $35. Who would possibly want to vote against that?

This article was originally published by CalMatters

Damage from legislative bills delayed, but still harmful

CapitolSometimes, California’s laws are like a guillotine on a timer.

By the time the blade drops, everybody who set it up has made a safe getaway.

To illustrate, consider four different laws that did their damage long after the perpetrators moved on, and a brand new one that’s likely to raise rents and perhaps tax Californians right out of their own homes.

In 1999, the Legislature passed and Gov. Gray Davis signed Senate Bill 400, which increased the pensions of state workers, even those already retired. At the time, everyone was told it would cost taxpayers nothing because the pension fund’s investment returns would easily pay for the higher benefits.

Then the blade dropped. In 2016, the tab for state employee pensions was $5.4 billion, more than 30 times what the state was paying before SB400 took effect. Today the state faces crushing pension debt that’s deep into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

In 2006, the Legislature passed and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 32, which included a requirement to lower the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Regulators had the idea to raise money by auctioning permits to emit greenhouse gases as part of a “cap and trade” program. The new expense for manufacturers, utilities, refineries and truckers was passed through to consumers, who today pay $1 per gallon more for gasoline than the national average, 30 percent higher electricity rates, and don’t even ask about the price of tomatoes.

In 2008, the Legislature passed and Gov. Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 375, which was intended to reduce “sprawl” and “vehicle miles traveled.” This law made it more difficult and expensive to build new housing in outlying areas. In 2016, California lagged behind 28 other states in new housing creation, while rents have been bid up by the surge of people who, under different government policies, might be homeowners in new communities.

In 2011, California lawmakers cut the reimbursement rate that the state pays doctors who treat Medi-Cal patients, but that didn’t stop them from expanding the Medi-Cal program under the Affordable Care Act. In the last four years, about 4.5 million Californians were added to the rolls of the safety-net health insurance that’s called Medicaid in the rest of the country. There are now about 13.5 million people on Medi-Cal, one-third of the state’s population.

But there was no corresponding increase in doctors who accept Medi-Cal, and the number of emergency room visits has gone up, not down, as more people became insured. A lawsuit just filed against the state charges that the shortage of providers is discriminatory against Latinos, who are now the majority of Medi-Cal enrollees, according to the suit. The newly formed California Future Health Workforce Commission says that by 2025, the state will have 4,700 fewer primary care doctors than needed.

The latest guillotine-on-a-timer is SB231, by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, which passed the Assembly on Aug. 31 by one vote. It redefines “sewer” to include stormwater, “correcting” a 2002 court ruling that said local governments can’t impose taxes or fees for stormwater projects without voter approval. Now they can, according to the bill. It will be easy to add huge new annual fees to property tax bills, and rents will go up, too.

SB231 now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

By the time the blade cuts your throat, he’ll be out of there.

olumnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”

Five issues to watch in the California Legislature’s final month

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

State lawmakers return from summer break today to a once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse and tens of thousands of people crowding into Capitol Mall for a free concert to urge passage of a trio of criminal justice bills.

Monday also marks the beginning of the end of session. Legislators have one month to get their bills to the governor’s desk before the Senate and Assembly call it quits for the year. It’ll be a busy time with plenty of action. Here’s our take on issues to watch as the session resumes:

▪ Housing: This tops the Legislature’s agenda this month, with Democrats hoping to reach a deal that includes long-term funding for affordable housing construction and regulatory changes to speed the development process. Democratic lawmakers say a housing package could be announced as soon as this week. At the core of the debate is financing: Can Democrats muster a two-thirds vote for a real estate fee and persuade Gov. Jerry Brown to sign off on a multibillion-dollar housing bond measure?

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California Legislature abandons state’s middle class

taxesCalifornia’s middle class, who pay the bulk of all taxes in California, are constantly under attack from Sacramento politicians. Already this year, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 1, to add 19 cents per gallon to the cost of fuel beginning in October and an average of a $50 increase in the car tax. This translates into at least $400 in additional taxes for the average California family.

Now, Sacramento politicians have compounded the damage by imposing another fuel cost increase by extending the state’s cap-and-trade program, a market-based regulatory system for controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Under this program, impacted industries buy credits at auction which are then used to incentivize decreases in pollution levels.

Surprisingly, many industries forced into the “cap-and-trade” auctions supported the extension because they were threatened by Gov. Brown, environmental extremists and powerful regulators with an alternative program run completely by the government bureaucrats at the California Air Resources Board. And those were not idle threats.

Be that as it may, some legislators are using the “it could have been worse” argument to claim that they’ve won some sort of victory for taxpayers. Without cap and trade, they say, your fuel costs would have increased by nearly two dollars a gallon. Even if completely true — which is doubtful — cap-and-trade advocates won’t tell you the whole story. The non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office has said that under the legislation just approved, fuel prices could go up by 21 cents in 2022 and 71 cents by 2030. Only in the Alice in Wonderland world of Sacramento politics does a 71 cent fuel price increase constitute a victory for taxpayers.

So what’s the ultimate impact on working Californians? If the new legislation is added into April’s gas tax increase, consumers will see their price at the pump increase as high as 40 cents per gallon by 2022 and 90 cents by 2031. Overall household fuel costs will likely eventually increase by over $1,000 a year per household. And all this is occurring so that liberal Democrats can reach an arbitrary threshold of a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emission levels by 2030.

While the handful of Republicans in the California Legislature — who make up less than a third of the members in each house — are usually the reliable opposition to the punishing policies inflicted on the middle class by the majority party, that did not prove to be the case last week. Eight Republicans voted for the extension.

But could they argue they received something in return which benefits their voting constituents? Nope. The vast majority of California taxpayers will receive no direct financial relief in exchange for their thousand dollars a year they will pay for goods and services. Perhaps it would be easier to share in the cost of climate change if California wasn’t going it alone on cap-and-trade in the United States, while we emit only one percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The extension of cap-and-trade ensures one thing, that funding for high-speed rail will continue. The legislation dictates that at least 25 percent of the new funding will be spent on a train that a majority of Californians have made it clear they would reject if given another chance on a statewide ballot. Ironically, high-speed rail has proven to be a net increaser of greenhouse gas emissions. So much for trying to save the world.

A hollow victory at best is the suspension of the infamous fire tax against those living in rural unincorporated areas of California. Some 800,000 property owners will no longer have to pay this fee, which remains the subject of a class action lawsuit commenced several years ago by Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association lawyers. While the suspension (not repeal) of the tax is welcome relief for rural property owners, it does not include any rebates for the millions of dollars already paid. For that reason the HJTA litigation will continue over the issue of refunds.

As is common with complex legislation that ultimately hurts the middle class, special interests suffered little or no harm and, in many instances, negotiated for a financial windfall. Most got a piece of the revenue from the higher gas prices that consumers will be paying. The governor got more funding for high-speed rail and corporations got significant tax breaks. But legislators couldn’t even fight to give citizen taxpayers a rebate for the higher gas prices they’ll be paying. Will any legislator fight for them? Is there anyone left in the Capitol who will put the middle-class taxpayer before their next political deal that results in another crushing financial burden? For the sake of this once Golden State, we hope so.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

Legislature’s scary precedent: Giving unions private workers’ cell numbers, home addresses

Even those Capitol observers who are aware of the degree to which the Democratic-controlled Legislature is in the tank for public-sector unions might be shocked by the latest bill that’s making its way to the governor’s office.

Legislators are about to require that private-sector workers in the home-care industry provide a wide range of personal information – home address, email contact, cellphone number – to any labor organization that wants it. Those unions would then be free, at their discretion, to pester these workers into joining the union.

seiu unionThe bill only affects one industry, but the precedent is clear. How long before an ever-expanding list of private workers in California are subject to union organizers showing up at their doorstep and contacting them on their private emails and cell phones? The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has already been able to unionize home healthcare workers receiving government payments to care for a loved one. Clearly, SEIU is expanding its horizons.

In fact, the bill apparently is such a priority to the Democratic leadership that Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, recently stacked the Human Services Committee with three new Democratic members to assure its passage. It’s a highly unusual move to expand the size of a committee to assure passage of particular legislation.

Assembly Bill 1513 ostensibly is designed to improve the licensure and regulation of home-care organizations – companies that provide aides to the homes of sick, disabled or elderly people to help them with laundry, cooking, showers and other basic needs.

The state already requires aides to pass background checks, receive necessary training and register with the California Department of Social Services to help combat abuse. The aides must already provide their personal information to the state government. Clients can search an existing database to double-check the backgrounds of those who provide such work in their homes.

This new Home Care Services Consumer Protection Act claims to improve home health services by allowing “home care aides the opportunity to benefit from information, resources and more,” according to Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose. But the real purpose is to let the bill’s sponsor, SEIU, gain personal information for organizing purposes.

There’s no need to speculate about the goal here. The previous version of the bill required employees to provide their personal information to the state, which would then provide the information “to a governmental or non-profit entity that provides training, educational classes, and other specified services …” upon that entity’s request.

The newly amended bill requires “a copy of a registered home care aide’s name, mailing address, cellular telephone number, and email address on file with the department to be made available, upon request, to a labor organization.” The labor unions would be free to use the information for “employee organizing, representation and assistance activities.” That provides wide latitude with few restrictions.

The bill includes an “opt out” mechanism, but that doesn’t offer much protection. A home-care worker would need to go through the trouble of trying to keep personal information out of the union’s grasp. And we’ve seen the problems with such a system in the current union dues-paying system.

A 1977 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows public employees to opt out of paying those portions of their dues that are used for direct political purposes. But employees who want to opt out often complain about the difficult and convoluted process of doing so. Obviously, unions – and the state government – have no reason to make such a process easy.

This bill is nothing more than a union-organizing ploy. Again, the state government already has all the requisite personal information of those who provide home-care services. The public can search that information using an employee number. We’re talking about private employees of private companies working for private people. This is different from the Medicaid-funded In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) system.

Legislators also have recently passed two bills, as this writer detailed for the California Policy Center, that provide public-sector unions with unfettered on-the-job access to teachers and other government workers in order to provide seminars about union membership. That legislation is a pre-emptive effort in case the U.S. Supreme Court, as some expect, strikes down mandatory union membership. A.B. 1513 is even more noxious because it gives unions a right to contact employees of private companies outside of the job site.

The bill also undermines a compromise that was hammered out between unions, legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013. That’s when the Legislature passed the previous version of the Home Care Services Consumer Protection Act to require the licensing and regulation of the private home-care industry. Unions had pushed for the inclusion of personal employee information back then, but concerns about privacy scuttled that idea.

Now they’re back for the same thing again and are likely to get the bill through because of De Leon’s committee-packing efforts. De Leon removed Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, and added Democratic Sens. Connie Leyva of Chino, Mike McGuire of Healdsburg and Anthony Portantino of La Cañada-Flintridge. Newman is facing a recall, so this takes him off of the hot seat on a controversial union vote in conservative-leaning Orange County.

Ironically, Democratic legislators often have tried to enhance the privacy of public employees with a variety of bills. Yet when it comes to private-sector employees, the Legislature is more than happy to let union organizers know exactly where they live – and even have access to their cell-phone numbers and email addresses.

“A.B. 1513 is clearly just a labor grab, and will do nothing more than boost unions’ membership rolls and bottom line at the expense of home care aides and the frail elderly and disabled individuals they serve,” said Trevor O’Neil, president of Colonial Home Care Services in Orange and co-chairman of the Home Care Association of America, California chapter. “Home care is an out-of-pocket expense, and any mandated increases to employee pay and benefits will result in higher prices for people who depend upon these services to remain in their homes.”

That’s for sure. But even worse – home-care workers could now be subject to unwanted visits from Nick the Union Organizer. And how long will it be before other unions follow this lead and coerce the Legislature to hand over your personal information?

Steven Greenhut is a contributing editor to the California Policy Center. He is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

This article was originally published by the California Policy Center