Proposition 54 and the “We Can Do Whatever We Want Act”

TransparencyAmid the ballot initiatives gifting Californians with a 200-plus page voter guide is at least one sensible idea. Proposition 54 targets “gut and amend” (Ganda) bills, which are diametrically opposed to responsible legislative deliberation.

Ganda legislation takes “how a bill becomes law” civics book descriptions, then adds “not” at the beginning. In the race to beat the legislative end-of-session deadline, power brokers take bills that have cleared most legislative hurdles and replace them with completely different bills. Then they rush them through the minimal scrutiny of the last-minute frenzy (e.g., with multiple committee hearings in a single room in an hour).

This year’s appropriation of nearly $1 billion in pollution fee money is one example. Earlier illustrations include transforming a Silverlake Reservoir bill into requiring that gun buyback programs test weapons for criminal involvement (2014), California Environmental Quality Act exemptions for housing projects into increased alternative vehicle technology funding (2013), and pension reform into a fire prevention fee repeal (2012). The last three weeks of 2011’s session included 48 Ganda bills (my favorite: morphing a measure allowing tuberculosis information disclosure into one preventing local government bans of project labor agreements).

Unfortunately, bills sensible enough to command sufficient consensus can pass in daylight. Only legislation failing that test requires Ganda evasions.

That is what Proposition 54 addresses. It would require any bill to be both in print and available on the internet 72 hours before it could be enacted (with a ‘public emergency” escape clause). It would also intensify the sunlight on the sausage-making by mandatory videotaping of all public meetings, to be posted online within 24 hours, and by allowing any citizen to record any public meeting and use it without restriction.

Despite Proposition 54’s potential to protect Californians from legislative back-room bullying, it has opponents, particularly among power brokers. One rebuttal is, in essence, that despite missing deadlines or failing to get approval, sometimes legislatures “just need to act.” But that is not a reason; it simply assumes its conclusion — the powerful must be allowed to circumvent the rules whenever they decide it is necessary. That is why the Democratic Party opposes Proposition 54 with a preposterous rhetorical Ganda, twisting its protections against unwarranted legislative abuses into a claim that it would better allow “special interests” (i.e., those targeted for harm to fund legislative presents for others) to “block timely legislative action.”

The core problem is that for Ganda bills to benefit Californians requires several false things to be true.

The bill would have to be the Legislature’s business. Unfortunately, despite injecting itself everywhere, very little legislation can actually advance our general welfare. Benefiting some at others’ expense is another matter, but such bills deserve destruction, not greasing through.

Only the Legislature must be competent to deal with the issue. Where people can work things out for themselves, no legislation is needed, except repeal of what prevents voluntary private solutions. Those lauded by politicians for their wisdom during campaigns deserve the power to use it in their own affairs.

The problem must be too urgent to wait for ensuing terms. The sponsor must know how to implement an efficient and equitable solution. It must also come as a sudden surprise. But it is laughable to think of our legislators quickly developing real solutions to serious problems unrecognized just weeks before, and still needing to sneak them through.

Gut and amend survives only because it lets urgency insulate legislators from accountability. Capitol power brokers may “need” it for their purposes, but it harms citizens. That is why eliminating Ganda is important and also why all such legislative attempts have been killed. Proposition 54, which the legislature would morph into the “We Can Do Whatever We Want Act” at the last minute, given the chance, deserves support, in order to take such chances away.

Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University, a research fellow at the Independent Institute, adjunct scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and member of the FEE faculty network. His most recent books are Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014) and Lines of Liberty (2016) 

California lawmakers collect thousands on top of salary while absent

Originally published by the San Jose Mercury News:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In addition to their six-figure salaries and benefits, California’s 120 lawmakers are compensated for their cost of living and meals when they leave home and travel to Sacramento to write and pass bills.

Unlike in many other states, however, California lawmakers have over time crafted loosely worded rules for themselves that allow them to collect those payments regardless of whether they even show up to work.

It’s a perk unlike anything typically available to workers in the private sector, allowing lawmakers such as Assemblyman Roger Hernandez to take unlimited time off and continue collecting a tax-free, daily allowance of $176.

The West Covina Democrat said his 24 sick days this session were due to high blood pressure, a condition he disclosed to reporters after his wife accused him of physical abuse and obtained a restraining order against him during divorce proceedings. …

Click here to read the full story

Reinstating Program for Low-Income Seniors – What Took So Long?

Property tax assistance for low-income seniors, the blind and the disabled is available again. In 2009, the Legislature ended the Property Tax Postponement (PTP) program that for 40 years had allowed low-income seniors, the blind and the disabled to defer payment of their property taxes.

That the PTP program is back is good news, but the question beproperty taxgs to be asked, why was a program that for vulnerable homeowners could mean the difference between remaining in the homes where they had resided for decades or being forced out into the street, canceled in the first place?

The answer is a sad commentary on how Sacramento works when political insiders think no one is looking.

First, it is important to recognize the unofficial motto of the state Legislature, which is, “When you’ve got it you spend it.” This is what then Senate leader David Roberti said in response to Gov. George Deukmejian’s effort to return excess tax revenue to taxpayers in 1987. Unsaid, of course, is that lawmakers are equally willing to spend even when they don’t “got it.” This helps explain why, even before the economic meltdown in 2008, the state budget was running a deficit of billions of dollars.

When the recession came, and state revenues declined, the Legislature’s response was to raise taxes on Californians whose economic fortunes had also plummeted. Lawmakers raised sales taxes and income taxes. They even went after parents by cutting the tax deduction for dependent children in half.

While taxpayers got a haircut, the highest paid state workers in the nation were fully protected. Bureaucrats who had been given furlough days to cut costs, were fully reimbursed for lost pay.

The Sacramento politicians made a few cuts to limit the increase in state spending, but spending, nevertheless, continued to expand. The motivation for cutting at least one program, was clearly mean spirited.  To save a few million dollars in the current budget, legislators eliminated the Property Tax Postponement program.  However, this program, so important to low income seniors, was never a handout or an entitlement. The state recovered all costs, plus interest, when the home was sold or the owner passed away.

Taxpayer advocates immediately set about lobbying for the return of the PTP program, a program that pays for itself. Finally, even thick skinned lawmakers were embarrassed and approved reinstatement of the PTP in 2014.  However, claiming that time was needed to train staff and prepare paperwork, the benefit was not to be available for another two years.

Time is up and the Office of the Controller will begin taking applications in October. To be eligible for property tax postponement, a homeowner must be 62, or blind, or have a disability. The homeowner must also have a household income of $35,500 or less, have at least 40 percent equity in the property, and occupy the home as the primary residence, among other requirements.

The interest rate for taxes postponed under PTP is seven percent per year. Postponed taxes and interest become due and payable under PTP when the homeowner moves or sells the property, transfers title, defaults on a senior lien, refinances, obtains a reverse mortgage, or passes away.

Funding for the program is limited and is available on a first-come, first-served basis. The program application and details are on Controller Yee’s website or by phone at (800) 952-5661.

However, taxpayers who need this assistance must remain vigilant. If lawmakers think no one will notice, they may throw the PTP overboard again, as they did in 2009.

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 piece was originally published by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

California legislators continue to push for UC Davis’s chancellor’s resignation

UC DavisTwo state lawmakers took to Twitter on Thursday and joined the growing chorus of Democratic legislators who are calling for the resignation of UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi after a series of unflattering stories by The Sacramento Bee.

On Wednesday, The Sacramento Bee reported that the university paid consultants at least $175,000 to scrub the Internet of negative postings about thepepper-spraying of students in 2011, in an effort to improve the school’s and the chancellor’s reputations.

The Bee also reported that between 2009 and 2015, the school’s strategic communications budget increased from $2.93 million to $5.47 million.

In response, Democratic Assemblymembers Freddie Rodriguez of Pomona and Mike Gatto of Los Angeles took to Twitter to condemn Katehi and demand her resignation.

Other incidents

In March, it was reported that Katehi, who receives $424,360 annually as chancellor, earned an additional $420,000 between 2012 and 2014 as a board member for textbook publisher John Wiley & Sons.

Katehi had also came under fire in March for violating University of California policy by accepting a $70,000 per-year seat on the board of DeVry, a for-profit university.

Katehi has since stepped down from DeVry board and pledged $200,000 in John Wiley & Sons stock to a scholarship fund. And she apologized.

But those actions weren’t enough and Democratic Assemblymembers Luis Alejo of Watsonville, Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, Kevin McCarty of Sacramento and Evan Low of Campbell had called for her resignation, who Gatto and Rodriguez have now joined.

In Katehi’s defense

UC Davis spokesperson Dana Topousis would not say whether Katehi intended to step down (which likely means the answer is “no”). In a statement responding to only the most recent article from The Sacramento Bee, Topousis defended the overall cost of communications.

Here is the entire statement:

“Communicating the value of UC Davis is an essential element of our campus’s education, research, and larger public service mission. Increased investment in social media and communications strategy has heightened the profile of the university to good effect.

“As part of this overall communications strategy, it is important that the excellent work underway at UC Davis with respect to educating the next generation of students, pursuing groundbreaking research, and providing important services to the State is not lost during a campus crisis, including the crisis that ensued following the extremely regrettable incident when police pepper-sprayed student protesters in 2011. Communication efforts during this time were part of the campus’s strategic communication strategy. In fact, one of the main objectives during this time was to train staff on how to effectively use digital media to improve engagement with our stakeholders.

“Communicating the value of UC Davis is among the many reasons why our campus was able to increase its endowment to $1 billion last year, garner more than $700 million in research grants, and attract the highest caliber of students and faculty from around the country, with a record number of student applications this year.

“Most of the growth in the communications budget is tied to raising the visibility of our College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the School of Veterinary Medicine, both rated the best in the nation.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com