Are Environmentalists Losing Influence in Legislature?

kevin de leon 2California environmentalists have long been one of the most powerful forces in the Legislature. But in 2015, the centerpiece of the green agenda — a provision in a broader measure that would have mandated a 50 percent reduction in gasoline use in the state by 2030 — stalled in the Legislature despite heavy prodding from Gov. Jerry Brown and appeals from then-Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Senate President Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles. The development was such a break from the norm that it won heavy coverage from The New York Times, which called it “a major setback for environmental advocates in California.”

Now there’s a fresh sign that environmentalists’ clout may be on the wane. De Leon has stunned green groups by endorsing a moderate incumbent — Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino — who opposed the push for a sharp cut in gasoline use over another prominent Inland Empire Democrat, attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes. As Calwatchdog reported earlier this year, Brown was indirectly blasted by one of de Leon’s leadership team, Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, who said she was backing Brown’s opponent because “she was a principled human being.”

In a strange twist, the document making the rounds in media circles showing de Leon’s endorsement of Brown contends that Leyva and all his fellow Senate Democratic leaders agree with him.

“I support Eloise Reyes. Period. Somehow the pro tem must have misunderstood my position, although I thought I was quite clear,” Leyva told The Los Angeles Times.

Whatever the logistical problems with de Leon’s endorsement, it amounts to a striking rejection of environmentalists’ argument that they know Brown’s district better than she does. This view was voiced again this week by one of Reyes’ consultants, Leo Briones, who told the Times, “Cheryl Brown can have every special interest and every Sacramento politician … but she still is a legislator that does not represent progressive values or her district when it comes to issues of working families, of consumers, of guns and public safety and the environment.”

Green official: Brown a ‘nice person,’ bad lawmaker

This argument was offered by a high-profile environmentalist in a January Sacramento Bee story that rubbed some minority lawmakers the wrong way:

“There’s no doubt Ms. Brown, who’s a very nice person, has not been representing her constituents when it comes to environmental issues, particularly clean-air issues,” Sierra Club California director Kathryn Phillips told the Bee. “She’s collected too much money from the oil industry and let that guide too many of her votes.”

As Calwatchdog reported then …

Phillips, who works out of Sacramento, is a white UC Berkeley graduate who used to work for the Environmental Defense Fund. Brown, who turns 72 next week, has been a fixture in the Inland Empire African-American political establishment for more than three decades. She co-founded a weekly publication that focuses on black issues in 1980 and has worked on a wide variety of African-American causes in western San Bernardino County.

Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, D-Los Angeles, told the Bee he didn’t care for how environmentalists were treating his fellow African-American lawmaker. “I think it’s a tone-deaf approach. … The environmental community, and the broader environmental coalition, needs to figure out whether or not it’s going to be a collaborator and … work with black California on policy, and shared political goals, or if it will be an adversary.”

Ridley-Thomas is a vocal supporter of de Leon’s efforts to have a Superfund-type cleanup of the Exide battery plant in Vernon.

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3 Bills in Legislature That Will Actually Benefit Californians

CA-legislatureThose who value liberty, good government and a reasonable level of taxation have a lot to complain about if they are citizens of California. Not only do we have one of the highest tax burdens in America, we rate very poorly in term of efficient and effective governance as well as transparency. Those of us who point out the state’s shortcomings are labeled as contrarian, “declinists” or pessimists by state politicians, including our governor.

And let’s not forget about corruption. Just a couple of years ago, the California Senate actually had a higher arrest rate than the general population of California. Because of all the negative press, it is no wonder that that the public believes that most of what the California Legislature does is self-serving.

Although there is more than sufficient justification to criticize California’s political system (and especially its Legislature), for the sake of fairness, we should take special notice when our politicians do the right thing. For example, every so often bills are introduced that cut against the stereotype by providing genuine benefit to average folks.

Interestingly, although the California Legislature is fairly left-leaning, sometimes opportunities present themselves for a taxpayer group like Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association to work with legislators from both sides of the aisle to do good for average citizens. This year, HJTA has sponsored three separate legislative proposals in 2016 that have been well received in the Capitol.

The first, Assembly Bill 1891, would provide property tax relief for seniors. Currently, seniors over the age of 65 in most school districts can file for an exemption from education parcel taxes. However, many school districts require an application for exemption to be filed every year. AB1891 simply states that seniors only need to fill out the opt-out paperwork one time to be permanently exempt from paying a parcel tax.

HJTA is also the co-sponsor of Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6, by Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown. Among its numerous positive provisions, ACA 6 will provide property tax savings for seniors in their retirement years. The law today allows married seniors over the age of 55 to transfer the Proposition 13 base value of their home to a property of equal or lesser value in the same county once in retirement. As good as this law is, it needs to be expanded. For instance, if a spouse were to divorce and remarry, that property owner would not be able to use their base value transfer exemption. Property owners are also out of luck if they do a base value transfer, then decide to move again a few years later. They would be forced to pay the full market value property taxes on a new home. ACA 6 allows for married couples to transfer their base value twice. This will provide couples increased flexibility to sell their home to move closer to children or grandchildren. If approved out of the Legislature, ACA 6 will go to the statewide ballot for voters to approve in November.

Assemblyman James Gallagher has introduced the third HJTA sponsored bill, AB2801. This bill increases transparency for purposes of Proposition 218 protests. Approved by voters in 1996, Proposition 218 allows for water, sewer and refuse rate increases to be approved or rejected via a written protest process. Protests can either be mailed in, or announced at the public hearing. AB2801 simply requires that protests will be retained for two years so taxpayers can review them after the hearing.

As may be apparent, these three bills do not reflect huge policy shifts, such as a large tax cut or a complete reorganization of state government. However, they do make California a better place for homeowners and taxpayers. And for that we can be grateful.

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 by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Division and Disagreement Face CA Democrats in 2016

Democrat DonkeyConflicts over the spoils of Democratic leadership in California have come to define the party’s prospects and future in 2016 and beyond.

Division and disagreement

Falling victim to their extreme dominance in statewide politics, an increasing number of Democrats have sharpened their blades against one another this election season — driving uncomfortable wedges between minority groups that have long formed the bedrock of the Democrats’ broad coalition. “The racial and ethnic overtones of politics in California, the country’s most diverse state, surfaced again last week,” the Sacramento Bee observed. “Two Democratic Assembly incumbents, Mike Gipson and Cheryl Brown, both of whom are black, are facing challenges from Latina opponents within their own party.”

“The challenges to Brown and Gipson are motivated by their stances on environmental legislation, not race. But the prospect of unseating two black incumbents, with African Americans’ share of the state’s population dwindling, stirred concern.”

Elsewhere, some Democrats have found themselves in hot water for departing too far or too often from party orthodoxy — a dangerous move in increasingly partisan and populist times. In California’s 7th District, for instance, Rep. Ami Bera has begun to lose key support within his own party, thanks to votes roiling labor and other elements of California Democrats’ liberal base. “Bera’s votes on issues such as Syria refugees and trade are coming under intense examination as local Democrats debate withholding endorsement from him in his re-election race against Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, a Republican,” McClatchy reported. “Last week, the Elk Grove-South County Democratic Club, Bera’s home club, voted against endorsing him.”

Brown’s balancing act

In his State of the State speech this month, Gov. Jerry Brown sought to ameliorate some intraparty divides while holding fast to others. “Legislative Democrats say they can spend some of California’s budget surplus on expanded government services without disrupting Gov. Jerry Brown’s push for fiscal restraint,” as the Sacramento Bee also reported, while Brown urged them “instead to focus on paying down debts and liabilities incurred in the past.” But Brown didn’t mention the multibillion-dollar high-speed rail project that has been one of his marquee projects, despite arousing the frustration of environmentalists to his left who believed cap-and-trade money should not be spent on the system.

A recent Field poll revealed that a modest but sharply critical segment of Democrats appear to have turned their backs on Brown. Fully 17 percent said a description of Brown as having “the right experience to deal with the problems facing California” applied “not at all,” while 18 percent took the same dim view of the claim that Brown “has the vision to lead California into the future.” At the same time, over 40 percent of Democrat respondents agreed at least somewhat with the idea that Brown favors too many unaffordable projects and isn’t doing enough to help average Californians.

But Brown has consolidated support, despite sometimes unorthodox policies, to an unprecedented degree in California politics. At a time when Democrats nationwide have become increasingly split over whether to embrace Hillary Clinton as their nominee, Brown’s name has perennially appeared in conversations about where they might look for an alternative to both Clinton and Sanders. Despite Brown’s refusal to play along, he has been floated once again — by New York City liberals, according to Hoover Institution fellow Bill Whalen. “Their pet conspiracy theory is that President Barack Obama so detests Hillary Clinton — and worries about her ability to win in November and preserve his agenda — that his Justice Department will indict her this spring on charges of breaching national security in the email scandal,” he wrote at the Sacramento Bee. “Exit a wounded Hillary, enter a prominent Democrat to rescue the party — none other than California’s governor.”

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