Steyer says state oil tax ‘looking less likely’ for 2016

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer said it’s increasingly unlikely he will follow through with threats to put an oil-extraction tax on next year’s ballot, but he still expects to help bankroll other measures.

While he hasn’t formally closed the book on the oil tax or related transparency measure aimed at oil companies, Steyer said his team has yet to accomplish everything he said needs to happen to qualify and ultimately pass a statewide initiative next year. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking down for prospective proponents.

“It’s looking less likely, I would say,” he said after an event Thursday in Sacramento.

Steyer, an early supporter and co-chairman of a campaign to raise the cigarette tax by $2 a pack, said he plans to get behind a couple of other efforts once the election picture is clear.

Which Initiatives Will Qualify for California’s 2016 Ballot?

“There are some lunatics out there and for $200 we encourage them.”

– Senator Mark Leno, speaking in favor of AB1100, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2015

Voting BoothsFiling an initiative in California is about to get harder, thanks to a law taking effect on January 1st, 2016, that will increase the filing fee from the current $200 to $2,000. While $2,000 may seem like a lot, if the original fee, set at $200 back in 1943, were adjusted for inflation, today it would cost $2,366. And anyone seriously intending to place their initiative onto California’s statewide ballot will need a lot more than $2,000, since qualifying the measures invariably requires paying professional signature gatherers. How many signatures are required varies depending on turnouts in California’s gubernatorial elections. Based on the 2014 turnout, getting ballot initiatives onto California’s 2016 and 2018 ballots will require 365,880 signatures for a statute, or 585,407 for an amendment. Count on spending between $2 and $5 million, depending whether you’re working on a statute or an amendment, how early you get started, how much resistance you encounter, and who you hire.

When you only have to spend $200 to trigger a full analysis by California’s Attorney General, there are indeed some far-fetched, arguably frivolous schemes that end up as initiatives qualified for circulation. These almost never make it onto the ballot, but the nuttier ones attract an avalanche of publicity. But the majority of the 61 initiatives currently cleared for circulation are serious, even if they have no chance. If you want to know which ones definitely will appear on the November 2016 state ballot, just look for the government union label.

For example, #1691 “Cigarette Tax to Fund Healthcare, Tobacco Use Prevention, Research, and Law Enforcement” will increase the cigarette tax by $2.00 per pack, all of the proceeds to fund government programs staffed by unionized government employees. Among the sponsors – the president of the California State Council of Service Employees.

Then there’s #1704 “Property Tax Surcharge to Fund Poverty Reduction Programs,” which will increase property taxes on any real estate valued over $3.0 million. The proceeds, always towards laudable goals, will create thousands of new unionized government jobs in California. With the average coastal home already worth around $1.0 million, and countless small business properties worth a lot more than that, don’t assume this tax won’t eventually bite everyone. Then again, it’s supposed to “expire” in 20 years.

And speaking of “expirations,” remember the temporary personal income tax increases enacted in 2012? The taxes to “save our schools” that are really to “save our government employee pensions?” They’re back, thanks to #1727 “Tax Extension to Fund Education,” this time for another 12 years. Or there’s #1731 “Tax to Fund Education, Healthcare, and Child Development,” which unabashedly aims to make the 2012 tax increases permanent.

While sorely needed pension reform and tax relief initiatives will likely wither away, because they lack financial support from those heavily demonized billionaires who supposedly have their wicked way with California politics – these government union supported initiatives will be on the ballot. By the time the government unions have finished spending tens of millions to campaign for these three initiatives, the message will be clear: If you don’t vote for them, then you hate cops, children, and poor people. There will be more. The insatiable desire of unionized government to expand itself finds perennial expression in California’s initiative process.

Students and fans of direct democracy are invited to view all of California’s current initiatives either qualifiedeligiblecleared for signature gatheringunder review or recently failed. By this time next year, they may not be nearly as abundant.

One thing is certain – the government unions will continue to put onto the ballot any initiative that serves their interests, and then, using money provided by taxpayers, spend whatever it takes to sell it to voters.

 *   *   *

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

“Temporary” Taxes Forever

tax signNothing is so permanent as a temporary tax. In California, the state’s most powerful public-employee lobbies are preparing two initiatives for the November 2016 ballot that would either extend or simply make permanent an income-tax increase on the state’s highest earners that was scheduled to expire at the end of 2018. Legislators and their union patrons can hardly contain themselves.

Anyone with eyes to see could have predicted this turn of events. In 2012, the Golden State faced a $16 billion budget deficit caused almost entirely by unchecked entitlements, poor revenue estimates, and years of bad legislative choices. Governor Jerry Brown went to voters and said, in effect, he wouldn’t raise their taxes; he wanted them to raise taxes on themselves. But he promised that the pain would only be temporary. And if voters didn’t go along, well, the governor couldn’t guarantee what might happen next to public schools, health care for the poor, and other beloved programs. No pressure or anything — just vote for Proposition 30 and nobody else would get hurt. Brown tramped up and down the state in the weeks before the election, quoting scripture as he often does to make his case. When the ballots were all counted, 55.4 percent of voters went along.

Prop. 30 amended the state’s constitution to raise the sales tax from 7.25 percent to 7.5 percent for four years and retroactively hiked for seven years the income tax on Californians earning more than $250,000. The top tax bracket went from 10.3 percent to 13.3 percent, giving the Golden State the distinction of boasting the highest marginal income-tax rates in America. The “temporary” measure was supposed to raise anywhere from $6.4 billion to $9 billion a year, with the bulk of the money intended for public schools (or, at least, the public school teachers’ beleaguered retirement fund). Brown admonished legislators in his January 2013 “state of the state” address not to let the additional revenues cloud their judgment. “The people have given us seven years of extra taxes,” he said. “Let us follow the wisdom of Joseph, pay down our debts, and store up reserves against the leaner times that will surely come.”

That notion lasted about a year before state officials — the ones not named Brown — began speaking openly of extending the Prop. 30 hikes forever. Then, earlier this year, California’s Service Employees International Union and the California Teachers Association met to discuss a ballot initiative, dubbed the “School Funding and Budget Stability Act,” to extend Prop. 30’s income tax portion at least through 2030, when everyone will have forgotten why the additional taxes seemed necessary in the first place. The SEIU-CTA measure would purportedly raise between $5 billion and $11 billion annually, depending on the performance of the stock market. The state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office has long pointed out that the state relies too heavily on capital gains taxes, making revenues volatile and difficult to predict. “Near the midpoint of this range — around $7.5 billion — is one reasonable expectation of the additional revenue that this measure would generate in 2019,” the LAO’s analysis of the SEIU-CTA initiative concludes. “Thereafter, through 2030, that amount will rise or fall each year depending on trends in the stock market and the economy.”

A second proposal by the SEIU-United Health Care Workers West, the California Hospital Association, and Common Sense Kids Action — cloyingly titled the “Invest in California’s Children Act” — would drop any pretense of sunset dates and permanently enshrine the 13.3 percent bracket in the tax code. It also would impose even higher rates on “super-earner” couples who make more than $2 million a year.

The measure could raise upward of $10.6 billion yearly — again, depending on the market — with 45 percent earmarked for K-12 education, 5 percent for community colleges, 10 percent for child development programs, and 40 percent for Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid. Common Sense Kids Action is the brainchild of Jim Steyer, brother of billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer. Jim Steyer contends that early childhood programs such as First 5 California, funded by cigarette taxes and Head Start, are at once indispensable and insufficient. He argues that his measure simply asks the richest Californians to “pay a little more so we can make the investments every California kid needs to have a great start in life.”

Last month, the different groups began a series of meetings to see whether they could avoid an expensive and divisive campaign next year. The teachers unions are keen to expand the 1988 state constitutional mandate requiring at least 40 percent of the general-fund budget be allocated to K-12 education. They’d like to push it to 50 percent. But the health-care lobby, particularly the California Medical Association, has been pushing for the state to increase Medi-Cal reimbursements to doctors. If the CMA and the hospitals can’t get a larger cut from permanently higher income taxes, they might push for yet another $2-a-pack cigarette tax.

Where is Brown in all this? “I said when I campaigned for Prop. 30 that it was a temporary tax,” Brown said in October 2014. “That’s my belief, and I’m doing what we can to live within our means.” He added, “Don’t worry about having too many Democrats in Sacramento. If they get out of hand, I’ll keep them in check.” Brown reiterated his point in January in response to another reporter’s question. “I said that’s a temporary tax,” he said curtly. And when Brown released his revised 2015-16 budget in May, the 104-page summary noted that general-fund revenues are expected to keep growing even without Prop. 30’s additional taxes.

But now the governor is being coy and his spokesmen nonresponsive. The interests that secured Brown’s historic third and fourth terms are taking no chances. Unlike death and taxes, Jerry Brown will be gone in January 2019. The CTA, SEIU, and the alphabet soup of Sacramento lobbyists will be around forever.

2016 U.S. Senate Race: Can Duf Sundhiem Crack Top 2 Primary?

Duf SundheimIt’s been 27 years since a California Republican has won a campaign for U.S. Senate.

The deck may be stacked against Republicans in California, but Duf Sundheim isn’t discouraged. The former California Republican Party chairman and small business attorney says that his underdog campaign for U.S. Senate is motivated by a desire to give average people “a voice in their government.”

“The people of California are tired of the professional political class of both parties who make promises that they never keep,” Sundheim said. “For over a decade, we have taken on the establishment of both parties and won.”

If Sundheim’s independent message doesn’t sound like the 2016 GOP presidential contenders, that’s because of the unique electoral landscape in California.

Top 2: Only Democratic options

Next year’s U.S. Senate race will be the first such election under California’s Top 2 Primary, which advances the top two primary candidates to the general election regardless of political party. Although Republicans struck out in every statewide race last November, the party succeeded in getting a candidate through the June primary election and onto the November general election ballot for every partisan statewide race. But only barely.

The June 2014 primary for state controller ended in a virtual four-way tie between two Democrats and two Republicans. Most political analysts believe that the Republican candidates, including an unknown candidate that spent $100 on a four-word ballot statement, were aided by the historically low turnout.

It won’t take much for Democrats to improve on those numbers. Historically, voter turnout is higher in presidential election years than in gubernatorial election years. Moreover, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ insurgent challenge to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination could further boost turnout among CA Democrats, who outnumber Republicans by 2.68 million voters.

Early polling show the effects of that favorable electoral landscape for Democrats. A Field Poll of more than 1,000 registered voters taken from September 17 to October 4 found Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez safely in second place to frontrunner Attorney General Kamala Harris. Sundheim and his fellow Republican candidates, Asm. Rocky Chavez and former California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro, managed only single digits.

“Both Harris and Sanchez are better known and are much more favorably regarded among the state’s likely voters than any of the three Republicans,” wrote Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. “As the election nears, this may create as much interest to who finishes second as to who wins the primary, since it will likely determine whether the fall general election will be a traditional Democrat vs. Republican affair or one that pits two Democrats against one another.”

Builds on Kashkari’s rhetoric

In an effort to prevent an all-Democrat November U.S. Senate showdown, Sundheim has built on the rhetorical foundation laid by 2014 GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari to appeal to independent voters by focusing on jobs and poverty. Sundheim says the state has “suffered and economic earthquake,” which has left millions in poverty.

“We have seen one of the greatest accumulations of wealth in history, but 8.9 million Californians live in poverty,” he said, referring to an issue first raised by Kashkari’s gubernatorial campaign. “There are more people living in poverty in California than there are people in Nevada, Hawaii and Oregon combined.”

He added, “Now the fastest growing path to the middle class is a government job.”

Sundheim has shared this message and his experience as a federal court mediator and volunteer settlement judge beyond the partisan political chicken dinner circuit. The Stanford graduate has a track record of reaching across the aisle and working with Democrats that share his passion for improving the state. In 2012, Sundheim supported Democratic San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed’s pension reform proposals, which were overwhelmingly approved by voters.

Shultz, Chambers Campaign Co-Chairs

In his initial fundraising report, Sundheim announced that he’s raised more than $240,000 — an impressive figure without any loans and only three weeks after his announcement.

“We will have the money we will need not only to compete, but to win,” he said.

Sundheim’s confidence comes with a list of big name endorsements, including former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and Cisco’s John Chambers.

“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and working with Duf for two decades, and I’ve seen how much he cares about the future of California and is inclusive of every one of its citizens,” said Chambers. “We need strong, principled leaders in Washington, DC who can bring together people from all political perspectives to craft workable solutions to our country’s most pressing problems. Duf Sundheim is that kind of leader.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

CA Legislature Debates How to Fund Road Repair

LA-Freeway-Xchange-110-105There is consensus that California’s road and highways must be fixed. There is no consensus how the fix should be paid for. The Special Session legislative meeting Friday was called a first step in finding agreement to the funding problem. The Democrats see tax increases as part of the mix; Republicans want to prioritize the use of existing dollars for the roads. The tricky part of compromise is the push for any taxes in the context of so many other tax increases that could be presented to voters.

Governor Jerry Brown has proposed a yearly funding package for the roads of $3.6 billion. The package includes a 6-cent gasoline tax increase, an 11-cent diesel tax increase, both tied to inflation, a $65 car fee and cap-and-trade funds. His proposal is little more than half what legislative Democrats and a coalition of business, labor and construction groups have called for.

Republican proposals also include cap-and-trade money. In this case, the money would be used directly for the roads. The governor’s plan would funnel cap-and-trade dollars to bus lanes and rail. The Republicans also would trim CalTrans staff, direct weight fees and other transportation monies exclusively for the roads and employee other methods without raising taxes.

Not only have the Republicans expressed opposition to tax increases but there is no certainty that all Democratic legislators would support a tax increase.

The informal group of Moderate Democrats who banned together to stop the provision in climate change bill SB 350 to cut petroleum use in half over 15 years objected that their constituents would pay a higher cost for commuting. Cap-and-trade that now covers gasoline refining and has raised the cost of gasoline about 10-cents a gallon. Additional taxes on gasoline would adversely affect many of their constituents, the moderate Democrats believe.

The governor wants the funding package to move through the legislature quickly for strategic reasons.

For one thing, the plunging cost of gasoline may undermine the argument that the gas tax increase will hurt low-income drivers. Even a tax increase on gas would leave the cost of a gallon of gasoline well below recent price levels.

If debate lingers until next year, it becomes an issue for candidates running for office in an election year. Remember, a car fee increase was a major reason for a governor’s recall just a decade ago.

If a package of gasoline taxes and car fees should end up on the ballot it would probably get a cold stare from the voters. Likely there will be a number of tax increases on the November ballot. An extension of Proposition 30, a cigarette tax, perhaps a property tax, maybe others could be on that ballot. A roads funding package will not look so good in the context of all these tax increase proposals.

The roads and highways are the veins and arteries that pump life into our economic system. They must be cared for to prevent the economic system from getting a form of man-made sclerosis. The governor and legislators during the Special Session are walking a tightrope to balance the need to improve the roads and highways with voters being turned-off by a slew of tax proposals.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Gavin Newsom Announces 2016 Gun Control Ballot Initiative

Gavin newsomThrusting himself to the forefront of America’s campaign-season controversy around access to firearms, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom seized the opportunity to define the 2018 gubernatorial race early, proposing a ballot initiative that would usher in sweeping new gun laws.

Although Newsom’s liberal bona fides were not in question, analysts observed that his calculated risk to wade into the debate made sense in the context of California’s current political climate. “High-profile ballot measure campaigns can help bolster a candidate’s visibility,” as the Los Angeles Times noted. “And because of dismal voter turnout in the last California election, the threshold to qualify measures has been dropped to 365,000 petition signatures, much lower than the previous standard.”

Guns in the crosshairs

Newsom didn’t hesitate to cast himself as a champion of the anti-gun movement, capable of going head to head against the nation’s strongest firearms rights lobbies. “The NRA doesn’t own me, they haven’t bought me — and they never will. They’ve already come after us,” he said in remarks to Capital New York, a Politico publication, “and it’s going to intensify.”

Calling the National Rifle Association “extraordinarily effective at stifling the legislative process,” Newsom vowed “to fight a different fight — that is, direct democracy. We’re going directly to voters. Because the public is with us, including the NRA members themselves.”

Uncertain terrain

To an extent, Newsom has public opinion on his side in the Golden State. “A poll last month by the Public Policy Institute of California found that two-thirds of adults believe California’s gun control laws should be stricter than they are now,” USA Todayreported. “It found that 57 percent of adults said controlling gun ownership is more important than protecting the right of Americans to own guns, while 40 percent said protecting gun ownership is more important.”

But Newsom was cagey on the subject of Gov. Jerry Brown, who has torpedoed California gun legislation in the recent past. His proposed initiative, the Sacramento Bee noted, incorporates “provisions of bills that have stalled at the state Capitol or were vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in recent years.” In addition to compelling sellers of bullets to be licensed in the same manner as sellers of guns, the Bee continued, Newsom’s initiative would “establish a process to seize guns from people prohibited from owning them because of their criminal records, mandate that lost or stolen guns be reported to law enforcement, and require the California Department of Justice to notify federal authorities when someone is added to the state database of prohibited firearms owners.”

Californians have already directly or indirectly established one of the strictest sets of firearms regulations in the country, with “a 10-day waiting period for all firearm purchases, an assault weapons ban, and a ban on making and selling magazines that hold more than 10 rounds,” as the San Jose Mercury News recalled. “The state enacted its assault weapons ban in 1989 and expanded it 10 years later,” the paper added, although “those who already owned the banned guns and magazines were allowed to register and keep them.”

Fueling fears

Of all the provisions proposed by Newsom, one stood out: the ban on so-called “large capacity” gun magazines. UCLA law professor Adam Winkler told the Bee that the provision would “hit a lot of ordinary gun owners where it hurts,” potentially turning gun moderates against the initiative. “It plays into the hands of gun-rights proponents who are always warning that the government is going to come take your guns,” he suggested.

In a statement, NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter promptly advanced that standpoint. “His ballot initiative proposal does nothing but prohibit access to the most effective methods for self-defense, with no measurable positive effect on stopping crime or improving public safety,” she told Courthouse News. “They can’t repeal the Second Amendment, so they’re trying to chip away our rights until there is nothing left,” she said.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Marijuana Supporters Still Split Over 2016 Ballot Initiative

marijuana-leafThe biggest of the California marijuana initiatives has at last been unveiled. But it has yet to lock up enough support to wipe out the competition.

Striking a balance

“The Control, Regulate and Tax Cannabis Act of 2016 would allow people 21 and over to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana and it would set up legal marijuana commerce overseen by a pair of new state agencies, the California Cannabis Commission and the Office of Cannabis Regulatory Affairs,” as Alternet reported. The law was crafted, according to ReformCA, “to comport with the guidelines laid down by pro-legalization Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy and to complement the statewide medical marijuana regulation scheme approved last month by the legislature.”

Newsom, off to an early start in his campaign to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018, labored to find a middle path with the commission’s proposals. As CalWatchdog noted previously, Newsom’s panel put forth “a suite of policy prescriptions likely to leave many Californians with diminished hopes as well. Rejecting the notion of a free market for pot, the authors pushed for central regulatory oversight, standards for licensing and training, and rules barring youths from entering shops and purchasing certain types of product such as so-called edibles.”

ReformCA’s parent organization, the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, was the driving force behind the initiative. Chairwoman Dale Sky Jones, who also runs Oaksterdam University — “the first college in the country for the study of cannabis” — has amassed a list of supporters from California’s variegated pro-marijuana constituency; “Americans for Safe Access, the Emerald Growers Assn., Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance and the Council on Responsible Cannabis Regulation” have all signed on, according to the Los Angeles Times.

A fractious field

But ReformCA hasn’t managed to unite the pro-pot community completely. After the LA Weekly reported that ‘the coalition includes NORML, the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project,’ ReformCA had those organizations removed from its website,” the Weekly reported. “The Drug Policy Alliance, one of the biggest players in marijuana politics, might go its own way. It’s preparing its own language for circulation that could be filed later this month if DPA principals aren’t happy with other initiatives being prepared.”

“The DPA initiative, then, could end up being one of three serious proposals to tax and regulate recreational marijuana for those older than 21 in California. The other two could include one from Silicon Valley billionaire Sean Parker, multiple sources confirmed, and the one from ReformCA.”

In some pro-legalization circles, Parker has become something of a savior figure. Unlike the others jockeying to pass marijuana reform, he has money. “Reform CA ($167,000 annual budget in 2014), NORML ($312,000 in 2012, the most recent filings), and Americans for Safe Access (which was $182,000 in debt in 2012, according to income statements filed earlier this year), are all broke,” SF Weekly noted. Parker, by contrast, “put $600 million of his reported $2.5 billion fortune in a philanthropic foundation this summer,” while recently he has brought on “Sacramento campaign veterans Gale Kaufman and Brian Brokaw, as well as former Newsom campaign insider Jason Kinney,” according to the SF Weekly’s anonymous sources.

The Weekly even suggested that Newsom’s own recent silence on the topic of pot legalization might indicate his unwillingness to endorse an initiative until Parker comes forward with one of his own.

Speedy timetables

If the Act were to become law, change would come swiftly. “Similar to Oregon’s model, the initiative would not give state regulators much time to drag their feet before providing consumers with an outlet to purchase legal weed,” High Timesreported. The Office of Cannabis Regulation “would be forced to issue temporary licenses to the medical marijuana sector, so that recreational sales could begin as early as July 2017. Meanwhile, the state would be required to begin drafting definitive regulations for the new market in order to make it fully operational by the turn of 2018.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Poll: Will Voters Support Tax Proposals on 2016 Ballot?

taxesIn the shadow of my commentary yesterday on the possible tax measures on the 2016 ballot comes the Public Policy Institute of California poll that takes the standing of many of the potential tax initiatives. This snapshot in time indicates supporters of the tax increases have a lot of work to do to convince the public to vote for them.

But the way the questions were asked must be considered when weighing the results.

The idea of extending Proposition 30 is becoming more practical than theoretical with the submission of two separate ballot measures to achieve that goal. One measure, filed chiefly by the California Teachers Association, would extend Prop. 30 for 12 years. The second measure filed by the California Hospitals Association, a health care union and a children’s advocacy group, would make the Prop. 30 taxes permanent.

The voters appear divided on extending Prop. 30 with 49% in favor of extension and 46% opposed. However, those favoring the extension drop to 32% if the taxes are made permanent.

One odd result from the poll was the great support for the Prop. 30 extension in the San Francisco Bay Area (63%) and much less support in the Central Valley (50%); odd, because this tax is centered on the wealthy, those with incomes of $250,000 and more. There are many more high-end taxpayers in the Bay Area than the Central Valley.

However, the way the question was asked may have something to do with this disparity. The question described the Proposition 30 tax that exists today. Poll respondents were asked if the taxes on incomes over $250,000 and the quarter cent sales tax should be extended. But, the quarter cent sales tax portion of the Prop. 30 tax measure is not included in either of the extension plans that were filed.

Could Central Valley voters have focused on the sales tax piece and would their answers be different if they knew the extension only affected high-end income taxpayers?

Once again, PPIC asked about splitting the property tax roll under Proposition 13 treating commercial property differently than residential property by taxing commercial property according to current market value. Likely voters approved of the idea by 55% with 39% opposed.

But as stated here many times before, this basic question doesn’t inform potential voters of consequences related to this issue. There was no effort to deal with either the potential positives or negatives of changing the property tax system. Those issues will certainly be aired during an expensive campaign over a split roll and undoubtedly would lead to different results than the poll currently reflects.

Two other taxes that are being discussed received quite different results. An oil extraction tax found 49% support with likely voters; a cigarette tax was supported by 66% of likely voters.

There could be a lot of money spent in a campaign opposed to these taxes and a fair amount of change in support. However, looking at all the tax measures at this moment in time, if the old rule were applied that an initiative needs to have at least 60% support in early polls to have a fighting chance at passing, then only the cigarette tax looks possible at this time.

Of course, if the ballot is full of tax proposals the old rules may not apply.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

The Jeb Bush Super PAC? Not Really

502px-Jeb_Bush_by_Gage_SkidmoreThe news that Jeb Bush’s official presidential campaign account is running out of money may have been taken as bad news by some in the Republican Party.

They have been concerned about the surprising rise of outsider Donald Trump, while at the same time the expected GOP pack leader, Bush, has been unable to gain even half as much support in the national polls as compared to top dog Trump. And the concern of so-called “establishment” Republicans was likely only compounded when it was just disclosed that three key, seasoned Bush fundraising operatives have departed the campaign.

“Troubling Signs” is how Politico headlined the news of the recent Bush campaign personnel changes. There was some uncertainty over whether the fundraisers had resigned or were let go, but it was clear that Bush’s official campaign is having serious problems raising enough of its own money in the wake of the Trump juggernaut.

The Bush campaign is clearly going through a round of belt-tightening as Trump continues to rise in the polls. According to the New York Times, just before the three fundraisers made their departure, the Bush campaign had gone through an additional round of staff and salary reductions.

Bush supporters have minimized the apparent growing financial problems of Jeb’s presidential campaign. They say there is plenty of pro-Bush campaign money in the bank.

Politico observes that “Bush’s Super PAC,” which must be legally independent of the official campaign, has had “massive success raising money.” According to Breitbart, “Bush’s Super PAC,” the Right to Rise PAC, raised $103 million in the first six months of 2015, while Bush’s official campaign raised $11 million. The “Bush Super PAC” success in fundraising has even inspired catcalls from billionaire Trump, who has charged that Jeb is hardly independent of the many wealthy donors who have given to it, calling Jeb a “puppet” of its donors during a speech at the Iowa State Fair.

Yet as Jeb’s official campaign fundraising and spending appears to be in some degree of turmoil, a key point missing from news reports about the well-funded independent “Bush Super PAC” that Bush supporters are relying on, is the word “independent.”

Super PACs are a fairly recent phenomena, and an outgrowth of a string of federal court decisions that establish that the Federal Election Commission’s former restrictions on the amount of money and sources of campaign finances to candidate committees cannot be extended to so-called “independent expenditures.”

In return for maintaining independence from an official campaign of a candidate, a Super PAC is allowed to collect contributions in excess of the limits on contribution amounts imposed by the FEC on official campaigns, and can raise funds from sources that are otherwise prohibited by the FEC, such as corporations and unions. But the Super PAC must operate independently from the candidates it chooses to support.

The truth is, the “Right to Rise” PAC is not Jeb Bush’s PAC. Rather, it is an independent political committee of organizers and donors who, for the time being, are Jeb Bush supporters. All it takes to create a Super PAC like “Right to Rise” is to file a simple Statement of Organization, FEC Form 1, under a cover letter that promises the following to the FEC:

“This committee intends to make unlimited independent expenditures, and consistent with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decision in SpeechNow v. FEC, it therefore intends to raise funds in unlimited amounts. This committee will not use those funds to make contributions, whether direct, in-kind, or via coordinated communications, to federal candidates or committees.”

Thus, “Right to Rise” really isn’t Jeb Bush’s Super PAC. It is rather, an independent expenditure committee of operatives and donors that Trump sarcastically refers to as the “puppeteers,” who favor Bush right now. And since it is indeed legally independent of Jeb Bush, it is not legally committed to support him. An amount like $103 million is not a sum to be invested unwisely.

The “Right to Rise” PAC could decide to support or oppose any of the 17 candidates currently running for the GOP nomination, not just Bush. Should Bush continue to fail to gain traction in the polls, if his support further erodes, and as the primary process proceeds to what some political veterans are suggesting will be a “brokered convention,” this observer suggests that six months from now the “Right to Rise” PAC may not continue to be referred to as the “Bush Super PAC” in the press.

Originally published by The Blaze

James V. Lacy, a frequent guest of Fox Business News Channel’s “Varney & Company,” is author of “Taxifornia” which is available at Amazon.com

CA voters could be players in GOP race for the White House

VotedThe easiest way to tell whether you’re in California or New Hampshire is to walk into a coffee shop. If you don’t see a presidential candidate, you’re in California.

Our state’s presidential primary in June usually takes place in what the NBA calls “garbage time,” that final few minutes of play after the outcome is beyond any doubt.

But 2016 could be different.

On Wednesday, 15 Republican candidates for president were at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library for two televised debates. An astounding 23 million people watched the CNN telecast, making it the No. 10 cable TV show of all time, behind eight college football games on ESPN and the GOP debate last month on Fox.

CNN’s previous ratings record for a presidential debate was set on Jan. 31, 2008, when an average of 8.3 million viewers tuned in. On Wednesday, even the early debate for four low-polling candidates drew an audience of over 6 million people.

The reason for the skyscraping ratings, of course, is Donald Trump. “Will they send me flowers?” he tweeted on Thursday.

“Trump deserves a lot of credit” for drawing tens of millions of viewers to the debates, said Shawn Steel, who represents California on the Republican National Committee. “Some candidates would give up organs for coverage like that.”

California’s primary could be actively contested, Steel believes, if four or five candidates are still in the race at the beginning of April.

“Eighty percent of the delegates will have made up their mind after March,” he said. But he predicted that as long as the debates continue to have “the JV table,” candidates are likely to stay in the race for the TV coverage. The RNC scheduled a total of nine debates, spaced about a month apart. The next one is Oct. 28 in Boulder, Colo.

A year ago, a prediction that the Republican presidential debates were going to break TV rating records would have won you the Brian Williams Award for Outstanding Achievement in Fantasy.

“Trump has brought a whole new dynamic to the Republican brand,” Steel said, by attracting alienated voters, independents and Democrats.

“His poll numbers in the African-American community are better than any Republican’s in the past 50, maybe 70 years,” Steel said. “And in the Latino community, where you might expect that he’d be polling at 5 percent, he’s at 25 percent. That’s Gallup. It’s quite a shocker.”

Steel said it’s evidence of illegal immigration’s “impact on working folks,” including Latinos who are legal immigrants. “You can’t dismiss it,” he said.

At a Kiwanis Club meeting in West Hills Thursday morning, the usual ban on political talk was lifted for a discussion of the debates. Republican Doris Panza said Trump would not be her choice for president, but she thinks he is saying what people have been itching to hear, and what everyone else is afraid to say. Panza, whose husband served in the military for 38 years, liked what Sen. Lindsey Graham said about fighting ISIS. “I think he’s right that if we don’t fight them there, they’ll be over here,” she said.

Janet Lucan, a Democrat, said she liked the way Carly Fiorina “put Trump in his place” and was impressed with her as a person. She said she likes Jeb Bush and, to her surprise, she liked what Rand Paul had to say.

Ron Guilbert described himself lightheartedly as a “far right-wing Republican” and said he would vote for Marco Rubio if the election were held today.

At a Constitution Day event Thursday at Pierce College, associate professor of political science Anthony Gabrielli also gave high marks to Rubio.

“I think he had the strongest performance of the ‘insiders,’” he said, “and Carly Fiorina was the strongest of the ‘outsiders.’”

California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte said during a break between the debates Wednesday that the GOP candidates are “head and shoulders above what the Democrats have to offer.” Steel called the field the “finest quality candidates in our lifetime.“

They’re getting a good long look from the voters, courtesy of Donald Trump. According to Nielsen data, millions of people who never watched a presidential debate before are watching now.

Could California’s political landscape be affected if new voters register in the Republican Party to cast a vote for Trump, Rubio, Fiorina or another candidate in the GOP primary?

A year ago, a prediction that a New York real estate developer would rebuild the California Republican Party would have won you another Brian Williams Award.