Seven initiatives to watch that threaten California prosperity

VotedVoters may face as many seven ballot measures damaging to California’s business and political climate in November. Any one of these measures should motivate millions in opposition spending by affected industries. More than a few are likely to qualify for the ballot.

Conventional wisdom teaches that gubernatorial elections deliver older and more conservative voters to the polls, which normally drives liberal and anti-business initiative entrepreneurs to aim their measures for presidential election years, like 2016 or 2020. But this formerly reliable rule has crumbled in the face of a low qualification threshold, interest group imperatives, and impatient wealthy donors. It’s open season on the deep pockets!

Increase taxes

In 2016, California voters extended top income tax rates (already the highest in the nation) through 2030, increased tobacco taxes by $2-a-pack, and imposed new taxes on marijuana use and production. Elsewhere, voters in hundreds of local jurisdictions raised sales, property and excise taxes for a variety of municipal or school services.

For certain unions and special interest groups, this isn’t enough. Two proposed ballot measures would impose multi-billion-dollar tax increases on businesses and upper income earners.

The United Healthcare Workers union has proposed a one-percent income tax surcharge on all income over $1 million, which would raise up to $2.5 billion annually for various health care programs. Wealthy taxpayers would pay a top rate of 14.3%, well above the highest income tax rate of any other state.

A coalition of liberal interest groups is circulating a split roll property tax proposal, requiring that nearly all commercial and industrial properties, except production agriculture, be assessed to full market value, and then reassessed every three years thereafter. Tax bills for business would increase by $10.5 billion a year.

Worsen housing crisis

California’s notorious housing shortage contributes to many social ills, including poverty, long commutes, air pollution, and flight of middle class jobs and job seekers. Tenant advocates, backed by the head of the Los Angeles AIDS Healthcare Foundation, are circulating a proposal that would exacerbate this shortage by repealing long-standing limitations on rent control.  Far from alleviating the housing shortage, this proposal would simply allow local politicians to benefit some existing renters at the expense of future renters and homeowners.

Regulate industries

A measure purporting to improve consumer control over personal internet privacy promises to be among the hardest fought and most expensive ballot battles. A San Francisco investor proposes requiring businesses to provide to consumers upon request a copy of any personal information it has accumulated and allows consumers to opt-out any or all collection of their personal information – even if not personally identifiable. This measure undermines widespread business models in the industry and likely reduce many services now available to internet users.

United Healthcare Workers is also soliciting signatures for a measure to establish price controls for privately-operated kidney dialysis treatment. Intended to create leverage on dialysis clinics to increase unionized staff, passage of the measure would increase overall costs by shifting dialysis treatments from clinics to more expensive venues like emergency rooms or hospitals.

Stall economic development

For more than two decades, excise taxes on California gasoline and diesel remained flat, contributing to the erosion of purchasing power of those tax revenues and creating a backlog of maintenance and operational improvements for roads and highways. In 2017, the Legislature and Governor agreed on a $5 billion annual boost in transportation revenues to repair roads and bridges and add capacity in some of the most congested corridors.

A San Diego politician has proposed repealing the excise tax increases and subject future increases to statewide voter approval, which would freeze in place hundreds of planned transportation improvements throughout California, without a plausible replacement revenue stream.

Disrupt state governance

A Silicon Valley millionaire is again attempting to qualify a measure to break apart California, this time into three separate states, centered on the Bay Area, Greater Los Angeles and San Diego/Orange County, with the rural area divided among the new states. The new states would obviously create new and unpredictable winners and losers – economically, socially and politically. Rather than working to knit the fabric of our state more tightly together, this proposal would tear it apart.

Initiative proponents will begin submitting petitions to counties in May for signature verification. It is not too soon to begin educating affected business and industry leaders about the consequences of these proposals.

resident of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Prop. 13 targeted by proposed California ballot initiative

Forty years after Proposition 13 was approved by California voters, the issue of property-tax limits could be back on the state ballot in 2018.

A coalition of liberal groups is trying to qualify an initiative for the November ballot that would remove Prop. 13’s restrictions on reassessments and tax increases for corporate-owned property.

The backers say the initiative would keep Prop. 13’s protections for homeowners, residential renters, small businesses and farmers.

They say a projected $11 billion in new revenue from corporate property taxes would be used to provide needed funding for schools and community colleges as well as parks, libraries, health clinics, home-building, homeless services, roads and bridges.

But those promises haven’t kept low-tax advocates from slamming the would-be initiative, called the California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act of 2018. …

Click here to read the full article from the OC Register

CA Secretary of State denies NSA report of 2016 election hack

vote count electionWho will Californians believe: Secretary of State Alex Padilla or the National Security Agency?

That’s one way to boil down a flap that’s emerged this week over the sanctity of California’s 2016 elections.

Beginning shortly after November’s election, Padilla has pushed back hard at any claims of voting irregularities in the nation’s largest state. The former Democratic state senator representing part of Los Angeles – elected in 2014 to be the state’s chief elections officer – was most irked with President-elect Donald Trump’s claims that he would have won the popular vote if not for massive voter fraud in California and other states. On Jan. 25, soon after taking office, Trump repeated his claims and again specifically alleged problems in California.

Padilla called that a “flat-out lie.” He said his office reached out to Trump aides asking them to provide evidence for his claims and never heard back. In a press release issued then, Padilla said Trump’s leveling of harsh allegations without having a case is “frankly dangerous to people’s faith in our democratic system.”

In May, after Trump aides announced the creation of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, Padilla again responded with outrage.

“The commission’s mandate is deeply flawed and its motives suspect,” the secretary of state said in a statement. “The only purpose this commission serves is to distract from critical investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. And I fear that it will serve as pretext for the administration’s efforts to roll back the voting rights so many fought so hard to obtain.”

But Padilla has also flatly rejected the idea that Russian operatives or operatives from any nation “hacked” any of the state’s election systems.

Bloomberg News: California election contractor was infiltrated

Yet early Tuesday, citing a classified NSA report obtained and released by The Intercept, Bloomberg News reported that “Russia’s cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system before Donald Trump’s election was far more widespread than has been publicly revealed, including incursions into voter databases and software systems in almost twice as many states as previously reported.”

U.S. intelligence agencies investigating a hack targeting Illinois election operations found telltale evidence that enabled them to uncover similar attempts to infiltrate voting systems elsewhere.

“Thirty-seven states reported finding traces of the hackers in various systems, according to one of the people familiar with the probe,” Bloomberg reported. “In two others – Florida and California – those traces were found in systems run by a private contractor managing critical election systems.” In Florida, Bloomberg wrote, another leak had established the contractor was VR Systems.

In response, Padilla’s office issued a statement that suggested the NSA report was based on outdated information.

“There is no evidence of any breach of elections systems in California. VR Systems, which is headquartered in Florida, does not provide services to the secretary of state,” Padilla said. His statement asserted that while VR Systems once provided some election services to Humboldt County, it was not involved in tabulating votes in California in 2016.

Separately, KPCC – the Pasadena-Los Angeles National Public Radio affiliate – reported that it had contacted election officials in the counties of Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside and Ventura, and all denied knowledge of having been hacked.

Meanwhile, there’s been little news on what Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity has done to investigate the president’s claims. The order creating the commission contained no timetable for it to issue interim findings or a full report.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Should felons be allowed to vote from behind jail bars?

As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

Thousands of felons serving time in county jails would be allowed to vote in California elections from behind bars under a bill moving swiftly through the state Legislature despite widespread opposition from law enforcement officials.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) introduced the measure with an aim that providing convicts the right to vote will give them a better sense of belonging to society and possibly reduce their chances of committing new crimes when released.

“Civic participation can be a critical component of re-entry and has been linked to reduced recidivism,” Weber told her colleagues during a recent heated floor debate on the bill.

But police chiefs and sheriffs throughout California say the proposal that passed narrowly in the state Assembly undermines a longstanding social compact: those who commit a serious crime lose not only their freedom to live in society for a time but also their right to participate in democracy. …

Click here to read the full article

Election Day: Questions, What to Look For and a Few Predictions

Voting boothElection primary day is finally here in California. Watching much of the rest of the country’s voters engage in the process of choosing presidential nominees is little more than a spectator sport for Californians. While the choices of whom to vote for have been limited by those other states’ voters, Californians now will get a chance to speak through the ballot. Other important races will be decided, as well, and analysts will be looking for trends that could indicate how November campaigns turn out.

A few items to think about and a look into a cloudy and cracked crystal ball:

The Presidential Campaigns

Questions/What to Look For: Is the reported surge in Democratic registration a sign that the Bernie Sanders campaign is bringing in new voters? Will they show up on Election Day? On the Republican side, does Trump’s presumptive nominee status keep some Republicans away from the polls affecting down ticket races? Is there a protest vote against Trump by some GOP voters who either skip the presidential ballot or vote for another name in the Republican column?

Prediction: Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic primary by a larger margin than the 2-percent edge most polls have been predicting. A protest vote against Trump will be measured by his securing about 75% of the Republicans who vote, meaning one-quarter of the Republicans are not satisfied with the GOP presumptive nominee.

U.S. Senate

Questions/What to Look for: Will Attorney General Kamala Harris have a large commanding lead over the second place finisher or will the race be within 10-15%. If the latter, and that second place finisher is Congress member Loretta Sanchez, that will set up an interesting fall campaign for the first major seat affected by the top two primary. Will Latino voters rally to Sanchez in big numbers? (And how will that affect the thinking of those considering statewide races in 2018? I’m thinking of you, Antonio.)

Prediction: Harris has a comfortable win. If Sanchez qualifies for the finals, her fall campaign will turn on how Sanchez manages to find the sweet spot of corralling enough Democrats while attracting a strong Republican vote.

Shaping the Legislature

Questions/What to Look for: Outside competing interests are pouring in big money to help shape a legislature supportive of their issues. Will a trend of more business friendly Democrats continue to blossom or will labor and progressive candidates score big? Much of the independent expenditures come from advocates on both sides of education and environmental issues and success could lead to dramatic changes on how those issues are addressed by the next legislature. If the environmental candidates do well, will that increase the interest of environmentalist/financial player Tom Steyer to consider a gubernatorial run? Will a dominant Democratic showing increase the chances of the Democrats securing supermajorities in both houses in November? Or will supermajority even matter if a large number of Democratic victors are considered pro-business Democrats?

Prediction: Californians deep-blue hue will only become deeper—at least on the surface. However, business will do well enough to make for some interesting top two runoffs in November and keep the intramural conflicts within the Democratic Party active.

Local Measures

Questions/What to Look for: Many tax and bond measures appear on local ballots. Will success or failure of these measures be a harbinger for how voters will respond to statewide tax and bond measures in the fall? Will success of a nine-county parcel tax to protect the San Francisco Bay mean more regional ventures around the state in the future?

Predictions: According to the historical record, a large number of the tax and bond measures pass at the local level. That record remains intact. However, this may not be an indication of how voters will respond to statewide measures in November. The statewide measures often have more sophisticated opposition campaigns than local measures face. If the San Francisco Bay parcel taxes pass–close, but I think the measure will pass–it will encourage those who believe dealing with some of California’s problems over a sprawling area calls for regional solutions and we will see more efforts in that direction.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

In Four Weeks, Show Politicians You Care

Howard-JarvisIt’s election season and the media has made certain that voters’ attention has been focused on the presidential primaries. But there are hundreds of state and local races, critical to our future that garner very little media attention. On June 7, California Primary voters will take the first step in selecting those candidates who will be elected in November.

Candidates for Congress, the Legislature, county boards of supervisors, city councils, and school boards will become the officials who will have a great say over the caliber of service government provides and the quality of life for all. Some office seekers will be self-serving, interested in being somebody important. Others will genuinely want to accomplish something positive for their constituents. Some will want to provide good value for taxpayers’ dollars, while others will become beholden to special interests who benefit from higher taxes and more spending.

Deciding who is whom, is the challenge.

Most of us will never meet the presidential candidates, but the opportunities to meet and size up local candidates are fairly plentiful as they strive to be heard and to distinguish themselves from their opponents.

By now, it is clear that there is a lot of anger and frustration throughout our nation and our state over the performance of government. But keep in mind that, we, the voters, have the power to make changes.

Howard Jarvis, the father of the 1978 tax revolt, used to say that if we don’t like the direction of our government or elected officials, it is up to us to work together and use our votes to make changes.

The Primary Election is just four weeks away and it is time to think about our options and to take action to make sure our friends, our family and our colleagues are registered to vote and are informed of what is at stake.

In thousands of appearances all over the state during the Proposition 13 campaign Howard delivered the following message: The people of California are the government. The people we elect are not the bosses; we are. The elected officials are just temporary employees and this is your chance to tell them you’re fed up with their record of “Tax, tax, tax; spend, spend, spend; reelect, reelect, reelect.”

Howard would warn that most legislators seek to pass legislation and appropriate money for the simple purpose of getting themselves reelected. Further, he noted that government power comes from the ignorance of the governed whom the politicians and bureaucrats have set out to discourage from participating in the political process – the people in power would be just as happy if the people they rule didn’t even bother to vote.

And Howard Jarvis had a pithy comment that seems especially appropriate today: Only the knowledge that the people care will keep the politicians honest.

We can show the politicians we care by making sure all our contacts are registered to vote and they cast ballots. Registration information can be obtained from your county registrar of voters or you may register online at the California Secretary of State’s website. Remember vote by mail ballots will be in mail boxes in just a few days. Let’s get out and vote.

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.

It’s Open Season on Taxpayers

TaxesEven if one lives in a cave, it’s hard to avoid the publicity surrounding the high profile presidential debates that are a reminder that this is an election year. And California taxpayers know, from hard experience, it also means that it is open season on taxpayers as local politicians rush to put tax increases on the ballot.

Emboldened by success in little-publicized 2015 off-year elections in which 29 out of 40 local tax increase measures passed, scores of communities and special districts are seeing this year as an ideal opportunity to raise your taxes.

Presidential election years tend to bring out more voters, including many who do not pay close attention to what’s on the ballot until the last minute. These “low information voters” are a prime target of tax raisers because they are more easily convinced by simplistic arguments. These duplicitous arguments often tout the benefits of a measure to a community, without ever mentioning that it is a new tax. Or they minimalize the actual cost by expressing it in pennies per day, “It will only cost about 50 cents a day!”

Of course those promoting new or higher taxes do not want taxpayers to notice that they are often being attacked on several fronts simultaneously, as cities, counties and special districts reach for their wallets.

One of the most popular taxes from the standpoint of public officials is the parcel tax, usually a uniform property tax on all “parcels” of property within a community or district. The politicians like these taxes because, unlike bonds which must be used for brick and mortar projects, the revenue from parcel taxes can be used for any purpose including raises in pay and pensions for public employees.

These taxes are insidious because they exceed Proposition 13 limits and there is no relationship between what is being charged and the property owner’s ability to pay. A young couple in a starter home, an elderly couple in a bungalow and a multimillionaire in a mansion, all pay the same amount. Additionally, parcel taxes bear no direct connection to any service actually provided to the property owner.

Already there is a parcel tax slated for nine Bay Area counties, while cities and school districts throughout the state are preparing their own new taxes for the ballot.

So, if you are a property owner, especially one on a limited budget, it is important to familiarize yourself with what is on your local ballot. There is a good chance that you will find a parcel property tax. Fortunately, because of Proposition 13, these require a two-thirds vote, so if a tax is not justified, there is a realistic opportunity for voters to reject it.

To paraphrase a series of commercials promoting a satellite television service currently urging viewers “don’t be a settler” – “don’t be a low information voter.” When your sample ballot arrives in a few short months, study it carefully. Keep in mind that the official title and summary for tax measures are often manipulated by the political class to encourage a Yes vote. If you have any doubts about the information provided, do further research.

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.

2016 Initiative bonanza sets stage for fights

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle:

Measures ranging from a $9 billion school bond to a condom requirement for actors in pornographic movies are set to join the presidential candidates on November’s California ballot, with plenty more still to come.

Battle lines are being drawn in what could be one of the busiest — and most expensive — initiative seasons in California history.

“It’s likely to be a very long ballot,” said Jamie Court of Consumer Watchdog, a progressive group that’s sponsored a number of consumer-oriented initiatives over the years.

Besides the seven measures that have already qualified for the ballot — including one of nationwide interest that would cut prescription drug prices for state agencies — supporters of others are out on the streets, haranguing passersby in an effort to collect enough signatures to go before the voters next year.

Click here to read the full article

Tax Raisers Want To Keep Elections Secret

tax signDid you know that there was an election last Tuesday? Not many voters did, and the tax-and-spend crowd likes it that way. In this little publicized election, 29 out of 40 local tax increase measures passed.

Michael Coleman, Founder of the California Local Government Finance Almanac, notes the significance: “There were more local revenue measures on ballots this November than any of the four prior gubernatorial or presidential elections,” he said. “More were passed than ever before.”

Some might interpret these election results as a new acceptance of taxes by California voters. But for those of us who have observed government behavior for more than a few decades, we see a more sinister explanation. Specifically, that the tax raisers have become expert at gaming the system to pass tax and bond measures.

It is no coincidence that these tax increases were placed on an obscure odd year ballot, avoiding even year elections when gubernatorial and presidential races bring out more voters. But there is more.

Highly paid political consultants tell local officials not to publicize tax elections to the entire community, but to target only their supporters. This means running a stealth election, communicating (in the case of school bonds) with only administrators, the local teachers union, the PTA, and parents who have children in school. In tax elections, tax raisers use public employee union members to carry the torch.

A few years ago, at a seminar conducted for officials interested in passing tax measures, one consultant told those assembled to avoid town hall meeting style events. These, he said, bring out the “nuts.”

Since it is illegal for officials to use public resources (including public funds) to urge a vote for or against a political issue, consultants frequently counsel tax backers on the best way to wage “informational” campaigns. This includes sending out material stating all the good things a bond or tax measure will do, but stopping just short of violating the law by telling people how to vote.

Consultants tell their clients to always talk about the benefits a measure will bring — if somebody starts to talk about taxes, “move away from that and talk about what the benefit is.” If compelled to take about taxes, officials are counseled to put the cost in simple, friendly sounding terms that usually begin with “it’s only.” “It’s only a few cents a day,” or “it’s only a few dollars per month.” (A Los Angeles Community College District Chancellor once compared the cost of a bond to the cost of a “latte a month.”) Officials try to make it sound like the coming tax increase is trivial and that anyone who is opposed must be a cheapskate.

Even before a tax proposal is placed on the ballot, in most cases, officials have gained an advantage. They authorize surveys of voter sentiment to help them determine what sort of measure will most likely pass. Using taxpayer funds on these polls is justified by saying the information allows them to “better serve” the community.

Another advantage that gives tax raisers a leg up over taxpayers is that under law the agency sponsoring the new tax or bond gets to write the ballot question. That’s why the word “tax” is never seen.

However, when it comes to providing full disclosure to taxpayers on the impact of a local tax or bond measure there is good news that will impact future elections.

Gov. Brown has signed Assembly Bill 809 by Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, R-Big Bear. Sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, this bill requires that rate and duration of a local tax measure, as well as the amount of estimated revenue to be raised, be placed on the ballot label for voters to review. The ballot label, a short description of the measure, is typically the last thing voters see before voting.

Now, when cities, counties and school districts place taxes on the ballot, critical information will be made clear and it will be more difficult for local officials to place their “thumbs on the scale” to unfairly alter the outcome. But, while the passage of AB809 is a step in the right direction, the tax raisers still possess the motivation (i.e., self-interest) and the resources, to skew most local elections. So, if you are a taxpayer concerned about all the taxes, fee and charges you have to pay, you need to pay attention to every election, even the obscure ones.

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.

2016 Ballot Measures: This Means War

Did anyone notice the guerrilla war that broke out last week?

No, it wasn’t a coup d’etat in some tropical backwater. In fact, the first shots were fired on the website of the state’s chief law enforcement officer.

The Ballot Wars have begun again, more or less on schedule.

To no-one’s surprise, the California Teacher’s Association last month proposed a ballot initiative to re-enact the Proposition 30 income tax hikes for another 12 years (albeit with a twist to exempt the new revenues from the Proposition 2 rainy day reserve). The CTA measure continues to deposit the new taxes into the state’s General Fund, and most of the money will be spent on public schools.

Voters approved the original version of this proposal as Proposition 30 in 2012, by a margin of 55% to 45%.

Somewhat to the surprise of the political cognoscenti, a coalition of California hospitals and the hospital workers union soon thereafter proposed an initiative that would go one better: increase income taxes even higher for even longer, and distribute the money to schools and to health care programs.

Uh-oh. Two measures on the same ballot competing for the same pot of dough? Mobilizing opposition and confusing voters? Facing a threat to their hegemony, the teachers union declared, “This means war!”

Actually, that’s my rough translation of their actions last week. Lawyers for CTA submitted three ballot measure proposals that directly attack California hospitals, hitting executive pay, tax exempt status, and government reimbursements.

If this was a naval engagement, these ballot proposals were three shots across the bow of the Good Ship CaliforniaHospital.

The next move in this engagement is on the health care side. But wait … there’s more.

Earlier this year a group of southern California nonprofit charities launched a bid to raise statewide property taxes by billions to pay for a variety of health care, early education and economic development programs. Though not itself a split roll property tax, the increases would certainly occupy the political space for any current or future property tax hikes. The split roll is another favorite pony in the CTA’s stable.

If I was a sponsor of the “Lifting Children and Families Out of Poverty Act,” I’d be on the lookout for a fusillade from the teachers’ advance guard.

resident of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily