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

How CA Can Avoid CNBC Debate Debacle During Election Season

VotedThose considering hosting debates in the coming California elections should take lessons from the mishandling of the current presidential debates and take advantage of the state’s unique primary system to offer real issue-oriented debates.

The recent Republican Presidential Debate on CNBC received more blowback for the way the debate was handled than what the candidates had to say.   Now the Republican National Committee is suspending its relationship with NBC and affiliated organizations over future debates because of the debate questions while the candidates are in open revolt over how the debates should be handled.

While candidates would love to control the debates, the media, which usually moderates the debates, cannot give up journalistic independence.

With future presidential debates rapidly approaching and expected California debates for the U.S. Senate around the corner, is there a better way to handle debates than what we saw last week?

John Pitney, Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College, thinks there is.

“The best format is simply to have the candidates on stage with no press questions.  Give candidates fixed amounts of time to make statements and respond to one another.  Set the microphones to go on and off automatically so that the candidates cannot filibuster or dicker with a moderator for extra time.  Set the order of speaking by random chance.  If the number of candidates becomes unwieldy, randomly assign them to two or more debates,” Pitney wrote in an email.

He has some other suggestions that would heighten the seriousness of the debates.

“Do the whole thing without a studio audience.  No cheers, no boos, just the words of the people running for office,” Pitney suggests. “The basic idea is to take the media out of the process as much as possible, and let the candidates speak for themselves.  Make it a debate, not a circus.”

Pitney wrote that this format would work for California senatorial or gubernatorial debates as well. Because California has the top-two primary system, Pitney argued that Republicans and Democrats should appear together on the same debate stage.

Such a format would lend itself to a real exchange of contrasting ideas on substantive issues.

One side-effect–the viewership ratings could go down if the “circus” atmosphere is removed. Is that a bad thing under the circumstances?

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Kamala Harris raises $2.5 million for California Senate bid

As reported by the Associated Press:

Democrat Kamala Harris has raised $2.5 million since mid-January for her U.S. Senate run in California, giving her an early financial edge in the 2016 contest, her campaign announced Monday.

Competitive races are costly, and analysts predict Harris could need $30 million or more by Election Day next year. She is the only major Democrat in the race so far, although potential contenders include several members of Congress.

Harris banked “a lot of money, but it costs a lot of money to run statewide in California,” said Claremont McKenna College political scientist Jack Pitney.

Click here to read the full story

Why Jerry Brown Isn’t Going Away Anytime Soon

Two weeks after his landslide reelection, four-term California Gov. Jerry Brown invited lobbyists to a private fundraising reception at a swanky Capitol restaurant.

The move was odd because, at 76 years old, the termed-out chief executive of the nation’s largest state is too old for the final political promotion to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

If the White House isn’t in the cards, what’s Brown up to?

With nearly $24 million stashed away in campaign accounts, and reports showing he spent just $5.9 million on his re-election campaign—even less than GOP opponent Neel Kashkari’s $7.1 million—there’s no reason for Brown to bother with the chicken dinner fundraising circuit if he’s planning to end his career.

Whatever his intentions, one thing is certain: Moonbeam isn’t planning to ride off into the sunset.

Jerry Brown for President — Fourth Time’s the Charm

On Inauguration Day 2017, Jerry Brown will be older than Ronald Reagan on his last day in office. Those state-level campaign funds can’t be transferred (easily) to a federal campaign. And Brown definitively ruled out another presidential run last year, saying “time is kind of running out on that.

It doesn’t make sense for Brown to seek the White House a fourth time, and that’s exactly why he’ll do it. The Zen politician has prided himself on going against the grain.

Last year, he cruised to reelection with a non-campaign. A nation weary of the prospects of Bush vs. Clinton 2.0 could embrace Jerry’s low-key style. The toll-free hotline from his 1992 presidential bid remains active. Moreover, a presidential run gives Brown the chance to define his legacy by telling the country about his “California comeback.”

Brown was the top performing Democrat in the 2014 midterm elections. He earned a million more votes than former Gov. Charlie Crist’s losing effort in Florida and doubled the vote total of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s win in the Empire State. Raw vote totals are skewed by California’s size. Brown also had the widest margin of victory by percentages making him the strongest elected Democrat in the country.

Political Leverage: Ballot Measures in 2016

Brown’s been around California politics long enough to know that the real battles are fought over ballot measures. The signature threshold for qualifying ballot measures is determined by turnout in the previous gubernatorial election. Consequently, last year’s record low turnout will result in a record number of ballot measures in 2016.

Brown has said that he’s looking to use his surplus cash for “some major ballot measure battle that I can’t even conceive of.” While some of his largess will go towards 2016 ballot measures, it won’t consume his entire war chest. This election, Brown made big business and big labor pony up most of the $13.9 million for Propositions 1 and 2. Why would he spend his own money this time around?

The Legacy Project

Jesse Unruh has an institute. John Burton has a building. What’s Jerry Brown going to buy to ensure his name lives on?

When California’s ill-conceived high-speed rail plan runs off track, Brown will be without a legacy project. Not to worry, his millions of dollars in campaign funds can save his place in history with a sizable endowment to a university for an institute better than Unruh’s and a building bigger than Burton’s.

The Democratic Kingmaker

Brown could dispose of his campaign cash with campaign contributions to legislative candidates and the California Democratic Party. Then again, Brown has been stingier than your coupon-clipping grandma who still uses her passbook savings account.

Brown was, in the words of the Sacramento Bee, “nowhere to be seen in most down-ticket races.” In the June primary, the governor didn’t intercede on behalf of Steve Glazer, a faithful political adviser who was pummeled by the state’s labor unions in a Democratic legislative primary. In the general election, Brown cut an ad for one competitive State Senate candidate, but couldn’t manage to get the candidate’s name right.

Brown the Philanthropist

As mayor of Oakland, Brown founded two charter schools, the Oakland School for the Arts and the Oakland Military Institute. In the past decade, he’s raised tens of millions of dollars for the education initiatives. After the November election, an unnamed Brown aide told the San Francisco Chronicle, “My bet is whatever is leftover would go to those two projects…They are near and dear to his heart.”

Attorney James V. Lacy, a frequent guest on Fox News Channel’s “Varney and Company,” is author of “Taxifornia: Liberal’s Laboratory to Bankrupt America.”

This article was originally published by The Blaze

 

Why Does Nobody Want to Vote in L.A.?

It seems Los Angeles County is testing the old philosophical question: What if they gave an election and nobody came? The most populous county in the state had the lowest percentage turnout in last November’s election.

While 42 percent of state voters turned out for the general election, Los Angeles County turnout was only 31 percent. The last mayoral city election in Los Angeles saw a turnout of a mere 23 percent.

The California Senate and Assembly election committees are chaired, respectively, by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, D-Culver City. The chairs called a joint oversight committee hearing on Feb. 20 to look for the reasons and solutions of the extremely low turnout in Los Angeles County. YouTube here.

The answer just might be a feeling of powerlessness among voters.

Loyola Law professor Jessica Levinson told the committee the low turnout in Los Angeles elections could be a case of voter apathy. Los Angeles is not a political town, she said. Everyone knows when the Super Bowl and the Oscars occur, but they don’t know when an election happens.

Many suggestions were made at the hearing on why there was a low voter turnout:

  • Voters believe their vote doesn’t matter;
  • The size of the county takes away the personalization of politics;
  • Lack of civic education in the schools;
  • Frequency of elections;
  • Lack of an interesting ballot;
  • Demographics in which the large minority populations which make up much of Los Angeles County’s potential voters have a history of not voting.

Major obstacles

All those items contribute to the low voter turnout. But are there really major obstacles to prevent voters from coming out if they cared to?

Some of those testifying to the committee seemed to think so. Common Cause’s Kathay Feng said the progressives who set up the rules for stand-alone local elections not only wanted a focus on local government, but they were also racist. They didn’t want certain people to vote and they were successful by setting up elections in off years.

Feng, who serves on the committee to move the Los Angeles city elections to coincide with national elections, a measure which will appear on the city ballot in March, said the convenience to the voters of combining elections will bump up the voting totals by as much as a third.

Still, Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State, Los Angeles, may have touched on the reason citizens don’t engage in local elections. He argued that people believe the only election that really leads to change is the presidential election.

If that is so, then many of the suggestions made to increase the vote will probably only do so on the margins.

Change agents

Even if voting is made as convenient as possible — as Jessica Levinson suggested the time might come when everyone can simply vote by pressing some button on their iPhone — an important question remains: Do voters think those votes for local candidates create change?

Do citizens think they have the power through their votes to alter the direction of government? Or do they believe the institutions are so controlled and manipulated by insiders that voting is pointless?

There were higher turnouts in the past when it was arguably more inconvenient to vote.

The key to bringing voters to the polls, rather than constantly devising new systems to make it easier to vote, is for the voters to see themselves as important participants in governing.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Why Not Let People Vote For Whomever They Want?

What would it take to reverse the trend of voter turnout? The real answers to that question – partisan local elections, a reversal of the top two disaster (and the resulting voter confusion, expensive campaign nastiness, and party weakness), elections on weekends, loosening all the constitutional rules that take issues off the table – are considered politically unrealistic. In part because reformers supported reforms that discourage voting, and being a reformer means never having to say you were wrong.

Since this is California, you’ve probably got to start with a small step. So here it is: Restore to voters the power to vote for whomever they choose.

Didn’t know that that power had been taken away from you? It was – back in 2012 when a law, designed to implement top two, abolished write-in voting on the November ballot for partisan offices (president being the exception). The change didn’t get much attention at the time, but it eliminated one more reason for people to vote. There never were a lot of write-ins, but we’re told that every vote counts. And every vote counts more when so few people are voting.

Scrapping write-ins eliminated a California political tradition. As Richard Winger of Ballot Access News pointed out in an email, Californians elected a write-in candidate to Congress three times in a general election:  1930 (won by the son of a Sacramento Congressman who died in office), 1946 (when William Knowland won the last couple months of Hiram Johnson’s last U.S. Senate term), 1982 (Ron Packard).  In eliminating write-ins, California went against the grain. According to Winger, California is the only state besides Louisiana that ever had write-ins and abolished them.  There are four states that have never had write-ins:  Nevada, South Dakota, Hawaii, and Oklahoma.

Why should we bring write-ins back? For reasons of democracy and engagement. Minor parties that have been shut out of November elections by top two would have an incentive to campaign, and bring voters to the polls, since they’d have the write-in option. Write-ins also provide a way to make sure that voters of a major party aren’t shut out when two candidates of the same party advance in the top two. (Write-ins also could serve as a check on the crazy first-round election results that top two sometimes produces.)

There’s an ongoing legal challenge to the top two alleging that it violates the rights of voters who want to cast ballot for minor party candidates in November (a hearing is currently scheduled for Jan. 15 in the State Court of Appeals in San Francisco). But why wait for the courts? The legislature could act to restore choice on the ballot, and give at least a few more voters a reason to show up.

This article was originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily

Joe Mathews is a Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Top 10 Measures Likely to Appear on November 2016 California Ballot

The General Election ballot in 2016 is likely to have more statewide ballot measures on it than California voters have seen in a long time. The main reason for this is that the number of signatures needed in order to qualify a statutory measure or even a constitutional amendment have plummeted with the pathetically low turnout in last month’s election (the signature requirement is 5% of the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election).

To be specific, it previously took 504,760 valid signatures to place a statutory initiative on the ballot. It will now take less than 370,000. For a constitutional amendment, the number has dropped from 807,615 to less than 590,000. A couple of years ago, a law was signed that requires that all measures placed on the ballot by signature petitions must appear on the November–not the June–ballot.

Below are the top ten measures most likely to appear on the November, 2016 ballot:

PLASTIC GROCERY BAG BAN — In a naked profit grab supported by the California Grocers Association, the legislature passed and Governor Brown signed into law a bill that would ban single-use plastic grocery bags and would mandate that stores charge at least ten cents for every paper bag given to a customer. This paper bag fee puts hundreds of millions of dollars of profits straight into the pockets of grocery store owners. A coalition representing plastic bag manufacturers is currently gathering signatures to refer this bill to the voters.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA — In 1996, California voters passed a ballot measure legalizing medical marijuana. Now the push is on to put another measure before Golden State voters that would decriminalize recreational marijuana use and regulate it, much the same way that alcohol use is currently regulated. Similar measures have recently passed in a handful of other states, and advocates are already targeting California.

PROP. 30 EXTENSION — In 2012, at the behest of Governor Jerry Brown, California voters approved a significant increase in sales and income taxes in California. It was sold to voters as needed to fund California schools, although money from these tax increases has been spent much more broadly. It is virtually certain that a “renewal” of this tax hike package will be placed on the ballot by Governor Brown.

OIL SEVERANCE TAX — Billionaire former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer has, on many occasions, talked about his desire to see California impose an oil extraction tax — taxing oil companies on each barrel of oil extracted from the ground. Steyer calls the absence of such a tax in California a “loophole” that he thinks should be closed. Of course someone of Steyer’s means could easily hire the paid signature gatherers to put this on the November ballot.

TOBACCO TAX — Currently, California’s smokers pay 87 cents per pack of cigarettes in state taxes, ranking us 33rd in the country. The well-heeled California Medical Association announced this month that they are part of a coalition to seek a $2 per pack increase in the state’s tobacco tax. The number of packs of cigarettes sold in California has dropped from 1.4 billion back in 1990 down to around 870 million today.

COMMERCIAL PROPERTY TAX — California’s landmark property tax reform measure, Proposition 13, passed in 1978, limits reassessment of property values to when properties change ownership. Those seeking to increase state revenues are advocating placing what is called a “split roll tax” before the voters, which in essence would keep the tight restrictions on residential property taxation but really make it a lot easier to increase taxes on commercial properties.

BATHROOM BILL — In 2013 a law was signed, referred to as the transgendered bathroom bill, that would have allowed students to play on gender-segregated school sporting teams, or use bathrooms based on their gender identity rather than their biological gender. An attempt to refer this bill to voters fell short – barely. But the signatures gathered were well above what would be needed to place a measure on the ballot in 2016.

PENSION REFORM — Former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed led a coalition of folks who were looking at putting potential significant public sector pension reforms on the ballot this year, but they ended up holding off for 2016. Both the lower signature threshold and the growing magnitude of the combined unfunded public employee pension liabilities at both the state and local level make it extremely likely that Reed puts this reform up in 2016.

MINIMUM WAGE — This last year saw multiple ballot measures pass around the country hiking the minimum wage. Liberal activists in California have been advocating for an increase in the minimum wage here. Actually our minimum wage here is about to jump to $10 from it’s current $9 — but there is thought that a hike up to $13 could find its way before voters if it isn’t just approved out the gate by the left-wing legislature.

GAY MARRIAGE — In 2008, by a 53%-47% margin, voters passed Proposition 8, which stated, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Public opinion has shifted away from this definition in the last eight years and, while Prop. 8 was invalidated by the courts, look for gay rights activists to place something on the ballot next go-around to make sure that the people have a chance to state their collective opinion on same-sex marriage.

Yes, the 2016 ballot will keep voters busy and be a full-employment act for political consultants.

This article was originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily

Jon Fleischman is the Politics Editor of Breitbart California. A longtime participant, observer and chronicler of California politics, Jon is also the publisher at www.flashreport.org. His column appears weekly on this page. You can reach Jon at jon@flashreport.org.