Ten Questions for Jerry Brown

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 27: California Governor Jerry Brown announces his public employee pension reform plan October 27, 2011 at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California. Gov. Brown proposed 12 major reforms for state and local pension systems that he claims would end abuses and reduce taypayer costs by billions of dollars. (Photo by Max Whittaker/Getty Images)

Tomorrow, Jerry Brown will deliver his 15th and final State of the State Address. It’s too bad California legislators can’t ask questions like our counterparts in the United Kingdom, who query their head of government during “Prime Minister’s Questions.” If we could, here are 10 questions I’d ask Governor Brown:

1.)     You recently chided Congress, “It’s never good to have one party vote one way, and the other party vote 100 percent the other way. That’s dividing America at a time when we need unity.” Does this mean you’ll no longer sign legislation that is supported by only one party in the Assembly, as you did with the Gas Tax and 20 other bills last year?

2.)     For children living in poverty, California is the worst place in America to get an education, ranking near the bottom for every academic performance measure. Your education plan has added almost $30 billion in yearly spending, yet our schools have if anything gotten worse at educating poor children. How do you explain this?

3.)     Shortly after taking office, you called reforming the much-abused California Environmental Quality Act “the Lord’s work.” Yet no CEQA reform has happened during your tenure even as the cost of housing has soared to the point that 1 out of 3 Californians is “seriously considering” leaving the state because of it. With less than one year left in your term, when is the Lord’s work going to begin?

4.)     While campaigning for Governor, you promised you would not raise taxes without voter approval. Yet last year you signed a $52 billion tax increase without giving voters a say – and now, you’re opposing an effort by voters to undo that tax hike. How should ordinary Californians respond when elected officials break their promises?

5.)     In California, the cost of building a mile of road is triple what it is in other states. One reason, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst, is that Caltrans is overstaffed by 3,500 positions. Yet you are proposing 400 new positions in this year’s budget. Why not learn from other states that build better and cheaper roads before making Californians pay higher taxes?

6.)     Under your watch, California’s unfunded pension liability has grown by over 100 billion, with public employees generally receiving greater benefits than workers in the private sector. You clearly recognize this as a problem, having just filed a commendable opening brief in what could be a landmark state supreme court case. So why did you allow this problem, which threatens vital services and future generations, to get so much worse?

7.)     You claim California is prosperous because it is the world’s “6th largest economy.” Yet adjusting for cost of living and population size, our economy actually ranks 37 out of 50 states in the country. Which statistic do you think more accurately reflects the well-being of ordinary Californians?

8.)     Since you became Governor, the State Budget has grown from $129 billion to $191 billion. What evidence can you point to that this new spending has improved the quality of life for ordinary Californians? Feel free to cite, for example, health outcomes, student achievement, housing affordability, infrastructure quality, workforce participation, poverty rates, family stability, or any other metric.

9.)     The projected cost of High Speed Rail now exceeds $67 billion, with new delays and cost overruns reported almost monthly. And many are doubting the bullet train will have any useful purpose. In the words of Elon Musk, “The train in question would be both slower, more expensive to operate and less safe by two orders of magnitude than flying, so why would anyone use it?” Why would anyone?

10.)     You recently accused others of “ripping the country apart” through partisan actions. Yet in the last few months you’ve called your political opponents “mafia thugs,” “political terrorists,” and “evil in the extreme.” Is this rhetoric bringing the country together?

Assemblyman Kevin Kiley represents the 6th Assembly District, which includes parts of El Dorado, Placer, and Sacramento counties.

This blog post was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Signatures for recall of Sen. Newman certified, election expected in June

Signatures calling for the Republican-backed recall election of state Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, were certified on Friday by Secretary of State Alex Padilla, making it official that the effort has qualified for the ballot.

The date of the election will be determined by Gov. Jerry Brown, with many expecting it to coincide with June 5 primary. Democratic lawmakers tweaked state law last year to expand the time frame when such elections could be held. Beside the cost savings of running the elections together, the June 5 date would sidestep a freestanding special election in which Republicans typically turn out in greater proportions than Democrats.

The GOP targeted Newman after he voted to increase the gas tax by 12-cents-per gallon to pay for a 10-year, $52 billion roads and transportation improvement project championed by Brown, who has vowed to provide Newman with the help he needs to fend off the recall.

The freshman senator was singled out because he was considered the most vulnerable to being beaten by a Republican. His 2016 election gave Democrats a two-thirds supermajority that allowed them to raise taxes without a single GOP vote. …

Click here to read the full article from the Orange County Register

When’s the last time California started a year with gas prices this high?

California and the rest of the nation are starting 2018 with the highest gasoline prices to begin a new year since 2014, both AAA and GasBuddy have reported.

The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded in Modesto on Thursday morning was $2.92, compared to $2.60 a year ago, according to www.modestogasprices.com, which is part of GasBuddy.

The city is well above the national average price, which was $2.50 Thursday and $2.36 this day last year. But we’re well below the state average, which was $3.12 on Thursday.

In the greater Modesto area Thursday morning, the lowest price was $2.53, offered at Costco in Turlock and the Arco station at 3936 Mitchell Road in Ceres. Modesto’s lowest price was $2.55 at Costco.

Costco warehouse stores sell their gas only to members. Modesto’s next-lowest price, available to the general public, was $2.59, at Arco stations on West Orangeburg Avenue, Yosemite Boulevard, Crows Landing Road and North Carpenter Road. …

Click here to read the full article from the Modesto Bee

 

Without Government Unions, there Would be No Gas Tax Increase

LA-Freeway-Xchange-110-105Nobody argues that California’s roads need huge upgrades. But the solution didn’t require the $0.12 per gallon tax hike that went into effect Nov. 1. The root cause of these neglected roads – and the reason even more taxes will never be enough to fix them – is the power of public sector unions, whose agenda is consistently at odds with the public interest. Let us count the ways.

1 – CalTrans mismanagement:

CalTrans could have done a much better job of maintaining California’s roads. One of the most diligent critics (and auditors) of CalTrans is state Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa), the only CPA in California’s state legislature. Last year, Moorlach released a report on CalTrans which he summarized in “7-Step Fix for ‘Mismanaged’ Caltrans,” an article on his official website. Just a few highlights include the following:

  • In May 2014 the Legislative Analyst Office determined that CalTrans was overstaffed by 3,500 architects and engineers, costing over $500 million per year.
  • While to an average state transportation agency outsources over 50% of its work, CalTrans outsources only 10% of its work. Arizona and Florida outsource more than 80%.
  • 54% of CalTrans staff is at or near retirement age, so a hiring freeze would reduce staff merely through attrition, without requiring layoffs.

But Moorlach didn’t make explicit the reason CalTrans is mismanaged. It’s because the unions that run Sacramento don’t want to outsource CalTrans work. The unions don’t want to reduce CalTrans headcount, or hold CalTrans management accountable. Those actions might help Californians, but they would undermine union power.

2 – Bullet train boondoggle:

Money that could have been allocated to maintain and improve California’s roads is being squandered on a train that will do nothing to ameliorate California’s transportation challenges. A LOT of money. According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, California’s freeways can be resurfaced and have a lane added in each direction at a cost of roughly $5.0 million per mile in rural areas, about twice that in urban areas.

Meanwhile, the latest estimate for California’s “bullet train,” is $98 billion (that’s $245 million per mile), thanks to construction delays, and design challenges including nearly 50 miles of tunnels through seismically active mountains to the north and south. And hardly anyone is going to ride it. Ridership won’t even pay operating costs. But Sacramento pushes ahead with this monstrous waste when that same money could (at the urban price of $10 million per mile) resurface and add a lane in each direction to 10,000 miles of California’s freeways. Imagine smooth, unclogged roads. It’s not impossible. It’s just policy priorities.

But while bad roads destroy the chassis of millions of cars and trucks, and commuters endure stop-and-go traffic year after year, the California High Speed Rail Authority dutifully pushes on. Why?

Because that’s what the government employee unions want. They don’t want roads, with all the flexibility and autonomy that roads offer. They want to create a gigantic high-speed rail empire, with tens of thousands of new public employees to drive the trains, maintain the trains, maintain the tracks, and provide security, running up staggering annual deficits. But all of them will be members of public sector unions.

3 – All rapid transit boondoggles:

In a handful of very dense urban areas around the U.S., fast intercity trains make economic sense. But most light rail schemes, along with laughably absurd “streetcar” schemes that actually block urban lanes sorely needed by vehicles, do not achieve levels of ridership that even begin to justify their construction when the alternative is using that money for better, wider connector roads and freeways. The impact of ride sharing apps, the advent of non-polluting cars, and the option of using buses to accomplish mass transit goals all speak to the superior versatility of roads over rail for urban transportation.

So why do California’s cities continue to poor billions into light rail and streetcars, when that money could be used to unclog the roads?

To reiterate: The public sector unions that run California want tens of thousands of new public employees to operate the trains and streetcars, maintain them, maintain the tracks, and provide security, running up staggering annual deficits. But doing this means that public sector union membership – hence public sector union power – will increase.

4 – CEQA reform so people can live closer to the jobs:

The median home value in the United States today is $202,700. The median home value in California today is $509,600, 2.5 times as much! There is no shortage of land in California, and the alleged shortages of energy and water are self-inflicted as the result of policies enacted by California’s state legislature. But instead of reforming California’s Environmental Quality ActSB 375AB 32, and countless other laws that have made building homes in California nearly impossible, California’s legislature is doubling down on more government solutions – primarily to subsidize either extremely high density housing, or subsidized housing for the economically disadvantaged, or both.

None of this is necessary. Outside of California’s major urban centers, there is no reason homes cannot be profitably built and sold at a median price of $202,700, and there is no reason the people living in those homes cannot drive or ride share to work on fast, unclogged freeways.

But California’s public sector unions want more regulations on home building, and they want more subsidized public housing. Because those solutions, even though inadequate and coercive, enable them to hire vast new bureaucracies to enforce the many regulations and administer the public assets. Unleashing the private sector to build affordable homes in a competitive market would rob these unions of their opportunity to acquire more power. It’s that simple.

5 – Insatiable appetite for pension fund contributions:

According to a California Policy Center study, taking barely adequate annual employer pension contributions into account, the average unionized state/local government worker in California makes over $120,000 per year in pay and benefits. But to adequately fund their promised pension benefits, employers will need to pay at least another $20,000 per employee to the pension funds. This funding gap, which equates to over $20 billion per year, is the additional amount that is required to cover the difference between how much California’s public employee pension funds currently collect from taxpayers, and how much they need to collect to keep the promises that union controlled politicians have made to the government unions they “negotiate” with. That is a best-case scenario.

It could be much worse. A 2016 California Policy Center analysis (ref. table 2-C) estimated that under a worst-case scenario, the annual costs to fund California’s public employee pension funds could cost taxpayers nearly $70 billion more per year than they are currently paying.

And by the way, California’s pension funds are themselves almost entirely under the control of public sector unions – research the background of CalPERS and CalSTRS board directors to verify the degree of influence they have. Absent significant reform, funding California’s public employee pensions is going to continue to consume every dollar in new taxes for the next several decades. The cumulative financial impact of funding these pensions is easily triple that of the bullet train’s $100 billion fiasco, probably much more.

Let’s not mince words. Government unions control California. They collect and spend over $1.0 billion every year, and spend most of that money on either explicit political campaigning and lobbying, or soft advocacy via expensive public relations campaigns and sponsored academic studies. Their presence is felt everywhere, from local transit districts to the governor’s office. They make or break politicians at will, by outspending or outlasting their opponents. At best, California’s most powerful corporate players do not cross these unions, often they collude with them.

California’s public sector unions operate as senior partners in a coalition that includes left-wing oligarchs especially in the Silicon Valley, extreme environmentalists and their powerful trial lawyer cohorts, and the Latino Legislative Caucus – usurped by leftist radicals – and their many allies in the social justice/identity politics industry. The power of this government union led coalition is nearly absolute, and the consequences to California’s private sector working class have been nothing short of devastating.

Government unions force California’s agencies to over-hire, overpay, and mismanage, because that benefits their members even as it harms the public. These unions enforce absurd policy priorities that further harm the public in order to increase their power. They are the reason California has increased its gas tax.

This article was originally published by the California Policy Center

REFERENCES

Pump bump: California drivers to pay 12 cents more per gallon starting Wednesday – San Jose Mercury, Oct. 31, 2017
http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/10/31/pump-bump-california-drivers-to-pay-12-cents-more-per-gallon-starting-wednesday/

California’s gas tax increases Wednesday – Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2017
http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-gas-tax-increase-political-battle-20171031-story.html

How much you’ll REALLY pay in gasoline tax in California – San Diego Union Tribune, Apr. 23, 2017
http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/business/energy-green/sd-fi-california-gastax-20170413-story.html

What Californians Could Build Using the $64 Billion Bullet Train Budget – California Policy Center, Mar. 21, 2017
http://californiapolicycenter.org/what-californians-could-build-using-the-64-billion-bullet-train-budget/

American Road and Transportation Builders Association – FAQs, ref. “How much does it cost to build a mile of road?
https://www.artba.org/about/faq/

High-Speed Rail Delay More than Triples Planned Cost to San Jose – San Jose Inside, Oct. 2, 2017
http://www.sanjoseinside.com/2017/10/02/high-speed-rail-delay-more-than-triples-planned-cost-to-san-jose/

A 13.5-mile tunnel will make or break California’s bullet train – Los Angeles Times, Oct. 21, 2017
http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-bullet-train-tunnel-20171021-story.html

California Environmental Quality Act – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Environmental_Quality_Act

State Senate bills aim to make homes more affordable, but they won’t spur nearly enough construction – Los Angeles Times, Aug. 11, 2017
http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-state-housing-deal-effects-20170811-htmlstory.html

California’s Public Sector Compensation Trends – California Policy Center, Jan. 2017
http://californiapolicycenter.org/californias-public-sector-compensation-trends/

What is the Average Pension for a Retired Government Worker in California? – California Policy Center, Mar. 2017
http://californiapolicycenter.org/what-is-the-average-pension-for-a-retired-government-worker-in-california/

The Coming Public Pension Apocalypse, and What to Do About It – California Policy Center, May 2016
http://californiapolicycenter.org/the-coming-public-pension-apocalypse/

California Gas Prices Now Officially Highest in America

As of Nov. 7, GasBuddy.com puts the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline at $3.231 in California, nearly 8 cents per gallon more expensive than the next-most-expensive state, Hawaii.

Left-leaning Politifact California notes that California’s rapid rise to the top spot fulfills the prediction of Republican George Runner, who serves on the State Board of Equalization, and who warned in April that the gas tax would make California’s gas the nation’s most expensive.

Politifact writes:

Republican George Runner predicted in April that California’s gas tax hike would catapult the Golden State’s already high fuel prices to the “highest in the nation,” after the increase went into effect on Nov. 1, 2017.

It appears his prediction was spot on. …

A spokesman for Runner, who is a former state lawmaker and sits on the state’s Board of Equalization, told us by email: “We are saddened that George’s prediction was correct so soon.”

Politifact notes that there are other factors in California’s high price, such as a “mystery surcharge” of 20 cents per gallon that was applied after a refinery explosion in Southern California.

However, it notes that California surged past Hawaii on Nov. 3, a mere two days after the new gas tax went into effect.

Republicans are mustering their political forces to campaign for a referendum overturning the gas tax in 2018. They are also targeting freshman Democrat State Senator Josh Newman of Fullerton, who voted for the new tax and who will now face a recall election next year.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

Politicians try to mask pain of gas tax hike

Gas-Pump-blue-generic+flippedHave you ever had a tooth extracted without Novocain or some other pain killer? When facing something painful, it’s always helpful to apply a numbing agent and, when administered by competent medical personnel, anesthesia provides effective relief. But when politicians try to mask pain, be skeptical.

The 12 cent increase in California’s gas tax which took effect this week has garnered a great deal of media attention, much of it negative. That explains why California Democrats have tried to mask the pain of the tax hike.

In perhaps their most deceptive move ever, California Democrats chose the same day that gas prices traditionally go down by 12 cents to increase them by 12 cents. Nov. 1 was the first day California’s cheaper “winter blend” gas can be sold which costs about 12 cents less a gallon. Nov. 1 was also the day that the 12 cent per gallon tax goes into effect statewide.

But this is just phase one of a yearly $5 billion tax hike on California families.

The largest gas tax hike in state history means drivers will pay a total of 50 cents a gallon in taxes to the state when they fill up. By 2019 it will have risen to 57 cents a gallon. Diesel truck drivers are getting hit too. Their price per gallon will jump 20 cents a gallon and will also include a 4 percent sales tax increase. Note that these figures do not include the excise tax from the federal government, another 18 cents per gallon.

Phase two will hit when you re-register your vehicle next year. The average driver will pay $50 more than last year due to a brand new “transportation improvement fee,” though some could pay up to $175. Electric car owners aren’t off the hook either. They’ll pay $100 more a year to register starting in 2020. …

Click here to read the full article from the Orange County Register

California Gas-Tax Hike Hits Today

gas prices 2Call it the Stealth Gas-Tax Increase. Today California’s gas tax increases about 12 cents a gallon to pay for the newly budgeted $5.2 billion a year in supposed road repairs which the Legislature passed and Gov. Jerry Brown signed last April.

But few motorists will notice it. That’s because every Nov. 1 the state switches to what’s called the winter blend of gas, which is about 10 cents cheaper than the summer blend mandated from April 1 to Oct. 31. The summer blend costs more because it adds refinery steps to reduce pollution during the year’s hot, smoggy months.

The usual 10-cent reduction will be erased this year by the 12-cent increase, so the resulting 2-cent increase overall will hardly be on your radar. For a 15-gallon fill-up, it’s just 30 cents.

The “seeming” increase of 2 cents a gallon will appear to be a slight incline in cost for rebuilding the state’s roads, which TRIP, a national transportation research group, ranks as the worst in the nation.

But this respite from the nation’s highest gas taxes won’t last long.

The big impact will hit next April 1, when gas prices will have risen not just the 10 cents extra for the summer blend of gas, but also for the additional 12 cents for the new gas tax. Total: 22 cents per gallon. But of course, by then people for five months will have gotten used to the new, stealthy 12-cent gas tax. So they may only “feel” like gas went up 10 cents a gallon, as it always does on April 1.

Yet the new tax will be a collision to people’s wallets. Assume this for an average California family. Both spouses work. Together, they use 40 gallons a week driving to and from work, taking the kids to and from school and soccer practice and performing various errands. So the 12-cent new stealth tax totals $4.80 a week, or about $250 a year.

But what if the family, due to high housing costs, must commute long distances to work – say from Riverside to Orange County or Los Angeles. Then the cost of the stealth tax could rise to $500 or more a year.

But that’s not all. There’s also an additional Transportation Improvement Fee, which is really a tax, just to register your jalopy, bumping this annual ritual $25 to $175 a year, but averaging about $50.

All this detoured money could have gone for healthier food, schoolbooks, a college tuition savings plan, or just recreation for a family that works too long paying all the taxes that already hit them.

And there’s no guarantee the money will actually fix the roads the family drives on. The stealth taxes could be car-jacked during a recession, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did with earlier tax hikes for transportation during the 2008-10 Great Recession. With the state’s pension crisis accelerating, I predict the new taxes will be too tempting a target for a future Legislature and governor.

Indeed, even the new taxes paid at the gas pump will not fully go to fix the roads the cars ride on. According to the Legislative Analyst, $270 million will go to the transit and intercity rail program, $44 million to commuter rail and intercity rail, $100 million to bicycle and pedestrian projects and $108 million for parks and agriculture. And train and bus ridership is declining.

Although today’s tax increase is stealthy, its effect on the personal budgets of Californians will be substantial. And the state’s national reputation for fiscal irresponsibility continues out of control. It’s time to hit the brakes!

John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, is a state senator representing the 37th District.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

John Moorlach – Scary Week Ahead

Early this week, Californians will enjoy two major events. On Tuesday, they will participate in handing out candy to the children in their neighborhoods for Halloween. The next day, Sacramento will provide its own version of “trick or treat” by increasing the gas tax. It should be a scary week.

Sacramento is to blame for neglecting the roads in California. Instead of addressing the symptoms, like bad management, budgeting and hiring, the majority party focused its attention on raising taxes (again!).

I have tried to research California’s Department of Transportation since I was elected on March 17, 2015.  The metrics suck. And my attempts to fix them have been voted down by the Democrats (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Caltrans Boondoggles).

A gas tax increase presents a real problem to a good number of Californians. Those who are wealthy and living near the coast won’t even notice. But, the following sampling of people will:

  • The 20 percent-plus of the population that are living at or below the poverty level (the highest percentage for any state in the nation – after four decades of Democrat control of the Legislature).
  • Those who have lengthy commutes into Orange County because they found affordable housing in the Inland Empire. Add to this those that commute great distances to get to their jobs in Silicon Valley. (And Sacramento wonders why its roads are in disrepair.)
  • Those who are spending nearly half of their disposable income on housing, thanks to increasing rents and home prices.

Expect plenty of editorials on the November 1st gas tax increase over the next few days.  Click here to read the article by the Napa Valley Register.

GOP ramps up effort to repeal California gas tax increase

As reported by CBS8.com:

Republicans’ latest effort to repeal California’s upcoming gas tax increase got a boost Wednesday from members of Congress and GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox, who said he would spend “significant” money to help put the initiative on next year’s ballot.

“We can’t keep making this state unaffordable for working people and expect people to stay,” Cox said at a news conference at the California Republican Party’s headquarters.

It’s the second Republican initiative aimed at repealing the tax increase, passed by lawmakers this year to generate $52 billion over 10 years for road and bridge repairs. The gas tax will go up by 12 cents per gallon in November, and diesel taxes will spike as well. The other repeal effort is backed by Assemblyman Travis Allen — Cox’s competitor for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Both initiatives aim to repeal the tax increase, but the Cox-backed effort will also include a constitutional amendment that requires any future gas and car tax increases to win voter approval.

Republicans view the tax increase as a highly unpopular move that will draw voters from across California to the polls in the midterm election. Democrats plan to aggressively target seven California Republicans who serve in districts that voted Democratic in the presidential election. …

Click here to read the full article

Gas Tax Senator Recall Clears Legal Hurdle

As reported by the L.A. Times: 

Of the more than 70,600 voters who signed petitions to hold a recall vote on state Sen. Josh Newman of Fullerton, only 849 asked that their signatures be withdrawn by the deadline, clearing a major hurdle for an election on whether to oust the Democratic lawmaker, officials said Tuesday.

Opponents of the recall needed to get more than 7,000 voters to withdraw their signatures to deprive supporters of the 63,593 signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot, under a new system approved recently by the Democratic-controlled Legislature that slows down the process.

“Sen. Josh Newman has spent months lying to his constituents by claiming people were duped into signing the recall petition against him, and with today’s tally, he has been unmasked again as a pathological liar who is unfit to hold office,” said Carl DeMaio, a Republican activist heading the recall drive. “We eagerly look forward to voters having a chance to vote him out for his lies and his decision to increase the gas tax.”

Newman won a close contest last November in a district formerly represented by a Republican. He was targeted for recall by Republican activists for voting in April for a $52-billion transportation plan that raises gas taxes and imposes a new annual vehicle fee. A successful recall would deprive Democrats of a supermajority in the Senate. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times