Local Corruption Plagues Los Angeles County

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

California doesn’t have nearly the reputation of, say, New Jersey or Maryland when it comes to a history of public corruption. Studies that measure corruption with metrics tend to give most corrupt honors to less populated, poorer southern states like Louisiana and Mississippi or big, relatively wealthy Midwest and Eastern states like Illinois and Pennsylvania.

But when it comes to the most corrupt counties, few if any can top the recent run that Los Angeles County is on — specifically, the cities and agencies in south and central L.A. County.

The latest example came last week when Luis Aguinaga resigned as mayor of South El Monte after admitting to taking bribes for seven years from a contractor paid by the city for engineering and construction services.

A Nexis search of stories by the Southern California News Group, the Los Angeles Times and Southern California Public Radio shows Aguinaga has plenty of corrupt company in neighboring communities.

Bell

In 2010, a  Los Angeles Times investigation found that the city was being run like a criminal enterprise to the benefit of city officials and City Council members who received huge salaries and relied on illegal taxes and deceptive accounting. Former City Manager Robert Rizzo was found guilty of 69 corruption charges. Five City Council members also were convicted over city schemes.

Carson

Mayor Al Robles is now under siege from Los Angeles County prosecutors for simultaneously serving on the board of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California and as Carson mayor. He faced a county grand jury rebuke over the water board’s move to pay his legal bills. He has also faced years of campaign finance allegations over his water board and Carson election campaigns.

Central Basin Municipal Water District

Political and legal fallout continues from a scandal involving an alleged $2.75 million slush fund created by the district to pay politically connected consultants such as former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, D-Montebello. Central Basin board member Art Chacon was allowed to collect car allowance and mileage reimbursements from the district from 2006 to 2014, an eight-year span in which he didn’t have a driver’s license. To avoid a potentially huge payout at trial, in 2014, the district settled sexual harassment allegations made by a female contractor against district Director Robert Apodaca for $670,000.

City of Commerce

In 2012, Councilman Robert Fierro resigned after he pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge related to his attempts to dupe investigators looking into the financing of his 2005 campaign. In 2010, Councilman Hugo Argumedo resigned after he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. Argumedo concocted evidence to help an attorney sue his city for allegedly unpaid legal fees.

Cudahy

In 2012, City Manager Angel Perales, Mayor David Silva and Councilman Osvaldo Conde were arrested by the FBI after being caught seeking bribes from the owner of a marijuana dispensary. In 2014, then-state Controller John Chiang released a scathing report about city finances that found city credit cards were used improperly for meals, travel and entertainment; pay raises were awarded without explanation or justification; and that employees regularly received paid leave that they were not entitled to get.

Lynwood

In 2012, former City Council members Louis Byrd and Fernando Pedroza were convicted of illegally boosting their pay — by $330,000 and $160,000, respectively — by taking stipends for working on city commissions without any responsibilities, a crime with parallels to what happened in Bell. There were also reports that city officials used city credit cards to pay for entertainment, including “a $1,500 night out at a Guadalajara strip club, where dancers allegedly performed sexual favors” for two city officials, the Los Angeles Times reported. In 2007, Mayor Paul H. Richards II received a 16-year sentence for a long-running embezzlement scheme.

Maywood

County prosecutor are now investigating alleged illegal collusion to get around state open-government laws that may be related to questionable zoning changes made without proper scrutiny. There are also reports that the FBI is investigating possible bribery in the awarding of city contracts.

Montebello

In 2011, state Controller John Chiang issued a report showing that officials had improperly spent more than $31 million, helping prompt a city budget crisis. Redevelopment funds were used for many non-government purposes, including meals in Las Vegas.

South Gate

Former city councilman, city manager, mayor and treasurer Albert Robles was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in 2005 for public corruption, money laundering and bribery. Though several of the convictions were thrown out in 2013, Robles’ sentence was not reduced because of the seriousness of the bribery counts that remained.

Vernon

The tax-rich industrial city which long controlled who voted in the city by controlling who stayed in its very limited housing was nearly disbanded by the Legislature in 2011 after Donal O’Callaghan became the third city administrator since 2006 to face criminal charges. Mayor Leonis Malburg and his wife Dominica were convicted of voter fraud and conspiracy in 2009. The Malburgs lied for years about living in Vernon while actually residing at a Hancock Park mansion.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

They Do Not Own Us As Property

Lysander-SpoonerIn recent years, Americans have been burdened with historic expansions in government control, with a proliferation of fees, regulations, czars and bureaucracies, along with profligate spending that guarantees higher future taxes. Such dictates violate Americans’ inalienable self-ownership.

That is why Lysander Spooner, born January 19, deserves renewed attention. Spooner laid out why our natural right of self-ownership, combined with its implied right to enter voluntary arrangements, made government coercion of peaceful people illegitimate. Since we are rapidly accelerating away from that moral standard, we need to rediscover Spooner’s vision. In particular, his 1870 No Treason illuminates our current situation:

That men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support, a government that they do not want … [is] self-evidently false … a man, thus subjected to a government that he does not want, is a slave. And there is no difference, in principle … between political and chattel slavery. [Each] denies a man’s ownership of himself and the products of his labor; and asserts that other men may own him, and dispose of him and his property, for their uses, and at their pleasure.

A man’s natural rights are his own … any infringement of them is equally a crime … whether committed by one man, calling himself a robber or by millions, calling themselves a government.

To say that majorities, as such, have a right to rule minorities, is equivalent to saying that minorities have, and ought to have, no rights, except such as majorities please to allow them.

The principle that the majority have a right to rule the minority, practically resolves all government into a mere contest between two bodies of men, as to which of them shall be masters, and which of them slaves.

How does [a man] become subjected to the control of men like himself, who, by nature, had no authority over him … as if their wills and their interests were the only standards of his duties and his rights … force, or fraud, or both.

A man finds himself environed by a government that … forces him to pay money, render service, and forego the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril of weighty punishments.

Governments … [are] tyrannies to that portion of the people … compelled to support them against their will.

Getting the actual consent of only so many as may be necessary to keep the rest in subjection by force…is a mere conspiracy of the strong against the weak … a presumption that the weaker party consent to be slaves.

Government, like a highwayman, says to a man: “Your money, or your life.” [But] The highwayman … does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit.

No government … can reasonably be trusted for a moment, or reasonably be supposed to have honest purposes in view, any longer than it depends wholly upon voluntary support.

If [Congress] own us as property, they are our masters, and their will is our law. If they do not own us as property, they are not our masters, and their will, as such, is of no authority over us.

On what ground can those who pretend to administer [The Constitution] claim the right to seize men’s property, to restrain them of their natural liberty of action, industry, and trade … at their pleasure or discretion?

A tacit understanding between A, B, and C, that they will, by ballot, depute D as their agent, to deprive me of my property, liberty, or life, cannot at all authorize D to do so. He is none the less a robber.

In an era where what remains of our self-ownership is threatened with further evisceration, rediscovering Spooner’s vision, which Murray Rothbard called “a great bulwark against the State’s eternal invasion of rights,” is crucial. Coerced obedience cannot be derived from our natural rights or our Constitution. The individual, rather than the ever-more-powerful State, must be re-established as the basis of our society.

Gary M. Galles  is a professor of cconomics at Pepperdine University.

Government Hypocrisy: “Save More”

Photo courtesy of kenteegardin, flickr

Photo courtesy of kenteegardin, flickr

American government is so ubiquitous it even offers advice about New Year’s resolutions. However, its guidance to citizens mainly illustrates ideas government violates. Consider one example from the About USA.gov site: “Save more.”

That is not a very controversial resolution for an uncertain world. But the massive and still growing government debt and its far larger unfunded liabilities makes it the largest violator of its own resolution. Talk about “do as I say, not as I do.” Further, the main reason people save too little is that government does so much that discourages saving and investment, making the Hippocratic oath –“First, do no harm” — a better means to increase savings.

One huge illustration is Social Security. People have been led to substitute its “contributions” and retirement benefits for funds they would have saved to finance their “golden years.” Its promises also dramatically exceed what funds will be available, making people anticipate richer retirements than they will actually have, reducing savings more. Those who save enough to provide well for retirement also face income taxes on most of their Social Security benefits as well.

Social Security exacerbates the adverse effects of budget deficits, which divert funds that would have added investment into government spending.

Taxes on capital reduce the after-tax return on saving and investment, also reducing saving. These include property taxes that, while relatively small percentages of the capital value, represent sizable fractions of annual income generated. Then state and federal (and sometimes local) corporate taxes take further bites from after-tax returns. The implicit “tax” imposed by regulatory burdens must also be borne before earnings can reach investors.

Personal income taxes at up to three levels of government reduce saving further. Investment income left after other taxes is taxed again if paid out as dividends.  Earnings from saving and investment can also trigger additional tax burdens by triggering phase-outs of income tax deductions and exemptions.

If investment earnings are retained and reinvested, increasing asset values, they are taxed as capital gains. And even increases in asset values from inflation are taxed as real increases in wealth.

Medicare, whose unfunded liabilities are far greater than Social Security’s, reduces incentives to save for future medical costs. Current earners, forced to cover three quarters of the cost, are left with less to save. Medicaid coverage of nursing home costs only after other assets are virtually exhausted undermines another savings motive.

Unemployment benefits, along with food stamps and other poverty programs, also reduce the need for a nest egg, “just in case.” And as illustrated by so many disasters and crises, government steps in to assist those who “need” it, reducing the incentives for financial self-responsibility.

Estate taxes also reduce successful savers’ ability to pass on assets as bequests, eroding another savings motive. And monetary policy that has long kept interest rates near zero have undermined incentives to save as well.

Together, these government policies punish savings heavily, resulting in large numbers without appreciable savings. But fixing that saving problem doesn’t require government to tell us to resolve to save more. It doesn’t require ever more government intervention to “solve” a problem its existing interventions have created. It only requires a government resolution to stop aggressively undermining incentives to save as it does now.

Gary M. Galles is a research fellow with the Independent Institute in Oakland, and a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. His books include Lines of Liberty (2015), Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014), and Apostle of Peace (2013).

10 Government Union Myths and the Moral Implications

union-protest-washington-132Often missing from entirely legitimate criticism of government unions is an accompanying explanation of the moral values that underlie the criticism. Last month we published a post entitled “Deceptive and Misleading Claims – How Government Unions Fool the Public,” which listed 10 myths that government unions use repeatedly in their propaganda campaigns. Missing in that post, and added here, are the moral values that underlie the need to expose each of these myths.

TEN GOVERNMENT UNION MYTHS AND THE MORAL ARGUMENTS AGAINST THEM

Myth #1:  Government unions are protecting the middle class.

Reality:  Government unions are protecting government workers at the expense of the private sector middle class. The agenda of government unions is more wages and benefits for government workers, and more hiring of government workers. To adhere to this agenda, failure of government programs still constitutes success for these unions. More laws, more regulations, and more government programs equates to more unionized government workers, regardless of the cost, benefit, or need for these programs. The primary agenda of unionized government has nothing to do with the welfare of the private sector middle class, whose taxes pay for it.

Moral value:  The dignity and security of ALL workers is important, not just government workers.

Myth #2:  Government unions are a necessary political counterweight to “Wall Street,” big business, and billionaires.

Reality:  When government is expanded to serve the interests of government unions, the elite and privileged special interests are relatively unaffected, and often benefit. Large corporations can afford to comply with excessive regulations that drive their emerging competitors out of business. When governments borrow to finance deficits created by an over-built unionized government, bond underwriters profit from the fees. Government pension funds are among the biggest players on Wall Street, aggressively investing hundreds of billions each year to secure their 7.0% (or more) per year returns. Billionaires can afford to pay taxes and fees – it’s the middle class taxpayer who can be overwhelmed by them. When powerful special interests want favorable legislation passed in California, they go to the government unions and make a deal. Government unions are the brokers and enablers of special interest cronyism. They are allies, not counterweights.

Moral value:  As government contractors and as representatives of public servants, financial special interests and their government union partners should care about ALL citizens, not just themselves.

Myth #3:  Government unions represent and protect the American worker and the labor movement.

Reality:  For better or worse, government unions represent and protect government workers. Government unions and private sector unions have very little in common. Unlike private unions, government unions elect their own bosses, and their agencies are funded by compulsory taxes, not through profits earned by creating products and services that are voluntarily purchased in a competitive market. Moreover, government union members operate the machinery of government, giving them the ability to harass their political opponents under cover of authority. Private sector unions – properly regulated – have a legitimate role to play in American society. Government unions, on the other hand, exist to serve the interests of government workers, not the ordinary American citizen.

Moral value:  Democratic government represents and serves ALL Americans, not just government workers.

Myth #4:  Public employees are underpaid.

Reality: In past decades, prior to the unionization of government, a public worker exchanged lower base pay for better retirement benefits and more job security. But today, not only have retirement benefits been greatly increased from what was normal back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but in most cases the base pay of government workers exceeds the base pay for private sector workers performing jobs requiring similar skills. A 2015 study by State Budget Solutions estimated the total compensation of California’s government workers to exceed private sector workers by 31%. But these studies typically omit lower paid independent contractors who now constitute one in three workers. A California Policy Center study that examined 2012 data showed the average pay and benefits for California’s city workers was $124,058, county workers $102,312, and state workers $100,668. And this study did not take into account the value of additional paid vacation benefits, extra paid holidays, and generous “comp time” policies, which add significantly to the total value of annual compensation. Just how much public employee pay exceeds private sector pay for equivalent jobs is the topic of ongoing debate. But they’re not underpaid by any reasonable measure.

Moral value:  Taxpayer funded government benefits – whether they are generous or minimal – should extend to ALL workers according to the same set of formulas and incentives.

Moral value:  Public service should not automatically bestow better pay, more job security, and superior benefits compared to private sector workers.

Myth #5:  The average public sector pension is only $25,000 per year (or some similarly low number).

Reality:  The problem with this profoundly misleading statistic is that this low average is the result of including participants who only worked a few years in state/local government, barely vesting a pension. Should someone who worked less than a decade (or two) in a job expect a pension based on a full career of service? When normalizing for 30 year careers and taking into account the uptick in retirement benefit formulas that rolled through California starting in 1999, the average state/local retiree in California collects a pension and retirement health benefit package worth over $70,000 per year. For a private sector taxpayer to collect this much in retirement, they would have to save at least $1.5 million.

Moral value:  We support modest, financially sustainable retirement security benefits for ALL American workers, not just government workers.

Myth #6:  California’s state/local pension systems are being reformed and will be just fine financially.

Reality: Virtually every official post-reform projection among California’s 80+ public sector pension systems are predicting eventual financial health based on a huge, extremely risky assumption – that the average annual returns of these funds over the next few decades will exceed 7.0% per year. Common sense should tell any unbiased observer that ongoing 7.0% average annual returns are not a safe bet. If they are, why are Treasury Bills only yielding 3.0%? What are mortgage bankers only able to get 3.5% on 30 year fixed mortgages? Why are bank CD’s only offering 2.0%? The spread between equity returns and truly risk-free returns has never been this large for this long. Pension funds are basing future performance projections on past results. The problem is that over the past 30 years, interest rates have been steadily lowered to allow people to borrow more. This borrowing stimulated the economy, creating corporate profits and driving up the price of corporate equities. But interest rates cannot be lowered any further. We are at the end of a long-term credit cycle, and pension funds are just beginning to deal with the consequences.

Moral value:  Government worker retirement funds should be managed cautiously and responsibly, not gambled on Wall Street with taxpayers liable if returns don’t meet unrealistic expectations.

Myth #7:  The teachers unions care about student achievement more than anything else.

Reality: The evidence simply doesn’t support this assertion. Consider the reaction of the California Teachers Association to the recent Vergara decision, in which a Los Angeles superior court judge agreed with student plaintiffs who challenged three union work rules. The CTA criticized the ruling and announced their support for an appeal. What does the Vergara lawsuit aim to accomplish? It would take away the ability for teachers to earn tenure in less than two years. It would end the practice of favoring seniority over merit when deciding what teachers to layoff. And it would make it easier to fire incompetent teachers. These are commonsense, bipartisan reforms that the teachers unions oppose.

Moral value:  Good educations for our children matter more than job security for bad teachers.

Myth #8:  Billionaires are trying to hijack California’s public education system.

Reality:  Wealthy individuals come from a diverse background of political orientations. All of them share a desire to rescue California’s next generation of citizens from a union monopoly on education. And unlike the unionized traditional public school, public charter schools and private schools survive based on the choice of parents who want a better education for their children. And if they don’t do a great job, the parents can withdraw their children from the failing charter or private school. Introducing competition to California’s unionized K-12 education system is a healthy, hopeful trend that gathers support from concerned citizens of all incomes, ethnic groups, and political ideologies.

Moral value:  What matters is the character and intentions of philanthropists and investors, not whether their ideology is right-wing or left-wing.

Myth #9:  Proponents of public sector union reform are “anti-government workers.”

Reality: This sort of claim is a distraction from the reality – which is that public sector unions have corrupted the democratic process and have been attempting to inculcate public employees with the “us vs. them” mentality that is the currency of unions. Sadly, the opposite is the truth – government unions alienate the public from their government, and, worse, alienate government employees from the public. They have created two classes of workers, government employees who have superior pay, benefits, job security and retirement security, and everyone else in the private sector. They know perfectly well that this level of worker comfort is economically impossible to extend to everyone. Government unions have undermined the sense of common rules and shared fate between public and private individuals that is a foundation of democracy. Those who oppose government unions recognize this threat. It has nothing to do with their support and respect for the men and women who perform the many difficult and risky jobs that are the role of government.

Moral value:  All American citizens should live according to the SAME government laws, rules, incentives.

Myth #10:  Opponents of government unions are “right wing extremists.”

Reality: The problems caused by government unions should concern everyone, and they do. Conscientious left-wing activists who favor an expanded role for government expect positive results, not failed programs that were created merely to increase union membership. They realize that unionized government is expensive and inefficient, leaving less money or authority to maintain or expand government services. Public libraries and parks with reduced hours and curtailed maintenance. Pitted, congested roads. After school recreation programs without reliable funding. Public schools where students aren’t learning and apathetic teachers are protected from accountability. Government has to be cost-effective, no matter how big or how small. Opponents of government unions can disagree on the optimal size of government, yet passionately agree on the problems caused by a unionized government.

Moral value:  Good government is something EVERYONE believes in, whether they are right-wing or left-wing.

This list of ten myths promulgated by spokespersons for government unions only begins to chronicle their many deceptions. But each of these myths offer strategic value to these unions – giving them the ability to put reformers on the defensive, change the topic of discussion, redefine the terms of the debate. Each of them has powerful emotional resonance, and each of them – along with many others – is continuously reinforced by a network of professional communicators backed by literally billions in dues revenue. But they are myths, not facts, and equally if not more important, they rely on premises of questionable moral worth.

Although intellectual integrity and emotional resonance are important and necessary elements of any effective argument critical of government unions, it is the moral worth of those arguments that matters above all. When you consider these myths – which is a charitable way to describe these distortions, deceptions, and misleading claims – in the context of the moral arguments that impel critics to refute them, what emerges is a new and decisive approach to countering union propaganda. Because government unions are destroying our democracy, our freedom and our prosperity, merely to enrich themselves. The moral high ground belongs to their critics, not to the government unions.

*   *   *

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

How California’s State and Local Governments Can Save $50 Billion Per Year

Photo Courtesy of 401(K) 2013, Flickr

Photo Courtesy of 401(K) 2013, Flickr

Back in the early 2000s, in the aftermath of the internet bubble’s collapse, California’s state and local governments endured a period of austerity that resulted in “furloughs,” where, typically, employees would take Fridays off in exchange for a 20 percent cut in their pay. That is, they worked 20 percent less, and made 20 percent less in pay – but their rate of pay was not cut.

This display of “sacrifice” was an eye opener for private sector workers, especially salaried employees of small businesses, who endured cuts to their rates of pay at the same time as their hours of work increased. Most people in the private sector back in the early 2000s felt lucky to have a job, even if it meant working harder and making less.

There’s a lesson to be learned from the period of state and local government “furloughs” in California: California’s government functioned just fine with 20 percent fewer hours spent at the job, overall, and California’s government workers got by, overall, making 20 percent less money. So since we know these cuts are feasible, it is interesting to estimate just how much money Californians would save, if there were a 20 percent reduction to California’s state and local government workforce, and then there were a 20 percent reduction to the pay and benefits collected by those state and local government workers who remained employed.

Getting information on just how much California’s state and local workers make is notoriously difficult. California’s state controller’s Public Pay database collects the data, but presents “averages” that include part-time employees in the denominator, and do not consolidate the data. Transparent California, a public information project jointly produced by the California Policy Center and the Nevada Policy Research Institute, provides very good information on individual pay and benefits, but also does not consolidate the information.

A California Policy Center study, “How Much Do California’s State, City and County Workers Really Make?” uses 2012 raw data from the state controller that screens out part-time workers to develop averages for city, county and state workers.

California’s State and Local Government Employees
Average Compensation by Entity – 2012

20140131_CA-Gov-Pay_Table2-b

A recent UnionWatch analysis of Los Angeles Unified School District provided a baseline estimate for total teacher compensation – although in variance to the table, please note the same analysis adds an estimated value of $4,033 per teacher to take into account the state’s direct contribution to CalSTRS. As a representative example of total teacher pay, LAUSD is pretty good; the California Dept. of Education reports the Statewide Average Teacher base salary averaged $69,324 during 2014, nearly identical to the LAUSD analysis.

Los Angeles Unified School District
Average Compensation by Job Class – 2013

20150303-UW_Ring-LAUSD-Actual

Armed with this information, and cross-referencing with the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimate of current numbers of full time state and local government employees in California (ref. Government Employment & Payroll, and select “state” and “local,” in each case selecting “California”), we can make a reasonable estimate of how much our full time state/local workforce is currently costing taxpayers. We can also estimate how much a 20 percent reduction in workforce combined with a 20 percent reduction in total compensation would save taxpayers each year:

California State and Local Government Employees, Est. Total Cost per Year
Projected Annual Savings via 20% Reduction to Headcount and to Compensation

20150512-UW_20percent-solution

While this thought exercise may seem to be an exercise in futility, the fact is, we’ve tried it once already, and it worked. That is, during the furloughs of the early 2000s, California’s state and local government workers got by just fine with a 20 percent reduction in pay, and California’s state and local government services functioned adequately even though 20 percent of the workforce was absent (i.e., they were all taking Friday’s off).

It is fair to ask why the focus must always be on austerity. Why not pay everyone more in the private sector? That’s a good question and the answer is simple: It’s impossible. The average total compensation in California’s private sector is roughly half what public employees make. There isn’t enough money in the world to pay everyone this much money, and it is grossly unfair to taxpayers and private workers to treat public sector workers as a privileged class, exempt from the economic challenges facing everyone else.

The problem is even deeper than just one of inequity and insolvency. The problem with creating a privileged class of government workers is that they no longer make common cause with the people they serve. This consequence should trouble social liberals at least as much as it troubles fiscal conservatives, because the most powerful bloc of voters in California, unionized, politically active government workers, are putting their personal financial interests ahead of other worthy government projects. Imagine what $52.7 billion could buy.

The solution is to combine cutbacks in government employee compensation with investments in infrastructure and reductions in regulatory hurdles in order to reduce prices for goods and services. Government created artificial scarcity has raised the price of housing, energy, water and transportation to levels that only the elite can easily afford. If government workers were compelled to make common cause with other workers, instead of this elite, maybe they would finally support reforms to lower the cost of living.

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

San Fran Wants to Lower Voting Age to 16

With shades of the 1960s Youth Movement, San Francisco might drop its voting age to 16 from 18. Doing so only would affect city elections, as other elections are affected by state and federal voting laws. Yet Fog City often has been a harbinger of national trends.

The reform is the idea of Supervisor John Avalos. He said, “I have seen the power of young people to be able to make changes and positive contributions to their community, and it makes sense to give them the right to vote.”

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Avalos and other supporters say it will encourage civic engagement among youths and instill in them lifelong voting habits at a time when turnout is low.” In addition, “Sixteen-year-olds can drive, work, pay taxes and be sentenced to life in prison.”

On March 16, two youngsters from the San Francisco Youth Commission led chants before City Hall on reducing the voting age. Said one of them, Joshua Cardenas, an 18-year-old senior at Archbishop Riordan High School, “You can drive, you can work, you can pay taxes and you can be tried in adult court, and yet you are denied the right to vote. There is a contradiction there. Certainly, they have the knowledge and competence to vote at 16.”

Opposition

“It’s a terrible idea,” John J. Pitney Jr. told the Chronicle; he’s a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. “Sixteen-year-olds have a lot going for them, but civic judgment isn’t one of those things.”

“There isn’t a single age at which an adolescent becomes like an adult for purposes of thinking through things. It really depends on the issue and domain,” said Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple University.

Conservatives also point out that people ages 16-17 commonly hold more liberal views than the general electorate.

Moreover, one survey indicated that, until they go to college, kids’ political views closely mirror those of their parents. According to a study by the National Social Sciences Association, 96 percent of high-school students’ political views “matched their parent/guardians’ political views. … Although teachers long for students to develop political beliefs based on research, this study concludes that most will follow in their parents/guardians’ foot steps.”

The implication is that, if the voting age were dropped, the voting clout most increased would be that of parents of the new voters; while everyone else’s clout would be reduced slightly.

1960s agitation

The 1960s arguments for dropping the voting age to 18 from 21 largely concerned the draft and the Vietnam War. The age of most draftees was 19. And large numbers of the 550,000 troops in in Vietnam at the height of the war were under 21.

As longtime Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said in 1970 in hearings before the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments:

“The well-known proposition — ‘old enough to fight, old enough to vote’ — deserves special mention. To me, this part of the argument for granting the vote to 18-year-olds has great appeal. At the very least, the opportunity to vote should be granted in recognition of the risks an 18 year-old is obliged to assume when he is sent off to fight and perhaps die for his country. About 30 percent of our forces in Vietnam are under 21. Over 19,000, or almost half, of those who have died in action there were under 21. Can we really maintain that these young men did not deserve the right to vote?”

In the San Francisco situation, such an argument would not be too strong. Although America is engaged in wars in Iraq and elsewhere, there is no draft and one isn’t likely anytime soon, although there is draft registration for young men (not young women). And although the military accepts 17-year-olds with parental consent, the long months of training in the modern military mean almost no one will be 18 before going into a war or potential war.

Education

There were other reasons for lowering the voting age to 18, which was accomplished in 1971 by the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Among other things, Kennedy said:

“Our young people today are far better equipped — intellectually, physically and emotionally — to make the type of choices involved in voting than were past generations of youth. … Because of the enormous impact of modern communications, especially television, our youth are extremely well informed on all the crucial issues of our time, foreign and domestic, national and local, urban and rural.

“Today’s 18-year-olds, for example, have unparalleled opportunities for education at the high school level.”

Some of those arguments might be pertinent today to further reducing the voting age to 16, including the spread of the Internet and social media.

On the other hand, California’s schools, which led the nation during the so-called “Golden Age” of 1960s education, since havefallen near the bottom on national tests.

‘Wild in the Streets’

As it usually does, San Francisco will sort things out on its own.

But the debate has an amusing element because of a classic cult movie made during the debate over the voting age, 1968’s “Wild in the Streets.” A youth movement is led by a Jim Morrison imitator named Max Frost, 24. His hit song, “Fourteen or Fight,” demands dropping the voting age to 14.

In a compromise with a senator played by Hal Holbrook, the age is dropped to 15. The youth the elect Max president.

Look for a young Richard Pryor as Stanley X, the drummer in Max’s group.

It’s a parody. But sometimes parodies become reality.

This piece was originally published on CalWatchdog.com

wild in the streets

CARTOON: Sunshine Week

Sunshine Transparency Cartoon

Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch

Weight Loss Nudges: Market Test or Government Guess?

As we edge further into the new year, many Americans have already fallen off the wagon and are back to their old eating habits they resolved to break this year. There is no shortage of hucksters who use New Year’s resolutions to promote their fad diets to Americans, but researchers have yet to provide a clear understanding of obesity, let alone how to cure or prevent it.

Some behavioral economists have suggested that well-designed “nudges” can steer individuals toward weight loss. Those who decide the direction in which people will be nudged, choice architects,” are believed able to promote healthier consumption by individuals suffering from various psychological, social and emotional factors that cause them to be obese.

Some nudge theory advocates believe that nudging individuals toward healthy choices is often best left to governments since markets give companies irresistible incentives to exploit – for profit –human frailties to overeat. However, evidence suggests that market nudges work best.

The obesity rate has doubled over the past three decades, with some projecting that 42 percent of Americans will be at least 100 pounds overweight by the year 2030. The association with diabetes, stroke, heart disease and certain cancers has made obesity a public health concern – and a personal concern for the 51 percent of Americans who want to lose weight, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Despite the good intentions of government choice architects, they fall prey to widely-held weight loss beliefs that simply are not supported by science.

For example, in the Department of Agriculture’s “Choose My Plate” suggests eating more fruits and vegetables to promote weight loss even though a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that although fruit and vegetable consumption has demonstrable health benefits, weight loss is not one of them unless individuals also reduce intake of other foods.

Past experience with government nudges supporting low-fat diets also suggests caution since promoting diets rich in complex carbohydrates such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, potatoes and other starches may have unintentionally promoted obesity.

Markets nudge all the time, but unlike the government, receive direct feedback from customers.

Markets hold significant advantages over governments. Consumers directly signal to sellers which products are ineffective. They simply stop buying them. Harmful products might yield costly lawsuits directly aimed at businesses. Businesses read these signals routinely because they threaten their financial health.

Government nudging suffers from higher hurdles in getting nudges “right.” Their nudges do not have to withstand consumer scrutiny, nor do revenues do not rise or fall to signal the good from the bad. Government employees typically are not fearful that failed products place their jobs in jeopardy.

While many Americans’ crash diets may not have even made it through the first month of the New Year, a majority of them do want to lose weight and nudging plays an important role in helping them do so.

But, nudging consumers toward healthier eating is best left to the private market, not the government.

Michael Marlow is professor of economics at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. His paper “Market Test or Government Guess? Are Government Efforts to ‘Nudge’ Us to Lose Weight Really Based on Science?” appears in the current issue of the Cato Institute’s journal Regulation.

California State Spending Well Above National Average

As reported in the Sacramento Bee:

California contains 12.2 percent of the nation’s population but its state government accounted for 13.8 percent of all state spending in the 2012-13 fiscal year, according to a new Census Bureau report.

California’s spending on education and highways was, however, below the national averages for those two categories, while its welfare spending was well above the average.

States collected $1.7 trillion in revenues and spent that much during the fiscal year and California accounted for $233.5 billion of the spending, including federal pass-through funds for welfare, health care, education and other services.

The national total was a 2.1 percent increase from the previous year, the Census Bureau said, while California’s 7.5 percent increase was by far … 

 

Government fails to earn respect of Californians

Nine out of 10 Californians believe state government wastes their tax dollars. Two-thirds believe state government is run for the benefit of a few special interests and state officials cannot be trusted to do the right thing.

Those results from a Public Policy Institute of California survey are similar to the dissatisfaction with and distrust of state government that Californians expressed 10 years ago. The reason for that disaffection and what should be done about it was the focus of the Jan. 22 meeting of the state watchdog agency the Little Hoover Commission.

The findings in the survey of 1,704 adults conducted from Nov. 10-17 (with a sampling error of 3.7 percent):

  • “Do you think the people in state government waste a lot of the money we pay in taxes, waste some of it, or don’t waste very much of it?” 54 percent – waste a lot, 35 percent – waste some of it, 8 percent – don’t waste very much of it. Seventy-eight percent of Republicans, 60 percent of independents and 46 percent of Democrats believe state government wastes a lot.
  • “Would you say the state government is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves, or that it is run for the benefit of all of the people?” 67 percent – run by a few big interests, 28 percent – run for the benefit of all of the people.
  • “How much of the time do you think you can trust the state government in Sacramento to do what is right?” 61 percent – only some of the time, 25 percent – most of the time, 7 percent – just about always, 5 percent – none of the time.

The results were similar for all three questions across regional and demographic groups and similar to a survey conducted a decade ago. But they are slightly better than an even worse skepticism of state government in an October 2010 survey.

Federal and state governments

State officials can take minor consolation that Californians are even more skeptical about the federal government. On the other hand, Californians are less distrustful of local government, particularly in the area of wasting tax dollars, according to a May 2011 PPIC survey.

“In summary, negative perceptions about the effectiveness, responsiveness and efficiency of state government are pretty consistent over time and widely held in the public today,” PPIC President/CEO Mark Baldassare told the commission. He listed four implications of the results:

  • “Californians will continue to value the citizens’ initiative process as they seek to have a say in the major decisions made by their state government.
  • “Many Californians will be skeptical about the need for higher taxes and more state revenues, given their feelings about waste.
  • “Proposals to move authority and control to the local level from the state level are the kinds of proposals that will resonate with Californians today.
  • “Last but not least, civic disengagement will continue to be a problem. The kind of civic disengagement that we saw in the record low turnout in last year’s election. And we may not have seen the lowest of low turnouts yet, given the disengagement Californians feel from state government today.”

Only 30.9 percent of California adults voted in the Nov. 2014 general election and just 18.4 percent in the June primary, according to Baldassare, who said in his blog: “Millions of Californians who could register to vote did not, and millions of Californians who could vote opted out. These numbers clearly point to a California public that is disconnected from their state government today.”

Hopeful

But Baldassare, perhaps anticipating the PPIC survey released this week showing increased optimism that the state is heading in the right direction, closed his remarks on a more hopeful note.

“In the wake of a growing improvement in our economy and fiscal situation, which has led to higher approval ratings of the governor and Legislature than we’ve seen for several years, and also at a time when we’ve just gone through a series of major legislative and fiscal reforms that the voters have approved in recent elections, the public is signaling their support for those reforms as well as efforts to move some activities from the state to the local level through both the local control of school funding and our corrections realignment,” he said.

Asked to explain the reasons for residents’ disconnection with government, Baldassare said part of it is a general skepticism of all institutions, particularly by independent voters. He added it’s also due to Californians’ unsatisfactory experiences dealing with state government. “They do have real experiences which confirm these broadly held beliefs,” he said. “That’s where you have control.”

The question of what the state can do to win the confidence of residents became the focus of the rest of the 2½-hour hearing.

“We should focus on the things which state government can directly affect,” said Commissioner David Beier. “To me that’s the building of trust through the delivery of governmental services. One of my business school colleagues said, ‘Building trust is a question of two things: intention and competence.’ I don’t think anybody has any question about the intention of state officials to deliver high quality services and positive outcomes.

“The question is one of competence. And it’s not a question of the qualification to deliver high quality goods and services. There are better, smarter ways to deliver service. And if we can identify the top agencies and the frequency of interaction with citizens, I think we can affect at least that component of government trust.”

DangerfieldNo respect

A big part of the problem is that the message Californians receive from state government, whether via the Internet or waiting in line at the DMV, is that state officials don’t respect them, according to Cyd Harrell, a user experience expert with Code for America, which specializes in government technology.

“Design sounds like icing on the cake or making things pretty,” she said. “But at the core, design is creating an effect on purpose. People compare the best the private sector has to offer in the same space, the five-inch screen, where it gets Facebook, Amazon or an online game. When the government experience doesn’t live up to the level of experience of the other institutions they interact with, there’s an assumption that the effect is being created on purpose.

“That’s part of where that distrust in government comes from. There’s an assumption that if I have difficulty reading it or difficulty filling out a form or it doesn’t speak in a language that I easily understand, then that’s an effect the government intends, or at least is comfortable creating as part of the design.

“In the private sector, we have companies competing to offer people the best experience for their money. Government is different, naturally. If I don’t like the experience of interacting with the government when registering my car or seeing if I’m eligible for benefits, I can’t exactly take my business elsewhere. So in some ways that can be seen as a free pass [for government officials]: ‘Don’t worry about it, where else can they go?’

“But I truly think there’s a moral imperative. Government needs to serve all of the people. It needs to offer them experiences that respect their time and dignity and their abilities, whatever those may be.”

Currently, few government agencies practice what Harrell calls human-centered design. But she said it’s not that expensive to implement. It just takes commitment from top government officials to want to do it. “So the critical thing, in my opinion, is a mind shift,” she said.

Worst enemy

Other experts at the meeting agreed that government is often its own worst enemy when it comes to working smarter and better. Bob Stone, a performance adviser for the city of Los Angeles, provided an example of the Los Angeles Fire Department’s procedure for providing two replacement pieces of uniform for each firefighter annually.

“If you were to be awarded two pieces of clothing, most people would go to the Internet, Amazon or Wal-Mart and they would buy it,” said Stone. “What the city does: the firefighter fills out a form, gets a supervisor to approve it, gets a station chief to endorse it. It’s sent to the battalion chief across town, he endorses it, sends it to the procurement office. They gather up all these things and put in an order with the supplier. A big box of supplies comes into the central yard. We pay somebody to unpack the boxes, and these go to Van Nuys and these to San Pedro, send these to West Los Angeles. That’s the way we do things.

“It’s crazy. It was a sensible way to do things in the 1950s. What they are doing, and they are going to start hopefully in the next month, they are going to give the supplier a list of fire department members who have this entitlement. And they are going to tell each of these people, ‘You’re entitled to two pieces of clothing that we’ll pay for. Go to the supplier’s website, they know who you are, identify yourself and order what you want. If you want more than two, you can buy whatever you want, you just have to pay for it. We’ll pay for the first two.’

“And this happened because we told the people that were working there, ‘Don’t do anything crazy on purpose. We do enough things crazy by accident. If you’re doing something dumb, stop it and do something smart.’ So they did this. And I’m hopeful that there are going to be thousands of examples like this.”

The Little Hoover Commission plans to submit its recommendations to the state in a report, probably later this year.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com