Can Trump Help California Dodge Jerry Brown’s Bullet Train?

Gov. Jerry Brown, Anne GustThe State of California issued the first tranche of taxable construction bonds last Thursday for the High Speed Rail Project, making it clear that it is determined to go ahead with the unpopular project despite numerous obstacles, including federal funding roadblocks thrown up by President Donald Trump.

According to a Bloomberg News report, California officials have made a show of faith by moving forward with the $1.25 billion offering, despite challenges including a lawsuit filed in Sacramento’s Superior Court. According to a Los Angeles Times story, “The suit was brought by John Tos, a farmer; Kings County; the city of Atherton; and several opposition groups,” and focuses chiefly on AB 1889, a bill that alters the way bond money can be spent. Attorneys for the plaintiffs, who oppose the train, state that “the bond act never gave the legislature the authority to alter it.”

The project is roundly vilified by pundits and talk radio hosts up and down the state — every major California GOP politician has denounced it, with the exception of Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin — and now many residents who originally voted for it, no longer support what they see as Brown’s “boondoggle.”  But none of that has stopped Jerry Brown from making his legacy project the state’s top priority.

“California can well afford it, and it will make our state a much better place,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in February in a recorded news conference to which his press office referred in response to questions from news organizations. “I know we’re going up against a very red tide here of opposition. This thing is a long-term project, and one way or another we’re going to get it.”

Brown is coming off a rough couple of months, as California’s crumbling infrastructure became front page news — highlighting the apparent folly of building a very expensive train with money the state doesn’t have — while raising gas taxes that will hit the working poor the hardest.

Proceeding with the controversial project comes at considerable risk to California’s perennially shaky finances.  If the lawsuit is successful in freezing the original bond funds, that would be a major setback.

At issue in the suit is the diversion of $713 million of Proposition 1A Bond Funds — specifically designated for the High Speed Rail — to act as matching funds for a $2 Billion project to electrify and retrofit a government-owned Silicon Valley commuter rail known as Caltrain.

On top of that, if Trump freezes all federal funds, both rail projects will struggle even more. CalTrain officials were banking on a $647 million matching grant from the Federal Transit Administration — which Trump has “deferred” indefinitely.

If the federal spigot is turned off, California taxpayers might be forced to foot the entire bill, essentially killing the projects by delaying them —which can force the return of matching funds already spent.

The Washington Post reports that President Trump weighed in on the issue in a note to Congress last month, stating that “localities should fund these localized projects.”

Some political observers believe that Trump’s denial of funds is just playing politics.

Christopher Leinberger, chair of George Washington University’s Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis, told the Post that the cuts suggest Trump is “playing to the base,” because he received much less support in urban areas than in “drivable suburban locations.”

“This is about pure politics,” Leinberger said.

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), who chairs a key House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee, disagrees.

Denham, who lobbied Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to deny the grant on the basis that the new Caltrain cars did not meet the definition of high-speed rail, urged Brown to find a different source of state funding for Caltrain, then reapply for the matching federal grants, cautioning that overcommitment puts other priorities at risk.

“If you’re going to continue to obligate state dollars that you do not have, then you’re in jeopardy of at some point the federal government calling for those notes to be due, which could then put public safety dollars at risk, other transportation dollars at risk or education dollars at risk,” said Denham according to Bloomberg, who sits on the transportation and infrastructure committee.

Brown, who met with Chao last month to discuss the grant, said of Denham in a phone interview with the Post:

“That’s called blackmail.”

Californians “voted for a bond issue” for high-speed rail “but envisioned other projects” using the cash, the governor said in the interview. “To go against it is the rawest, stupidest form of politics.”

Tim Donnelly is a former California State Assemblyman and author who is doing a book tour for his new book: Patriot Not Politician: Win or Go Homeless. He ran for governor in 2014.

FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/tim.donnelly.12/

Twitter:  @PatriotNotPol

This piece was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Did Sacramento break the law in transportation tax rush?

los-angeles-freewaysDid lawmakers break the law when they passed Senate Bill 1, the transportation tax increase?

There’s a quaint provision in the California Constitution that reads, “A person who seeks to influence the vote or action of a member of the Legislature in the member’s legislative capacity by bribery, promise of reward, intimidation, or other dishonest means, or a member of the Legislature so influenced, is guilty of a felony.”

By the time Gov. Jerry Brown finished twisting arms and greasing palms to pass a massive transportation tax hike, that antique language was on the curb like a broken grandfather clock waiting for a bulky-item pickup.

Brown and legislative leaders promised a billion dollars for specific local projects in the districts of wavering lawmakers, and one termed-out Republican senator made a deal for a law to protect people in his profession — civil engineering, not the profession you’re thinking of — from liability in construction lawsuits.

It’s not easy to prove a quid pro quo, Latin meaning “something for something.” People don’t typically leave a written record that says, “I’ll vote for this if you vote for that.”

But one thing is different this time. In November, California voters passed Proposition 54, a measure aimed at guaranteeing transparency in state lawmaking. Prop. 54 says bills must be in print and online in their final form 72 hours before the Legislature votes on them.

The transportation tax increase, SB1, was posted online on April 3. If the Legislature was going to meet its self-imposed deadline to pass the bill on April 6, not one word of it could be changed before the vote.

So all the wheeling, dealing, greasing, and “promise of reward” had to go into a separate bill.

And it did.

SB132 contains a billion dollars of “that” which was negotiated in exchange for a vote on “this.”

Not only is it in writing, there are many statements on the record from lawmakers that their vote for the transportation tax was explicitly tied to a promise from the governor and legislative leaders that the “thats” would be delivered.

Are the deals spelled out in SB132 a violation of the law under Proposition 54? They are effectively amendments to SB1 that were written into a different bill. If that’s legal, then the 72-hour requirement that voters just added to the state constitution has already been thrown to the curb with the rest of the grandfather clocks.

Before the truck comes to pick up the garbage, we should retrieve that language about bribery and reward and see if it applies to outgoing Sen. Anthony Cannella’s deal to condition his vote for SB1 on the passage of SB496, a bill Cannella authored to protect “design professionals,” including civil engineers, from lawsuits stemming from future work. “Anthony is a civil engineer,” Cannella’s official bio states.

Maybe you’re thinking it won’t pass. He was ahead of you. Language was added to the billion-dollar spending bill, SB132, to make it “operative” only if SB496 is enacted.

In addition to the billion dollars of “reward” written into SB132 on April 6, the bill was amended on April 5 to add $1 billion for “augmented employee compensation.”

Yes, another $1 billion of “compensation increases and increases in benefits” for state workers was slipped in while everyone was wondering where the state spent all our transportation taxes.

Talk about being taken for a ride.

Susan Shelley is a columnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”

How the Trump administration can stop the bullet train

From the San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board

The only kind of news the troubled $64 billion California bullet train project seems to generate is bad news. In January, a Federal Railroad Administration analysis was leaked that projected the initial 118-mile, $6.4 billion segment of the project would run 50 percent over budget. Then last week, a Los Angeles Times report revealed that the project’s price tag may continue to be pushed higher and higher by “the complex engineering needed for passenger safety.” It also offered an alarming warning from rail safety consultant Steven Ditmeyer that corners were being cut already on safety issues for budgetary and political reasons.

The jarring questions these reports raise about the project’s finances and management couldn’t come at a worse time for the rail authority and Gov. Jerry Brown, the bullet train’s most vocal backer. That’s because U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is being urged by California House Republicans not only to audit the project but also to reverse Obama administration decisions that exempted it from normal standards relating to the state’s use of about $3 billion in federal funds.

One of those decisions was explicit and aboveboard, if dubious: a 2012 agreement that allowed the state to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding without matching state spending. Rep. Jeff Dunham, R-Turlock, and other bullet train critics have long argued that this waiver is directly in contradiction to decades of precedents under which the federal government requires matching state spending on big projects to lock in states’ commitments to finish what they start. …

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More sleight of hand with gas tax hikes

gas prices 2If Gov. Brown and members of the California Legislature think that the backlash against the car and gas tax increases will subside any time soon, they are mistaken. The controversy continues to dominate both traditional and social media and, in fact, the more that taxpayers learn about these transportation tax hikes the angrier they get.

Our political elites are learning that taxes on cars and gasoline remain very unpopular because they fall disproportionately on the working Californians — which is where the majority of voters reside. And the resentment might only grow when the taxes actually kick. Just wait until the bills from the DMV start showing up in the mail starting in January of next year and the gas tax increase starts even earlier in November of this year.

There are times when Californians are simply resigned to pay higher taxes imposed by Sacramento, but this might not be one of those times. Many are calling for a referendum of the tax hikes only to be disappointed with the news that, under the California Constitution, a tax increase can’t be repealed via a referendum. Nonetheless, it is possible that the tax package can be rolled back via an initiative and some groups are pondering that course of action. Other interests want more immediate action and are openly discussing recall efforts against some legislators who supported the tax package. …

To read the entire column, please click here.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Donald Trump Declares California a ‘Major Disaster’

U.S. Republican presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump speaks at a veteran's rally in Des Moines, Iowa January 28, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking  - RTX24HM9

President Donald Trump approved a declaration of a “major disaster” in California over the weekend, freeing up federal funds for flood relief in several rural counties in response to requests from Governor Jerry Brown and local residents.

In a press release on Sunday, the White House stated:

Yesterday, President Donald J. Trump declared a major disaster exists in the State of California and ordered Federal assistance to supplement State, tribal, and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe winter storms, flooding, and mudslides during the period of February 1 to February 23, 2017.

Federal funding is available to State, tribal, and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe winter storms, flooding, and mudslides in the counties of Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Kings, Lake, Lassen, Marin, Mariposa, Merced, Modoc, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Plumas, Sacramento, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne, Yolo, and Yuba.

Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

The Los Angeles Times notes that President Trump’s declaration extends federal relief first offered in January.

Despite California Democrats’ determination to “resist” President Trump’s broader agenda, the president has granted the state’s requests for emergency relief.

However, the administration has also warned “sanctuary cities” in California that they will lose millions of dollars in federal grant money for law enforcement if they continue to refuse to cooperate with or honor federal immigration law.

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. His new book, How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

This piece was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Don’t Rush Toward Gas and Transportation Taxes

LA-Freeway-Xchange-110-105The governor and legislative leaders came out from behind closed doors with a transportation tax and road fix plan and demand to pass the measure through the legislature in one week. Feels a lot like the federal experience with the health care reform bill. And, like that measure, despite one party controlling the executive and legislative branch, the bill might not find necessary support.

The campaign to pressure wavering legislators to get behind the bill kicked off yesterday in Concord with a lineup of Governor Jerry Brown, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President pro tem Kevin de León teaming up with union members to visit Senator Steve Glazer’s district and convince Brown’s one-time aide to publicly embrace the tax increase.

I seem to remember unions opposed Glazer when he first ran because of his stand against BART strikes. Different time and different unions, perhaps, but Glazer is still behind that issue. There are indications that Glazer is holding out for a no-strike provision in the transportation bill before he decides if he will support it.

While Brown, De León and Rendon will play old-fashioned political hard ball with legislative members in attempting to secure the needed two-thirds vote to pass the tax increases, ultimately individual legislators are going to have to be satisfied that their constituents will swallow the tax increase.

Voting patterns and attitudes have changed since Gov. Gray Davis was kicked out of office in great part because he increased the vehicle tax. While just about everybody believes road repair is necessary for improving the state’s economy and for the general public’s mental health while driving congested highways, yet, the double whammy of an increased vehicle registration fee and 43% gas tax increase will be a hard sell. Especially, to less well-off constituents those who have to drive a long way to get to work.

The transportation issue and health care issue are different in many ways, but the idea of rushing through a measure that will pile new burdens on the public has a familiar feel to what happened recently in Washington.

The strategy behind quickly passing the two quite different bills is similar: Pass a measure before it gets tangled up in amendments. A lot of amendments can and should be had.

At the Concord news event yesterday, Gov. Brown said, “There is nothing more fundamental in the business of government than making sure the roads and bridges don’t fall apart, and they are falling apart.”

But if roads and bridges are a fundamental responsibility for government, why wasn’t attention paid to them when the state budget grew dramatically since Brown returned to the governor’s office?

Brown says if we don’t address the problem now it will only get worse—and more expensive to fix. Right on both counts. However, using current transportation related dollars that find the way to non-transportation services or including proposals that will allow for more cost efficient repairs would go a long way to convince voters that government is trying to get the job done right and give good value for their tax dollars. It might even convince voters to chip in a little more to get the job done.

Legislators like Glazer are independent and not so easily coerced. Legislators should hear  from their constituents before voting on the bill. Rushing through the transportation bill without sensible changes could result in the same fate as the health care bill.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Pothole Coast Highway: California Faces an Infrastructure Crisis

Pot hole in residential road surface

The Pacific Coast Highway stretch between Dana Point in Orange County, Calif., at the southern end, and Fort Bragg in Mendocino on the northern end, “is a bucket-list trip,” the New York Daily News enthused two years ago. “Stretching 650 curve-hugging, jaw-dropping miles along the ruggedly beautiful central coast of California, Highway 1 is one of the most scenic roads in the country.”

What the newspaper didn’t mention is that anyone winding along California roads might think that the Big One has already hit. Streets and highways across the state are in awful shape: a cracked, crumbling mess pock-marked with potholes, which tend to grow larger due to time, weather, and government negligence.

Some potholes grew so monstrous after recent heavy winter rains that California Highway Patrol officers in Oakland actually named one — “Steve.” They should have called it “Jerry,” after Governor Brown, who has done little about the state’s failing infrastructure except talk about it, while continuing to seek funding for a costly and unnecessary high-speed rail system. A bit of help for the weary motorist who’s thinking about making a justifiable claim against Caltrans for the damage it’s done to his car? Not in Brown’s California. Chapman University professor and City Journal contributing editor Joel Kotkin wrote last year in the Orange County Register that Brown’s goal “is to make congestion so terrible that people will be forced out of their cars and onto transit.”

Not all of California’s infrastructure problems can be blamed on the winter weather. In 2015, in the midst of a withering drought, the Mercury News reported that a family’s car hit a “killer pothole” near Sacramento with such force that its airbags inflated. Repairs would have cost nearly $15,000, so the insurance company wrote if off as a total loss. Though that might sound like a one-off event, California roads are indeed wrecking cars. “Deficient roads” in the Los Angeles area cost motorists an average $2,800 in annual repair costs. The state implicitly admits that its roads are a mess through a law that enables car owners who feel they’ve “lost money or property as a result of any action or inaction by Caltrans” to make five-figure claims against the agency.

The Reason Foundation, which for decades has rated road conditions across the country, ranked California roads 42nd in the nation in its 22nd Annual Highway Report. The state is 45th in rural-interstate pavement condition, 48th in urban-interstate pavement condition, and 48th in congestion in urbanized areas, the study says. “Half of the nation’s rural interstate mileage in poor condition is located in just five states,” says Reason’s Adrian Moore, and California is one of them. Media reports say that nearly 60 percent of the roads need repair. Will Kempton, a former Caltrans director, told the Los Angeles Times in February that road conditions were the worst he’d ever seen.

Roads aren’t the only infrastructure breaking down in California; its dams are no longer trustworthy. The Oroville Dam in the Sierra Nevada foothills almost failed this winter when its main spillway fell apart. It didn’t, but its near-collapse was a warning, as the New York Times reported, that the state’s “network of dams and waterways is suffering from age and stress.” The San Francisco Chronicle said a year ago that “there are 200 dams in California that are at least partially filled with mud and are approaching the end of their working lives.”

This isn’t a surprise to policymakers, who’ve been on notice for some time. According to the Association of Dam Safety Officials, California had 334 “high-hazard potential” dams in 2005; by 2015, 678 earned that designation. Officials were told in 2005 that the emergency spillway at the Oroville Dam posed a serious risk.

Also vulnerable are the state’s levees, especially those in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta network. Problems in this patchwork of largely muddy banks, built by farmers rather than civil engineers, put much of the state’s water supply at grave risk.

Rather than fix the state’s vital artery system and shore up its dams and levees, Brown and other policymakers prefer to focus on the shiny bauble of high-speed rail and a fanciful mixture of mass transit and bike lanes in an effort to move Californians out of their cars and into forms of transportation favored by Sacramento’s political bosses. Those who resist the agenda because they want to maintain the freedom facilitated by cars are likely to be hit with a new fuel-tax hike (in a state that already has some of the highest fuel taxes in the country).

More taxes, tolls, or user fees might be tolerable if the additional dollars improved the roads. But California has a history of taxing motorists to pay for pet projects that have zero connection with improved street and highway conditions. The Golden State’s existing patterns of density and sprawl have made reliance on car travel a necessity for most residents. Mass-transit advocates can wish for magical people-moving networks that will make cars obsolete, but the state’s planners need to focus on repairing the infrastructure we already have before they start implementing their dreams of a shining California future.

What if California’s Government Never Unionized?

UnionA story that still makes the rounds in Sacramento is that Gov. Jerry Brown, speaking off-the-record to a group of business leaders back around 2009, admitted that the worst political decision of his life was signing legislation to permit public employees to form unions and engage in collective bargaining.

Whether or not Gov. Brown actually said this, it is tantalizing to wonder what California would be like if over 1 million state and local government workers did NOT belong to a labor union. How would things be different?

Perhaps the biggest casualties of public employee unionization are California’s public schools. In 1975 the California Teachers Association (thanks to Brown signing the Educational Employment Relations Act) transitioned from being a professional association into a labor union. The negative consequences are far reaching.

The obvious way that unionizing teachers harms public education are the many work rules that have been negotiated. It is nearly impossible to fire a teacher for poor performance, instead – as was argued in the Vergara case, bad teachers get transferred to schools in disadvantaged communities where competent teachers are most needed. When layoffs occur, seniority is prioritized over merit. And tenure, i.e., lifetime employment – a concept originally developed in universities to protect free scientific inquiry –  is granted K-12 teachers after less than two full years of classroom evaluation. All of this guarantees that California’s public schools do NOT have the caliber of educators they could, and union work rules are the reason why.

The less obvious ways unionizing teachers have harmed public education are equally significant. The rhetorical focus of unions is inherently adversarial. Us vs. them. Worker vs. oppressor. In California this rhetoric has been politicized by the left-wing activists who dominate the positions of leadership in the teachers unions. From the top down, it permeates public education, indoctrinating teachers and students with a one-sided, confrontational world view. Students are taught that Western Civilization is the villain of history, that “people of color” are always discriminated against, that “gender” is arbitrary, and that authoritarian solutions are necessary to protect the environment. Almost none of this is true, but nearly two generations of Californian voters were immersed with this propaganda throughout their K-12 years.

Union work rules haven’t just protected bad teachers while driving good ones out of the profession. This is true throughout the public sector, from teachers to public safety to bureaucrats. And thanks to unions, pay is not only disconnected from performance, but the rate of pay has gone out of control. California’s public servants, on average, now collect pay and benefits that are twice what a private sector worker earns for full time work.

Public sector benefits are even more out of control than public sector pay – a public sector retiree in California after a 30 year career can expect a pension that is 26 percent more than private sector workers still on the job; four-times what the average retiree can expect from Social Security.

Other than driving California’s cities, counties and state government to the brink of bankruptcy, and nearly destroying our system of public education, what are the other consequences of unionized government? That answer is simple – they have taken political control of every supposed democratic institution in the state. Their political spending – they collect and spend over $1 billion in dues every year – dwarfs that of any other special interest. Their financial clout over politicians, combined with their influence over thousands of career operatives throughout the state’s regulatory agencies, force all other special interests to go through them. If you want legislation passed, you have to make deals with the government unions.

The core moral principle of unions, collectively standing up to oppression, is perverted in the public sector. Government workers, if anything, are tools of oppression, not victims of it. As it is they have set up two classes of citizens in California. Unionized government workers have job security, health security, retirement security, and pay scales that help to exempt them from the consequences of a politically contrived, punitively high cost of living. And then there are private sector workers, who have none of these privileges, yet pay the taxes to support this.

Unionized government protects its own interests before the public interest. It destroys public financial health, it undermines democracy, but worst of all, it takes away the sense of shared fate that is perhaps the most essential precondition for good government.

Imagine California without government unions. Public education would work because teachers and administrators could be held accountable. Policies to create prosperity and abundance would be endorsed by all voters, because all voters would share in the benefits. Government agencies at all levels would be lean and efficient because a billion dollar per year lobby perpetually favoring bigger government would not exist. Oligarchs and authoritarians would not have access to an omnipotent broker controlling the levers of power, which they could cozy up to for the benefit of the few, to the detriment of the many.

Ed Ring is the vice president of policy research for the California Policy Center.

This piece was originally published by UnionWatch.org

Proposition 13 is the original victim of ‘fake news’

prop 13As Proposition 13 approaches its 39th birthday, it is still subject to the same dishonest attacks in the media that were used against it when it was on the ballot in 1978. Proposition 13 was one of the first victims of “fake news.”

“The bigwigs in labor and business went all out to defeat 13,” said its principle author, Howard Jarvis. “They tried to outdo one another in issuing doomsday prophecies about what passage of 13 would mean.” The media slavishly supported the exaggerated and dishonest claims, often endorsing them through editorials and by giving prominent placement to negative stories on the tax revolt.

The politicians, including Gov. Jerry Brown, and government agencies from top to bottom weighed in. Here is a typical example: Before the election, Alameda County Transit told the public that passage of Prop. 13 would result in the termination of 80 percent of its 2,000 employees. Two months later, the Fremont-Newark Argus reported on the aftermath of the passage of Proposition 13, “To date, no one in the district has been laid off and officials now believe there will be no massive layoffs.” The paper added that three local fire districts that anticipated losing one-half to three-fourths of its staff, had not lost a single firefighter to Prop. 13.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Gavin Newsom to pitch universal health care as California governor’s race grows crowded

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is drafting a health care plan for California that he plans to unveil as a core component of his gubernatorial run, based in part on the universal health care program he signed into law when he was mayor of San Francisco.

Newsom, seen as a strong contender in the increasingly crowded field of candidates vying to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018, is staking out an ambitious plan to rein in rising health care costs, expand universal access to people across the state regardless of income or immigration status, and preserve coverage for the estimated 5 million Californians who risk losing their insurance under President Donald Trump’s changes.

“I think we can learn a lot for the state of California from what we did with Healthy San Francisco,” Newsom said in an interview. “We had the resourcefulness, the resources, and the boldness and audacity to try something new. It’s not necessarily something that can be adopted in all 58 counties, but it can be adopted …. where the majority of California’s population is.”

The idea would likely require substantial state and federal funding. …

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