Trump declares California wildfires a ‘major disaster’

A wildfire rages in Buck Meadows, in the Yosemite National ParkPresident Donald Trump has approved declaring the California wildfires a major disaster, the White House said on Sunday, and ordered federal aid to be provided.

His move, which will make federal funding available for the most stricken areas, comes after California governor Jerry Brown called for federal help.

It comes as the wildfires in northern California have spread to more than two-thirds the size of Los Angeles as more residents were ordered to evacuate their homes.

In a statement the White House said: “Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster. …

Click here to read the full article from the Guardian

Cell phones, landlines could be taxed more to pay for 911 upgrade

Distracted driving

After raising prices at the gas pump last year, Gov. Jerry Brown wants to increase taxes on Californians again to overhaul the 911 emergency services system.

The Brown administration is asking the state Legislature to erase an existing tax on in-state phone calls in exchange for a flat fee on cell phone lines, landlines and other connected devices capable of contacting 911. The tax, estimated to start at a monthly rate of 34 cents per line, is expected to generate $175.4 million in the first calendar year — more than double the current tax — with the possibility of ballooning to over $400 million based on need in later years.

“It is an increase in an existing surcharge to modernize an antiquated system that is critical to be able to provide timely emergency information to Californians,” said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the California Department of Finance. “This falls into a fundamental purpose of government, which is protecting public safety.”

There’s little disagreement that 911 technology desperately needs an upgrade in California. The system dates back to the 1960s and the state admits it’s failed in times of crisis. Five years ago, the California Technology Agency reported that many of the network’s radio parts had been discontinued by the manufacturer. …

Click here to read the full article from the Modesto Bee

Despite Tuition Cuts, University of California Finances Still on Shaky Ground

University-of-CaliforniaLast week, University of California President Janet Napolitano and UC regents generated positive headlines with their decision to reduce tuition for in-state students – the first cut since 1999-2000 – as well as their success in getting a 4 percent funding hike from the state Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown.

The announcement that total annual in-state charges would drop from $12,630 to $12,370 – a 0.5 percent reduction – was framed as reflecting both UC’s relative fiscal health and a truce between UC leaders and UC student activists.

Nevertheless, the UC system continues to have a murky financial future, with billions in unmet infrastructure needs and underfunded pension liabilities. And while some past UC presidents worked hard to establish strong relationships with other state leaders, Napolitano appears to have relatively few allies in the state Capitol, with many lawmakers still upset with the former Arizona governor over her office’s interference with an audit the Legislature had ordered. As for the governor, he has complained for years that UC is too quick to seek higher state aid or higher tuition and has never engaged in meaningful belt-tightening.

Against this backdrop, chances for a major increase in state funding seems a long shot – though that may change with a new governor in January.

Yet the need for such increased aid – or the billions that could be raised with future tuition hikes – is plain, many UC leaders believe.

In January, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ made a presentation to regents that amounted to a plea for much more funding. Christ said her campus had a $700 million backlog of needed maintenance alone. The San Francisco Chroniclereported that every campus except for recently opened UC Merced had at least $100 million in maintenance needs, topped by Berkeley, followed by UCLA at $677 million.

20 years of not funding pensions backfires

But Christ and other UC leaders face an even more daunting challenge in paying for pensions, especially given the coming wave of retirements in UC’s aging workforce. That’s because UC’s estimated $15 billion in unfunded pension liabilities is far bigger than it would have been were it not for the decision of UC officials to contribute nothing to the pension fund from 1990 to 2010.

UC’s pension system has more than 80 percent in projected funding for its long-term liabilities and is in significantly better shape than CalPERS or CalSTRS. Nonetheless, a September analysis by the Los Angeles Times noted how the 20-year pension payment holiday had backfired on UC. The analysis detailed how the steadily growing cost of retirement benefits was reducing funds available for “core fund” basic expenses. As of 2016, more than 5,400 retirees from the UC system made pensions of $100,000 or more.

Under pressure from the Brown administration, Napolitano’s office has taken some actions to rein in pension costs. UC employees hired beginning in July 2016 have a cap on how much of their final pay can be used to determine pensions. Earlier this year, regents also approved a plan to allow new hires to choose between having a defined-benefit pension or a 401(k)-style account.

But the plan’s fate is unclear after it faced strong objections from Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, and government unions.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

California’s Climate Extremism is Costing the Poor and Middle Class Dearly

Global WarmingEnvironmental extremism increasingly dominates California. The state is making a concerted attack on energy companies in the courts; a bill is pending in the Legislature to fine waiters $1,000 — or jail them — if they offer people plastic straws; and UCLA issued a report describing pets as a climate threat. The state has taken upon itself the mission of limiting the flatulence of cows and other farm animals. As the self-described capital of the anti-Trump resistance, California presents itself as the herald of a green, more socially and racially just society. That view has been utterly devastated by a new report from Chapman University, in which coauthors David Friedman and Jennifer Hernandez demonstrate that California’s draconian anti-climate-change regime has exacerbated economic, geographic and racial inequality. And to make things worse, California’s efforts to save the planet have actually done little more than divert greenhouse-gas emissions (GHG) to other states and countries.

Jerry Brown’s return to Sacramento in 2011 brought back to power one of the first American politicians to embrace the “limits of growth.” Brown has long worried about resource depletion (including such debunked notions as “peak oil”), taken a Malthusian approach to population growth, and opposed middle-class suburban development. Like many climate-change activists, he has limitless confidence in the possibility for engineering a green socially just society through “the coercive power of the state,” but little faith that humans can find ways to address the challenge of  climate change. If Brown’s “era of limits” message in the 1970s failed to catch on with the state’s voters, who promptly elected two Republican governors in his wake, he has found in climate change a more effective rallying cry, albeit one that often teeters at the edge of hysteria. Few politicians can outdo Brown for alarmism; recently, he predicted that climate change will cause 3 to 4 billion deaths, leading eventually to human extinction. To save the planet, he openly endorses a campaign to brainwash the masses.

The result: relentless ratcheting-up of climate-change policies. In 2016, the state committed to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. In response, the California Air Resource Board (CARB), tasked with making the rules required to achieve the state’s legislated goals, took the opportunity to set policies for an (unlegislated) target of an 80 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050.

Brown and his supporters often tout their policies as in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement, note Friedman and Hernandez, but California’s reductions under the agreement require it to make cutbacks double those pledged by Germany and other stalwart climate-committed countries, many of which have actually increased their emissions in recent years, despite their Paris pledges.

Governor Brown has preened in Paris, at the Vatican, in China, in newspapers, and on national television. But few have considered how his policies have worked out in practice. California is unlikely to achieve even its modest 2020 goals; nor is it cutting emissions faster than other states lacking such dramatic legislative mandates. Since 2007, when the Golden State’s “landmark” global-warming legislation was passed, California has accounted for barely 5 percent of the nation’s GHG reductions. The combined total reductions achieved over the past decade by Ohio, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Indiana are about 5 times greater than California’s. Even Texas, that bogeyman of fossil-fuel excess, has been reducing its per-capita emissions more rapidly.

In fact, virtually nothing that California does will have an impact on global climate. California per-capita emissions have always been relatively low, due to the mild climate along the coast, which reduces the need for much energy consumption on heating and cooling. In 2010, the state accounted for less than 1 percent of global GHG emissions; the disproportionately large reductions sought by state activists and bureaucrats would have no discernible effect on global emissions under the Paris Agreement. “If California ceased to exist in 2030,” Friedman and Hernandez note, “global GHG emissions would be still be 99.54 percent of the Paris Agreement total.”

Many of California’s “green” policies may make matters worse. California, for example, does not encourage biomass energy use, though the state’s vast forested areas —some 33 million acres — could provide renewable energy and reduce the excessive emissions from wildfires caused by years of forest mismanagement. Similarly, California greens have been adamant in shutting down nuclear power plants, which continue to reduce emissions in France, and they refuse to count hydro-electricity as renewable energy. As a result, California now imports roughly one-third of its electricity from other states, the highest percentage of any state, up from 25 percent in 2010. This is part of what Hernandez and Friedman show to be California’s increasing propensity to export energy production and GHG emissions, while maintaining the fiction that the state has reduced its total carbon output.

Overall, California tends to send its “dirty work” — whether for making goods or in the form of fossil fuels — elsewhere. Unwanted middle- and working-class people, driven out by the high cost of California’s green policies, leave, taking their carbon footprints to other places, many of which have much higher per-capita emission rates. Net migration to other, less temperate states and countries has been large enough to offset the annual emissions cuts within the state. Similarly, the state’s regulatory policies make it difficult for industrial firms to expand or even to remain in California. Green-signaling firms like Apple produce most of their tangible products abroad, mainly in high-GHG emitting China, while other companies, like Facebook and Google, tend to place energy-intensive data centers in other, higher GHG emission states. The study estimates that GHG emissions just from California’s international imports in 2015, and not even counting imports from the rest of the U.S., amounted to about 35 percent of the state’s total emissions.

California’s green regulators predict that the implementation of ever-stricter rules related to climate will have a “small” impact on the economy. They point to strong economic and job growth in recent years as evidence that strict regulations are no barrier to prosperity. Though the state’s economic growth is slowing, and now approaches the national average, a superficial look at aggregate performance makes a seemingly plausible case for even the most draconian legislation. California, as the headquarters for three of the nation’s five largest companies by market capitalization — Alphabet, Apple and Facebook — has enjoyed healthy GDP growth since 2010. But in past recoveries, the state’s job and income growth was widely distributed by region and economic class; since 2007, growth has been uniquely concentrated in one region — the San Francisco Bay Area, where employment has grown by nearly 17 percent, almost three times that of the rest of the state, with  growth rates tumbling compared with past decades.

Some of these inequities are tied directly to policies associated with climate change. High electricity prices, and the war on carbon emissions generally, have undermined the state’s blue-collar sectors, traditionally concentrated in Los Angeles and the interior counties. These sectors have all lost jobs since 2007. Manufacturing employment, highly sensitive to energy-related and other regulations, has declined by 160,000 jobs since 2007. California has benefited far less from the national industrial resurgence, particularly this past year. Manufacturing jobs—along with those in construction and logistics, also hurt by high energy prices—have long been key to upward mobility for non-college-educated Californians.

As climate-change policies have become more stringent, California has witnessed an unprecedented level of bifurcation between a growing cadre of high-income earners and a vast, rapidly expanding poor population. Meantime, the state’s percentage of middle-income earners— people making between $75,000 and $125,000—has fallen well below the national average. This decline of the middle class even occurs in the Bay Area, notes a recent report from the California Budget and Policy Center, where in 1989 the middle class accounted for 56 percent of all households in Silicon Valley, but by 2013, only 45.7 percent. Lower-income residents accounted for 30.3 percent of Silicon Valley’s households in 1989, and that number grew to 34.8 percent in 2013.

Perhaps the most egregious impact on middle and working-class residents can be seen in housing, where environmental regulations, often tied directly to climate policies, have discouraged construction, particularly in the suburbs and exurbs. The state’s determination to undo the primarily suburban, single-family development model in order to “save the planet” has succeeded both in raising prices well beyond national norms and creating a shortfall of some 3 million homes.

As shown in a recent UC Berkeley study, even if fully realized, the state’s proposals to force denser housing would only reach about 1 percent of its 2030 emissions goals. Brown and his acolytes ignore the often-unpredictable consequences of their actions, insisting that density will reduce carbon emissions while improving affordability and boosting transit use. Yet, as Los Angeles has densified under its last two mayors, transit ridership has continued to drop, in part, notes a another UC Berkeley report, because incentives for real-estate speculation have driven the area’s predominantly poor transit riders further from trains and buses, forcing many to purchase cars.

Undaunted, California plans to impose even stricter regulations, including the mandatory installation of solar panels on new houses, which could raise pricesby roughly $20,000 per home. This is only the latest in a series of actions that undermines the aspirations of people who still seek “the California dream;” since 2007, California homeownership rates have dropped far more than the national average. By 2016, the overall homeownership rate in the state was just under 54 percent, compared with 64 percent in the rest of the country.

The groups most affected by these policies, ironically, are those on whom the ruling progressives rely for electoral majorities. Millennials have seen a more rapid decline in homeownership rates compared with their cohort elsewhere. But the biggest declines have been among historically disadvantaged minorities — Latinos and African-Americans. Latino homeownership rates in California are well below the national average. In 2016, only 31 percent of African-Americans in the Bay Area owned homes, well below the already low rate of 41 percent black homeownership in the rest of nation. Worse yet, the state takes no account of the impact of these policies on poorer Californians. Overall poverty rates in California declined in the decade before 2007, but the state’s poverty numbers have risen during the current boom. Today, 8 million Californians live in poverty, including 2 million children, by far the most of any state. The state’s largest city, Los Angeles, is also now by some measurements America’s poorest big city.

To allay concerns about housing affordability, the state has allocated about $300 million from its cap-and-trade funds for housing, a meager amount given that the cost of building affordable housing in urban areas can exceed $700,000 per unit. These benefits are dwarfed by those that wealthy Californians enjoy for the purchase of electric cars and home solar: Tesla car buyers with average incomes of $320,000 per year got more than $300 million in federal and state subsidies by early 2015 alone. By contrast, in early 2018, state electricity prices were 58 percent higher, and gasoline over 90 cents per gallon higher, than the national average, disproportionately hurting ethnic minorities, the working class, and the poor. Based on cost-of-living estimation tools from the Census Bureau, 28 percent of African-Americans in the state live in poverty, compared with 22 percent nationally. Fully one-third of Latinos, now the state’s largest ethnic group, live in poverty, compared with 21 percent outside the state.

In a normal political environment, such disparities would spark debate, not only among conservatives, but also traditional Democrats. Some, like failed independent candidate and longtime environmentalist Michael Shellenberger, have expressed the view that California’s policies have made it not “the most progressive state” but “the most racist one.” Recently, some 200 veteran civil rights leaders sued CARB, on the basis that state policies are skewed against the poor and minorities. So far, their voices have been largely ignored. The state’s prospective next governor, Gavin Newsom, seems eager to embrace and expand Brown’s policies, and few in the legislature seem likely to challenge them. The Republicans, for now, look incapable of mounting a challenge.

This leaves California on a perilous path toward greater class and racial divides, increasing poverty, and ever-more strenuous regulation. Other ways to reduce greenhouse gases — such as planting trees, more efficient transportation, and making suburbs more sustainable — should be on the table. The Hernandez-Friedman report could be a first step toward addressing these issues, but however it happens, a return to rationality is needed in the Golden State.

California bans local soda taxes until 2031

SodaA new push by the beverage industry is slowing the expansion of soda taxes in California and elsewhere.

California cities pioneered soda taxes as a way to combat obesity, diabetes and heart disease, but the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday bowed to pressure from beverage companies and reluctantly banned local taxes on soda for the next 12 years.

It follows similar bans recently passed in Arizona and Michigan. Voters in Oregon will decide on a statewide ban in November. The American Beverage Association, which represents Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and others, has backed the moves after several cities passed taxes on sugary drinks in recent years.

California’s ban is part of a last-minute maneuver to block a beverage industry-backed ballot measure that would make it much harder for cities and counties to raise taxes of any kind. The ABA said in a statement the legislation is about keeping groceries, including drinks, affordable.

Lawmakers approved the proposal despite deep reluctance. …

Click here to read the full article from ABC7 News

CA Budget: 9% increase considered “frugal” by Democrats

California Gov. Jerry Brown points to a chart showing the growth of the state's Rainy Day fund as as he discusses his proposed 2018-19 state budget at a news conference Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. Brown proposed a $131.7 billion state spending plan, dedicating $5 billion toward the fund. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

When the annual California budget debate began inearnest with Gov. Jerry Brown’s release of a proposed 2018-19 fiscal plan in January, progressives were ready to go with a long list of new spending proposals. Many hoped to both expand the social safety net and to make existing state welfare programs more generous.

But nearly six months later, as final work on the budget wraps up, Brown’s dominance of state finances has gone all but unchallenged. Any assumption that a lame-duck governor in his final year would have less clout has long since been disproved.

For the fiscal year which begins Sunday, the state will have a $138.6 billion general fund. Spending on special funds dedicated to specific programs and on bond debt will bring the total overall budget to $199.6 billion.

Brown made some concessions during the budget process. The state will spend an additional $600 million on programs to help local governments deal with homelessness; give an additional $344 million to the CSU and UC systems; and provide $90 million more for monthly CALworks welfare payments.

But new spending is dwarfed by the billions of dollars the state continues to set aside in reserves. Nearly $14 billion is expected to be in the state’s “rainy day” fund and $2 billion more in other funds by the end of fiscal 2018-19 – so much so that the state may soon have to cut the sales tax to prevent reserves from exceeding constitutional limits.

The governor has emphasized building up reserves because of his frequently voiced belief that the state is overdue for a recession. Because by far the state’s biggest source of money is income and capital-gains taxes paid by the very wealthy, revenue can plunge rapidly when Silicon Valley stumbles. A decade ago, in the first fiscal year after the Great Recession, revenue fell $20 billion – leading to cuts in spending on public education and welfare programs under Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The freshness of this budget pain in the memories of dozens of long-serving state lawmakers has made even some ardent liberals open to the governor’s relative frugality.

No expansion of Medi-Cal to undocumented adults

This was evident in the resolution of the fight over access to Medi-Cal, the state program providing health care to the poor. Some Bay Area and Los Angeles County Democrats pushed hard for giving regular, full access to the subsidized care to older unauthorized immigrants, not just to children, as is now the case.

But the governor never budged. All progressives got out of Brown was an agreement to form a commission that will “broadly study California’s health care needs” – a concession that was dismissed as meaningless by some groups which had hoped for much more, according to a Los Angeles Times report. Cynthia Buiza, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, told the Times that the “budget deal is devastating for the health of all that call California home. … We are specifically disappointed that our low-income immigrant neighbors, friends, colleagues and communities will continue to suffer from [Medi-Cal] exclusion.”

Republican lawmakers were largely on the sidelines in shaping the budget. While some praise Brown for restraining his fellow Democrats, others challenge the narrative that he is frugal. A recent budget op-ed in the Los Angeles Times offered some support for this skepticism. It noted that total spending will go up by 9 percent from the current fiscal year to the next one – more than four times the rate of inflation.

Gov. Jerry Brown signs his final state budget, California’s largest yet

California schools, healthcare and social services programs will see spending increases under the state budget signed Wednesday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The $201.4-billion plan, which takes effect next week, is the final budget of Brown’s eight-year tenure. It is also the third consecutive blueprint that includes notably higher-than-expected tax revenue, a sizable portion of which lawmakers are diverting into the largest cash reserve in California history.

“This budget is a milestone,” Brown said at an event in Los Angeles. “We’re not trying to tear down, we’re not trying to blame. We’re trying to do something.”

Lawmakers sent Brown the budget last week, and he chose to sign it Wednesday without any line-item vetoes — unusual in comparison to previous governors, but consistent with his recent budget actions. ..

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

Gas Tax Repeal is Now Officially on the November Ballot

Gas TaxSetting the stage for a major statewide battle over how to pay for an estimated $67 billion backlog in highway, bridge and road repairs, a ballot measure to repeal California’s recently enacted gas taxes and registration fees officially qualified Monday for the November ballot.

Already, Gov. Jerry Brown and a powerful coalition of chambers of commerce, law enforcement, unions, firefighters, local transportation agencies and cities and counties have vowed to fight it.

“I will do everything in my power to defeat any repeal effort,” Brown said in a statement shortly after the Secretary of State’s Office announced the effort had qualified for the ballot. “You can count on that.”

John Cox, the Republican candidate for governor, didn’t waste any time, either, to voice his support for the repeal. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Jose Mercury News

State gets an “F” for claiming surplus instead of $270 billion deficit

California Gov. Jerry Brown points to a chart showing the growth of the state's Rainy Day fund as as he discusses his proposed 2018-19 state budget at a news conference Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. Brown proposed a $131.7 billion state spending plan, dedicating $5 billion toward the fund. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

The non-partisan “Truth in Accounting” project, which analyzes government financial reports, has awarded California an “F” grade for claiming surpluses instead of a $269.9 billion deficit.

The Chicago-based organization has been providing in-depth accounting reviews of the audited financial statements for America’s fifty states, as well as most major counties and major cities, in the United States since 2002.

The group’s mission is to educate and empower citizens with understandable, reliable, and transparent government financial information.

California received the lowest score of “F” on Truth in Accounting’s grading scale because despite Gov. Jerry Brown touting several years of surpluses, California actually faces a $269.9 billion shortfall in terms of its overall obligations, which equates to $22,000 burden for each of the 12.3 million taxpayers in the state.

California’s financial burden is primarily associated with the rapidly deteriorating condition of the state’s current $461.3 billion in promised public employee retirement benefits –which are $102.5 billion under-funded by the pension plan — and $107 billion for unfunded retiree health care benefits.

The State of California faced a near financial death experience in Great Recession, when the average taxpayer burden jumped from $15,000 to $23,500. Newly elected Gov. Brown, facing a $25 billion deficit in 2011, passed an array of income and sales tax hikes, including a 29 percent increase for Californians with taxable income over $1 million.

Gov. Brown has touted the “California Comeback.” But the data demonstrate that despite the gusher of tax revenue the flooded into Sacramento from the economic recovery and the substantially higher tax rates Gov. Brown passed, the state’s taxpayer burden only fell modestly to $20,900 by 2015. The taxpayer burden rose to $21,600 in 2016 and hit $22,000 in 2017, the second-highest in the history of the state.

Truth in Accounting Founder Sheila Weinberg warns that California is a giant “Sinkhole Sate.” Ms. Weinberg is especially critical of Gov. Brown  claiming an $8.8 billion surplus this year, while avoiding the fact that California has only $100.1 billion in available assets to pay $369.9 billion worth of bills.

Weinberg emphasized to Breitbart News that California’s rising “taxpayer burden” is only for net state liabilities. Her organization intends to begin publishing consolidated reports this summer for all the states that will also capture the liabilities of counties and cities. Ms. Weinberg expects that the combined taxpayer burden for California to be a much higher number.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Gov. Brown approves automatic voter registration for Californians

Voting boothTargeting California’s recent record-low voter turnout, Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday signed a measure that would eventually allow Californians to be automatically registered to vote when they go the DMV to obtain or renew a driver’s license.

The measure, which would also allow Californians to opt out of registering, was introduced in response to the dismal 42% turnout in the November 2014 statewide election.

That bill and 13 others the governor signed Saturday, will “help improve elections and expand voter rights and access in California,” Brown’s office said in a statement.

Some 6.6 million Californians who are eligible to register to vote have not registered, according to Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who supported the legislation as a way to increase voter participation. …

Click here to read the full article from the Los Angeles Times