Majority of California voters want to repeal gas tax increase, poll finds

Gas PricesAs a new poll found a majority of California voters want to repeal increases to the state’s gas tax and vehicle fees, Gov. Jerry Brown has begun campaigning to preserve them, arguing the sacrifice is needed to fix long-neglected roads and bridges and improve mass transit.

Repeal of the higher taxes and fees was supported by 51% of registered voters in the state, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times statewide poll.

The survey found 38% of registered voters supported keeping the higher taxes, 9% hadn’t heard enough to say either way and 2% said they wouldn’t vote on the measure.

The results bode well for a measure that Republican members of Congress hope to place on the November statewide ballot that could boost turnout of GOP voters by offering the chance to repeal the gas tax increase, said Bob Shrum, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. …

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

CA Democrats Pushing to Give Illegal Adults Full Health Care Benefits

MedizinCalifornia Democrats are reportedly pushing to give full healthcare benefits to illegal immigrant adults, which would mean that the Golden State not only may have to raise taxes but will also be a magnet for even more illegal immigrants.

According to a Monday Politico report, state Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) is leading the charge by reportedly arguing that “California needs to be a laboratory for social change by taking the lead on progressive causes.”

“We are trying to address the fact that, whether you like it or not, our undocumented community needs the care, and we are paying for it anyway,” he reportedly said.

Politico points out that California Democrats are trying to extend the state’s Medi-Cal program this legislative session to nearly 1.2 million illegal immigrant adults who would qualify for it, and “companion bills in the state Assembly and Senate” have already “passed their respective health committees with party-line votes.”

The cost to expand Medicaid coverage to adult illegal immigrants in California is reportedly projected to cost $3 billion annually.

California Governor Jerry Brown, who extended Medi-Cal coverage to illegal immigrant children in 2015, has not commented on the pending measures but “is required by law to sign or veto bills passed this session by Sept. 30, just five weeks before the midterm elections.”

Political and health analysts are reportedly astounded that Democrats are trying to extend healthcare benefits to illegal immigrants before this year’s important midterm elections, reportedly saying that the measure would give Republicans in California relevance “they would never have before” in an election cycle in which House races in California could decide which party controls Congress.

Paul Ginsburg, director of the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy, told Politico that the proposal would be “fiscally very dangerous” and  Jay Bhattacharya, a Stanford physician and health economist, suggested to the outlet that such a plan would have to be paid for with tax increases.

Bhattacharya also pointed out the obvious—giving full healthcare coverage to illegal immigrant adults will make California, which is already an official “sanctuary” state, even a greater magnet for illegal immigrants.

The illegal immigrant who murdered Kate Steinle, for instance, told authorities that he came to San Francisco after being previously deported five times because he knew San Francisco was proudly a “sanctuary city.”

“If you make a program like this available, undocumented workers in other states might be attracted to California because of this,” Bhattacharya, the Stanford physician, reportedly said.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Jerry Brown signs bill preventing disclosure of immigration status in court

Pushing back against mounting criticism of California’s sanctuary policies, Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday signed a bill placing strict limits on the disclosure of a person’s immigration status in open court.

Approved in the Senate with bipartisan support last week, Senate Bill 785 was introduced in response to news reports of ICE agents tracking down undocumented immigrants in courthouses across the country. It takes aim at a tactic that advocates say is keeping many immigrants from testifying in court, reporting crimes or simply showing up to pay a ticket.

“Our courthouses should be places of justice, not places where immigrants are threatened with deportation,” said Senator Scott Wiener, one of the bill’s authors, in a statement Thursday. “This law makes everyone in our community safer by ensuring that witnesses and victims of crime are not afraid to report crimes, go to court, and hold criminals accountable.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment. …

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

Prison inmates are down, but costs still going up

Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies inspect a cell block at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca says he plans to implement all the reforms suggested by a commission in the wake of allegations that a culture of violence flourished in his jails. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

When Jerry Brown’s first governorship began in 1975, California had about 20,000 men and women behind bars in its prison system, but that number would increase more than eight-fold.

As crime rates rose to record levels in the 1970s, Brown, the Legislature and voters responded with laws creating new crimes and/or increasing prison terms for old offenses. Those laws, more that were added in the 1980s and 1990s and more unforgiving attitudes by prosecutors and judges, triggered a flood of new prison inmates.

Democrat Brown and his Republican successors, George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson, undertook a massive prison construction program that eventually added 23 new human warehouses.

By 1990, the state’s prison population had quintupled to 100,000 and by the time Brown returned to the governorship in 2011, it had reached 162,000, just slightly below its peak.

Since then, however, it has declined sharply to a current 129,000, thanks to federal court orders attacking prison overcrowding, more lenient attitudes on parole and probation, diversion of some low-level felons into county jails, and two ballot measures – one sponsored by Brown himself – that reduced penalties.

Some law enforcement authorities contend that California’s penal pendulum has swung too far, and that having fewer miscreants locked up and more on the streets is sparking a new surge of crime.

Voters could weigh in on the issue under a proposed ballot measure that would restore harsher penalties for some crimes, even as the Legislature considers bills to lighten sentences even more.

One might expect that with prison populations having dropped by about 25 percent, costs would also have decreased.

Not so. In fact, they have continued to increase, and with fewer felons behind bars, the per-inmate cost has skyrocketed to about $75,000 a year, roughly the price of a Stanford University education and more than twice the national average.

Brown’s budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year pegs state prison and parole costs at $12 billion. But that’s not the total cost because one of the steps to reduce overcrowding was to shift more felons into county jails and probation programs, with money – $2 billion currently – to pay for them.

That $14 billion is only slightly less than what taxpayers spend through the state budget on higher education. But why, one might wonder, did costs escalate as the number of inmates declined?

The biggest reason is that the system is still housing more inmates than its designed capacity and, therefore, no prisons have been closed. Fundamental operating costs, including the number of prison guards and their ever-increasing salaries and fringe benefits, especially pensions, are unaffected.

Another big factor is that – also thanks to federal court orders – prison health care costs have exploded to $20,000 per inmate. That’s by far the highest in the nation, nearly four times the national average, and also roughly twice the average cost of health care for Californians not behind bars.

The future is cloudy. Under the more lenient laws and policies in effect now, inmate populations may decline slowly, perhaps to the point at which some prisons could be shuttered.

However, prison unions and the communities that see their prisons as economic boons will resist closures. And if the pending ballot measure on sentencing passes, the inmate decline could be stopped.

As the last four decades have shown, what we euphemistically call “criminal justice” is ultimately just another political issue that, like others, is subject to the whims of voters and politicians.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.org

California’s wildfire reality needs this new plan

A wildfire rages in Buck Meadows, in the Yosemite National ParkWildfires in California, which for the first time in living memory know no season — the state is dry at all times of the year — are vastly different from the old notion of “forest” fires in mostly unpopulated places.

That’s why a fresh initiative out of Sacramento in Gov. Jerry Brown’s May revision of his budget forecast is right to include $96 million in new annual spending, from various funding sources, to support up-to-date firefighting that acknowledges new climate and exurban-growth realities. That modest but important spending will come in addition to $160 million proposed in January to use money from the environmental cap-and-trade funds on timberland-management improvements and fire protection in state and national forests.

Forest fires of what can now be thought of as the old-fashioned, Smokey Bear variety, do indeed still occur, often in remote wilderness areas of California’s many mountain ranges, often sparked by old-fashioned causes such as lightning. And they still need to be fought, or at least monitored. In fact, because of increased dryness and ever-vaster fires throughout the nation’s West, almost the entire budget of the United States Forest Service in recent years has been devoted to fighting wildfires.

But think back to the most recent devastating fires of several months back in California — they were not exactly in the Sierra Nevada.

October’s wine country wildfires in the end became the most financially harmful in our state’s history, with insurance claims of almost $10 billion. The state Insurance Department says that means the several related fires centered in Sonoma and Napa counties went past those in the suburban Oakland Hills fire of 1991 to become the most expensive every in California. …

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

Trump Rails Against California Sanctuary Policies

President Donald Trump on Wednesday hammered California for its so-called sanctuary immigration policies, in what appeared to be his latest push to embolden his base leading into the midterm elections.

As the debate over immigration heats up on Capitol Hill, Trump surrounded himself with mayors, sheriffs and other local leaders from California who oppose the state’s immigration policies and who applauded his administration’s hard-line efforts.

“This is your Republican resistance right here against what they’re doing in California,” said California Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, coopting a term used by Democrats opposed to Trump’s presidency. She, like others, said the president and his policies were far more popular in the state than people realize.

“It’s a crisis,” Melendez said of the situation.

They were responding to legislation signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last year that bars police from asking people about their immigration status or helping federal agents with immigration enforcement. Jail officials can transfer inmates to federal immigration authorities if they have been convicted of one of about 800 crimes, mostly felonies, but not for minor offenses. …

Click here to read the full article from NBC Los Angeles

Gov. Brown’s May Revise Shows No Need for Gas Tax Increase

The first takeaway from Gov. Jerry Brown’s May Revision of his budget for 2018-19 is that California didn’t need that $5.5 billion yearly gas-tax increase the Legislature passed last year. The proposal shows we have $8 billion in revenues in excess of projections.

In one area I persistently agree with Gov. Brown, “Despite strong fiscal health in the short term, the risks to the long-term health of the state budget continue to mount.” Unfortunately, according to the governor’s budget revision, we have $291 billion in long-term costs and the Legislature has done little to fix the state’s fundamental problems.

In his budget announcement and press conference, Brown emphasized the volatility of tax revenues, especially capital gains-tax revenues, shown in this chart:

moorlach-graphic

And he emphasized we’re overdue for a recession. Of course, he didn’t mention it has been President Trump’s economic policies – tax cuts and regulation reform – that have lifted the national economy above the sub-par performance of the Obama administration.

“How you ride the tiger is what we now face,” he said. “It’s going up, but when it goes down, a lot of these programs will be cut. Life is very giddy at the peaks.” No doubt, he is right. But he also ignored most of the reasons for this volatility even as he pointed out the Rainy Day fund will be filled at $13 billion, though he estimated that an impending economic storm would require resources closer to $60 billion. That’s a budget hole expected in the next recession, which could be $30 billion a year for two years. In such a scenario, the Rainy Day Fund would provide just 22 percent of that potential revenue shortage.

I see a much bigger danger. Taxes are so high in this state. To survive the next recession, companies will flee to states with much lower taxes. Because of the state’s punishing taxes, including then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s $13 billion tax increase in 2009, our state’s economy crashed hard. Unemployment soared to double-digits and was exceeded only by the rates in Michigan and Nevada. It may happen again.

The period of rising revenues we’re now enjoying should be used to reduce our already committed liabilities and the overall tax burden.

Of course, having increased taxes last year – not just the gas tax, but the cap-and-trade tax Brown pushed through, estimated at $2.2 billion a year – Brown wasn’t about to suggest cutting taxes. It will be up to the voters to repeal the gas tax this November.

Given that the rising tax revenues won’t be returned to the taxpayers who worked so hard to earn them, the governor at least is proposing spending the money on some true needs. I have worked up a list of options, below, of 15 one-time spending recommendations that should be prioritized. But first let me recognize three of Brown’s proposals that have some overlap to my suggestions:

  • $2 billion for infrastructure: “The proposal will target these funds to the universities, courts, state facilities and flood control. Investments are also proposed for high-priority capital expenditures.”
  • $359 million for homelessness. His proposal notes more funding will begin to flow “from a bond and a fee on real estate transactions” passed last year – another tax that I opposed and don’t believe we need. This money would be a “bridge” until these funds are spent.
  • $312 million for mental health “for enhanced early detection of mental health problems and the education of mental health professionals.” The budget proposal also would put the $2 billion “No Place Like Home” initiative funding on the ballot “to accelerate the delivery of housing projects to serve the mentally ill.”

My proposals include prefunding the $2 billion for No Place Like Home, which will be paid back with the bond proceeds.

I’d also like to help out cities and counties with their pensions by injecting several billion dollars directed to their unfunded liabilities in lieu of taxpayer rebates. In his press conference, Brown unfortunately answered, when that question was raised, “A lot of cities signed up for pensions they can’t afford. The state can’t step into the shoes of the cities and counties. They’re going to have to handle that.”

Again, he’s largely right. And he’s actually putting his legal resources and political chits behind the overturning of the so-called “California Rule,” which ratchets up pension costs with no ability for governments to correct costs at the front end, leading them to fiscal ruin at the back end.

Because of that, we’ve got cities and counties laying off police and fire simply because their pension costs are so high. And the cities and counties can’t raise their tax base more than 2 cents on the sales tax. Current leaders in our cities and counties weren’t the ones who spiked pensions decades ago, but the California Legislature made it really easy.

Sacramento is renowned for taking funds from cities and counties during recessions. Giving something back to them would be a noble thing to do.

The state also has a backlog of rape kits. Not only is that unfair to the victims, but after catching the Golden State Killer, how many more predators could we catch and prosecute?

We also need to harden power lines across the state. If this state wants to emphasize electric cars, we’re going to be sending a whole lot more electricity around, which means more wildfires unless the power lines are put underground.

Compared to his January proposal, the governor’s May Revise only tinkered with education funding. But we could use more funding for career technical education. A lot of kids don’t want to go to college, but could have successful careers in the trades or other vocations. They should be afforded the training opportunities just as much as those we send to our elite institutions.

Finally, this budget largely is a stopgap getting the governor beyond his tenure in office. He said he wanted to leave it in good shape for his successor. But so much more needs to be done, especially in improving the state’s harsh anti-business fiscal policies, shoring up pensions, fixing long-neglected infrastructure and reducing the housing and homelessness crises.

Below is a list of my 15 policy proposals for spending the $8 billion in excess revenues. It is largely in priority order. And if the state wins the litigation for the No Place Like Home bond dollars, or it is approved by the voters on the ballot in November, then that money could be cycled into any of the remaining priorities.

Priority Description Amount
1 No Place Like Home Prefunding of approved bonding $2,000,000,000
2 Provide funding to 482 cities to be appropriated to their pension liabilities $482,000,000
3 Provide funding to 58 counties to be appropriated to their pension liabilities $580,000,000
4 Provide matching funds for city pension liabilities $964,000,000
5 Provide matching funds for county pension liabilities $1,160,000,000
6 Fully fund bringing current the Rape Kit testing backlog $12,500,000
7 Fund Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS) gun holder backlog $12,500,000
8 Hardening of electric power lines around state $1,168,000,000
9 Oroville Dam state water project conveyance levee repairs $100,000,000
10 Temperance Flat construction $250,000,000
11 Refund the Fire Tax $471,000,000
12 Continue Career Technical Education Funding at prior level $200,000,000
13 Renters’ Tax Credit increase $300,000,000
14 Opioid treatment and prevention task force $100,000,000
15 Water Tax off-set $200,000,000
$8,000,000,000

This article was originally published by the Flash Report

Jerry Brown to Leave Office With $13.5 Billion Rainy Day Fund

California Gov. Jerry Brown has submitted his May revised 2018-2019 budget, which indicates he will leave office in January with the maximum $13.5 billion rainy-day fund.

Brown, a liberal Democrat, has complained that no politician should face the type of catastrophic financial crisis he inherited when he returned at age 72 on January 3, 2011 for his third term as the state’s chief executive officer.

At the time, outgoing Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s finance department was forecasting a $28.5 billion deficit over the next 18 months and California had been already been downgraded by to the lowest credit rating of any state in the nation.

Most political observers thought Brown might be the worst possible California governor for the crisis, given that after being termed out of office after eight years in 1983, he left newly elected Republican Gov. George Deukmejian with what was considered at the time a hellacious budget deficit of $1.5 billion. …

Click here to read the full article from Breitbart.com/California

Gov. Jerry Brown’s last budget grows to $199 billion

Gov. Jerry Brown is using a surging, $8.8 billion surplus in his 16th and final year leading the state to stash billions of dollars in reserves.

He wants to put almost all of the additional money — $7.6 billion of it — into two reserve funds that combined would hold $17 billion a year from now if trends hold.

He warned at a press conference Friday where he unveiled his final budget for the 2018-19 financial year that a recession could be just around the corner and the state should avoid long-term commitments that it might not be able to afford in a downturn.

“This is a time to save for our future, not to make pricey promises we can’t keep. I said it before and I’ll say it again: Let’s not blow it now,” Brown said.

His plans calls for $137.6 billion in general fund spending and $199.3 billion in total spending. Those sums reflect the dramatic turnaround in the state’s fortunes since Brown took office in the throes of a recession eight years ago. …

Click here to read the full article from the Modesto Bee

UC Strikers Don’t See Full Budget Picture

I get the impression the University of California workers who went on strike May 7 don’t know the half of the financial problems of which the UC system suffers.

According to the Los Angeles Times, more than 20,000 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees “walked off their jobs,” including “custodians, gardeners, cooks, truck drivers, lab technicians and nurse aides.”

Among other things, the union is demanding “a multiyear contract with annual pay raises of 6 percent, no increase in healthcare premiums and continued full pension benefits at the retirement age of 60.” UC countered with 3 percent annual raises for four years, raising the retirement age “to 65 for new employees who choose a pension instead of a 401(k) plan” and $25 a month in increased health-care premiums.

The AFSCME strikers were joined Tuesday by 14,000 members of the California Nurses Association and 15,000 members of the University Professional & Technical Employees, such as pharmacists and physical therapists. That forced the rescheduling of “more than 12,000 surgeries, cancer treatments and appointments.”

I guess the Hippocratic Oath’s pledge to “First, do no harm,” isn’t so important these days. And because this is a government-run system, the strike may be a strong warning against single-payer and other proposed socialized medicine schemes. In the private sector, if one part goes on strike, you can turn to another part. But when government goes on strike, you’re stuck, perhaps even getting a date with the Grim Reaper.

One worker was quoted lamenting “her pay increases over two decades at UCLA have not kept up with rising rent.” Of course, that’s a complaint almost all California renters could make because the Legislature and recent governors have refused to adequately address the causes for the state’s low housing supply. Blame also goes to AFSCME and the other public employee unions who keep financing the campaigns of legislators who refuse to solve the state’s pressing problems, while doing the unions’ bidding on pay and other issues.

But the UC strikers do have a point that the system’s finances are not in good shape. Let me add a few more concerns to their litany of problems.

First, according to Gov. Jerry Brown’s January budget proposal, p.13, UC system retirement liabilities amount to $10.9 billion for pensions and $19.3 billion for health care – $30.2 billion total. Second, from the UC system’s 2017 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, p. 36, the unrestricted net deficit is $19.3 billion. The U.C. system is upside down by nearly $20 billion!  If the retiree health liability were added, it would double the deficit. Such is the joy of making financial promises that come due in the future.

UC Assets

Third, the Democratic-controlled state Legislature continues to reduce state funding of the UC system. Their fiscal priority is endorsed by Gov. Brown.

Fourth, as the Los Angeles Times reported in 2015, the UC system now employs more administrators than professors: “The number of those making at least $500,000 annually grew by 14 percent in the last year, to 445, and the system’s administrative ranks have swelled by 60 percent over the last decade – far outpacing tenure-track faculty.” As of that year, the system employed 10,539 administrators to 8,899 profs. Does anyone think a private-sector company could survive with more executives than production workers?

Tragically, these same administrators refuse to provide a 10-year strategic financial plan to provide a road map out of their fiscal morass.

And just a year ago, an audit by State Auditor Elaine M. Howle revealed severe financial mismanagement by UC President Janet Napolitano, including, “The Office of the President accumulated more than $175 million in restricted and discretionary reserves that it failed to disclose to the regents and created undisclosed budgets to spend those reserve funds.”

Fifth, this combined financial mismanagement obviously has increased tuition. Although an increase was avoided this year, the current resident tuition is $11,502, compared to just $2,896 in 1998. That’s a 297 percent increase in 20 years. By contrast, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI Inflation Calculator clocks overall price increases during that time at just 116 percent. Put another way, UC tuition increased at almost three times the inflation rate.

There are numerous tensions impacting the UC System. A defined-benefit pension plan prevents pay raises, as does the inability to constantly raise tuition. The solution resides with the state’s Democratic governor and Legislature.

More than 40 years of Democratic control have created this Gordian knot and something will snap soon. Perhaps the unions should realize the mess they have helped create. And voters should do the same.

California State Senate.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily