Will Taxpayers Be Mugged by Sacramento?

TaxesGovernor Brown has just released his spending proposal for 2017-18 and taxpayers should not be blamed if they feel like they are walking down a dark alley in a high-crime neighborhood.

While the governor’s proposed budget has been described as austere, it still represents a spending boost of 5 percent, a rate of increase only slightly smaller than last year’s 6 percent. Because the state is in the process of rewarding its employees with generous pay increases and covering an expanding requirement to fund their pensions — pensions that are currently subsidized by six percent of the general fund budget — more spending does not represent an increase in the quantity or quality of services for average Californians.

The Brown budget contains no major program increases except for transportation. But the kicker is that this would be contingent on higher taxes on gasoline and car registration. So, while state workers will be kept snug and comfortable, if commuters want those pot holes repaired, they must pay extra.

However, the governor’s budget should not be regarded as anything more than a place holder, as the ability to fund it is threatened from all directions. The new administration in Washington, as well as a majority of both houses of Congress, have made it clear that Obamacare is on the verge of elimination. There can be little doubt that federal funding for California’s massive expansion of Medicaid is in jeopardy. Because, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, a government program is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth, no one will be surprised when Sacramento looks to average taxpayers to make up the nearly $16 billion-dollar difference.

Then there is uncertain tax revenue. The extension of the nation’s highest income tax rates renders California highly vulnerable to economic fluctuations. Although growth had been tepid, we have experienced 90 months of economic expansion and financial experts warn us to be prepared for the next downturn.

As if these threats were not enough, Brown will have to contend with elements in his own party who believe in the axiom of former Senate leader, David Roberti, “When you’ve got it, spend it,” to which they would add the corollary, “If you don’t have it, spend it anyway.”

Chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee, Phil Ting, has already made it clear that he does not want to budget assuming the worst, that the Legislature must continue “investing in California,” a budgetary approach akin to Admiral David Farragut’s at the battle of Mobile Bay, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” While Farragut was successful, is it appropriate to put California taxpayers at dire risk through imprudent spending?

In May, the governor will issue a revised budget, no doubt with major changes, in advance of the June 15 deadline for final passage. If revenue is down, taxpayers may be treated to the spectacle of a cage match between those committed to spending, backed by their special interest allies, and those who advocate a slightly more cautious approach.

In Sacramento, fiscal sanity is relative. Ironically, our eccentric governor who thinks nothing of lavishing nearly $100 billion on a bullet train, may be the dwindling middle class’s best hope to fend off major increases to their already staggering tax burden.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This article was originally published by HJTA.org

House GOP leader asks Jerry Brown: How would you replace Obamacare?

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has written to Gov. Jerry Brown and the leaders of other states soliciting their input for replacing Obamacare.

Dismantling President Barack Obama’s signature health care legislation has been central to debate in Washington since voters in November handed Republicans control of the White House and Congress.

“As Obamacare continues to saddle patients with less choice, higher costs, and mountains of mandates, it is clear that major health care reforms must be made to strengthen and improve health care for all Americans,” McCarthy wrote in the letter last month, which was signed by five other House Republicans, including Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas.

“Lawmakers, governors, and state insurance commissioners have a tremendous opportunity to achieve our shared goal of enacting health care reforms that lower costs, improve quality, empower states and individuals, and bring our health care system into the 21st century,” they added. …

Click here to read the full article

898 New California Laws Passed in 2016 – Most Start Jan. 1

jerry-brown-signs-lawsSACRAMENTO – California Gov. Jerry Brown signed 898 bills into law last year. Most start on Jan. 1, but others going into effect in coming years. The majority of new laws deal with minutiae that’s unlikely to affect most residents, but a number of them will have real-world consequences for broad numbers of people – on issues ranging from new driving rules to patients’ access to experimental medications.

Here’s a sampling of some of the significant new laws from last session:

Register your ammo purchases: Californian gun owners will need to deal with a variety of new gun-control limitations after the governor signed a broad package of bills – and voters approved Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s gun-control initiative on Nov. 8. The most potentially far reaching effects will come from the state’s approval of Proposition 63, which has various restrictions and a roll-out of implementation dates over a few years.

Beginning July 1, 2017, the state will implement a ban on high-capacity magazines and will require owners to report any lost or stolen weapons. The much-publicized requirement that ammo buyers pass background checks won’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2018.

Higher minimum wages and more unpaid leave: “The statewide minimum wage goes from $10 to $10.50 an hour for businesses with 26 or more employees — a rate that will rise to $15 by 2022,” as the Mercury-News explained. That wage hike comes from Senate Bill 3. “Assembly Bill 2393 gives up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave to all K-12 and community college employees, including classified workers and community college faculty,” the newspaper reported.

Restrictions on police use of asset forfeiture: Senate Bill 443 was one of the last bills from last session that the governor signed, but it is widely viewed as one of the most significant changes in state law. Before the new law went into effect, police agencies had the ability to take the cash, cars and even homes from people even if they weren’t convicted of any crime. The authorities needed simply to claim the property was used in the commission of a drug crime. California had fairly tough restrictions in place, but local and state police agencies would partner with federal authorities under the “equitable sharing” program and then they would operate under looser federal law.

As the Drug Policy Alliance explains, “Starting on January 1, 2017, California law will require a conviction prior to forfeiture in any state case where the items seized are cash under $40,000 or other property such as homes and vehicles regardless of value.” If local or state agencies work with the feds, they could only share in the proceeds if an underlying conviction were obtained. The final compromise still allows law enforcement to keep proceeds of more than $40,000 in cash only – a provision which caused major law enforcement groups to drop their opposition.

Higher fees from the DMV … and more: Two new laws boost the fees for DMV registrations by $10 and for an environmental license plate by the same amount. Another DMV-related law requires drivers to restrain children 2 years or under in a rear-facing car seat unless they weigh 40 pounds or more. Drivers will need to pay attention to a new law dealing with hand-held devices. “Driving a motor vehicle while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone or a wireless electronic communications device will be prohibited, unless the device is mounted on a vehicle’s windshield or is mounted/affixed to a vehicle’s dashboard or center console in a manner that does not hinder the driver’s view of the road,” according to the agency.

Gaining the ‘right to try’: California became the 32nd state to pass so-called “right to try” legislation, which allows terminally ill people to try experimental drugs that have yet to pass the federal Food and Drug Administration’s full battery of tests. Supporters argued that many people die while waiting for drugs to clear that long and cumbersome process. After Senate amendments, Assembly Bill 1668 includes the caveat that “a health benefit plan, except to the extent the plan provided coverage, is not liable for any outstanding debt related to the treatment or lack of insurance for the treatment.”

Beer and wine at barbershops: Assembly Bill 1322 passed overwhelmingly in both houses of the Legislature. This bill allows beauty salons and barber shops to serve their clients limited quantities of beer or wine at no extra charge without obtaining a license or permit from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control,” according to the Assembly analysis. The new law still allows local governments to impose restrictions on this practice.

Rescuing Fido from a hot car: Assembly Bill 797 reduces liability for citizens who break a car window to save an animal that is closed in a hot car – provided they first try calling the authorities and the authorities haven’t responded quickly enough.

Legalizing lane-splitting: Anyone who drives on California’s vast network of freeways has noticed motorcyclists’ habit of “lane-splitting,” as they drive between the cars that occupy the lanes. The law had required motorcyclists to ride “as nearly as practical entirely within a single lane,” even though the practice has been widely accepted. Motorcyclists have long argued that this is safer than remaining in one lane and risk being hit from behind. Assembly Bill 51 “would authorize the Department of the California Highway Patrol to develop educational guidelines relating to lane splitting in a manner that would ensure the safety of the motorcyclist, drivers, and passengers, as specified,” according to the state Legislative Counsel.

Ignore those juvenile convictions: Assembly Bill 1843 “Prohibits employers from asking an applicant for employment to disclose information concerning or related to an arrest, detention, processing, diversion, supervision, adjudication, or court disposition that occurred while the person was subject to the process and jurisdiction of juvenile court law, or seek or utilize any such information as a factor in determining any condition of employment,” according to the Assembly analysis. This was a contentious issue that passed on largely partisan lines (Democrats supported; Republicans opposed) given business-community concerns about their ability to screen job applicants.

You must be 21 to smoke or vape: Earlier in the year, the governor signed a package of smoking bills that, most significantly, raises the smoking age to 21. It also raised the age for vaping to 21. That last provision was particularly controversial because some argue e-cigarettes are a safer way for smokers to break their dangerous habit. Those laws went into effect in June.

Offering showers for the homeless: Assembly Bill 1995 would require community colleges that have shower facilities to allow enrolled homeless students to use those showers.

More bathroom choices for the transgendered: California passed a law, Assembly Bill 1772, that requires all businesses and public agencies with single-toilet bathrooms to make them available to people of all genders – a bill viewed more as a symbolic measure offered in the thick of the national debate over bathrooms for transgendered people.

The new Legislature will be back in full swing after the new year.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

This piece as originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Jerry Brown: California to Bypass Trump on Climate Change

Photo courtesy Steve Rhodes, flickr

Photo courtesy Steve Rhodes, flickr

California Gov. Jerry Brown has suggested that the state of California could bypass the administration of President Donald J. Trump and work directly with foreign governments in advancing the cause of climate change, the New York Times reports.

Last May, Gov. Brown signed a climate change deal between 12 regional and provincial governments in seven countries, committing to reduce the “greenhouse gases” that trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere and are thought to drive global warming. The aim was to show that California was committed to tackling the issue, even if Congress and the courts were not prepared to rubber-stamp President Barack Obama’s aggressive climate change agenda. He also played a prominent role at the Paris climate change talks last December (prompting speculation as to whether he was still clinging to presidential ambitions).

Brown had also been outspoken throughout the presidential campaign against the climate change positions of several Republican candidates. Last September, for instance, he sent Dr. Ben Carson a flash drive containing the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Earlier this month, Brown attacked President-elect Trump’s views on climate change and also attacked Breitbart News for describing methane regulations (accurately, if crudely) as rules on “cow farts.”

In an interview with the Times, Brown said: “California can make a significant contribution to advancing the cause of dealing with climate change, irrespective of what goes on in Washington. … I wouldn’t underestimate California’s resolve if everything moves in this extreme climate denial direction. Yes, we will take action.” The Times speculates that foreign governments might devote more effort to lobbying Sacramento than lobbying Washington under the Trump administration.

The Times adds that California Democrats are committed to their climate change agenda, even if the state loses in economic competition with other states as the Trump administration rolls back existing regulations.

Brown will serve two more years as governor.

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, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, is available from Regnery through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

‘Public Servants’ or ‘Well-Paid Elite’?

MoneyOnce upon a time we called them “public servants.” Today, most taxpayers struggle to keep a straight face when this term is used to describe the well-paid, elite who govern us.

In a state where the median per capita income is just over $30,000, Gov. Brown, legislators and other state elected officials will celebrate the holidays with a 4 percent pay raise. The California Citizens Compensation Commission, whose members are appointed by the governor, decided the improved economy and healthy state budget justified the raise. California lawmakers, who were already the most generously paid in all 50 states, will now receive $104,115, earning them $14,774 more per year than the next highest. Of course, this does not count the additional $176 per day in “walking around money,” living expenses lawmakers receive for every day the Legislature is in session, amounting to an average of $34,000.

The governor, too, is now the highest paid at $190,100 — Pennsylvania’s governor is actually slated to make $723 more, but Gov. Tom Wolf does not accept the salary.

Do Californians pay their governor, the top executive of a state government responsible to nearly 40 million constituents, enough? The fact that there is never a shortage of candidates for this job is an indication that the pay is sufficient. So, the question arises, why do many government employees receive more than the governor?

At the local level, most cities have as their chief executive, a city manager. Of 479 cities – out a total of 482 – reporting to the state controller, 279 are paid more than the governor. Of these, 24 receive over $300,000 annually.

For some cities, paying their top administrator a high salary seems to be a matter of vanity. Council members, who approve generous compensation, will take the position that their city deserves a highly-paid manager, the same way some car buyers justify the purchase of a luxury vehicle. Just as the neighbors may be impressed by the new Mercedes, neighboring cities will be impressed with their city’s ability to overpay the help. This, of course, puts pressure on surrounding cities to keep up with the Joneses.

While some city hall insiders will argue that higher pay is justified by a larger population, there seems to be no actual correlation.

Escondido, California’s most generous city, has been compensating its manager $413,000 annually to serve a population of 151,000. In slightly larger Palmdale, the manager receives $138,000 to look after 160,000 residents. And then there is Garden Grove with a population of 177,000 where the city manager gets $89,000.

A few years ago, the city manager in Bell went to prison for illegally compensating himself $800,000 per year. However, although it may not be illegal, the city of Vernon stands out as a candidate for the most profligate in the state. Its top executive is paid more than $328,000. The city’s population is only 210, which means that each resident is responsible for over $1,560 to compensate the manager. (The rumor that Vernon’s top executive insists on being called “Your Majesty” could not be verified.) Another small city, Gustine in Merced County, with a population of 5,482 gets the award for most frugal. It pays its city manager $909 annually.

While there are other areas of government employee compensation that beg examination, the range of pay for city managers seems to be the most irrational.

Still, none of these local administrators is close to the state’s top salary of $3.35 million. But since the program generates the revenue to pay UCLA football coach Jim Mora, he is more likely to be criticized for his record more than his salary.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This piece was originally published by the HJTA.org

Can California’s Legislative Supermajority Act Responsibly?

After a thunderstorm of post-election recounts across the Golden State, it appears that Democrats have reclaimed a supermajority in the California Legislature.

Whatever one’s political sway – and this applies to national election results, as well – it’s important for all voters to respect that “the people have spoken,” turn the page and hope for the best.

Having said that, as a proud entrepreneur, supporter of my community, rancher and surfer, I love the great state of California and want nothing more than to see our economy and future thrive for generations to come. To that end, I thought it might be timely to offer our new crop of Democrats in the State Capitol a few words of instructive advice before they settle in all too soon. 

First and foremost, think carefully about the consequences of your agenda. There are more than a few rumblings about the new Legislature and governor poised to tackle many big issues in the new year – issues for which the two-thirds vote, in my opinion, play a critically important role in assuring a level of caution and restraint. Transportation and infrastructure reform, climate change, affordable housing are some of the hot-button items that appear looming on the legislative horizon. To many, these may seem noble and venerable priorities and opportunities for an improved quality of life. But at what cost – literally? Will these trailblazing new policies be funded on the backs of small business owners, working families and future generations through taxes, fees, levies, assessments and other costs? Californians already pay the highest income tax, statewide sales tax, gas taxes, minimum wage and myriad fees to comply with onerous regulations. A bold agenda is one thing, but crippling our small employers and communities with hordes of new, unanticipated costs is another – and one that will further prolong our state’s economic and jobs recovery. Think before you act.

Second, don’t forsake your Republican colleagues in the Legislature – they represent voters, too. It may be easy for some to render the GOP irrelevant – but they’re not. And neither are the many, many voters in their districts who are looking to them for hope, help and a future bursting with promise. The Moderate Democrats are and will continue to be a vital bloc, focused on advancing a pro-business agenda within their party. I am hopeful that they will remain true to their words on the campaign trail and match their actions with their slogans – and inspire others within the Democratic Party to follow their direction. But no one should ever count the Republicans out in California – theirs is a party of ideas, individualism, and economic success. A one-party rule can have dire consequences if the majority fails to heed the thoughts, ideas and concerns of everyone in the electorate. Work across the aisle every day, respect the GOP, and it will result in better policy for everyone in the long haul.

Finally, it’s time to focus on making California government work more efficiently for the people. It’s time to clean up the still-obscene piles of waste, paper, logjams and errors that are ultimately treating taxpayers like a non-stop ATM. I hope our leaders and others will join me in making this a primary focus and priority in 2017 and beyond. I’m committed to this cleanup because I’ve heard from one too many small business owners, seniors, veterans and community leaders that our politicians and bureaucrats are still spending hard-earned tax dollars like drunken sailors (apologies, drunken sailors). Our new supermajority should halt discussions about new spending and first look to eliminate much of the inefficiencies and frivolity that have grossly infected our mammoth government beast. Our leaders should continue a bipartisan crusade for historic pension, workers’ comp and unemployment insurance reform – all costs that threaten to leave our children’s children with irreparable debt. And the new legislature must continue to insist on opening the books of every department, agency and operation, demanding answers to where our money is being spent, and seeking alternatives or reductions that will improve efficiency and keep more resources in the pockets of families, consumers and “mom and pops”?  We should all urge our legislators to push for increased transparency and accountability with every single program and activity so that Golden State government works for us, not for itself. We need to regularly audit our expenses. It’s something every job creator must do each day if they want to keep their doors open; why shouldn’t the “body politic” which we’re all funding be held to that same standard?

November 8th is finally behind us. The ads have stopped running, the polls have closed, and the people have, indeed, spoken. Now is not the time for protests, sour grapes, crossed arms or furrowed brows. Now is the time for our newly-electeds to take a breath, take their oath of office, and take their job seriously. I’m hopeful that the new supermajority will remember to think about the impact of their agenda, work with Republicans who still represent and serve many voters out there, and fight vigorously to make our government more efficient – and affordable – for all of us. That’s the California wave all of us will be proud to ride for many years to come.

Wayne Hughes, Jr. is a California businessman, philanthropist and founder of SkyRose Ranch and Serving California in Central California which treats veterans with PTSD and other disorders. Find out more atwww.bwaynehughesjr.com @BWayneHughesJr

Jerry Brown picks Rep. Xavier Becerra as California attorney general

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

Gov. Jerry Brown has tabbed Rep. Xavier Becerra to serve as California’s interim attorney general, selecting the Los Angeles Democrat to fill a vacancy opened by the imminent departure of outgoing Attorney General Kamala Harris to the U.S. Senate.

Assuming he wins confirmation by the Legislature – a strong possibility, given the 12-term Democrat’s role as a mainstay of Democratic and Los Angeles politics – Becerra would serve as California’s top law enforcement official through 2018, with an opportunity to serve for another eight years if he runs for the office.

At a time when the election of President Donald Trump has alarmed California Democrats and thrown into question the state’s liberal stances on issues like climate change and immigration, Brown’s choice of a liberal stalwart like Becerra reaffirmed the state’s future role as a pocket of resistance.

“Xavier has been an outstanding public servant – in the State Legislature, the U.S. Congress and as a deputy attorney general,” Brown said in an emailed statement. “I’m confident he will be a champion for all Californians and help our state aggressively combat climate change.”

Referring to himself as a “the son of immigrants” who is motivated to “fight for working families like the one I grew up in,” Becerra said in a statement that had accepted Brown’s offer and summarized his liberal bona fides. …

A New Era for American Energy

Offshore frackingThe stark difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was crystal clear when it came to energy before and after the election. Clinton wanted to kill coal, and since Trump was elected three coal companies’ stocks in particular did remarkably well in the market: Arch Coal (ARCH), Peabody (BTUUQ) and Alliance Resource Partners (ARLP). While clean coal is a myth, and natural gas has been taking over coal since the fracking revolution began in the mid 2000s, Trump’s love for West Virginia coal miners has given those companies, and miners across America, new life.

California as an example, which has billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas off its coastlines, will vehemently fight President Trump and his pro-American energy administration. This is just one of the many legal battles the Trump administration may face from the pro-environment-movement in the U.S., and certainly California.

President Obama was the greatest partner for California’s quest towards a green economy by expanding renewable energy tax credits, giving away billions in electric car vehicle subsidies to assist firms like Tesla, signing the Paris Climate Accords and writing tougher pollution laws. The Clean Power Plan was one of the many regulations that Californians embraced; yet the rest of the country was cautious at best.

President-elect Trump has called climate change “an expensive hoax,” to the consternation of Gov. Brown and the California Legislature, which has embraced global warming and climate change with AB32 and SB32. The bills combined look to lower greenhouse gas emissions over 40 percent below 1990 levels, and the belief is that it will spur other nations, and particularly the U.S., to make environmental issues a top priority.

With the Republicans firmly in control of Congress and the presidency, and now that President-elect Trump can nominate numerous Supreme Court justices not sympathetic to California’s environmental agenda, does this put California into environmental exile? To the dismay of a center-right leaning nation, California will now chart its own course, shaping up to be a fight between fossil fuels and renewable energy.

A Trump administration wants to expand fossil fuel exploration and limit, if not do away with, tax credits for renewables. While California continues pushing renewables at their peril most other parts of the country have seen the writing on the wall for renewables such as solar, whose stocks have taken a beating since Mr. Trump was elected.

The Obama administration’s strict EPA regulations on utility emissions, particularly coal, decimated an industry already reeling. Trump will likely attempt to roll back these regulations, but it is still a dirty energy rapidly losing luster in the U.S. California doesn’t allow coal to be shipped out of California ports or railways.

Trump could lead a resurgence for coal as a major energy source for the U.S., and as an export for other energy starved nations. But Trump will also have an affect on controversial, yet possibly needed, pipelines.

The president-elect also wants to “clear the approval for oil pipelines,” yet what these approvals show for the U.S. and Canada is leaders recognizing jobs as a viable factor, but all three have missed a key point. The world is already awash in oil, and OPEC continues missing opportunities to peg the price of crude at/or above $60 a barrel or higher.

Even with these issues President-elect Trump has selected Myron Ebell to lead his EPA transition team. A known global warming skeptic to Gov. Brown and the Legislature’s dismay, Mr. Ebell will likely lead the way for energy to rejoice at regulations softening for further oil and natural gas drilling. Politico also reports Forrest Lucas, the founder of Lucas Oil, is being considered as Secretary of the Interior.

Under the Obama administration, public lands have been off-limits for oil and gas exploration though President Obama and his former Interior Secretary Jewell (a former petroleum engineer) and current Energy Secretary Moniz have both been key endorsers of fracking for American energy independence, emission reduction, and as a jobs creator.

What will be seen are regulations being taken away so exploration can be undertaken on Federal lands and coastal areas under Federal moratoriums. This will affect California’s world-class coastline and the Monterrey Shale along with other oil and natural gas rich areas of California. The real issue will then be whether or not Federal regulatory agencies have the ability to overtake California state law outlawing or severely curtailing fossil fuel exploration.

President-elect Trump is now looking too fast-track his way out of the Paris Climate Accords. While this agenda requires congressional approval it’s not blustering to say this energy policy could revolutionize jobs and more oil and gas exploration since the fracking revolution began in the mid 2000s.

Fracking and drilling for U.S. oil and gas according to President Obama was a key factor, if not the biggest factor, for why the U.S. left the recession quicker than other countries. This agenda could unleash growth that is desperately needed for the tens of millions of Americans and Californians contributing to an all-time low labor participation rate.

Joel Kotkin surmised it best why Trump won:

“Working and middle-class voters went for Donald Trump and helped him break through in states – Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa – that have usually gone blue in recent presidential elections.”

Nothing makes value and supply chains thunder toward jobs prosperity the way oil, gas and mineral exploration does at this time. President-elect Trump is seizing upon an issue that doesn’t resonate in California, but one that Trump knows could possibly bring him a two-term Presidency. As President Clinton understood: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Fossil fuel exploration could lead to a Trump mandate and eventually Pence mandate that hasn’t been seen since FDRs New Deal.

Outrage over Private Prisons Neglects the Real Problem

Photo credit: Michael Coghlan via Flickr

Photo credit: Michael Coghlan via Flickr

In mid-August, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would start phasing out its contracts with companies that run private prisons in light of disturbing reports of poor medical care, overcrowding and other abuses in their facilities. Although the issue has taken center stage in the debate over mass incarceration, it overshadows and distracts from the actual problem: the prison-industrial complex, which affects government-run prisons in a much more troubling way, and for many more inmates.

This has been clear in California, where the private prison debate has been particularly intense after the state decided to continue to contract with prison companies despite the DOJ announcement. With approximately 9,000 inmates currently serving time in private facilities, this decision has enraged the opposition, but, in the process, also inflated the role of private prisons in mass incarceration.

There have been several examples of this misplaced outrage. Senate Bill 1289, legislation currently on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, condemns private prisons and would prohibit immigrant detainees from being held in private facilities. Even the University of California faced enough pressure from Black Student Unions and the Afrikan Black Coalition (ABC) to sell off its investments in private prisons. Yoel Haile, the political director for the ABC, expressed the group’s opinion in an email, stating that, “It is morally corrupt for corporations to exist whose sole source of profit is the caging of human beings en masse.”

Haile’s comment demonstrates just how profoundly this overblown outrage over private prisons misses the point. Government-run, public prisons operate off the same perverse and monetary incentives to lock up human beings, but do so for more inmates and with much more at stake.

We don’t even have to leave California to get a glimpse of the perverse incentives at work in filling government prisons. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) represents approximately 30,000 California prison guards and parole officers. The union wields tremendous power over criminal justice policy, much more than private prison companies, and for nearly 20 times the inmates. While we are worried about private companies’ profit incentive to increase prison populations, shouldn’t we be infuriated about an organization that has job security, salaries and political influence hanging in the balance?

First, the CCPOA is interested in preserving jobs, generous benefits and salaries for the men and women working “the toughest beat in California.” The latest union agreement reached between the state and the CCPOA secured a 9 percent salary increase over three years. This might sound modest, but when you take into account that union members can earn more than $100,000 a year with overtime, it is a lot of money. Next year, union members will also count on the state to contribute $19 million to their vision and dental benefits, as well as pay them a fitness and clothing allowance.

Not only does CCPOA have 30,000 generous paychecks on the line, it also exercises tremendous political influence. This is shown by the vital role the union has played in passing the state’s toughest criminal justice laws, therefore exhibiting their shared incentive with private prisons to cage “humans beings en masse.”

Over the last 20 years, the CCPOA has contributed over $24 million to lobbying efforts and candidates. For comparison, GEO Group, a leading private prison company criticized for their role in increasing prison populations, spent only $5 million over the same time period.

And, the activities of the CCPOA are aimed squarely on tougher sentencing laws, therefore preserving the prison-industrial complex that allows them to exist. The union, for example, spent over $100,000 to implement the original Three Strikes Law. More recently, it spent $1 million to defeat Proposition 5, which would have reduced sentences for nonviolent crimes, shifting the focus to rehabilitation for nonviolent drug offenders.

While the case of private prisons gives public officials a contained and clean narrative to sell the general public about mass incarceration, it isn’t the whole story. Ricardo Lara, who introduced SB1289 to combat private prisons, pocketed contributions from CCPOA. If our goal is sensible criminal justice reform, we must look at the whole picture, which includes the state’s role in causing and perpetuating mass incarceration.

Katie Modesitt is the Development Manager at the Independent Institute where she works to promote individual freedoms and free-market solutions. She is based in San Francisco.

Debt Addicts Spend Big Opposing Prop. 53

vote-ballot-electionThe usual suspects are digging deep into their pockets to make sure that California’s borrowing binge remains unchecked. Contractors, unions and bond houses that benefit from state debt are contributing millions to defeat Proposition 53, the Stop Blank Checks initiative. This straightforward proposal simply requires voter approval of state issued construction bonds larger than $2 billion.

These insiders are being joined by the ultimate insider, Gov. Jerry Brown, who has contributed $4.1 million left over from his 2014 reelection campaign. So far, over $15 million in campaign cash is being used for a massive television buy featuring the governor calling for Prop. 53’s defeat because, he says, it will increase the cost of “roads, bridges and hospitals.” This claim is ludicrous on its face. Prop. 53 creates no new costs, but allows taxpayers to approve new debt.

Even if he believes his own words, Brown may have a less obvious motivation for wanting to defeat Prop. 53. He is concerned about his legacy and fears that allowing voters to decide important spending issues might make it more difficult to build that upon which he has seized as his ticket to immortality, California’s high-speed rail project.

When first elected governor in 1974, Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown, Jr. was the nation’s youngest. Now, in what are probably his final two years in elective office, he is the oldest. Considering his senior status, it would not be surprising if his thoughts have turned to how he will be regarded by future generations. Brown is well aware that his father, Edmund G. Brown, Sr., who served as governor from 1959 to 1967, established a reputation as a builder of freeways and universities. Ironically, this was back in the days when the state relied more on a “pay-as-you-go” approach, rather than on massive borrowing to fund projects.

Brown continues to promote high-speed rail even though it’s now clear it can meet none of the promises made to voters back in 2008 in terms of costs, travel time and no public subsidies. Recent polls show that Californians would overwhelmingly reject what is now seen at best as a sop to political insiders and, at worst, the biggest public works boondoggle in America.

California voters of all stripes support infrastructure improvements. There is no question we need better roads, water storage and bridges. But citizens are tired of being lied to. Both the high-speed rail project and the infamous Bay Bridge (rusty bolts and all) blew through their original cost estimates by many factors.

Proposition 53 guarantees voter approval for megaprojects which are far more susceptible to questionable financing than small projects. Such voter approval is already required for general obligation bonds repaid from the state’s general fund. Proposition 53 imposes transparency with new debt by preventing the state from issuing “revenue bonds” and other vague instruments of debt, like “certificates of participation,” over $2 billion without voter approval.

So, in looking at the opponents of Proposition 53, we see the “greedy,” those who depend on the continuation of unrestricted government debt to maintain their high life, and the “needy,” in this case a governor desperately seeking a legacy.

With the political insiders arrayed against them, taxpayers will have to fend for themselves and by passing Prop. 53 they can guarantee that those who pay will have the final say.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.