Emails show California transportation agency’s cozy ties to gas tax backers

Gas TaxSACRAMENTO — As the political battle to overturn California’s gas tax increase intensified, the state transportation agency coordinated frequently with the public affairs firm working to block the repeal on behalf of unions, construction companies and local government groups, emails obtained by The Associated Press show.

The California State Transportation Agency and Sacramento-based Bicker, Castillo & Fairbanks organized news conferences and other efforts to promote legislation to raise the tax to fund road and bridge repairs, which passed the Legislature in April 2017. After Gov. Jerry Brown signed it, the agency and firm continued planning events and coordinating social media posts as opponents gathered signatures for repeal.

Three ethics experts interviewed by the AP said the emails raise concerns that the agency’s relationship with the firm was too close, but none saw a clear violation of campaign laws, which prohibit the use of public resources for political campaigns. …

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

Time to hit the pause button on high-speed rail

High speed rail constructionJerry Brown did not invent the idea of a high-speed rail system to connect Northern and Southern California.

It was voted on by the state Legislature and ratified by voters years before he returned to the governor’s office in 2011. But for the last eight years, as cost estimates have skyrocketed and federal and private sector funding for the project has evaporated, Brown has become high-speed rail’s most persistent defender.

Only weeks away from the election to replace him, neither candidate for governor appears to share the depth of Brown’s commitment to a statewide rail system.

Fellow Democrat Gavin Newsom only talks about it under duress, and has indicated that he would adopt a much more gradual and incremental approach. Republican John Cox wants to scrap it altogether. Polling shows that public support has dropped considerably since Californians voted to authorize the project 10 years ago. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

California state worker union accepts contract with 10 percent pay hike

Unions2A small California state employee union decided on Thursday that a contract with two more consecutive years of 5 percent raises was too good to pass up in the waning months of Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration.

The California Association of Professional Scientists approved the contract by a vote of 802 to 339. It will give about 3,400 state scientists a 5 percent raise on July 1, 2019 and another 5 percent raise on July 1, 2020.

State scientists have received a 5 percent general wage increase each year since 2016. A state salary survey that year reported that the state’s total compensation for environmental scientists was 34 percent below what their peers could earn in the private sector and 26 percent below what they could make working for the federal government. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

Gov. Brown Rolls Back Restrictions on Homemade Foods, Sidewalk Vending, Craft Distilleries

Street FoodMy youngest daughter, a college agriculture student planning a career in dairy farming, cut her teeth at our mini-ranch outside Sacramento, where she raises Nubians. Those are great milk producers and goat cheese can be tasty, too. One of her early lessons about life in modern America came when locals would ask to buy the milk.

The state forbade such sales, but she heard of some people who adopted a workaround: The buyers would sign a form acknowledging that it was not for human consumption. What they did with the milk after they bought it was their business. My daughter wasn’t going down that route, but I’m glad she learned the wisdom of Mr. Bumble from Oliver Twist: “If the law supposes that, the law is a(n) ass.”

Americans love to brag about our wonderful freedoms, but sometimes they forget the level of red tape that entangles every commercial transaction. Take a look at the hundreds of hours in training and, often, the thousands of dollars in tuition the state requires to get a permit to perform virtually any occupation you can contemplate. The only thing that saves us are those bureaucratic workarounds—and the lack of sufficient inspectors to monitor everything we do. And black markets, also. If Americans felt compelled to followed every jot and tittle of every regulation, they might not feel so optimistic about the state of our freedoms.

I remember when my wife had to go to traffic school, in the days when one had to sit in a classroom rather than take the “course” online. The CHP officer told the class that every driver always is violating some traffic rule, and that they always could be pulled over for something. Even if that’s an overstatement, it is telling. In 2000, I traveled to communist Vietnamfor the Register to cover the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, and still recall locals laughing out loud when we told them about some of our state’s regulations. That’s telling, too.

But maybe the pendulum is about swing back in the other direction. Gov. Jerry Brown has been wrapping up his final legislative session, where he is signing hundreds of bills into law. Almost all of them add new rules and regulations. To his credit, he signed three laws that expand our commercial freedoms, albeit in relatively small ways.

The Homemade Food Operations Act (Assembly Bill 626) allows cooks to publicly sell food that they make in their home kitchen. This encourages small entrepreneurs and helps people earn a legitimate living. Of course, the law comes with many regulations. There are limits on the number of meals sold. Health concerns were overwrought. For heaven’s sake, we eat the food made in our own kitchens and our friends’ kitchens. And officials are allowed to inspect the facilities if some nosy neighbor complains. But it’s a step in the right direction.

Brown also signed the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act (Senate Bill 946), which decriminalizes sidewalk vending. I was appalled at new stories of a police officer shutting down a street vendor and taking his cash. This should stop such nonsense. The new law will also remove past and pending convictions from people who sell the food we like to eat. (No, I don’t care about the sellers’ immigration status.) Again, the law gives the locals a lot of power to inspect, permit and limit vending carts, but people who sell and buy street tacos should be happy.

Yet I’ve read comments from people who have complained about the loosened rules because they allow these low-budget operations to compete with existing restaurants. Sorry, but it’s not the government’s job to assure that brick-and-mortar businesses are free from competition. A main reason for so many restrictions: Politically powerful existing industries often use governments to protect their market share. The other problem is many of our fellow citizens no longer believe in the “live and let live” philosophy.

Brown also signed the Craft Distiller Op-pour-tunity Act (Senate Bill 1164), which lets small distillers produce more of their products and sell it directly to the public, similar to the way breweries and wineries operate. Despite the silly name (Op-pour-tunity), it’s a sensible law. But I wonder how we got to the point where one needs a new law to allow such things.

This reminds me of a quotation from author Ayn Rand: “The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.” I’m not saying it’s government’s intention to turn us into criminals. But when a law-abiding citizen becomes a scofflaw for selling milk or frutas, the situation has gone too far. Kudos to the governor for rolling it back a bit.

This column was first published by the Orange County Register.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He was a Register editorial writer from 1998-2009. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

School Lead Contamination Remains a Concern in California

Drinking fountainAfter reports of problems with lead contamination of water at schools around California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed abill in October of 2017 meant to address the problem.

The measure by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, mandates that every school test one to five water outlets for the presence of lead. If any of the tests shows over 15 parts of lead per billion, the parents or guardians of students must be notified. Young people exposed to lead can suffer permanent problems – sometimes extreme – with cognitive development and behavior.

Given the attention paid to the national scandal over dangerous water in Flint, Michigan, the state law came as a relief to concerned parents, school officials and health agencies. But a comprehensive new analysis by the EdSource website suggests this relief may be premature.

The key issue is whether the 15 parts per billion standard, which is recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is strict enough to protect students’ health. The American Academy of Pediatrics considers that standard to be so weak that it puts young people at risk. The academy calls for a maximum of 1 parts per billion.

Pediatricians say federal standard is risky

“We know there is no safe lead level,” Dr. Jennifer Lowry, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Environmental Health, told EdSource. “Schools ought to work to remove that source of lead for these kids.”

Experts were also sharply critical of the California law because it didn’t require all sources of water to be tested at every school. While sometimes lead contamination is system-wide – as seen in large parts of Flint in recent years – a single corroded pipe, faucet or other plumbing fixture can be responsible for lead contamination.

Gonzalez Fletcher told EdSource she supports strengthening the law and said the 15-parts-per-billion standard was agreed on to gain enough support so her bill would pass. The California School Boards Association worried that a tougher standard could be financially onerous for school districts.

The CSBA’s concerns may seem dubious, given that schools have enjoyed large increases in funding in recent years, thanks to a strong economy and Proposition 98 – a 1988 state law mandating that public education get roughly 40 percent of state revenue. But every school district is likely to face at least one and more likely two fiscal crises in coming years.

School districts face fiscal double-whammy

The first is the immense cost of the 2014 California State Teachers’ Retirement System bailout. The great majority of the cost – 70 percent – is borne by districts, which face a phased-in increase of CalSTRS contributions, going from 8.25 percent of pay in 2013-14 to 19.1 percent in 2020-21. In many districts, increased state funding due to healthy revenue gains has been largely used for these new pension bills. By 2020-21, when the final increase takes effect, most school districts are likely to have compensation costs eating up 90 percent or more of their general operating budgets.

The second crisis is not an absolute certainty, just highly likely. That crisis is a recession that sends state revenue plunging. Because California is so reliant on the income taxes paid by the very wealthy, the Great Recession a decade ago prompted a 20 percent drop in revenue and a corresponding reduction in state funding for public education.

That is why in recent years that Gov. Brown worked so hard to get the Legislature to strongly increase state fiscal reserves. By summer 2019, the state could have $13.5 billion in hand, according to an analysis earlier this year. But given that Brown has warned that a recession could wipe out $55 billion in revenue over a three-year span, these “rainy day” funds won’t go that far in helping schools.

Against this backdrop, the next governor, state lawmakers and education officials face a difficult calculus next year: how tight a standard for lead in schools are they willing to set with such a gloomy budget picture.

In the last testing results made available by the state, 150 schools – or 4 percent of those surveyed – had one or more more water outlets with lead levels over 15 parts per billion. Just under 25 percent of schools had lead levels over 5 parts per billion – hinting at how costly it would be if the state went to a tougher standard.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

California will require women on corporate boards under bill signed by Brown

Photo Credit: thoroughlyreviewed.com

Photo Credit: thoroughlyreviewed.com

California became the first state in the country to require that women be included on companies’ boards of directors, as Gov. Jerry Brown literally sent a message to Washington on Sunday in signing legislation that corporate associations opposed as unconstitutional.

Brown signed SB826 into law after it passed the Assembly and the Senate last month. The bill mandates that all publicly traded California companies have at least one woman on their boards by the end of 2019.

The requirement ramps up in 2021: Five-member boards will be expected to have two female members, and boards with six or more members will be expected to have three. ..

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle 

Gov. Brown Vetoes Abortion Bill for University Campuses

Jerry Brown state of the stateCalifornia Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill on Sunday that would have mandated California public universities to provide abortion pills, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.

SB320, introduced by Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, would have required university health centers to offer women medical abortions on campus by Jan. 1, 2022. The majority of the funds – $9.6 million – would come from private donors, The Sacramento Bee reported.

The bill also required a $200,000 grant to the University of California and California State University systems to provide 24-hour phone service to abortion medication recipients, according to the report.

In his veto message, Gov. Brown called the bill “unnecessary,” noting that abortions are a “long-protected right in California.” He said most abortion providers are within a reasonable distance from campus communities.

After the governor’s veto, Leyva said she will introduce the bill next session. …

Click here to read the full article from Fox News

Gov. Brown Vetoes ‘Fake News’ Bill

jerry-brown-signs-lawsCalifornia Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill Thursday, SB 1424, that would have created a state advisory group to study the problem of “fake news” and make recommendations for intervening in social media to deal with it.

As Breitbart News reported in April, the original bill was far more aggressive: “The bill, filed quietly in late February as SB 1424, requires all California-based websites to develop a plan to fight ‘fake news,’ to use ‘fact-checkers,’ and to warn readers — including via social media — of ‘false information.’”

The final version was significantly watered down. Still, Brown vetoed it as “unnecessary,” in a statement reported by CBS Sacramento:

This bill directs the Attorney General to establish an advisory group to study the problem of the spread of false information through Internet-based social media platforms. As evidenced by the numerous studies by academic and policy groups on the spread of false information, the creation of a statutory advisory group to examine this issue is not necessary.

Social media companies have instituted a number of mechanisms to fight “fake news,” though conservatives have complained that these are often censorship in another guise.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Gov. Brown Signs Bill Banning Gun Sales to People Under 21

Gun seizureMost people under 21 won’t be able to buy guns in California starting next year under a law Gov. Jerry Brown announced signing Friday.

It will prevent people under 21 from buying rifles and other types of guns. State law already bans people under 21 from buying handguns.

The new law exempts law enforcement, members of the military and people with hunting licenses from the restriction.

It was one of dozens of bills Brown took action on.

Democratic Sen. Anthony Portantino pointed to the shooting at a Florida high school earlier this year that killed 17 people as the reason for his bill banning gun sales and transfers to people under 21.

“I was determined to help California respond appropriately to the tragic events our country has recently faced on high school campuses,” Portantino said in a statement. …

Click here to read the full article from NBC News

Gov. Brown Vetoes Bill Allowing Undocumented Immigrants in Public Office

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 27: California Governor Jerry Brown announces his public employee pension reform plan October 27, 2011 at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California. Gov. Brown proposed 12 major reforms for state and local pension systems that he claims would end abuses and reduce taypayer costs by billions of dollars. (Photo by Max Whittaker/Getty Images)

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill Thursday that would have allowed immigrants in the U.S. illegally to serve on state and local boards and commissions.

Brown said he believed “existing law — which requires citizenship for these forms of public service — is the better path,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

California state Sen. Ricardo Lara and Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, both Democrats, introduced the legislation.

The bill would have struck the phrase “transient aliens” from the government code, which first appeared in an 1872 provision to prevent mainly Chinese immigrants from holding civil positions, according to the LA Times.

California has taken some of the most progressive stances and is at the epicenter of the left’s battle against the Trump administration’s immigration policies. …

Click here to read the full article from The Hill