End of Brown Era – Pat & Jerry

Photo courtesy Steve Rhodes, flickr

Photo courtesy Steve Rhodes, flickr

At the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs post election conference yesterday at Cal State L.A., political consultant Mike Madrid declared that the Brown era of politics focused on building and infrastructure is over with the end of Jerry Brown’s fourth term as governor. He wasn’t referring to just the current governor but to his father, Pat Brown, as well. Both Browns focused on building from water works and highways to the bullet train.

Darry Sragow, editor of the California Target Book echoed that thought, calling Jerry Brown brilliant, but as governor, he “replicated” his father as a builder of things and didn’t move too far on social programs. Sragow predicted that would change under new governor, Gavin Newsom.

Sragow argued that Newsom would have to do something positive to establish his governorship and create a vision for the future. Making a statement by blowing up the high-speed rail is not the way for Newsom to begin his new administration, Sragow suggested.

Madrid concurred saying Newsom will need to do something big and bold. “That takes money,” Madrid said, “and he’s got it.”

A newly released report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office declared that California’s budget is flush.

Politico California Playbook’s Carla Marinucci, the third panelists, argued that Newsom must be concerned with the jobs picture that would change dramatically as technology and automation advances.

Madrid said the new governor would be defined by how he deals with social problems. He noted that the state’s problems with poverty, income inequality, and housing all happened with Democrats in charge. However, he gave credit to Newsom for raising these issues in the campaign and said he believed Newsom is prepared to address them.

Long time Los Angeles journalist and moderator of the popular “To the Point” radio program, Warren Olney, moderated the panel.

Whatever course Newsom lays out, he will have to navigate the legislature that despite having a supermajority of his own party will have their own ideas how to spend the state’s surplus dollars. Sragow predicted the legislative would be “headstrong” in dealing with the new governor.

When challenged that the supermajority Democrats could splinter into ideological camps and even break apart, Sragow pushed back on the idea saying that the Democratic coalition, despite a wide range of views, would hold.

Republicans, however, are a different story according to the panel.

In reviewing the election results, Marinucci talked of two important groups that deserted Republicans: suburban women and college educated women and men.

Republican consultant Madrid was tougher on his party. He said Republican prospects in California were “nil!” He said conservatism was designed to lift people up through economic policy but that the GOP, which complains about Democratic identity politics, is now a party of white identity politics. He emphasized the point claiming that anyone who is against the boondoggle high speed rail because it would hurt the economy but is for building a wall which would also hurt the economy does so for one reason—unspoken was the issue of race. He predicted the collapse of the GOP coalition of coastal white color Republicans and inland blue collar workers.

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Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti, delivered the program’s keynote address. In a post speech Q&A, the Pat Brown Institute’s executive director Raphael Sonenshein asked Garcetti, what criteria he would use in deciding whether or not to run for president. Garcetti’s travels to other states and support for Democratic candidates in the recent election have been interpreted as laying the groundwork for a presidential run.

Garcetti said mayors should consider running for the presidency because as chief executives they deal with major issues that a president would face such as security and trade but also gain unique perspectives from local, hands-on issues. He said the key decision point is whether he feels he can add something that is different than other candidates, including new ideas.

If he decides to run he will have lots of company.

ditor and co-publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily.

Business Not United on Gas Tax Repeal

Gas-Pump-blue-generic+flippedWhile business organizations are largely opposed to Proposition 6, the gas tax repeal measure, opposition to the measure from business is not universal.

Yesterday, the influential California Business Roundtable announced its positions on November’s ballot and Proposition 6 was absent. The California Business Roundtable took a neutral position on SB 1, the gas tax increase bill, so the CBRT board decided not to take a position on Prop 6.

Meanwhile, the National Federation of Independent Business/California has been pushing for the gas tax repeal to pass since July.

The California Chamber of Commerce announced its opposition to the gas tax repeal months ago. CalChamber remains a leader in opposition to the tax repeal measure and it is not alone. The No on 6 website lists more than 50 business related organizations in the opposition coalition including the Bay Area Council, the California Small Business Association and VICA, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association.

Proposition 6 would require that all legislatively passed taxes on fuels and vehicles only become effective after a statewide vote of the people. The measure is written so that the taxes passed by SB 1 would be null and void since they did not get a public vote.

CalChamber’s board opposed the repeal citing the Legislative Analyst’s estimates that $5 billion in annual revenue for state and local transportation projects would disappear. The Chamber argued that repealing the gas tax would:

  • Stop transportation improvement projects already underway in every community in California. This measure would eliminate funds already flowing to every city and county to fix potholes, make safety improvements, ease traffic congestion, upgrade bridges, and improve public transportation. 4,000 local transportation improvement projects are already underway across the state thanks to SB 1.
  • Make traffic congestion worse. California’s freeways and major thoroughfares are among the most congested in the nation, and Californians spend too much time stuck in traffic away from family and work. This measure would stop projects that will reduce traffic congestion.
  • Cost drivers and taxpayers more money in the long run. The average driver spends $739 per year on front end alignments, body damage, shocks, tires and other repairs because of bad roads and bridges. Fixing a road costs eight times more than maintaining it. By delaying or stopping projects, this measure ultimately will increase costs for motorists.
  • Hurt job creation and the state’s economy. Reliable transportation infrastructure is critical to get Californians to work, move goods and services to the market, and support the economy. This measure would eliminate more than 680,000 good-paying jobs and nearly $183 billion in economic growth that will be created fixing California roads over the next decade.

NFIB California State Director John Kabateck sees things differently. “California small businesses and working families are being crushed in this state with rising costs in every aspect of running their business, which is why NFIB was the leading statewide business association opposed to Senate Bill 1 last year, and why we fully support Proposition 6 to repeal these regressive gas and car tax increases on hardworking Californians. Business owners deeply understand the need for a vibrant transportation infrastructure, and they also know Sacramento has mismanaged existing transportation tax revenues for decades which has resulted in abysmal roads across California. However, with a $200+ billion state budget with a $9 billion surplus, clearly higher taxes are not needed—better management of our tax dollars is the answer, and Proposition 6 forces the legislature to be accountable with existing transportation tax dollars.”

While business associations are not all lined up on the same side, as with most things political, money can make a difference. Estimates are the No on 6 campaign could put $40 million or more into defeating Prop 6. The yes side will only have a couple of million at best and is unlikely to buy any statewide television ads to convince voters. The Yes on 6 campaign is counting on voters affected adversely in the pocketbook by the tax increase to ignore opposition ads and vote for the repeal.

While business is not uniform in its Prop 6 position, business dollars could play a decisive role in the outcome.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily. 

Time to Re-Think the California Tax Structure?

TaxesIncome taxes are due today, which should give us pause to think about the state’s rickety tax structure built on a narrow foundation of a few high end taxpayers. ForgetAboutIt! Hardly anyone seems to care, not while the current tax system is raining dollars into the state treasury like manna from heaven.

The latest figures from State Controller Betty Yee’s office show nearly $62 billion has been collected in personal income tax through March with the biggest hit yet to be calculated through the month of April. The March figure was already 3.1% more than anticipated by Governor Brown’s budget, and the overall collection of personal income taxes is over $7 billion ahead of last year’s collection on the same date at the end of last week.

The personal income tax last year provided nearly 68% of all General Fund revenues, with the top 1% of the state’s taxpayers providing about 50% of those funds.

With the help of a tax increase on those high end taxpayers Gov. Brown helped drive through at the ballot, he has seen a 45% increase in the state budget since he took office with this year’s budget enjoying billions in reserves and surplus.

In such an intoxicating fiscal environment, who wants to try to rearrange the feathers on the Golden Goose?

But that is something that needs consideration. Relying on high-income taxpayers to anchor the state budget comes with both the potential for dramatic revenue growth that the state has witnessed in recent years, but also the volatility of depending on this group of big earners. In down economic times, the state budget takes a dive.

Controller Yee authorized a council of advisors to study the problem of reforming the tax system and they produced a document in June 2016 titled Comprehensive Tax Reform in California, A Contextual Framework. The first criticism of the current tax system Yee’s advisors highlighted was volatility brought on because the state relies so heavily on high-end personal income taxpayers who take a big hit during economic downturns.

As I have noted previously: Many interests are comfortable with what they’ve got with the current system and don’t want to change. Voters tend not to like tinkering with the tax system they know, fearing what they might face with a new tax structure. When times are relatively good, no one wants to make drastic changes. All this adds up to inertia on tax reform efforts while waiting for the next economic downturn that provides proof that the tax structure is not working well.

So we merrily roll along during these flush times. Gov. Brown has warned what will happen when the next recession hits California hard. While he has put money into rainy day reserves to counter the negative effects on the budget, a hard downturn would still likely put the state’s budget underwater.

Brown will say, “I told you so,” yet he didn’t spend any political capitol to try to re-do the tax system. No question, it will take a Herculean effort and may only be forced on a governor and legislature during a time of crisis, much as the current tax structure was created during the Great Depression.

In the meantime, the state officials and interest groups will fight about how to spend all that manna.

ditor and co-publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

The Missing Item in Health Care Discussion — the Tax Code

MedizinAttempts at creating a single payer health care system have stalled so a group of liberal organizations are backing a package of bills to achieve a form of universal coverage. But you can pull out the same label on this attempt that sidetracked single payer—“woefully incomplete.”  They don’t want to say how much this universal health care plan will cost or where the money is coming from.

Sure the state treasury is brimming with unexpected cash and the budget is at an all time high. However, anyone who has ridden the California budget rollercoaster over the last couple of decades knows that flush times won’t last.

Creating new entitlements on health care that provide subsidies as called for in the plan and includes all residents despite legal status has big dollar signs all over it.

The single payer proposal was weighted down with a $400 billion price tag. Even if the new effort would cost a smaller portion of that amount, the health care change would still add billions to state spending.

Tax increases would probably be part of the proposal to cover the cost. It is hard to see how they can be avoided. But, the M.O. of those seeking tax increases generally has been to get support for tax measures by limiting tax increases on someone else — the rich or corporations are favorite targets.

Such an idea just adds another story onto a tax structure built on a wobbly foundation. When the next economic downturn hits, the structure crumbles and many government programs will be gasping for fiscal oxygen, especially the proposed universal health care.

If health care reformers want to create a new way to expand health care coverage, they first better consider thinking about a tax code that will not undercut the economy and at the same time be able to better manage economic pitfalls.

Such a bill doesn’t exist in the proposed healthcare reform package.

ditor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Solutions to Homeless Problem Should Not Target Homeowners

sanfranciscohomelessAs the search for solutions to the homeless problem continues, current property owners and the equity they have in their homes are often cited as targets for funding homelessness relief. What is ignored with these proposed remedies is that homeowners are counting on the equity in their homes to help with retirement or other needs.

Steve Lopez’s Los Angeles Times weekend article took issue with the wealth built up in homes partially because of limited housing stock while renters face difficult options.

While Lopez cited obstacles to housing reforms, he quoted two professors who suggested ways to find funding for homeless housing. One proposal was a “a tiered transfer tax on equity” promoted by Carol Galante of U.C. Berkeley’s Terner Center for Innovative Housing.

Lopez also spoke with UCLA professor Michael Manville who thinks it is okay to tax property because the increased value of the property has nothing to do with the efforts of the homeowner.

Manville, along with colleagues, wrote an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times last July urging a $3 a day tax on property owners to build a homelessness fund. That $3 a day amounts to $1095 a year, a sizeable chunk of change for many homeowners who can find good uses for that money including maintaining or improving their homes.

Whether the increased property value comes from a wise investment decision or just dumb luck as Lopez writes, the value belongs to the homeowner. While the homeowner lives in the home, the increased property values are merely paper profits. Increased property value does not necessarily reflect an owner’s ability to pay increased taxes. When the increased property value is claimed it can be the lifeline to a comfortable retirement or for other needs.

While the legislature went down this path recently of charging property owners to help the homeless by creating fees for housing related documents, cutting into potential retirement funds with large annual or transfer taxes is a bad idea.

What’s disturbing is that those who enjoy government provided retirement pensions often suggest these proposals that can undermine a homeowner’s potential retirement fund.

Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily.

Could high taxes and crime push California voters to a tipping point?

VotingDespite changing demographics and a sharp veer to the ideological left, is it possible that California could take a political trip back to the future as two staples resurface that drove the state’s politics in the more conservative 1980s and 1990s? Look around and you’ll see indications that even in this liberal bastion on the left coast, the issues of taxes and crime are stirring again.

From the time when cinema’s Doc Brown (Dr. Emmett L. Brown, ably played by Christopher Lloyd) was sending his flux-capacitor equipped DeLorean back in time to today’s California run by Jerry Brown — a past-and-future character if there ever was one — attitudes on the issues of taxes and crime seemed to have shifted dramatically.

Considering recent evidence, one might think that the tax issue has faded from the conscience of Californians, most of whom were not around when the state’s voters kicked off a national tax revolt that helped propel Ronald Reagan to the presidency by overwhelmingly passing property tax-cutting Proposition 13 in 1978.

In a Wall Street Journal piece from a year ago leading up to the 2016 election, I asked, “Nearly 40 years later, many Californians are wondering: Will the tax revolt mind-set die where it all began?”

After all a measure on the 2016 ballot (Proposition 55) extended the highest-in-the nation income tax that voters put in place just four years previously; a cigarette tax passed, as did many local taxes and bonds.

This year’s legislative session included a gas tax increase, the cap-and-trade extension, which many call a tax increase because it raises revenue for the government to spend, and a document tax to fund housing issues. This legislative session probably produced the most pro-tax successes since the 1935 legislature created both a state income tax and a vehicle license fee.

Yet all this tax activity may be driving voters to a tipping point to say enough!

The first indication is the California electorate’s sour reaction to the gas tax. In a University of California Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll conducted after the gas tax increase became law, 58 percent opposed the gas tax, 39 percent solidly opposed. The twelve-cent a gallon tax will not even be collected until November. The negative reaction to the tax seen in the poll likely would increase once the tax adds to the price of gasoline at the pump.

The test of new California resistance to taxes could well occur in November 2018. Two measures to repeal the tax have been filed. A gas tax repeal measure could rally Republican voters to the polls during the general election, especially if no Republican makes the runoff for either of the state’s high-profile offices, governor and United States senator. Since the state’s Republican Party is said to be behind one of the repeal initiative proposals,  polling shows that this is a powerful issue among voters. In addition a Southern California state senator, Democrat Josh Newman, is facing a recall effort centered on his gas tax vote.

The heated debate over extending cap andtrade to reduce greenhouse gases centered on the additional costs that would be felt by California consumers. The word “tax” would have dominated were a word cloud image created over word use frequency during the cap-and-trade debate. Increased costs generated by cap-and-trade demands were labeled a hidden tax.

California citizens have yet to feel the additional costs that the cap-and-trade measure might add—anywhere from fifteen- to seventy-three-cents per gallon of gasoline over time, according to the state’s legislative analyst.

If the gas tax repeal makes the ballot, an interesting political dynamic will play out in defense of the tax. A campaign to preserve the tax would likely have the greatest financial support. The tax was supported by both labor and big business. They argued that California’s economy depends on improved transportation and updated roads and highways. Business also supported the cap-and-trade bill, fearing if it were defeated an unelected California Air Resources Board would put a tougher, command-and-control greenhouse gas restriction in place.

The individual voter who pays the freight of the gas tax increase, additional car fees, and increased costs linked to the cap-and-trade law, however, may want to use the gas tax repeal initiative to send a message.

A rejection of the gas tax increase would certainly be a marker that as liberal as Californians have become, there is still a conservative streak when it comes to taxes and a potent issue from the past could return.

Meanwhile there is the issue of crime—like taxes, also on the rise. A backlash is stirring to changes backed by criminal reform efforts in the legislature and on the ballot.

In response to a court order to reduce prison populations, Governor Jerry Brown championed AB 109 in 2011. Under so-called realignment, certain low-level offenders were moved to county jails from state prisons. In many instances, overwhelmed local jailers were forced to release prisoners from their jails to make room.

Along came two ballot measures, Proposition 47 in 2014 and Proposition 57 in 2016, that downgraded a number of felonies to misdemeanors and fast-tracked the parole process for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes.

Efforts to reform the justice system and reduce prison overcrowding prompted the law changes. Voters are sympathetic to efforts allowing prisoners to achieve rehabilitation. Voters passed both ballot initiatives despite major opposition from the public safety community.

The combination of laws, however, has the law enforcement community warning of a rise in crime with little ability to curb it. Property thefts, forgeries, frauds, illegal drug use, and more under $950 are labeled a consequence-free crime because few arrested for such crimes serve any time, and perpetrators are aware of the situation.

According to a release from the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, “Prop 47 has created a criminal culture where criminals know they face little, or far lesser, punishment for their crimes. Following the passage of AB 109, nearly 25 percent of jail space that could house criminals serving local sentences for property or violent crime is now occupied by those shifted from state prison to local jails to serve their time.”

Law enforcement officials reveal increases in crime as a result of the new laws, but it is the consequences on the street and in people’s lives that have changed the tone of the conversation. If you’re not convinced, take a look at neighborhood websites with constant chatter about break-ins and suspicious activity and how to set up alarm systems and security cameras.

In Sacramento a growing number of neighborhoods fed up with petty crime pooled money to hire private security for public streets. In the inland empire, vehicle thefts jumped from ninth in the nation to fifth in just one year. In the west San Fernando Valley, gang activity has increased 63 percent in two years. A number of California cities are joining in an effort called Taking Back Our Community, a coalition of local governments dedicated to public education and community advocacy surrounding the unintended adverse public safety impacts of recent changes to California’s criminal law.

This surge of activity recalls another time in California history when crime became a major policy and political issue. As noted California historian Kevin Starr wrote in his book, Coast of Dreams, California on the Edge, 1990–2003: “In 1980, California had fewer than 25,000 inmates in a dozen prisons. By January 1998 there were some 154,000 prisoners in 33 prisons.” Californians elected two governors in succession who were tough on crime. Republicans George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson occupied the corner office in the capitol for much of the 1980s and 1990s.

In his first inaugural address in 1983, Deukmejian said, “All the prosperity in the world will not make our society better if our people are threatened by crime. Therefore, it will be the highest priority during my administration to provide all the leadership I can to make California safe again.”

Wilson’s 1994 State of the State Address was one of many to pinpoint the crime issue. He called for get-tough measures against dangerous felons and repeat criminals. He also called for bills that would put three-repeat felons behind bars for good.

The legislature responded by passing a three-strikes law in March, but the people did them one better supporting a three-strikes ballot measure (Proposition 184) in November 1994 that received nearly 72 percent of the vote.

But the crime pendulum shifted with Propositions 47 and 57.

In a Sacramento Bee op-ed published a month before the November 2016 election in hopes of stopping Prop 57, which Wilson argued gutted the three-strikes law, he wrote, “The three-strikes initiative approved in 1994 and other sensible crime- control laws prevented millions of Californians from becoming crime victims. It would be gross dereliction of duty to discard laws that have provided us protection of such proven effectiveness.”

This time he was not as persuasive.

But now that the effects of the crime reform initiatives and state laws are being tallied, that pendulum may be moving back again. Will state politics follow?

Certainly California is in a different place today than three and four decades ago, but growing unease can be detected about the tax and crime issues that dominated politics in that era.

Let’s just say that Jerry Brown, rather than Doc Brown, would recognize the modern social-media terminology associated with the taxes and crime in California.

They’re trending.

ditor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Originally published in EUREKA, Stanford University’s Hoover Institution’s online magazine.

Dems want to raise property taxes to fund government pensions

Pension moneyI guess I should use the old vaudeville line: Stop me if you’ve heard this one: the push to increase commercial property taxes is about government pension costs. Returning to this subject at this time (I wrote on the same subject for the Sacramento Bee last April) is prompted by the coming together of a couple of recent events.

There was the League of Women Voters and other groups hosting a meeting in Los Angeles this past weekend to “educate” people and advocate for a split roll property tax seeking to raise billions of tax dollars on the back of businesses. Also last week, Stanford University’s Institute for Policy Research issued a report by professor and former Democratic legislator Joe Nation describing the pension burden that is beginning to strangle state and local governments in California.

The services that are affected by both the split roll rally and the Stanford report are quite similar.

Supporters of the split roll say that raising taxes on commercial property will provide $9 billion a year needed for schools and services provided by local governments. Meanwhile, Joe Nation’s report says that because of pension contributions by employers (i.e. governments) increasing an average of 400% over the past 15 years, educational services, recreation, community services and others are squeezed for lack of money.

Many “core mission services,” as defined by the Stanford report, will be starved of money because of pension demands. The split roll advocates talk about the need for more money for local services. What they don’t tell you is that money for those services is being diverted to cover the pension requirements of state and local governments because these governments made generous promises to workers and accepted revenue projections to cover those promises that did not play out.

Instead of admitting that more money is needed to cover pension costs, split roll advocates create a false argument about business dodging its fair share of property taxes. They claim homeowners now pay a much larger share of the property tax burden than they did prior to Proposition 13. A Legislative Analyst’s Office report undercuts that false claim.

The report states in part, “Homeowners pay a slightly larger share of property taxes today than they did when Proposition 13 passed. Proposition 13 does not appear to have caused this increase. … In part, this may be due to faster growth in the number of residential properties than the number of commercial and industrial properties.”

The so-called grassroots activity seeking support for a split roll is backed by powerful public employee unions who support more revenues to cover the pension costs. Yet, you won’t hear anything from the split roll advocates about the pensions strangling local budgets or pushing some cities toward bankruptcies.

Meanwhile, the Stanford study makes it clear with numerous examples that pensions are absorbing greater and greater portions of local government budgets. The Stanford study states clearly there is “agreement on one fact: public pension costs are making it harder to provide services that have traditionally been considered part of government’s core mission.”

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

How Trump’s Paris Climate Agreement Decision Will Affect California Businesses

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image12155315The issue of how business will fare, respond to or be affected by President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement received much attention after Trump’s announcement yesterday. Responses to the move in California often highlighted the business issue in both supporting and opposing the president’s move.

Trump argued that his decision would help preserve jobs and businesses in the United States. But many business leaders, especially in California, opposed Trump’s move. The Wall Street Journal reported that many companies will not change strategies that are designed to reduce greenhouse gases because of the announcement. According to the Journal, these companies are responding to shareholder or customer demands to reduce greenhouse gases; are on the path to converting to renewable energies; or businesses in states like California are responding to state mandates to reduce their carbon footprint.

While some energy companies, particularly coal companies, applauded the president, other company leaders expressed disappointment. Business always likes certainty and many business leaders complained that they want to follow a consistent set of rules to face the challenge of climate change. One such company urging a consistent message was ExxonMobil, the country’s largest oil producer. General Electric’s chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt said, “Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government.”

In California, both foes and advocates of the president’s decision used the business issue in commenting on Trump’s move.

Two prominent California based business leaders, Tesla and Space X head Elon Musk and Disney’s Robert Iger announced they were resigning from the president’s business advisory council because of Trump’s decision on the Paris accord.

Gov. Jerry Brown said California’s growing economy and new jobs were created under the state’s strong climate change mandates. “California, the sixth-largest economy in the world, has advanced its nation-leading climate goals while also growing the economy. In the last seven years, California has created 2.3 million new jobs – outpacing most of the United States – cut its unemployment rate in half, eliminated a $27 billion budget deficit and has seen its credit rating rise to the highest level in more than a decade.”

NextGen Climate president Tom Steyer went from the farcical calling Trump a “traitor” to urging “courageous action from American business leaders, who know clean energy is simply the better way to clean the air, protect our health and create jobs.”

California Manufacturers & Technology president Dorothy Rothrock said, “California has a new reason to provide meaningful leadership by adopting a market-based approach to reduce emissions that will protect manufacturing jobs and keep costs affordable for consumers.”

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said Trump made the right choice by relieving a burden on the United States and freeing private enterprise to create more jobs. “The American energy renaissance has been good for our country and the world. It created American jobs, freed the United States and our allies from OPEC price controls, and helped to reduce emissions at the same time…President Trump made the right call in leaving a deal that would have put an unnecessary burden on the United States.”

Jim Wunderman, CEO of the Bay Area Council business association, said California’s businesses will continue to pursue a clean-energy future. “Addressing climate change is not just an environmental or moral imperative, it is an economic imperative.”

ditor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

What Exactly is the “Rule of Law”?

court gavelPart of the difficulty in finding common ground on the immigration debate in California is a different understanding of a basic governmental concept: the “rule of law.”

California officials have readily used the phrase when it comes to resisting the Trump Administration’s immigration policy.

Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, admonished the administration for stalking courthouses looking for people in the country illegally when she told the state legislature in her annual speech on the courts, “I submit to you today that the rule of law is being challenged.”

California’s Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, in responding positively to a federal court’s injunction halting Trump’s executive order against sanctuary cities, declared, “This injunction is consistent with the rule of law.”

Yet, those opposed to sanctuary cities and California’s effort to become a sanctuary state ask that if people came into the country against the laws on the books, is not that a violation of the “rule of law”?

Some have even compared the efforts to ignore federal immigration laws to the nullification efforts future Confederate states used to challenge federal authority prior to the Civil War.

Differing views on what constitutes the rule of law intensifies the country’s political divide. Ultimately, the United States Supreme Court will determine the law.

Cases before that court on the issue of state sovereignty have occurred in the past, of course. One case cited that may influence the outcome of a new Supreme Court test is Printz vs. United States.

This 1997 case, dealing with the Brady Gun Law, said the state could not compel local officials to execute federal law. The 5 to 4 majority declared that the Tenth Amendment to the constitution allowed the state to ignore a federal mandate, in this case requiring local law enforcement to enforce certain gun laws, because the constitution did not address the specific issue covered by the law.

Interestingly, the court majority, lead by Justice Antonin Scalia, were the conservative jurists on the court. Liberals may now use this decision to argue the Tenth Amendment allows states to declare sanctuary despite federal immigration laws because the sanctuary issue is not in the Constitution.

However, the Printz decision may not cleanly cover the issue of sanctuary cities. The majority opinion in Printz argued that the Framers of the Constitution allowed for federal regulation of international and interstate matters but reserved internal matters for the judgment of state legislatures. It may be argued that border security between nations is an international matter.

Cities can choose to not enforce federal immigration law, but they cannot stop the federal government from enforcing it. This is where the denial of federal funds to sanctuary cities comes into play and will ultimately be tested in court.

Despite the legal battle, it seems a basic understanding of what is meant by “the rule of law” is in order for the on-going immigration debate.

The American Bar Association attempted to frame a discussion of “the rule of law” in a three-page document.

The Bar Association dialogue started with questions:

“The rule of law is a term that is often used but difficult to define. A frequently heard saying is that the rule of law means the government of law, not men. But what is meant by “a government of law, not men”? Aren’t laws made by men and women in their roles as legislators? Don’t men and women enforce the law as police officers or interpret the law as judges? And don’t all of us choose to follow, or not to follow, the law as we go about our daily lives? How does the rule of law exist independently from the people who make it, interpret it, and live it?”

The site contains differing views from two civil rights historical figures.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, an American suffragist, social activist, abolitionist, and leader of the early women’s rights movement, is quoted: “It is very important in a republic, that the people should respect the laws, for if we throw them to the winds, what becomes of civil government?”

But one can respect laws and still resist, The Rev. Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail. “I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”

The Bar Association comments, “The rule of law is intended to promote stability, but a society that operates under the rule of law must also remain vigilant to ensure the rule of law also serves the interests of justice.”

Strict adherence to laws on the books in relation to a concept of true justice reflects the current debate over immigration issues in this state. Yet, perception by the public of how laws are enforced is as an important part of this debate as is a finally sliced Supreme Court decision on the law. The public’s understanding of the “rule of law” is the tie that keeps in place the foundation of a civil society. So, it is incumbent on all sides of this debate to make clear what is meant in arguing for the “rule of law.”

Joel Fox is editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.

Don’t Rush Toward Gas and Transportation Taxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily