Senator Moorlach Cautions Majority Party on the Costs of the Holder Hire

attorney-general-eric-holderSACRAMENTO – Senator John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, provided the following statement regarding the legislative Democrats’ decision to hire former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as their next line of defense against the incoming Trump Administration.

“If the majority party continues to poke President-elect Trump with a short stick, then they better be prepared with a Plan B. And, as far as I can tell, there is no alternative plan should these combative moves not be received well by the incoming Trump Administration.

“We cannot and must not jeopardize Federal funding to our state, counties and cities. They cannot afford it, especially with increasing pensions costs at the door.”

The above statement was sent out in a press release from the office of state Sen. John Moorlach.

How to Identify a “Good” Bond

Photo courtesy of kenteegardin, flickr

Photo courtesy of kenteegardin, flickr

On November 8th, Californians approved Prop. 51, authorizing $9.0 billion in new borrowing for construction and upgrades of public schools. Also on November 8th, Californians approved 171 local bond measures, authorizing over $22 billion in additional financing for construction and upgrades of public schools.

This new borrowing is only to construct and upgrade K-12 and community college campuses. Total K-12 enrollment in California has been stable at around 6.3 million students for over a decade. Community college enrollment in California is about 2.1 million students. This means that this latest round of borrowing equates to $3,735 per student. And similar sums are thrown at California’s K-12 schools and community colleges for construction and upgrades every two years. What gives?

One of the most obvious problems with voter approved bonds in California is the preference given school bonds. Proposition 39, passed in Nov. 2000, reduced the supermajority needed to pass a bond issue ballot question from 66% to 55%. Meanwhile, all other public construction bonds still need the 66% supermajority. Inevitably, this law has resulted in abundant money flowing into school construction, while neglecting roads and other public infrastructure.

We asked State Senator John Moorlach, the only licensed CPC to hold office in California’s state legislature, and one of the most financially savvy individuals in Sacramento, to comment on what might constitute a “good” bond. Here is his checklist:

(1) Plan: A detailed plan that itemizes what projects will be funded with the bond proceeds is essential. How will bonds be issued and proceeds spent? Most bond measures fall short of providing itemized budgets that clearly explain the use of funds, which magnifies the opportunities for wasteful spending.

(2) Oversight: How will the implementation of the projects funded by a bond be monitored. Who will sit on the oversight board and how will people with conflicts of interest be screened out. What authority will the citizen board have if they uncover misuse of funds? Will they be able to stop work on a project?

(3) Terms: The devil is in the details. A fairly written bond contract will have a ratio of total principal and interest payments to principal of between two-to-one and three-to-one. But bonds still slip through, avoiding informed scrutiny by a financial expert, that can have ratios of total payments to principal amount as high as ten-to-one. Costs of issuance are another area where abuse occurs. A fairly written bond contract will award the underwriters between one and two percent. A small bond, say, under $10 million, may command a fee of around three percent. More than that is unfair to taxpayers.

(4) Reserves: How much cash will be set aside so that district won’t return with more requests for money? Many school districts have new bond measures on the ballot every two years. But the payments on these each of these bonds, not subject to any Prop. 13 restrictions, increase property tax assessments for thirty years or more. With school enrollment in California stable for over ten years, where is this money going?

(5) Maintenance: It is common to see the term “deferred maintenance” listed as one the uses of proceeds for a proposed bond. When new construction is financed with a bond, how much cash will be set aside to maintain these facilities? Equally pertinent, why can’t this maintenance be funded out of operating budgets?

(6) Promotional Funding: Is the campaign supporting a bond paid for by the people who’ll benefit from the bond? There is a clear conflict of interests when the most active participants in the paid political debate over whether or not voters should support a new bond proposal are the underwriters who will collect fees, the construction firms who will do the work, and the teachers unions who will always favor more facilities on their campuses.

(7) Project Labor Agreements: If the bond doesn’t explicitly prohibit cost-boosting Project Labor Agreements, then it is likely they will be incorporated. By excluding non-union shops from the bidding process, project costs are inflated by between 10% and 40%, all of which is borned by taxpayers.

A California Policy Center study released in 2015, “For the Kids” – Comprehensive Review of California School Bonds,” estimated that between 2000 and 2014, California’s voters approved, on average, $10 billion per year on new school bonds. Since then, through November 8th, voters have approved at least another $40 billion of new school bonds. Not including the interest on bonds still outstanding that were issued before 2000, the interest and principal payments on this $180 billion in school bond borrowing costs taxpayers at least $11.7 billion per year.

Adopting these seven criteria to evaluate bonds will go a long way towards ensuring that bond debt is approved by informed voters, and that the proceeds serve the people, especially the students, instead of special interests.

Ed Ring is the vice president of research policy for the California Policy Center.

“There Ought NOT Be a Law” Project

20111103 CA RegulationsSometimes, in frustration over a perceived injustice, it is easy to think, “there ought to be a law,” but Californians should be careful what they wish for.

The state is awash in laws. Every two-year session, lawmakers introduce thousands of bills, and in the most recent, the governor signed 1,708 into law.

This brings to mind an old German proverb, “The more laws, the less justice.” This is because many of these bills are intended to benefit narrow special interests, like government employee unions, rent seeking businesses and professional groups, and pet projects like high-speed rail.

Then there are the less damaging bills that still amount to a waste of time and taxpayer dollars, although many of these provide a good source of amusement. Although some of the silliest laws are at the local level – in Chico detonating a nuclear device will cost you $500, in Carmel women are prohibited from wearing high heels and in San Francisco it is illegal to store anything but a car in a garage – the state continues to attempt to be competitive. In California, it is illegal for a vehicle to exceed 60 mph if there is no driver.

In Sacramento, for many self-absorbed Legislators, getting a bill passed is an extension of their ego. Perhaps this helps explain why, some years ago, a bill was introduced to make the banana slug the state mollusk. That one did not pass, but still, California was the first state to adopt a state rock, serpentine. Ironically, after spending time on approving this selection in 1965, it came up again in 2010 when one state senator decided serpentine is politically incorrect because it contains asbestos and she promoted legislation to remove its state status.

For some, just introducing legislation, whether it passes or not, has become a source of income. Twenty years ago, one senator introduced 143 bills in one session. This turned out to be a pay for play scheme where bills were introduced for those willing to pay. This lawmaker ended up spending time in prison for accepting bribes, and the public scrutiny forced the politicians to limit the number of bills that can be introduced to 40. Still, with 120 legislators, this means that there is the potential to introduce a mind-boggling 4,800 bills, each with the potential to become law. And introducing bills remains an effective method for raising campaign cash.

Even the most innocuous seeming bills can be a problem for taxpayers. Several years ago, Gov. Schwarzenegger criticized the Legislature for dithering over finding a solution to the state’s then $26 billion deficit, while plenty of time was found to deal with the issue of cow tail docking.

While humane treatment of animals may deserve consideration, taking time to pass a law, like making Spanish moss the official state lichen, has a cost. Even if we consider lawmakers’ time worthless, and many do, there are still thousands of dollars spent on legal analyses by the Office of the Legislative Analyst and on printing costs.

This raises the question, do lawmakers still have too much latitude when determining how may bills they introduce? Some states, like Colorado, survive while limiting legislators to no more than five.

And what about the tens of thousands of laws already on the books? Certainly, there is justification to make an examination and to seek to simplify the legal code under which we all must live, by striking those found to be unnecessary.

Enter Senator John Moorlach who has kicked off the “There Ought Not Be a Law” project and is looking for submissions from the public on repealing laws that would help streamline government, and remove regulations that impose unreasonable burdens on taxpayers. The senator will be taking nominations for laws to be reduced or repealed until the first of the year. To learn more, go here.

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 HJTA.org

What Threat Does a Democratic Supermajority in the Legislature Really Pose?

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

Once again, we’re confronted with the possibility of Democrats grabbing two-thirds control of both houses of the California Legislature. As with the U.S. Senate at the national level, because of higher voter turnout Democrats in California generally do better in presidential election years (2008, 2012) than in the non-presidential years (2010, Tea Party time, and 2014).

The last time this happened, after the 2012 election, Gov. Jerry Brown joked to Democrats in the Legislature, “Remember, hug a Republican.” But then Dems had a problem leveraging their two-thirds supermajorities because several legislators were promoted to the state Senate or the U.S. Congress, leaving vacant seats. Then special elections sometimes elected Republicans, such as state Sen. Andy Vidak of Hanford in July 2013. That election ran up $5 million in campaign costs.

It used to be the two-thirds vote was needed to pass the state budget. That brought up the quasi-undemocratic Gang of Five meetings of the governor and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Assembly and state Senate. Republicans had real clout and could delay passage of a budget for weeks, even months.

All that ended in 2010, when voters passed Proposition 25, allowing a majority vote for passing the budget. Also helping pass budgets by the June 15 deadline have been large new revenues from the economic recovery and the adept moves of a governor now in his fourth term in office.

Today, the two-thirds supermajority only applies to tax increases, putting measures on the ballot and reversing gubernatorial vetoes.

Tax increases likely won’t be on the agenda because two more probably are going to pass on Nov. 8: Proposition 55, the “extension” of Proposition 30 from 2012. And Proposition 56, the $2 a pack increase in cigarette taxes to further impoverish poor and lower-middle-class smokers. Even Democrats have a limit of how much they can increase taxes. (Don’t they?)

Of course, if the economy tanks next year, once again we’ll have $20 billion budget deficits, and howls for higher taxes to pay for the overspending during the recent years of prosperity. But the deficits usually lag the start of a recession by a year or two, bringing us to 2018, another election year, so the increases would just be put on the ballot.

As to putting measures on the ballot, after the 17 mind-numbing initiatives put before voters this year, does anyone really want any more in 2018? How about that “advisory” initiative, Proposition 59, stuck before voters when the Legislature passed Senate Bill 254? It urges California members of Congress to reverse the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that allowed campaign contributions by corporations.

Here’s some advice to the Legislature: Stop putting initiatives on the ballot! Let the people only do so through the signature process.

As to overturning vetoes by governors, the last time that happened was in 1979. If Dems do regain their two-thirds majorities, what’s likely to happen is a repeat of 2013: fighting over open seats interspersed with increased clout for moderate Democrats.

As Capital Public Radio reported in January 2013, “The most important members of the California Legislature this year might not be the two Democratic leaders – despite the two-thirds supermajorities they hold in each chamber.  And it almost certainly won’t be the Republicans.  They’ve been courted for key votes in recent years but now don’t have the numbers to block any bills on their own. The leverage in this legislative session may well lie with a newly-critical voting bloc: moderate Democrats.”

Republicans’ role? Pretty much what it has been in recent years. They sometimes pair up with Democrats to give bipartisan legitimacy to bills, such as the excellent asset forfeiture bill passed this year. And they put on the eyeshades like state Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, a CPA, and look at the budget numbers.

It’s something. And it’s not likely to change until the return of the Emperor Norton.

Veteran California columnist John Seiler now edits the Seiler Report. His email: writejohnseiler@gmail.com

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.

Budget Deception: Weird Accounting Diminishes Accountability

BudgetThis week, after reaching agreement with Gov. Brown, the California Legislature will pass the state budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year. In so doing, it will meet its Constitutional deadline of June 15th.

A few weeks ago, this column attempted to provide some clarity to ordinary citizen taxpayers on basic state budget issues. This included an explanation of the difference between “general fund” expenditures and “special fund” expenditures. The column also reviewed California’s higher than average level of taxation and its legendary wasteful practices.

Those budget issues are confusing enough but there is something else going on that confounds even those of us who have at least some familiarity with government finance. Specifically, California has manipulated accounting rules that are, at best, confusing and, at worse, intended to conceal the true condition of state finances.

For most folks, figuring out the family finances isn’t all that difficult. Most people have a relatively stable and predictable amount of income they can spend and, on the flip side, they have a pretty good grasp of their expenses. Of course, even the best laid plans can be thrown off with the layoff of a breadwinner or, on the positive side, an unexpected bonus or inheritance.

But with government, predicting revenue can be tricky. Given this unpredictability, one would think that the state would want to base its accounting decisions on best practices. But that isn’t the case at all. Without going into all the wonkish details, the Department of Finance uses various “accrual” techniques to attribute revenue, not to the year in which it was received, but rather to a previous or future fiscal year depending on what political ends the administration seeks to achieve. Venerable Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters calls this “hide the pea” accounting and even the Legislature’s own Legislative Analyst has criticized the practice.

For all the funky accounting on the revenue side, it is much worse on the spending side. Here, under proper “accrual” rules, California should be counting the massive amount of debt we’re racking up differently. But with manipulative accounting, the state can actually spend more money than it receives in a given year and still report a budget surplus. This debt, as it relates to public employee pension obligations, is nothing more than spending tomorrow’s money today. But if it is spending money today, it should be counted as such.

David Crane is a Lecturer in Public Policy at Stanford University and president of Govern For California who has written extensively on California’s deceptive accounting practices. He points out that proper accounting could have stopped the largest non-voter-approved debt issuance in California history. That 1999 debt was not a bond. Rather, it was retroactive pension increase for state employees. Had that cost been “booked” the way businesses account for future liabilities, the legislature may very well have thought twice about undertaking such a huge financial burden.

The good news is that the days of deceptive government accounting may be numbered. The Governmental Accounting Standards Board has, for the last several years, been forcing government entities to finally begin reporting pension obligations and “Other Post-Employment Benefits” in a way that is both more honest and transparent. Also, the California Legislature now has as a member Senator John Moorlach, a no-nonsense accountant who predicted the Orange County bankruptcy several years ago. He, like Crane, is shining a light on California’s budgetary shenanigans. With a looming downturn in the economy, this enhanced transparency will be critical.

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.

Engaging in Transportation Reform Head On

california roads infrastructureLast week’s column presented the case for strong opposition to any new transportation taxes in California. But on Thursday, the Executive Director of Transportation California, Will Kempton, published a response in Fox and Hounds, a California political blog run by Joel Fox, which repeated the need for higher taxes.

Will Kempton is a respected transportation expert who agrees with the central premise of my original column. That is, that California’s transportation crisis can no longer be ignored. California has a transportation and road repair maintenance backlog that some estimate will total $58 billion over the next ten years. It is also true that, thanks to alternative vehicles and more fuel efficient cars (and never mind the infamous “gas tax swap”) that fuel tax revenues have become more volatile year-over-year.

So, now that we’ve agreed on the need, how do we deal with it? Mr. Kempton argues that we have no choice but to raise taxes. Not only do we disagree, but it is abundantly clear that practically all of this backlog can be funded using existing General Fund resources. Consider:

  • Nearly $1 billion a year of truck weight fees are being diverted from road repair to paying off transportation bond debt. Total: $10 billion over ten years.
  • Nearly $9 billion in bonds for high speed rail can be diverted for road construction. (And if voter approval is deemed necessary, that measure passes in a heartbeat).
  • Currently, California spends only 20 percent of its $10 billion General Fund transportation budget on road maintenance. Especially with General Fund revenue at record levels, a boost to 50 percent does not seem excessive: Total: $30 billion over ten years.
  • Currently, $500 million in $3 billion worth of cap-and-trade funding goes to road maintenance. Doubling that amount adds $5 billion over ten years.

The grand total of these reforms is $54 billion over ten years. Granted, not all of these things can be done overnight and the first two items will likely require statewide voter approval. But the Legislature still has plenty of time to qualify a constitutional amendment for the November ballot. And obviously, placing a greater General Fund emphasis on transportation projects will require that we figure out how to prioritize our resources better in the face of a record $122 billion budget.

Let’s be honest. It is really the word “prioritize” that is at issue here. Some of these reforms will be easier to implement than others, but unless we engage them head on, which hasn’t happened in the Legislature, how can we ever hope to solve this problem? Taxpayers should refuse to accept the incessant call for higher taxes when relatively simple reforms that could add tens of billions of dollars of funding to our roads, without raising taxes, are ignored. How can we discuss a punitive and regressive gas tax increase when common-sense legislation by State Senator John Moorlach to privatize a small portion of CalTrans projects, or to  establish a pilot project to have county transportation agencies assume projects from CalTrans, are quickly rejected in their first policy committee?

We agree with Kempton that the status quo is no longer acceptable. But there are a myriad of fiscal and policy changes that are viable and should be discussed and implemented. And until legislative Democrats, the transportation community, labor and environmentalists are willing to even come to the table, why should the burden be on California motorists to pay higher taxes?

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 HJTA.org

It’s Time to Shift Road Funding to Counties

los-angeles-freeway-helicopter-1Last week, yet another high-profile scandal involving mismanagement rocked the California Department of Transportation – Caldrons, and yesterday I  introduced Senate Bill 1141, which would launch a pilot program shifting road funds and maintenance duties from Caltrans to county governments.

Caltrans is one of the worst managed, most inefficient government agencies in the nation.  Just look at the metrics. Californians pay among the highest gas taxes and the highest per-mile road maintenance, yet we also have the nation’s fifth worst roads.  Those are clear signs that Caltrans is dysfunctional and wasting taxpayer money.  If Caltrans was a private company, it would have been out of business long ago.

SB 1141 would launch a pilot program that allows two California counties to handle their own road maintenance needs, and to receive the road funding that typically would have been administered by Caltrans for those maintenance needs.

County governments are much more accountable to the taxpayers than the bureaucracy at Caltrans. County governments know their needs and have a history of getting the job done. Senate Bill 1141 allows counties to prove they can do much better than Caltrans.

Last week, the State Auditor found that Caltrans had intentionally lied to legislators about implementing the results of a 2009 efficiency study – one that recommended moving money and manpower to the highest need areas and managing efficiencies to help fix roads with the existing resources.  Caltrans management reassured legislators that they were implementing the study’s recommendations, when, in fact, they had ignored them altogether and continued with an inefficient, labor-union friendly resource allocation.

Auditors also found that Caltrans has little, and often no, cost control measures, and that Caltrans often fails to even track project costs.  The State Auditor is telling it straight when she says there are ‘weak cost controls’ that ‘create opportunities for fraud, waste and abuse.’ Sixty-two percent of Caltrans projects are over budget, and now we are beginning to know why.  We can no longer tolerate this nonsense. It’s time to provide constructive and necessary solutions.

SB 1141 would provide a real-world study on moving resources to counties and making our road dollars stretch much further.  More information on SB 1141 can be found HERE.

California State Senate, 37th District

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

A Tale of Two Bridges — The Failure of Caltrans

Bay BridgeThe Bay Bridge debacle is the most serious sign that Caltrans is a broken agency.  There needs to be an immediate top-to-bottom review of its management and structure, followed by house cleaning and reorganization.  It’s a tragedy that Californians pay the highest transportation taxes and have the worst roads to show for it.

This Week’s Bay Bridge News:

Fears of failure grow for rods on Bay Bridge eastern span

“Potentially widespread problems that experts warn could lead to premature failure…The rods are more vulnerable than Caltrans’ test results suggest.”

“It’s a very shoddy job all the way around…Clearly there was no quality assurance on anything…”

Golden Gate Bridge

Build Time:     4.5 years, completed 8 months ahead of schedule

Cost:                  $35 million, 4% under budget

Lifespan:          78 years old and counting

Declared:         “Wonder of the Modern World”

SF/Oakland Bay Bridge-Eastern Span

Build Time:     11 years, completed 6 years behind schedule

Cost:                   $6.4 billion, at least 300% over budget

Lifespan:         2 yrs old, but design flaws could produce premature failure

Declared:        “Most expensive public works project in California history”

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

California State Senate, 37th District

A Challenge to Moorlach and Glazer – Build A Radical Center

John Moorlach1On March 22, 2015, John Moorlach was officially sworn in as state senator for California’s 37th District. On May 28, 2015, Steve Glazer took the oath of office as state senator for the 7th District. Moorlach is a Republican serving mostly conservative constituents in Orange County. Steve Glazer is a Democrat serving mostly liberal constituents in Contra Costa County.

Different parties. Different constituents. You wouldn’t think these two men had much in common. But you’d be wrong.

John Moorlach and Steve Glazer have both distinguished themselves as politicians and candidates by doing something that transcends their political party identity or conventional ideologies. They challenged the agenda of government unions. As a consequence, both of them faced opponents who were members of their own party who accepted money and endorsements from government unions.

It wasn’t easy to challenge government unions. Using taxpayers money that is automatically deducted from government employee paychecks, government unions in California collect and spend over $1.0 billion per year. These unions spent heavily to attack Moorlach and Glazer, accusing – among other things – Moorlach of being soft on child molesters, and accusing – among other things – Glazer of being a puppet of “big tobacco.”

steve glazerThis time, however, the lavishly funded torrent of union slime didn’t stick. Voters are waking up to the fact that the agenda of government unions is inherently in conflict with the public interest. Can Moorlach and Glazer transform this rising awareness into momentum for reform in California’s state Legislature?

Despite sharing in common the courage to confront California’s most powerful and most unchecked special interest, Moorlach and Glazer belong to opposing parties whose mutual enmity is only matched by their fear of these unions. With rare exceptions, California’s Democratic politicians are owned by government unions. Fewer of California’s Republican politicians are under their absolute control, but fewer still wish to stick their necks out and be especially targeted by them.

The good news is that bipartisan, centrist reform is something whose time has come. Democrats and Republicans alike have realized that California’s system of public education cannot improve until they stand up to the teachers unions. Similarly, with the financial demands of California’s government pension systems just one more market downturn away from completely crippling local governments, bipartisan support for dramatic pension reform is inevitable.

There are other issues where voters and politicians alike realize current policy solutions are inadequate at best, but consensus solutions require intense dialog and good faith negotiations. An obvious example of this is water policy, where the current political consensus is to decrease demand through misanthropic, punitive rationing, when multiple solutions make better financial and humanitarian sense. Supply oriented solutions include upgrading sewage treatment plants to reuse wastewaterbuilding desalination plantsbuilding more damsincreasing cloud seeding efforts and allowing some farmers to sell their allocations to urban areas.

Imagine a centrist coalition of politicians, led by reformers such as Moorlach and Glazer, implementing policies that are decisive departures from the tepid incrementalism and creeping authoritarianism that has defined California’s politics ever since the government unions took control. How radical would that be?

Ultimately, forming a radical center in California requires more than the gathering urgency for reforms in the areas of education, government compensation and pensions, and, hopefully, infrastructure investment. Beyond recognizing the inevitable crises that will result from inaction, and beyond finding the courage to stand up to government unions, Moorlach and Glazer, and those who join them, will have to manifest and pass on to their colleagues an empathy for the beliefs and ideologies of their opponents.

Ideological polarities – environmentalism vs. pro-development, social liberal vs. social conservative, libertarian vs. progressive – generate animosity that emotionalizes and trivializes debate on unrelated topics where action might otherwise be possible. The only solution is empathy. The extremes of libertarian philosophy are as absurd as those of the progressives. The extremes of social liberalism can be as oppressive as an authoritarian theocracy. Economic development without reasonable environmentalist checks is as undesirable as the stagnant plutocracy that is the unwitting consequence of extreme environmentalism. And while government unions should be outlawed, well regulated private sector unions play a vital role in an era of automation, globalization, and financial corruption.

Despite being inundated with a torrent of slime by their opponents, John Moorlach and Steve Glazer took the high road in their campaigns. They are worthy candidates to nurture the guttering remnants of empathy that flicker yet in Sacramento, and turn them into a roaring, radical centrist fire.

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Dem v. Dem State Senate Battle Reflects New Political Split in CA

Photo credit:  Capitolweekly.net

Photo credit: Capitolweekly.net

California’s politics remain polarized, but not just via the traditional division of Republicans vs. Democrats. As reported here two months ago in the post “Issue of Government Unions Divide Candidates More Than Party Affiliation,” there were two California State Senate contests that remained unresolved after the November 2014 election. One of them, pitting Republican John Moorlach against Republican Don Wagner for the 37th Senate District, was settled on March 17th. Moorlach, who has fought to restore financial sustainability to public employee pension systems, was opposed by government unions. Wagner, also a conservative, but less outspoken than Moorlach on the issue of pension reform, was endorsed by government unions. Moorlach won.

The other race, originally pitting three Democrats against each other for the 7th Senate District, has narrowed to a contest between two candidates that will be settled on May 19th, Democrat Steve Glazer vs. Democrat Susan Bonilla.

It will be interesting to see how voters in a largely Democratic district respond in a race that is not between candidates from opposing parties. Glazer is a fiscal conservative who is progressive on virtually all of the issues important to Democrats. Bonilla offers up many similar positions, with one important exception: Glazer has stood up to government unions on critical issues, to the point where government unions do not consider him reliable. As a result, Bonilla is receiving cash and endorsements from the unions representing our public servants, all of it, of course, money that originated from taxpayers.

Here’s a list of some of Bonilla’s government union endorsements:

California Association of Highway Patrolmen
California Professional Firefighters
California State Sheriffs’ Association
California State Coalition of Probation Organizations
CALFIRE Local 2881
Peace Officers Research Association of California
Deputy Sheriffs Association of Alameda County
Antioch Police Officer’s Association
Concord Police Officer’s Association
Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriffs Association
Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney’s Association
Brentwood Police Officers Association
Livermore-Pleasanton Firefighters, Local 1974
Livermore Police Officer’s Association
Pittsburg Police Officers Association
Pleasanton Police Officers Association
Probation Peace Officers Association of Contra Costa County
San Ramon Valley Firefighters Association, Local 3546
United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County, Local 1230

Bonilla campaignOne has to ask why so many public safety officials are endorsing Bonilla rather than Glazer, and it is fair to wonder if their endorsement has anything to do with the positions of these candidates on issues and policies relating to public safety. Take a look at this flyer from the Bonilla campaign:

As can be seen, Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson and Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern, both apparently Republicans, are touting the pro public safety record of Susan Bonilla. But would they have made these statements if Susan Bonilla was challenging their unions on fiscal issues relating to pensions and compensation?

From that perspective, candidate Steven Glazer is a threat to government unions. For ten years starting in 2004, Glazer was a councilmember, then mayor, in Orinda, one of the most fiscally responsible cities in the state. In a California Policy Center study released late last year entitled “California’s Most Financially Stressed Cities and Counties,” every city and county in California was ranked in order of its risk of insolvency. Orinda was ranked 369 out of 491, putting it in the top 25% in terms of financial health. More significantly, in a subsequent California Policy Center study entitled “California City Pension Burdens,” every city in the state was ranked according to how much pension contributions strain their budgets. Orinda wasn’t even on this list, because they are among only nine cities in California who don’t have a defined benefit plan for their employees. They use a defined contribution plan instead.

Hopefully the reader will forgive this prurient dive into personal financial data, but when public employees endorse political candidates, how much they make is relevant. Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson made $322,180 in 2013, an amount that included $111,897 in employer paid benefits. Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern made $556,268 in 2013; an astonishing $266,130 of that in the form of employer paid benefits. The vast majority of these benefit payments were to cover the required employer pension contributions. These men would have to be saints to have an objective perspective on an election that could result in a fiscal conservative holding office who is conversant in pension finance and formerly presided over a town that offers defined contribution plans to their employees instead of defined benefit pensions.

To drive the point home, take a look at the salaries and benefits for Alameda County workers, the pensions for Alameda County retirees, the salaries for Contra Costa County workers, and the pensions for Contra Costa County retirees. No conflict of interest there.

In the race for California’s 7th Senate District, Government unions have already spent over $2.0 million to support Susan Bonilla and oppose Steve Glazer. Download this spreadsheet to view the latest contributions through 4-20-2015, or click on the following four links to follow the money pouring in to make sure a fiscal conservative Senator does not head to Sacramento on May 19th:

Bonilla for Senate 2015, Putting the East Bay First
Bonilla for Senate 2015
Bonilla for Senate 2016
Working Families Opposing Glazer for Senate 2015

California’s Republican leadership, to the extent they tepidly claim to support pension reform while taking money from public sector unions and doing nothing, should understand as clearly as the Democratic leadership who avoid the issue entirely: It doesn’t matter what else you believe, or what you stand for, or what’s in your platform. Government unions support candidates who fight to preserve and increase the pay and benefits of unionized government employees, at the same time as they fight to minimize the accountability of unionized government employees. Across California, their demands, almost invariably fulfilled by politicians they control, have taken money away from other services, including infrastructure investment, and nearly destroyed California’s system of public education.

This is having a polarizing impact in both parties, and rendering the distinction between Democrat and Republican less important than whether or not they are willing to stand up to government unions.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.