Enemies of Prop. 13 Delay Attack on Iconic Initiative

property taxA reporter for the Bay Area News Group stopped by the government office in Santa Clara County and concluded that while people standing in line to pay their property taxes were upset with the heavy burden, they had scant knowledge of California’s iconic Proposition 13. What most were probably unaware of is that their taxes would be at least twice as high without Prop. 13.

Many people who live in California today were not here in 1978 when Proposition 13 was passed overwhelmingly by voters. Today’s younger homeowners have little idea how frightened and angry citizens were in the mid-1970s when their property taxes doubled or even tripled from the previous year.  Homeowners were literally being taxed out of their homes.

But despite having no personal memory of the pre-Prop. 13 era, most Californians have at least heard of Proposition 13 and, when prodded, recall it somehow helps to keep escalating property taxes in check.

In June, Proposition 13 will hit its 40th birthday. While long-time homeowners will surely celebrate, those in government with an insatiable appetite for taxpayer dollars are hoping that voters will be ready to weaken it.  But previous attacks on Proposition 13 have come up short. At most, Prop. 13 was weakened by court decisions involving fees and charges as well as attacks on the two-thirds vote requirements.  But those attacks were quickly countered by subsequent ballot initiatives such as Proposition 218 in 1996, the Right to Vote on Taxes Act, which reinforced Prop. 13’s original intent.

Knowing that a direct attack on Proposition 13’s protections for homeowners is a fool’s errand, the tax-and-spend interests have focused on raising property taxes on business property. This so-called “split roll” effort has gone on for about 30 years and has never really gained any serious traction. According to these interests, 2018 was going to be the year where they would finally be able to take a big chunk out of Prop. 13 by hitting commercial real estate with several billion dollars in higher taxes.

The optimism displayed by Proposition 13’s detractors has been based in large part on the expected “blue wave” of voters coming out in support of progressive candidates. Liberal Democrats believe, rightly or wrongly, that voter disgust with the Trump administration might at least allow them to regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives. The thinking, at least until recently, has been that November of 2018 would be the right moment to fracture the pro-Proposition 13 alliance because of an energized progressive base, low voter turnout and fading memories of 1978.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the ballot box. After beginning a serious effort to collect signatures for their “split roll” initiative, the proponents have taken their foot off the gas and announced that, instead, they will attempt to qualify the measure for the 2020 ballot. The ostensible reason for the delay is that it would give them more time to expand their coalition (of course, the same can be said for Prop. 13 defenders) and that the voter turnout model in 2020 would be better for them – a dubious claim indeed.

Split-roll proponents might be having second thoughts about what they thought was a weakening of support for Prop. 13 or the political strength of their own coalition. Perhaps they’ve seen polling – both private and public – revealing Proposition 13’s continued popularity. Whatever the reason, this November’s election will not present a direct threat to Proposition 13. …

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

California On Verge of Second Massive Boondoggle

Gov. Jerry Brown, Anne Gust“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” That was the catchphrase of J. Wellington Wimpy, simply known as just “Wimpy” on the “Popeye” cartoon show. For good reason, the proprietor of the diner rejected Wimpy’s request because of his reputation for not paying on Tuesday.

The inability to repay one’s debts can come with severe consequences, as anyone who has borrowed money from a loan shark can attest. California, despite record revenue coming into the state treasury, has a real problem with debt. High on that list, of course, is the state’s multi-billion-dollar unfunded liabilities for its pension obligations. But we have a problem with bond debt as well.

State-issued bonds can be a legitimate method to finance public projects that have a long useful life. But key to bond financing is a clear and predictable plan to repay those bonds.

California is now on the verge of adopting a second massive boondoggle plagued with financing issues. We are all familiar with the notorious high-speed rail project that was sold to voters as a safe and economical alternative to air travel between Northern and Southern California. A third of the money was to come from the private sector, a third from the feds and the rest from the sale of Proposition 1A bonds. All three of those revenue sources have disappeared in a puff of smoke and, instead, the HSR project is kept on life support through “cap-and-trade” revenue that didn’t even exist when voters approved the original bond.

The second mega-project destined to adopt the boondoggle label is Gov. Jerry Brown’s “twin tunnels” project, intended to transport water from the Sacramento River to the pumping stations at the south end of the delta. Bear in mind that the project will not provide a new water source but would be built ostensibly for environmental reasons.

However, like the high-speed rail project, the financing for the twin tunnels is illusory. Virtually all the potential major wholesale customers of water from the twin tunnels are highly skeptical of its viability and balk at paying for it. The one exception is the Metropolitan Water District in the greater L.A. area, which is considering the adoption of a plan to finance a scaled-down version of the project — meaning one tunnel instead of two.

To read the entire column, please click here.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

What would make legislation in California truly ‘family friendly?’

CapitolEvery year California politicians push bills advertised as “family friendly.” This label is certainly useful to gain sympathy for a proposal. It’s akin to labeling a bill “The Protect Puppies Act.” Who could possibly object to that except heartless cretins?

Last year a number of bills were advanced as “family friendly” including Senate Bill 63 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara. Known as the “baby bonding” bill, it is now illegal for an employer of 20 or more employees to refuse to allow an eligible employee to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected parental leave to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption or foster-care placement. It also mandates that an employer maintain and pay for the employee’s continued group health coverage during the duration of the leave. Prior to the passage of this bill, parental leave was mandated only for companies with 50 or more employees.

Another “family friendly” bill that became law last year was Assembly Bill 1127, from Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier. It requires that diaper-changing stations be available to dads as well as moms at sporting arenas, auditoriums, libraries, passenger terminals, shopping malls, large restaurants and other places.

It is difficult not to be sympathetic to legislation which, at least on the surface, appears to make life easier for parents. But does the family-friendliness of such proposals cloud the judgment of our policy leaders as to the potential downside? California already has a horrible reputation as being anti-business. Indeed, for more than a decade CEO Magazine has ranked California dead last among states as a place to do business.

It’s no secret that, even with a resurgent economy, California continues to bleed jobs. Its share of the growth in the national labor force is a fraction of what it should be, given our population. The trend line of citizens moving out of California — known as “net domestic outmigration” — is well documented. …

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

Something the CA Legislature Should Pass – But Won’t

CapitolWhen the California Legislature passes “resolutions” — as distinct from actual legislation, it is a meaningless exercise. Sure, it makes people feel better about some issue or crisis de jour, but because resolutions lack any force or effect of actual law, they are quickly forgotten.

Most resolutions are just silly, having to do with “fluff” issues like, “Resolved, we recognize National Puppy Day,” or a resolution establishing another country, such as Cambodia, as a “sister state” to California. Nice gesture, but substantively trivial.

In the last year, resolutions from our decidedly left-of-center legislature have been used to vent against the Trump administration, from establishing a separate immigration policy to whining about the Electoral College. At the beginning of last year’s session, so many days were spent on angry venting that almost no work got done, which for taxpayers may actually have been a good thing.

While those of us who are focused on actual law normally gloss over resolutions, one was recently introduced that caught our eye. Senate Joint Resolution 21 from Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, would encourage any individual taxpayer in California who disapproves of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to donate their tax savings to the state of California’s General Fund.

Democrats throughout the nation — and particularly California Democrats — have thundered for months that the tax reform bill is just a tax cut for the rich and would hurt the poor and middle class. Actually, for California, the opposite is true: The middle class is better off but, because of the loss of certain deductions, California’s wealthiest 11-12 percent will likely pay higher federal taxes.

SJR21 correctly points out that while “Californians are struggling with the rising costs of living due to high personal income tax rates and high housing rates due to burdensome regulations … the Republicans in Congress and the President have passed and signed significant tax reform legislation to ease the pain inflicted on California taxpayers.”

The resolution also lauds the new law’s positive effect on economic growth, noting that “leading tax experts have stated the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will significantly lower marginal tax rates and the cost of capital, which would lead to a 1.7 percent increase in gross domestic product over the long term, in addition to a 1.5 percent increase in wages, and produce an additional 339,000 full-time jobs.”

SRJ21 acknowledges that “the Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act limits the amount of state and local taxes that can be deducted on individual income tax returns” but notes that “placing limits on the state and local tax deduction allows individuals in high-tax states like California to finally recognize the true amount of their state tax liability.”

The resolution lists the many benefits of the tax reform law for Californians, including the doubling of the federal standard deduction, doubling of the child tax credit, and reduction of individual tax rates and number of tax brackets.

On the business side, SJR21 recognizes that “the lowering of the corporate tax rate has already resulted in at least one million employees receiving significant bonuses, salary increases, and benefit increases” as well as a massive repatriation of billions of dollars from overseas. Other beneficial economic impacts include a marked increase in GDP and record employment levels for African-Americans, Hispanics, and minorities across the United States.

Yet despite the proven benefits of tax relief, “the California Legislature has considered no fewer than 89 proposals in the current legislative session that would cost taxpayers more than $373 billion annually in higher taxes and fees, including taxes on gasoline, diesel fuel, sodas, candy, groceries, and services, among others.”

After listing examples of questionable spending in California — “the High-Speed Rail Program, which has already cost more than $20 billion, and free college tuition for undocumented immigrants while legal residents are subject to tuition rate increases” — SJR21 comes to the real point, declaring that “the Legislature encourages any individual taxpayer in California who disapproves of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to donate their tax savings to the State of California’s General Fund, which pays for programs including, but not limited to, the bullet train that has already cost the state tens of billions of dollars.”

This resolution, of course, has no chance of passing. But it exposes the hypocrisy of the high-tax crowd in a most entertaining way.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

The Board of Equalization got the last laugh on a gas tax increase

Gas-Pump-blue-generic+flippedIn a normal universe, the rejection of a gas tax increase by a state agency would be based primarily on policy grounds. But in a strange mix of wonkish tax policy, political turf fighting and revenge, California drivers will be spared — temporarily — from a 4 cent per gallon tax increase on gasoline.

On Feb. 27, the Board of Equalization was expected to approve a routine request by the governor’s Department of Finance to raise the tax. But it did not. As a result, the state treasury will miss out on a little more than $600 million (much to the relief of California drivers, however).

Because California already has one of the highest gas taxes in the nation, citizens may not care one bit about why the Board of Equalization rejected the tax increase. But understanding how this happened is an object lesson in the strangeness that is California.

It begins with the “gas tax swap.”

In 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law two fuel tax measures commonly referred to as the gas tax swap, which adjusted the rates of the sales and excise tax on gasoline. (The excise tax is a “gallonage” tax based on the amount of gas purchased). The fuel tax swap legislation was designed to be “revenue neutral,” meaning the total taxes paid at the pump would not increase because of the change in the law.

But ensuring that the gas tax swap was actually revenue neutral required some backward-looking calculations, because the price of gasoline can greatly fluctuate. In short, the state had to determine how much sales taxes would have been collected had the law not been changed and then adjust the excise tax in an attempt to even things out. Yes, it’s weird, and the reason they did this is beyond the scope of this column.

For the last several years, the Board of Equalization was tasked with making that annual adjustment after receiving a recommendation from the California Department of Finance. That annual adjustment has always been viewed as routine and non-controversial.

All that changed last year because of two notable events: First, a massive increase in the gas tax and, second, a turf battle between the legislature and the Board of Equalization.

When the legislature enacted the infamous Senate Bill 1 raising the gas tax to a stratospheric level, which taxpayers are now trying to undo with an initiative measure, it also took away the Board of Equalization’s authority to make the annual adjustment. The adjustment that was to occur last month was to be the last exercise of that authority by the board.

In the meantime, progressives in the legislature were increasing their criticism of the Board of Equalization which they viewed as being a bit too sympathetic to taxpayers. (The Board of Equalization is the only popularly elected tax board in the nation and would actually give taxpayers a fair hearing when there are disputes over tax liability of individuals and businesses.)

In recent years, the Board of Equalization has endured a few minor (by Sacramento standards) scandals involving office space and political activity. The Legislature then saw these issues as an opportunity to pounce and deprive the Board of Equalization of the bulk of its authority, shifting much of its responsibilities to a new bureaucracy-driven California Department of Tax and Fee Administration that has no direct political accountability.

It is with that background that members of the Board of Equalization, including one Democrat, refused to adjust upward the gas excise tax, an otherwise ministerial act. And although the members who spoke against the increase cast their positions as looking out for California taxpayers, no one who has observed the Board of Equalization over several years missed the real message being delivered to the Legislature. The board’s decision leaves the fuel excise tax at 29 cents per gallon, instead of 33 cents, for another year unless the legislature finds a clever way to bypass the process.

When one considers all the machinations of politics and the manner in which legislation is enacted, it’s no wonder people refer to the California Legislature as a sausage factory. Actually, that’s an insult to sausage factories.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

Once again, California sees the unintended consequences of bad legislation

property taxLast July, we wrote a column regarding the foolishness of Senate Bill 2, a new $75 tax on real estate recordings, ostensibly for the purpose of funding housing programs. We pointed out that imposing a tax on real estate transactions to pay for programs to make housing more affordable is like treating someone with a low blood count with leeches.

While the fundamental irrationality of SB2 is water under the bridge, a host of implementation problems have now arisen that need corrective action, and quickly.

For example, SB2’s language makes it difficult for California’s 58 County Recorders to determine if they should charge the additional $75 for tax liens and lien releases presented by government agencies.

These tax liens can originate from small local business activities like selling Avon, from failure to pay your annual income taxes, from a missed tax payment on your jet ski, for child-support collection and more. You don’t even need to own a house to have one of these liens recorded against you, and worse yet, you may not even know that the lien exists until it shows up on your credit report.

State agencies and the IRS have refused to pay the $75, arguing that these documents are exempt from the new tax. The attorney general agrees (see AG 18-101), but California’s Office of Legislative Counsel issued an opinion that contradicts the attorney general — making it even more confusing for taxpayers and county recorders.

At this point, most recorders interpret the statute as mandatory, because the legislative counsel has told them this was the original intent of the bill. Therefore, they are mailing back lien releases as unrecorded to state agencies and to the IRS for lack of the $75. For property owners, this is a real problem because their debt has been paid but their credit is not cleared because the lien hasn’t been released.

Some taxpayers are so eager to clear their credit that they are intercepting the lien releases at their county recorder’s office and offering to pay the $75, legal or not. The Department of Child Support Services intends to record all lien releases itself instead of giving them to the redeemed payer to record more quickly on their own, but it is still being held up. Some child-support payers might be offering to take the release to the recorder themselves and paying the $75 to have their credit cleared. As the situation continues, however, others might be discouraged from paying up their child support arrears or tax debts in the first place. The extra hurdle is not helping the government, the taxpayer, or the children.

It is also true that the state of California cannot tax the federal government. Although this has been settled law for hundreds of years, many county recorders are attempting to collect the tax from the IRS. And although this is legal doctrine, it makes common sense as well. Would there be any sense or justice if the states had the power to tax the federal government out of existence?

Because the language of SB2 is so confusing, and it relies on many assumptions that the county recorder has no ability to independently verify, payment of the tax on most documents relies on self-certification. Most people do not have law degrees, so many people are paying the tax when they are not legally required to pay it, and others are receiving exemptions when they are not entitled to them.

SB2 gives a long but non-exclusive list of “real estate instruments” to which the fee applies. This includes a “release” and a “mechanic’s lien,” but not just a “lien” nor a “tax lien,” and certainly not a “child support lien.” SB2 also uses the words “transaction,” “in connection with” and “relating to real property,” none of which are defined in statute. Is enforcing a government debt a “transaction”? Are IRS tax liens and releases “relating to real property”? Tax liens use specific real property to enforce a debt, but they are not like a mechanic’s lien where the contractor performed work on that specific property.

There are many other types of liens where intent could vary as to whether to charge the $75: liens for postponement of property taxes for senior citizens, government liens recorded in error, government liens released due to discretionary re-prioritizing, and, less sympathetically, liens for graffiti nuisance abatements or violations of various safety codes. It is unclear whether the legislature intended to extend the tax to these recordings, although they were aware that this was a potential issue and chose not to address it.

Clean-up legislation is needed promptly. SB2, as substantive legislation, was bad enough. Its implementation is almost worse.

Jon Coupal is the president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and Kammi Foote is the clerk-recorder of Inyo County.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

‘Trump bump’ rescues California’s unemployment fund

donald-trump-2America’s economic recovery has benefited California more than most states because the real estate crash hit the Golden State a lot harder. In other words, we’ve had to claw our way up from a deeper hole.

The good news is that the strength of the recovery is impressive. Hourly wages have jumped by four dollars since the start of the Great Recession. Unemployment has dropped to 4.3 percent, a record low since 1976 when California started keeping track of the data. The new $190 billion general and special fund budget that Gov. Brown proposed last month is an all-time record and $26 billion more than just two years ago. By any metric California’s economy, the 5th largest in the world, is strong.

While California’s progressive legislators seize any opportunity to trash President Trump, the undeniable truth is that most Californians will benefit from the federal tax-reform bill both from increases in their paychecks as well as largess from their employers handing out raises and bonuses.

There is also good news for the state’s businesses community, which will see lower payroll taxes. Back in 2001, the state Legislature — in a decidedly short-sighted move — increased unemployment insurance benefits to a maximum amount of $450 a week for 26 weeks. Increasing benefits by that amount without increasing payroll taxes was a recipe for disaster. That disaster struck with the onset of the recession in 2008. One year later, the state depleted its unemployment insurance fund reserve and went into insolvency, where the fund remains today. In order to continue paying out unemployment benefits, California borrowed $10.2 billion from the federal government between 2008 and 2012.

Under law, California is prohibited from repaying the loan principal out of general or special funds, but can repay the interest due the federal government. The only way to repay the loan back is either by increasing payroll taxes or decreasing benefits. Because California politicians could not reach agreement on how to solve this problem, the federal government acted for them, automatically increasing payroll taxes to settle the debt.

The consequences of the insolvency of the Unemployment Insurance Fund have been dramatic for California businesses and taxpayers. According to the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, California will end up paying nearly $1.5 billion in interest payments to the federal government out of the state’s general fund. And California employers are estimated to have paid over $2.5 billion in increased federal payroll taxes in 2017 alone, solely for the purpose of making the fund solvent. Increased wages and job growth from the “Trump bump” have helped to repay this loan quicker then might otherwise have been possible.

The unemployment insurance debacle is yet another example of the federal government riding to the rescue and bailing us out. The good news for California employers is that the federal loan will be paid off sometime this year, meaning more money can be invested in businesses and returned to workers.

However, the respite may be short-lived. As is inevitable in the cyclical nature of economies, what goes up must come back down. The nine-year expansion of California’s economy will not last forever and may already be starting to contract. In order to avoid yet another structural budget problem (see also: the general fund and unfunded pension liabilities) it is imperative the Legislature act now to restore sustainable benefit levels before the next recession. Otherwise, the Trump administration may once again have to bail out California.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

High-speed rail is the best reason to repeal the gas and car tax hike

High speed rail constructionWould you trust a surgeon who has a history of amputating the wrong limb? Of course not. For the same reason, California taxpayers should not trust our state politicians with more transportation dollars. Let’s get one thing clear from the outset. Any spending on the California high-speed rail project is, by definition, transportation spending. Therefore, any discussion about the wisdom of repealing the gas tax cannot ignore what the state of California has done with its “showcase” transportation project.

The complete dysfunction of HSR is no longer in dispute.

The latest development is the failure of the HSR authority to issue its revised business plan to the California Legislature as required by law. Its excuse? The authority is in the midst of hiring staff so it can’t issue a timely report. Besides being a complete non sequitur, one would think that the hiring of additional staff would be a reason to issue a report as soon as possible.

Moreover, this latest shortcoming is consistent with the authority’s continued aversion to transparency. Just last month, Republican legislators called for an emergency audit when it became evident that just the Central Valley segment of the project was $1.7 billion over budget. While that request was denied, this week Democratic legislator Jim Beall joined with Republicans seeking a comprehensive audit when it was revealed that the Central Valley segment was actually a stunning $2.8 billion over budget.

Many who originally supported the high-speed rail project have had a dramatic change of heart. Quentin Kopp, a former state senator and High Speed Rail Authority chairman, is now vigorously opposed, noting that “this is not what the voters approved.” Likewise, the San Jose Mercury News this week ran an editorial entitled, “Stop the California Bullet Train in its Tracks.”

The foolishness of the project is especially evident when considering that one of its main purposes was the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, that justification is why the project is currently being funded almost exclusively by “cap-and-trade” funds that are generated by the sale of “carbon credits,” a hidden tax on energy.

But ironically, even the respected, nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office notes that the project is a net greenhouse gas producer. If the state of California were more serious about GHG emissions, it would direct those funds into more traditional transportation projects including road improvements and lane capacity. Stopped traffic produces more pollution than traffic that moves.

Despite the higher gas and car taxes that drivers have been paying since November, a new report by the State Auditor says transportation infrastructure remains one of the “high risk” issues facing California. Why? Because of uncertainty about the “effective and efficient use” of the money collected from the tax hikes.

In short, our current political leadership, which jammed the massive car and gas tax increase down our throats without a vote of the people, has no credibility whatsoever as acceptable stewards of transportation dollars. And as long the high-speed rail project continues, they never will.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

Will change in recall rules protect Democrats in Legislature?

State Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, left, listens as Senate President Pro Tem Kevin del Leon, D-Los Angeles, right, urges lawmakers to approve a measure to change the rules governing recall elections, Thursday, June 15, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. Democratic lawmakers approved the bill that would let people rescind their signatures from recall petitions and let lawmakers weigh in on potential costs. Newman is facing a recall campaign over his vote to increase the gas tax. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Compared to citizens of other states, Californians are pretty laid back. But while Californians may have a reputation for being “chill,” in the political realm, they can act with surprising intensity and speed.

In 2003, when newly re-elected Gov. Gray Davis revealed that the budget was in much worse shape than he had admitted and announced a sharp hike in the car tax, Californians signed recall petitions at such a rapid pace that the recall qualified for the ballot on July 23. The election was held on October 7, and a new governor was sworn in on November 17.

Fast forward to, 2017. On April 6th, state Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, cast the deciding vote to pass Senate Bill 1, a $5.2 billion annual increase in the gas and car tax. A recall effort was launched against him, and by the end of June, more than 80,000 voters in Senate District 29 had signed petitions to recall him. Only 63,593 signatures were needed to qualify the recall for the ballot.

Failing to learn the lessons of the past, the Legislature and the governor decided to change the rules for recall elections, enacting SB96 as a last-minute budget “trailer” bill. (Trailer bills are supposed to be “budget related” but that’s another legislative abuse).

SB96 included new rules to slow down the recall and removal process that the state constitution and accompanying statutes had made speedy and immediate. The law required the verification of every signature, instead of a random sample. A new waiting period was added to allow petition signers to consider whether they wanted to withdraw their signatures. The law added a new requirement for an analysis of the cost of the recall election, along with a review of the cost by the legislature. And the law applied the new rules retroactively to any recall efforts that were underway at the time.

Where the previous rules had strict time limits to ensure a speedy election, allowing voters to immediately remove a state official from office, the new rules made the time period for recalls not only longer, but indefinite.

The law prohibits the secretary of state from certifying the recall petition until the governor’s Department of Finance and the Legislature have had an opportunity to estimate and examine the costs of a recall election. There’s no time limit to complete the cost estimate, effectively allowing an endless delay. That’s on top of the extra 40 working days that the law added for petition signers to consider withdrawing their signatures.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sued to get SB96 overturned as unconstitutional, and a judge agreed, preventing the law from taking effect. But again our clueless Legislature rushed to pass a new law, SB117, that worked around the judge’s objections and reinstated the lengthy and costly new recall procedures.

As a result, voters have effectively lost the right to recall elected officials, just when they need it most.

It seems that every day brings new allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct by lawmakers in Sacramento. The Assembly Rules Committee’s chief administrative officer, Debra Gravert, told Capitol Weekly that outside law firms are conducting seven investigations, and Senate Leader Kevin de León’s office confirmed two investigations on the Senate side.

Voters may not be happy with Sacramento’s system of protecting lawmakers. It starts with a byzantine process that discourages victims from reporting incidents, and then, when misconduct becomes public, hides the facts behind a cloak of attorney-client privilege. And voters may not want to wait around for lawmakers to decide when they feel like resigning.

But under the new recall rules passed to protect Josh Newman from the rage of voters in his district, sexual harassers are likely to have a free ride, at taxpayer expense, all the way until the next regularly scheduled election.

In twice changing the recall rules to protect one tax-loving politician, the Legislature and governor have not only revealed their disdain for the tools of direct democracy but they have made it easier for abusive and predaceous politicians to escape the wrath of voters.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

Nothing that comes from government is free

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a Walt Disney classic from 1966 starring Dick Van Dyke as a quirky inventor who turns a broken-down Grand Prix car into a magical flying machine. Along with his two young children, they soar off to a fantasy land with the mission of rescuing the beloved grandfather being held in a strange make-believe city.

There’s a particularly creepy scene in the movie where the diabolical villain lures the two kids from their hiding place. He walks down the street yelling out, “Ice cream. Get some ice cream! Today, it’s all free!” The children can’t resist and they emerge from a building to get into a carriage where they are promised the sweets. Once inside, the curtains fall from the side of the carriage to reveal they have walked into a metal cage.

jerry-brownI was reminded of this scene when Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 19, which mandates freshmen at California’s community colleges be given free tuition. The legislation, authored by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, would expand the current fee waiver for low-income students. The new grant would waive the first year of fees for all first-time, full-time students attending a California community college, regardless of need.

The notion that citizens are entitled to “free stuff” from government is an unhealthy trend in America. While there is certainly a public benefit to education — which is why kindergarten through high school is free in the United States — students who move on to college should be expected to have some “skin in the game.”

At the national level, the push for tuition-free college is a potent movement. Groups such as College Promise Campaign celebrated the passage of AB19 as step toward the goal of free college education nationwide. Not surprisingly, openly socialist candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders are big proponents.

Nobel economist Milton Friedman was fond of saying that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Indeed, he published a series of his essays in a book of the same title. His point was simple: Nothing is free; someone — either voluntarily or under compulsion — has to pay. And it’s not just limited government advocates who recognize this brutal truth. As it relates to AB19, officials in the Los Rios Community College District in the greater Sacramento area are trying to figure out how they are going to pay for the tuition break. Perhaps this question should have been asked when the legislation was being considered.

Another dose of economic reality struck California’s far-left leaning Legislature this past session as progressive activists pushed hard for a state-run single-payer health care system. The price tag, $400 billion, or three times the current state budget, was so daunting that even the progressive Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Rendon had to pull the plug after it passed in the state Senate. The entire discussion of single-payer in California proves the maxim that “if you think health care is expensive now, wait until it’s free.”

Whether it is higher education, health care, cellphones, food or transportation, knowledgeable citizens ought to be wary of free stuff from government. Yes, we need basic public services paid for through taxes as well as a basic safety net for our most needy who cannot care for themselves. But increasing reliance on Big Brother government comes with a cost — lack of choice and a loss of freedom.

Free stuff from government only feeds higher expectations and a pervasive notion of entitlement. And the reverse, that which is earned through effort and innovation, leads to more fulfilling lives and self-empowerment.

Citizens, especially the young, ought to beware: A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you have.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the L.A. Daily News