Legislatures Kill Transparency Pricing at the Pump

gas prices 2Californians now pay as much as $1.00 more per gallon of fuel than the rest of the country. Shouldn’t the motoring public know why?

A bill in the California Legislature to do just that was Senate Bill 1074, by state Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa. Called “Disclosure of government-imposed costs,” it would have required gas stations to post near each gas pump a list of cost factors, such as federal, state and local taxes, costs associated with environmental rules and regulations including the cap-and-trade tax.

Numerous folks and organizations spoke in support of the bill at an April 23 hearing before the Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development. I testified myself. Absolutely no one from the public spoke in opposition.

But the Democratic-controlled committee didn’t want the public to know why we’re paying so much, and voted to kill the bill from future consideration.

I watched closely the action on the Senate floor. The senator who spoke most against the bill was Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton. But when the time of the vote came and it became clear the bill would fail, he voted Aye, which could help him in his close recall election bid this June.

Newman already had enough problems on the issue because he provided the key vote last year to pass Senate Bill 1, which jacked up gas taxes $5.5 billion a year. An initiative to repeal that gouging at the gouging at the pump just submitted more than 1 million signatures and also should go before voters this November.

It’s strange that almost every other product we buy comes with the price listed on the tag, with the taxes then clearly added to the receipt: clothes, computers, cars, furniture, office supplies, books, etc.

By contrast, the price at the pump is not broken down by tax or other cost, but actually includes a multitude of taxes, as well as costs from numerous environmental regulations.

In addition to the federal tax on fuels that applies to all states, California’s state taxes are among the highest in the country. Beginning last November, SB 1 alone added 12 cents to a gallon of gasoline and 20 cents to diesel.

SB 1074 specified the multiple taxes and regulatory costs that would have to be listed: a) The federal fuel tax per gallon; b) the state fuel tax per gallon; c) the state sales tax per gallon; d) refinery reformatting costs per gallon; e) cap and trade program compliance costs per gallon; f) low-carbon fuel standard program compliance costs per gallon; and g) renewable fuels standard program compliance costs per gallon.

That’s a lot of taxes and costs.

The cap and trade costs, by the way, now are the major funding source for outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown’s favorite boondoggle, the Choo Choo train project.

The high fuel taxes impact not just drivers, but almost everything in our economy, such as the food carried to grocery stores, materials to housing construction and clothing to children’s stores. Even Amazon.com and other online retailers will charge more for shipping as their costs rise.

Especially hurt by the high cost of fuel are the working poor, who often must commute an hour or more inland because coastal housing is so expensive. Aren’t such people supposed to be a key constituency of the Democratic Party?

No wonder we now have a better understanding of why California suffers the highest percentage of people in poverty and a homeless crisis so acute it shocks the world.

SB 1074 would have given motorists information on what’s really going on. But for the Democratic supermajority in the Legislature, bliss is keeping Californians ignorant.

ounder of PTS Staffing Solutions, a technical staffing agency headquartered in Irvine

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Signatures for recall of Sen. Newman certified, election expected in June

Signatures calling for the Republican-backed recall election of state Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, were certified on Friday by Secretary of State Alex Padilla, making it official that the effort has qualified for the ballot.

The date of the election will be determined by Gov. Jerry Brown, with many expecting it to coincide with June 5 primary. Democratic lawmakers tweaked state law last year to expand the time frame when such elections could be held. Beside the cost savings of running the elections together, the June 5 date would sidestep a freestanding special election in which Republicans typically turn out in greater proportions than Democrats.

The GOP targeted Newman after he voted to increase the gas tax by 12-cents-per gallon to pay for a 10-year, $52 billion roads and transportation improvement project championed by Brown, who has vowed to provide Newman with the help he needs to fend off the recall.

The freshman senator was singled out because he was considered the most vulnerable to being beaten by a Republican. His 2016 election gave Democrats a two-thirds supermajority that allowed them to raise taxes without a single GOP vote. …

Click here to read the full article from 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

Political fight continues over California recall rules

vote-buttonsSACRAMENTO – Most recall elections are primarily about electoral politics, as both sides duke it out with the usual broadcast ads and ground campaigns. But the burgeoning Republican effort to recall Orange County’s Democratic Sen. Josh Newman has turned into an inside-the-Capitol political fight as well as a high-profile legal battle. It could be months before the matter is debated in the context of a traditional political campaign.

Newman was elected to the Fullerton-area Senate district last November, winning by fewer than 2,500 votes in a district with nearly even voter registration between the Democratic and Republican parties. Voters there have typically sent Republicans to the Legislature, so Newman’s win was viewed as an upset. It also helped Democrats gain supermajorities in the Legislature, which lets them approve tax increases without any GOP votes.

After Newman cast a deciding vote in favor of legislation that raises the gasoline tax by 12 cents a gallon and increases vehicle license fees, former San Diego councilman Carl DeMaio, a Republican, started a campaign to boot Newman from the Senate. State Democratic leaders claim that some recall backers misled voters into thinking the recall will repeal the transportation-tax hike, so they struck back with a measure they say is about upholding the integrity of the recall process.

They passed a bill earlier this summer that retroactively changes the state’s long-standing recall-election rules by adding months to the certification timeline. It primarily gives voters 30 days to rescind their recall-petition signatures. Republicans say the new law has nothing to do with recall integrity, but is a transparent attempt to delay the election until the June 2018 primary when Democrats are expected to fare better at the polls. They accuse the Democrats of rigging the election rules to help Newman.

The governor signed Senate Bill 96 in June, but the state’s Third District Court of Appeal put portions of it on hold earlier this month, ruling that it violates the single-subject rule requiring legislation to deal with only one topic. The court, however, didn’t halt the Democratic effort to slow the recall drive. After they returned from summer recess, legislators again used a trailer bill, which is supposedly reserved for budgetary clean-up language, to quickly pass a measure to again rewrite recall election law to help Newman survive a coming vote.

Signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate Bill 117 seeks “to eliminate any issue as to whether the changes to recall petition procedures made by Senate Bill 96 are enacted in violation of the single subject rule” by expressing “the intent of the Legislature to repeal those provisions and reenact them in this act, which embraces only the subject of elections.”

After the bill became law, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and several voters again filed a lawsuit against Democratic Secretary of State Alex Padilla and the state Legislature to strike down the new law, which they say is unconstitutional.

The original lawsuit argues that “the attempted retroactive interference in a recall process that has already commenced for the express purpose of nullifying, through unreasonable delay, petitioners’ constitutionally-vested right, violates both due process and equal protection of the law.”

The new lawsuit says the new law “should not be permitted to prohibit (the secretary of state) from performing his ministerial duty, which at this point is the simple process of signing his name to a certificate to confirm what everyone knows, and indeed what the Respondent’s office has acknowledged: that the recall petition is sufficient to compel an immediate election.”

It also contends that the law should properly have been passed on a two-thirds vote rather than as majority-vote trailer bill. “While SB117 purported to address the single-subject problem of its predecessor,” the lawsuit argues, “the new bill does so in another unconstitutional vehicle – a ‘spot-bill’ designated as ‘related to the budget in the budget bill.’” But when the budget was adopted, “SB117 was not even identified as one of the budget-related trailer bills” and “had no substantive content.”

If the court rules in the group’s favor, Democrats could still appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court. Win or lose, the Democrats appear to be getting their way – using their fearsome political muscle to delay a recall of one of their senators. It’s the rare election case where the courts have as much influence as the voters.

Steven Greenhut is a Sacramento-based journalist. Write to him at stevengreenhut@gmail.com.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

State ethics commission poised to help Democrats fight off recall effort

As reported by the L.A. Times:

The state’s campaign watchdog agency is poised on Thursday to open the spigot for large political contributions that would help an embattled Democratic state senator fend off a recall campaign, a change that opponents say is tainted by secret talks between a commissioner and a Democratic attorney.

The state Fair Political Practices Commission last month began the process of lifting the $4,400 limit on political contributions by elected officials to anti-recall campaigns. The change was requested by Democrats to help state Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), who is facing an effort to remove him from office after his vote in April for a $52-billion gas and vehicle tax package.

FPPC Commissioner Brian Hatch is facing criticism for communicating before the vote with an attorney for the Senate Democrats, Richard Rios, holding a private meeting and exchanging emails and text messages that appeared to strategize on passing the policy change.

Hatch, a Democrat and former firefighters’ union lobbyist, defended his communication with Rios, saying it was needed to counter what he saw as a bias in favor of keeping the existing policy — which Hatch said he saw as unfair — by commission staff and FPPC Chairwoman Jodi Remke. Hatch challenged the notion that a campaign to recall an official could receive unlimited contributions while those fighting a recall were subject to limits. …

Click here to read the full article

Ethics commissioner Brian Hatch had private meetings with Democrats over recall election rules

A former labor lobbyist who serves on California’s political watchdog agency met privately, talked on the phone and exchanged text messages with a lawyer working for Senate Democrats while advocating for the agency to flip a longstanding legal interpretation of campaign finance law in favor of Sen. Josh Newman.

The conversations between California Fair Political Practices Commissioner Brian Hatch, a Democrat and former lobbyist for the firefighters union, and Richard Rios, an attorney representing Senate Democrats, were revealed in a public records request seeking communications about the matter.

Senate Democrats are asking the FPPC to reverse its position on contribution limits in recall elections. If the agency approves the change next week, state candidates would be able to give unlimited sums of money to Newman. The Fullerton Democrat is fighting a Republican-led recall to oust him and upend Democrats’ supermajority dominance in the state Senate.

FPPC commissioners are prohibited from speaking privately with interests in enforcement cases. Commissioners are allowed to meet or discuss the agency’s legal opinion on state law and rule-making decisions with outside parties, but such one-on-one meetings are unusual and are supposed to be disclosed. None of the other commissioners reported private meetings with outside groups in response to the records request.

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

More shady politics from Sacramento Democrats

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)

Last week, the ostensibly nonpartisan California Fair Political Practices Commission agreed to remove a long-standing campaign contribution limit so that Democrats could better fight an upcoming recall election against one of their own. And you thought things were bad in Venezuela.

Earlier this year, frustrated taxpayers in Senate District 29 initiated a recall of state Sen. Josh Newman because of his vote to impose over $5 billion annually in new taxes on cars and gasoline. Within months, over 100,000 signatures were submitted in support of ousting Newman.

In a move to bolster Newman’s chances of surviving the impending recall, the Senate Democrats last month requested that the FPPC allow elected officials to contribute more than $4,400 — the legal limit — to Sen. Newman’s recall committee. Since 2003, the FPPC has maintained that the contribution limits that apply to candidate committees during regularly scheduled elections also apply to recall elections. In fact, back in 2008, that rule was applied against a Republican legislator, Jeff Denham, when he was fighting his own recall challenge. The justification for the limit is to prevent legislative leaders from using their power and influence over special-interest contributors to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, which could then be immediately transferred to the targeted legislator.

In response to the Democrats’ request, the FPPC’s own legal counsel reviewed the limit and concluded that the current interpretation is both “well-reasoned and legally sound.” However, in a 3-1 vote, the commission ignored its attorneys’ objection and gave preliminary approval to lift the contribution limit for recall candidates.

To be clear, many question both the efficacy and the constitutionality of political contribution limits. After reasoned debate, it may well be that the California Legislature would vote to lift the cap for future elections. But it is the method and timing of the revised interpretation that stinks.

First, the Democrats are hiding behind the FPPC. If they don’t like the contribution limits, they could simply pass a reform bill, which Gov. Brown would quickly sign. But, rather than be upfront about their political agenda, they asked their cohorts at the FPPC to do their dirty work for them via a regulatory amendment.

Second, and far more troubling, is the timing. If this particular contribution limit can’t be justified as advancing the public interest — and it may not be — why repeal it in a manner so transparently intended to help one particular political party, and one particular candidate? By not delaying the effective date of the regulatory change until some not-too-distant future election cycle, the FPPC loses the moral high ground, as well as the appearance of objectivity.

The upshot of this may not mean much. Sure, with lots more Democratic money to spend in the recall election, voters in the 29th Senate District will see their mailboxes filled to brim with misleading mailers, as well as nonstop radio commercials on every station, funded by special interests. But the anger on the part of working Californians over the massive tax increase, especially in Newman’s conservative district, is palpable — and even an unlimited supply of campaign cash may not be able to stave off voter wrath.

Nonetheless, the FPPC action is unseemly and wrong. Today, when cynicism over the political process is at an all-time high at both the national level and here in California, we should be assuring citizens that our democratic processes are fair and reflective of high standards of integrity. Unfortunately, the FPPC’s sudden rule change will only reinforce distrust on the part of voters.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register.

Republicans Will Sue Attorney General over ‘Misleading’ Gas Tax Repeal Language

Gas-Pump-blue-generic+flippedRepublican advocates of a California ballot initiative to repeal the state’s new gas tax will sue Attorney General Xavier Becerra over language he issued describing the measure, which they say is “misleading” to voters.

The language, reported by the Los Angeles Times, says the referendum “eliminates recently enacted road repair and transportation funding by repealing revenues dedicated for those purposes.” Proponents of the repeal say that there is no way to be certain that the gas tax and new vehicle registration fees will be used to fix the state’s roads.

In addition, the Times notes, Becerra’s description says the referendum “Eliminates Independent Office of Audits and Investigations.” Advocates of the repeal note that the office, provided for in the gas tax law, does not yet exist.

The language in Becerra’s description must be provided by those gathering signatures for the referendum, and backers are concerned that the language of the description could dissuade some people from supporting the effort.

Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach), who is leading the repeal effort and is running for governor in 2018, told the Times that “almost everything” in Becerra’s description of the referendum was misleading.

The battle over language is only the latest controversy in the fight over the gas tax. Democrats are trying to change the rules for recall elections to protect State Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), who voted for the gas tax. (The Wall Street Journal accused them of “rigging the recall rules” to move the election from this fall to next June, when Democratic turnout is expected to be higher.) Democrats are also trying to remove campaign finance restrictions on legislators so that they can donate unlimited amounts of money to Newman’s effort to defend his seat in the recall. And Democrats are suing members of the California College Republicans who gathered signatures for the recall, alleging that the students misled voters by telling them that recalling Newman would mean repealing the gas tax.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

California Democrats out to reverse another election rule to help one of their own

As reported by the Orange County Register:

First, Democrats hoping to protect one of their own passed a law changing the rules for a recall.

Now they are pressuring the state’s campaign watchdog to reverse a longstanding stance on contribution limits to once again benefit Sen. Josh Newman, who Republicans are seeking to punish for casting a vote to raise state gas taxes.

In 2002, the California Fair Political Practices Commission adopted a regulation that said state candidates are subject to contribution limits when they give money to a recall committee controlled by another state candidate. The FPPC interprets the law to mean that state politicians can’t give the Fullerton Democrat more than $4,400 each to fight his recall.

Roughly 15 years and two recall elections after the agency took the position, Senate Democrats are arguing the FPPC got it wrong. They say candidate committees should be able to give unlimited sums to a candidate-controlled recall committee, which would allow Newman to rely on fundraising by colleagues to help fend off the Republicans gunning for him. Democrats had the Legislature’s government lawyers study the issue, and on June 27 Legislative Counsel Diane Boyer-Vine issued an opinion predicting that courts would uphold a reversal of the FPPC’s longstanding interpretation. …

Click here to read the full article

Recall effort stymied by Sacramento

Members of the California Legislature apparently believe they have the power to change outcomes they don’t like. This is like awarding the NBA Championship to Cleveland by retroactively mandating that all of Golden State’s three point baskets be counted as only two.

While basketball is not on the minds of lawmakers, they are working to interfere with something of much greater value to average Californians, their constitutional right to recall elected officials. The Sacramento politicians think they have found a way to derail what appears to be a successful grassroots effort to recall state Sen. Josh Newman, who cast a key vote imposing a new $5.2 billion annual gas and car tax on already overburdened taxpayers.

The power of recall is a powerful tool of direct democracy. The secretary of state’s website says, “Recall is the power of the voters to remove elected officials before their terms expire. It has been a fundamental part of our governmental system since 1911 and has been used by voters to express their dissatisfaction with their elected representatives.”

In the 29th Senate District, covering parts of Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, voters have been busy exercising their right to recall their tax-raising representative Josh Newman. Much to the surprise of Sacramento insiders, it looks like the campaign will succeed in gathering enough signatures to force the senator to be held accountable in a special election — already the secretary of state has instructed county registrars to begin counting the signatures. The chance that the recall of one of their own will be successful has lawmakers panicking. Their solution is to surreptitiously change the recall rules that have been in place for over a century.

500px-Capitol_Building_MG_1600_Sans_watermarkWith little notice, the Legislature amended Senate Bill 96, as it was about to pass in connection with the state budget on June 15, for the purpose of changing the rules governing the current recall effort. The purpose of the bill is shamelessly transparent: “It is the Legislature’s intent that the changes made by this act in the Elections Code apply retroactively to recalls that are pending at any stage at the time of the act’s enactment… .”

Their end game is delay. They want to delay the ultimate vote on ousting Newman for as long as possible, despite the constitutional guarantee to have the vote as quickly as possible — between 60 days and 180 days from the recall petitions having been certified.

Here’s how they do it: First, they try to delay the petition review process by requiring the county Registrars of Voters to check the validity of every signature submitted. Normally, the registrars are permitted to check a random sample of the signatures, saving both time and money.

Second, and more disturbing, is the provision buried deep in the text that states, “Notwithstanding any other law, the Secretary of State shall not certify the sufficiency of the signatures [on the recall petitions] until the Legislative Joint Budget Committee has 30 days to review and comment on the estimate [of recall costs] submitted by the Department of Finance.”

Here’s the kicker. The Department of Finance is part of the governor’s office and the bill does not require the governor’s office to prepare that analysis under any time limit. Gov. Brown, who has already come out against the recall, can simply delay that report indefinitely, which, in turn, would hold up certification of the recall effort and the ultimate election.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that those in power in Sacramento will stop at nothing to retain their power and influence, putting their own interests ahead of those of average Californians. But lawmakers who disrespect voters should be wary. Polls show that nearly 60 percent of Californians oppose the new gas tax. The higher taxes will kick in just before the beginning of next year’s election season. Voters are very likely to remember who is responsible and choose to retire multiple representatives, not just a single senator, in the regularly scheduled 2018 election.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This piece was originally published by the Orange County Register