CA Senate Jumps Into UC Tuition Fracas

Maybe kids and their parents won’t have to pay higher University of California tuition.

Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown tried to reverse UC President Janet Napolitano’s 25 percent tuition hike over five years. But she outmaneuvered him at a Board of Regents meeting.

Now the California Senate is moving to the head of the class. Senate Bill 15 is by state Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego. As his website explains:

“The proposal upgrades the State’s current financial aid system so it can support all California students more effectively and provide incentives for completing college within four years. The plan also proposes a higher tuition premium for non-resident UC students and a transition of the Middle Class Scholarship program.”

It was co-introduced by new Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles. The tuition increase for out-of-state students would top $4,000.

Although the UC and CSU systems have expressed interest in the bill, its fate will be out of their hands. The Assembly has not yet offered any enthusiasm.

The bill was a response, according to the San Jose Mercury news, of how Napolitano “put the onus on the Legislature and the governor to repair the damage: If they came up with more money, she suggested, the tuition increases would not need to be as large.”

Ending independence

A more radical bill is Senate Constitutional Amendment 1, by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens. The bipartisan bill was co-authored by Sens. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and Joel Anderson, R-El Cajon.

SCA1 would amendment the California Constitution to take away the UC’s independence.

“The bill doesn’t list specific powers lawmakers would have over UC, where the governor-appointed regents are currently the highest authority,” the Chronicle reported. “But, under the bill, the elected officials would have the final say over any policy approved by the regents, from tuition levels to executive compensation.”

While the UC system has controlled its finances autonomously since the original California Constitution was signed in 1848, the Cal State system faces oversight from Sacramento — an arrangement seen as a model by Lara and Cannella.

As a constitutional amendment, SCA1 would need a two-thirds vote of of both houses of the Legislature to be put before voters in 2016.

Frustration

California voters have not yet weighed in on SCA1, but current polling has showcased their own frustration.

The Public Policy Institute of California found strong opposition to tuition increases and tax increases alike, with 77 percent opposing hikes that hit students, and 58 percent siding against hits to their pocketbooks.

Yet the poll also found just over half of respondents felt funding for public higher education was too low.

The desire for more spending but lower taxes and tuition will be hashed over in the Legislature, by the governor and by voters over the next several years.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Legislatures Challenging Initiative Process in Federal Courts

Those who don’t like the initiative process may have found a powerful ally in the United States Constitution. I write “may” because precedent is not on their side. But that hasn’t stopped initiative critics from making the effort to enlist the court’s support — and the courts are at least listening.

On this page, I wrote about a challenge the United States Supreme Court is taking up from Arizona on the right of voters through the initiative process to set up a redistricting commission. The challenge came from the Arizona legislature, which argued that it was exclusively the legislature’s prerogative to set up congressional districts. As in California, voters passed an initiative in the Grand Canyon state creating a citizens redistricting commission.

An earlier challenge in federal courts from Colorado argues that the U.S. Constitution guarantees to the states a Republican form of government, which some legislators say, is undone by direct democracy. I have written about the Colorado case, Kerr vs. Hickenlooper, here before.

As set forth in that previous article, “Attempting to undercut the initiative process by arguing that direct democracy violates the U. S. Constitution is as old as direct democracy in this country. In 1912, a telephone company in Oregon used the argument to challenge a tax imposed by voters. The court determined then, as it had in previous dealings with the Guarantee Clause going back as early as 1849, that what constitutes a Republican Form of Government is a political question.”

Those challenging a Colorado initiative that allows voters to affirm any tax increases claim that core legislative powers dealing with taxing and spending have been put at risk leading to what they say is a “slow, inexorable slide into fiscal dysfunction.”

Many legal experts thought the case would be dismissed because the issue was non-justiciable—meaning an issue over which the court cannot exercise its judicial authority. However, the Tenth Circuit Court agreed to allow the case to proceed.

Pepperdine University law professor Derek Muller thinks the Tenth Circuit decision will be overturned on appeal. He called the Tenth Circuit’s decision “a novel judicial opinion written on dubious legal grounds.”

Still, one has to wonder if the courts are looking for a way to subdue the initiative process.

Look at the record. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the redistricting case. The Tenth Circuit has allowed the Colorado case to continue to the surprise of many experts. Here in California, former state Supreme Court chief justice Ronald George has been a vocal critic of the initiative process.

A key question for the courts is where to draw the line on where a legislative power is so fundamental that citizens cannot make constitutional changes through direct democracy.

Previous courts have not delved into the waters the courts labeled “political.” With increased use of initiatives by the people to legislate over the last four decades will current courts see things differently?

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

This piece was originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily.

Another Shakedown ADA Lawsuit Against a CA Business Shows the Need for Reform

Just ask small businessman Jerry Brannon in Stockton.  He recently got sued by Scott Johnson for $38,000 for non-compliance with the Americans With Disability Act. However, instead of settling, Mr. Brannon has decided to fight. He plans to spend up to $50,000 fighting this lawsuit.

According to a television news report, “Scott Johnson has made legal claims against many business owners in the Sacramento area, claiming he’s suffered because his disability won’t allow him to fully access their stores and restaurants.”

Brannon said Johnson has “taken the ADA and made a business out of it.”

According to the news report, Johnson has been linked to thousands of lawsuits. 

I applaud Mr. Brannon on multiple fronts. This is not going to stop until the federal and state governments seriously pass legislation to stop these forms of lawsuit abuse. In 2008, the California State Legislature attempted to deal with the issue with SB 1608, which did not have the desired outcome. In 2012, the California State Legislature again attempted to find a way to stop the abuse with SB 1186 and this has also failed to stem the tide of abuse. The federal government has had a couple of bills related to ADA shakedowns lawsuits, but they have never been passed.

So here we are in 2014 and the lawsuits keep rolling. From Lake Tahoe to the Central Valley, we continue to see ADA lawsuits against small businesses, and there appears to be no end in sight. Interesting fact: there are more than 3.5 million small businesses in the state of California but only 500 Certified Access Specialists. How is every small business supposed to stay up to date when there aren’t enough access specialists?

When a business has to close due to an ADA shakedown lawsuit, no one benefits. Employees lose their jobs and governments lose revenue from employment property taxes. Who benefits from that scenario? Not even the disabled will benefit as everyone will simply have to travel further for those services.

I know there will be ADA legislation in California in the coming year and I am hopeful that with the changes in the U.S. Senate reform may be easier to pass in Washington. We, as a nation, need something to happen to help curb this abuse. It would behoove our legislators to find a reasonable compromise. A 120-day corrective action period at the state and federal level would stop these predators in their tracks. Let’s do it. Enough rearranging of deck chairs – let’s find a real solution.

Tom Scott is Executive Director, California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse

This piece was originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily

New “Report Card” exposes politicians on Prop. 13

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an intellectual leader of the United States Senate for 24 years, often chided adversaries declaring “you are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Nowhere is the effort to obscure facts more pronounced than in the California Capitol.

It is one thing for a legislator to say he or she likes Proposition 13 and has the best of intentions for its preservation, but it is quite another when they actually vote on various Proposition 13 related bills. For it is the actual votes cast that determine what the “facts” are – not intentions or platitudinous opinions.

As we get closer to the November election, politicians on the left side of the political spectrum are squeezed. On the one hand, they’ve promised their political funders – mostly public sector labor bosses – that they will try to dismantle Proposition 13 and other taxpayer protections. On the other hand, they tell their voters just the opposite. You see, public expressions to repeal or weaken Proposition 13 don’t sell too well back home. There is a reason that Proposition 13 is called the “third rail” of California politics.

That’s what makes the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association Legislative Report Card so important.
As a tool for holding legislators accountable, there is nothing better than HJTA’s legislative scorecard for all California voters who care about Proposition 13, taxpayer rights and efficient use of taxpayer dollars. The 2014 edition includes 15 bills ranging from positive measures like increasing transparency for local property parcel taxes to more negative proposals like a paper bag tax and a new local car tax that is masquerading as a hidden fee. Because HJTA is a non-partisan organization – over 30 percent of members are registered Democrats – we ignore party affiliation entirely when handing out grades. Only the politicians’ votes matter, not their campaign promises.

The HJTA Report Card provides valuable information to voters every year, but the stakes are even higher in 2014. Tax-happy legislative leaders desiring to weaken Proposition 13 were only two FBI investigations and criminal indictments away from succeeding.

And next year taxpayers are unlikely to receive such a reprieve. That makes the November 2014 election, and these Report Card grades, critically important. If tax-and-spend legislators secure a two-thirds supermajority – and avoid FBI entanglement – property taxes could be increased by billions of dollars. We know this to be true because Assembly Constitutional Amendment 8, a bill introduced in 2013 to lower the two-thirds vote to 55 percent for a litany of expensive infrastructure projects including streets, highways, water projects and public safety buildings, actually cleared the Assembly last year.

Unless voters possess the knowledge of how their legislators actually voted, we could very well see a horde of anti-Proposition 13 proposals pass.

And, as usual, most legislators did very poorly on their grades this year. While scores overall were slightly higher than a year ago, 75 legislators still received a failing grade, meaning they agreed with our position less than 50% of the time. Five legislators received a perfect 100% average over the last two years. These were State Assemblymembers Brian Dahle, Tim Donnelly, Beth Gaines and State Senators Joel Anderson and Mark Wyland.

Taxpayers know the stakes. Now they need to know the truth. This report card clears the fog and obfuscation to reveal the truth about California legislators.

To review the HJTA Legislative Report Card please click here.

This article was originally published on HJTA.org

What incumbent candidates conveniently leave out of campaign ads

Humorist Will Rogers observed, “This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.” If Rogers were a Californian today, he would say the same thing about the state Legislature.

Fortunately, for average citizens, the Legislature adjourned a few weeks ago so its ability to inflict more harm on taxpayers, property owners and businesses is on hold until the first of the year.

Lawmakers are no longer in Sacramento listening to high-powered lobbyists for special interests that back more taxes and spending. Most have returned to their home districts to beg for votes. They are likely to be attending local events and some will actually be walking in neighborhoods to convince voters they deserve to be returned to the Capitol. And, of course, they will be invading your mail box, television and radio with their political ads.

The majority of candidates for reelection will be bragging that they and their colleagues have achieved a balanced, on time budget and the state is on the right track. Their accomplishments, they will claim, entitle them to continue in office.

However, here are some things that most will not mention. California continues to have one of the highest unemployment rates in all 50 states. Our state ranks first in marginal income tax rates, state sales tax and gasoline tax. Businesses, and the jobs they provide, continue to flee the state. Even firms like Tesla and SpaceX that have been provided massive tax subsidies by Sacramento, have chosen to expand their facilities outside of California – Tesla to Nevada and SpaceX to Texas. And the Legislature continues to support subsidies to Governor Brown’s bullet train that may end up costing taxpayers nearly $100 billion.

Another topic that most incumbent lawmakers will not want to discuss is their efforts to pass ACA 8, an amendment to the California Constitution that would make it much easier to increase property taxes to pay for infrastructure bonds. Passage of this, and other proposals that fell just short of approval this year, could have resulted in increased property taxes totaling billions of dollars, once again putting homeownership in jeopardy as it was prior to Proposition 13, when there were no limits on annual increases in the tax bill.

It is also unlikely they will want to discuss their rejection of legislation that would have slowed the implementation of carbon fees, fees that are likely to add somewhere between 15 and 40 cents to the cost of a gallon of gas after the first of the year. This is no less than a war on the poor, who already can barely afford to put fuel in their cars due not only to high prices, but also to the highest gas tax in the nation. And California has plenty of poor. We lead all 50 states in the percentage of those living in poverty.

Voters who have the opportunity to meet candidates for office, whether they are incumbents or aspiring challengers, should be prepared to ask a few questions.

Here is a good question for all candidates, “Do you believe it is fair that Californians pay the highest tax rates in nearly every category?” An excellent follow-up question would be, “Where do you stand on an extension of the Proposition 30 income and sales tax increase, set to expire in the next several years?” And, of course it is always revealing to get answers to this question, “Do you support the governor’s bullet train that could cost taxpayers a hundreds billion dollars or more?”

Honest answers to these questions would provide a good gauge of how well a candidate understands that their actions have real consequences for average Californians. Some may show that they genuinely respect those they serve, while others, who are likely to equivocate when responding, will reveal that they are motivated by self-interest.

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.

CA lawmakers kill bills on condoms, pot and whistleblower protections

The state Legislature has been busy, as reported by the Capitol Alert:

Pornographic performers in California can remain condom-free for the foreseeable future, with legislators nixing a proposed condom mandate on Thursday.

The measure died during an annual end-of-session winnowing of remaining bills deemed too costly or otherwise politically unpalatable. Appropriations committees in the Senate and the Assembly also shelved bills dealing with medical marijuana, legislative whistleblowers and public assistance.

For the second consecutive year, Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, sought to shield adult film performers from sexually transmitted diseases with legislation requiring they use protection. …

Read the full story here