California is about to start spending billions for new reservoirs

California took a big step Friday toward launching a new multibillion-dollar wave of reservoir construction.

After being accused of being overly tightfisted with taxpayer dollars, the California Water Commission released updated plans for allocating nearly $2.6 billion in bond fundsapproved by voters during the depths of the drought. The money will help fund eight reservoirs and other water-storage projects, including the sprawling Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley and a small groundwater “bank” in south Sacramento County.

In its new blueprint, which remains tentative, the Water Commission nearly triples the amount of money it will spend compared to a preliminary allocation it put out in February.

With climate change expected to diminish the Sierra Nevada snowpack, the new reservoirs are seen as a way of bolstering California’s ability to store water. Sites, a $5.2 billion project straddling the Glenn-Colusa county line, and the $2.7 billion Temperance Flat reservoir east of Fresno would become the two largest reservoirs built in California since Jerry Brown’s first stint as governor in the 1970s. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

Senate fellow harassment shows how bad Sacramento culture was

One of the most dramatic moments in the far-reaching fallout from last fall’s revelations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s appalling history of sexual misconduct came on Oct. 16 with the release of a letter signed by more than 140 women who worked or had worked in Sacramento. The letter condemned a state Capitol in which men “leveraged their power and positions” to create a culture in which sexual harassment was taken for granted — all but a routine part of the job.

One claim that really illustrated the scope of the problem was the case of a 23-year-old aspiring legislative staffer who worked last year for then-state Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, as part of the California Senate Fellows program, which is run in partnership with Sacramento State University. The woman told David Pacheco, director of the fellows program since 2005, that Mendoza had invited her to his home on at least two occasions to “review résumés” and had invited her to come to his hotel room. But the Sacramento Bee reported in November that instead of Pacheco notifying officials at Sacramento State of this awful conduct — as required by university policy — he advised the fellow not to take immediate action to leave the office and noted that she may yet get a job with Mendoza.

This is stomach-turning. Instead of acting decisively to protect a young woman in his charge, Pacheco’s first instinct was not just to look away from gross behavior by Mendoza toward the woman but to see a situation where she went to work for the lawmaker as something positive. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Diego Union-Tribune

After billions in tax increases, Californians deserve a tax cut

TaxesFor millions of Californians, the state has been rendered unaffordable because of foolish and counter-productive policies emanating from Sacramento. A shocking one-third of California renters spend at least half of their take-home pay on rent, and only 40 percent can afford to purchase a median-priced home. Little wonder, then, that one in five Californians lives in poverty — the highest poverty rate in the nation.

Small businesses are struggling as well. Nationwide, nearly ten percent of new entrepreneurs start from at or below the poverty line, but according to the Institute for Justice, California is third worst in terms of burdensome licensing laws.

At every moment of every day, Californians are taxed. We have the highest personal income, sales, and gas taxes in the nation. Even though Sacramento is sitting on a $4.6 billion budget surplus, high state taxes are continuing to gouge hard working Californians. In fact, over $15 billion in annual tax increases have been enacted since Gov. Brown took the reins in 2010.

Thankfully, there is a better way to improve the lives of all Californians.

Taxpayers, small businesses, families, homeowners and renters can finally get some relief through the California Competitiveness and Innovation Act (AB1922), which was recently introduced in the state Legislature and is supported by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. …

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

John Moorlach: Sacramento has no clue how to solve housing crisis

Sacramento just doesn’t get it. A housing crisis is not solved with new fees, bonds and local government process overrides.

Let’s talk about housing. KQED provides some of the gory details in a recent piece. But, allow me to elaborate. A quick tip, KQED provides the last act first.

For Senate Bill 3 (and 5), I provided the following abbreviated concerns on the Senate Floor:

  1. Let’s review the housing market over the last 11 years. In Orange County, the median price for a home in 1996 was $221,800. Ten years later, after the subprime mortgage boom (for fun, watch “The Big Short”), the median rose to $739,000. With the Great Recession, the median went down to $498,200 in 2011. And, as of June 2017, it is back to $734,200.
  2. Why the recent resurgence?
    • A slow, but steady rise in job growth.
    • Foreign investors. They came in at the market low as a safe haven.
    • Explaining an increase of all-cash transactions; more than 50% in 2013.
    • This has caused a decrease in home ownership and more renters.
    • Difficulty for developers to obtain entitlements and to build.
    • The other usual suspects, like NIMBYism, CEQA and open space demands.
    • For those lucky enough, try working with the California Coastal Commission.

It makes you wonder, what has Sacramento done to address foreign buyers and entitlement restrictions? And, I can see now why SB 714 (Newman) was removed from the calendar this last week, as it doubles down on taking entitled property for building new homes in the city of Brea and requiring total open space. Boy, this bill was so out of touch, the Democrats had to save the author from himself.  But, I digress.

  1. What is the current dilemma?
    • Americans find the home buying process too overwhelming.
    • They find it too difficult to come up with the down payment.
    • More than other generations, millennials value experiences over ownership.
    • Americans change jobs more often than in previous generations.

With SB 2, Sacramento will be adding to the burdens. Within minutes, the Democrats also voted for AB 166 (Salas), which provides exemptions from the new SB 2 fees. You can’t make this stuff up. And those who qualify are not those going through a foreclosure!

Then I warned them about issuing more debt by sharing the following disturbing data from Moody’s Investors Service. Among the 10 largest states in the nation, California joins Illinois and New York as the three worst in all of the following categories:

  1. Debt to personal income – 4.70%, when the median for all states is 2.50%.
  2. Debt per capita – $2,323, when the median is $1,025.
  3. Debt as a percentage of state GDP – 3.94%, when the median is 2.21%

And the state’s own bond credit rating is a measly AA-, just above Illinois, at BBB+. This means that California will be paying higher interest rates than issuing states with top credit ratings.

If this wasn’t enough of a reason to vote against the bond measures, I also gave a lecture on future budget and balance sheet concerns – a “what’s up?” listing:

  1. A $4 billion bond translates into $225 million per year in payments! Where will this come from?  The Senate approved two such bond bills on Friday.
  2. The annual contributions for CalPERS and CalSTRS are also rising.
  3. The Proposition 98 school funding threshold into the General Fund is also rising.
  4. The minimum wage is rising and will impact the budget by $4 billion per year.
  5. The recent voter approved $9 billion bond for school improvements will impact the General Fund by $500 million per year (no wonder the Governor hasn’t released any tranches).

What does all this mean? In a few short years, the General Fund is screwed. But I put it more politely on the Senate floor, stating that “it will be dramatically impacted. Good luck with that.”

Sacramento so much wants California to be like other blue states that are heading for the fiscal precipice, such as Connecticut, Illinois and New York. And quickly. But, this is the wrong race to be in.

You can bet the governor will sign these bills and the monopoly party will pat themselves on the back for once again dealing with a problem with inappropriate solutions. Tragic.

Who Runs Our Government?

Many years ago, it became clear to many of us that Sacramento had two parties, the Republican Party and the Union Party. It is amazing how many bills are approved that incrementally give unions, both public and private, more and more territory over management or nonunion private sector businesses.  It’s a testimony to their effectiveness, that such a small portion of the work force can control so much influence. Now that they have so much influence, that the changes they seek are no longer incremental.  In fact, they are swinging for the fences and seem to be closing in on wholesale ownership of the state.  They will use their power to the fullest, following the dictum of “more.” They are proving that they are “the Daddy” around the Capitol.

The most egregious example this year is AB1250. Almost every newspaper in California has opined against this bill. Consequently, it was reported that it has become a two-year bill. Yet, we have been told that AB1250 may come back to the Senate floor today or tomorrow for a vote (also see MOORLACH UPDATE — AB 1250 OC Opposition — September 5, 2017 MOORLACH UPDATE — AB 1250 Labor Dominance — July 13, 2017 MOORLACH UPDATE — AB 1250 Labor Dominance — July 13, 2017 ).

With this shadow hanging over the Legislature, I submitted one last editorial in opposition and it was published by Fox & Hounds.

The reason why California taxes continue to skyrocket

TaxesBefore the ink on the governor’s signature has dried on the largest gas tax increase in California history, Sacramento Democrats are fully intending to break their promise to dedicate the new revenue to fixing our crumbling roads. In the upcoming budget, there is a proposal to divert 30 percent of this gas tax increase to items and programs completely unrelated to repairing our roads and highways, such as park maintenance and job training for felons.

Regrettably, these bait-and-switch tactics are now so commonplace in Sacramento that few notice. For many years, billions in transportation dollars have been diverted from road building and maintenance to the general fund, which has created the crisis we are currently facing. Why would anyone think things will be different now with the new $52 billion car and gas tax hikes?

There are many other examples of lawmakers misleading the public when promoting new taxes. Sacramento sold the recent tobacco tax increase on the November 2016 ballot to voters as a way to fund Medicaid. After the proposition passed, the revenues were simply swept into the general fund and, as a result, doctors and millions of Californians on Medicaid are not receiving the funds which they were anticipating.

Just last week, we witnessed the annual practice of passing 40 “shell” budget bills that are virtually devoid of written content. The blanks will be filled in as the majority party rams through all the deals it makes behind closed doors. Even with the passage of a new constitutional amendment — Proposition 54, discussed below — requiring bills to be in print for 72 hours, the sheer volume of budgetary language makes it difficult for the public and media to truly know how taxpayer dollars are to be spent.

Sacramento may not know how to manage money and prioritize spending, but legislative leaders do know how to dissemble and divert public attention from the reality of the budget process. They prefer to keep average folks in the dark because they know the public would never approve these budget diversions.

Voters clearly stated they prefer transparency and public participation when they approved Proposition 54 last year. The proposition requires that legislation be in print and available for public view for three days before being voted on. Majority lawmakers opposed this reasonable measure because it blocked them from introducing legislation and immediately passing it, without public comment, often in the dead of night. For Sacramento insiders, secrecy and deception are a way of life.

Californians deserve real budget transparency in order to change this broken process and to reform the bait-and-switch culture that has led to a state that has become simply unaffordable. Ultimately, it is middle class and working class families that are harmed the most by the bad policies coming out of Sacramento. Affordability is one of the biggest and most important issues facing this state, but we are moving in the wrong direction because new taxes and fees continue to be imposed in the false belief that more government and higher taxes are the answer.

It should surprise no one that California ranks dead last in the nation on budget transparency. This needs to change if we want the Legislature to change its focus to promoting the wellbeing of average Californians.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Vince Fong represents California’s 34th State Assembly district, which includes portions of Bakersfield and the communities of Bear Valley Springs, Oildale, Maricopa, Ridgecrest, Taft and Tehachapi.

This piece was originally published by the Orange County Register and the HJTA

Sacramento Failing to Account for Predictable Changes

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

What is it with progressive politicians who believe that taxpayers won’t change their behavior because of tax policy? One would think that repeatedly seeing pie-in-the-sky revenue projections from big tax hikes that fall way short of reality would be a wake-up call.

In trying to project the impact of tax hikes on government revenues, the failure to account for predictable changes in behavior is called “static scoring.” And since many progressives mindlessly hew to this method of analysis, let’s call it “static cling.”

Static scoring is different from “dynamic scoring.” Dynamic scoring simply means taking into account predictable changes in behavior that result from tax increases (or tax cuts) to accurately project the amount of money that will be raised.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Sacramento and S.F. Push for Police Reform at Local Level

Police tapeSACRAMENTO – The presidential campaign focused some attention on the long-simmering debate over policing and the appropriate uses of force, but as is typical with national campaigns, the nuances got lost amid ideologically charged soundbites such as “law and order” and “Black Lives Matter.”

Some advocates for police reform worry about what a new Trump administration will mean for these discussions given the president-elect’s expectedly different approach toward the matter than President Obama’s Department of Justice. But others argue the election will send reform back to where it really belongs: at the local level.

Two northern California cities, Sacramento and San Francisco, are good examples of the latter. They are currently plowing ahead with major oversight and accountability proposals for their police departments – the result of local policing scandals that have little to do with national political changes. Sacramento takes up the matter at a City Council meeting on Tuesday.

The Sacramento reforms were prompted by a video of two police officers in pursuit of a mentally ill homeless man, Joseph Mann, who was armed with a knife and acting erratically. As the Sacramento Bee reported, the video sequence shows “the officers gunned their vehicle toward Mann, backed up, turned and then drove toward him again, based on dash-cam video released by police. They stopped the car, ran toward Mann on foot and shot him 14 times.” One officer is recorded saying “f— this guy” shortly before they shot him.

The killing raised questions not only about the appropriate use of force in such situations, but about the city’s willingness to provide the public information about what transpired. Top city officials – the police chief, city attorney and city manager – didn’t release the video of the event until after the Bee acquired the footage from a private citizen. The shooting led to community protests and has been a source of strife – and council debate – ever since.

In September, the newspaper’s Editorial Board published this pointed editorial: “The city could have been upfront with Mann’s family about how many times he was shot and how long the investigation into the shooting would take. Instead, his brother, backed by enough activists to fill City Hall, had go before the City Council to beg for information. The city could have been clear about what training officers receive to handle people who are mentally ill. Instead, police still haven’t responded to a Public Records Act request for a copy of the department’s policy.”

Reformers argue that the proposed policy doesn’t go far enough, although backers argue that it is about as far as it can go given state law. Specifically, the measure would transfer power of the civilian oversight committee from the city manager’s office to the mayor and City Council – thus providing a more independent level of oversight given that the city manager also oversees the police department. Council members are at least beholden to voters.

The city’s proposal also does the following: “This resolution requires the city manager to ensure that all police officers of the Sacramento Police Department abide by council specified guidelines with regards to use of force. Key components of the resolution include the timely release of video after an officer involved incident occurs and the immediate notification of family members after an officer involved shooting.” That attempts to deal with the public-records issue.

Civilian-oversight commissions are still limited by the state Supreme Court’s Copley decision. In that 2006 case, the San Diego Union-Tribune tried to gain access to a disciplinary hearing regarding a deputy sheriff who was appealing his termination. As the newspaper reported, “The court ruled that police disciplinary hearings are closed — and the public has no right to learn about allegations of police misconduct, even when they are aired in a civil service commission.” Legislative efforts to roll back parts of the decision have repeatedly been stymied by police union lobbying.

In San Francisco, officials have been reacting to controversy following three officer-involved shootings and a scandal involving racist text messages that were allegedly sent by police officers. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported in April, “The messages are loaded with slurs and ugly stereotypes, and include one from an officer responding to a photo of a blackened Thanksgiving turkey. ‘Is that a Ferguson turkey?’ the officer asks, referring to the city in Missouri that saw widespread protests after police fatally shot an unarmed African American man in 2014.”

National politics plays a bigger role in the San Francisco case. That’s because the federal Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services department published a study last month looking at San Francisco’s police department. The mayor and former police chief had asked the department to review police practices following these scandals.

As the report’s summary explained, “Although the COPS Office found a department that is committed to making changes and working with the community, it also found a department with outdated use of force policies that fail the officers and the community and inadequate data collection that prevents leadership from understanding officer activities and ensure organizational accountability. The department lacked accountability measures to ensure that the department is being open and transparent while holding officers accountable.”

San Francisco officials have vowed to implement the 479 recommendations made in the Justice Department report. “We will continue to implement the recommendations for reform which will be built on the most current policing policies and practices, fostering an environment of trust and strong relationships with our communities,” said acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin.

In Sacramento, Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg, who is inaugurated on Dec. 13, told the Bee “the public certainly has a right to know whether a particular officer who has been accused of misconduct continues to serve in the role of police officer. … There ought to be a clear presumption of openness and the burden ought to be on the city attorney and police to demonstrate in a compelling way why anything is not public.” There’s concern that a federal lawsuit by Mann’s relatives will allow the city to shut down public access to information about the shooting.

This much is clear: Whatever changes a new administration makes at the Department of Justice, local officials throughout California are on the front lines of the police-reform movement.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Reinstating Program for Low-Income Seniors – What Took So Long?

Property tax assistance for low-income seniors, the blind and the disabled is available again. In 2009, the Legislature ended the Property Tax Postponement (PTP) program that for 40 years had allowed low-income seniors, the blind and the disabled to defer payment of their property taxes.

That the PTP program is back is good news, but the question beproperty taxgs to be asked, why was a program that for vulnerable homeowners could mean the difference between remaining in the homes where they had resided for decades or being forced out into the street, canceled in the first place?

The answer is a sad commentary on how Sacramento works when political insiders think no one is looking.

First, it is important to recognize the unofficial motto of the state Legislature, which is, “When you’ve got it you spend it.” This is what then Senate leader David Roberti said in response to Gov. George Deukmejian’s effort to return excess tax revenue to taxpayers in 1987. Unsaid, of course, is that lawmakers are equally willing to spend even when they don’t “got it.” This helps explain why, even before the economic meltdown in 2008, the state budget was running a deficit of billions of dollars.

When the recession came, and state revenues declined, the Legislature’s response was to raise taxes on Californians whose economic fortunes had also plummeted. Lawmakers raised sales taxes and income taxes. They even went after parents by cutting the tax deduction for dependent children in half.

While taxpayers got a haircut, the highest paid state workers in the nation were fully protected. Bureaucrats who had been given furlough days to cut costs, were fully reimbursed for lost pay.

The Sacramento politicians made a few cuts to limit the increase in state spending, but spending, nevertheless, continued to expand. The motivation for cutting at least one program, was clearly mean spirited.  To save a few million dollars in the current budget, legislators eliminated the Property Tax Postponement program.  However, this program, so important to low income seniors, was never a handout or an entitlement. The state recovered all costs, plus interest, when the home was sold or the owner passed away.

Taxpayer advocates immediately set about lobbying for the return of the PTP program, a program that pays for itself. Finally, even thick skinned lawmakers were embarrassed and approved reinstatement of the PTP in 2014.  However, claiming that time was needed to train staff and prepare paperwork, the benefit was not to be available for another two years.

Time is up and the Office of the Controller will begin taking applications in October. To be eligible for property tax postponement, a homeowner must be 62, or blind, or have a disability. The homeowner must also have a household income of $35,500 or less, have at least 40 percent equity in the property, and occupy the home as the primary residence, among other requirements.

The interest rate for taxes postponed under PTP is seven percent per year. Postponed taxes and interest become due and payable under PTP when the homeowner moves or sells the property, transfers title, defaults on a senior lien, refinances, obtains a reverse mortgage, or passes away.

Funding for the program is limited and is available on a first-come, first-served basis. The program application and details are on Controller Yee’s website or by phone at (800) 952-5661.

However, taxpayers who need this assistance must remain vigilant. If lawmakers think no one will notice, they may throw the PTP overboard again, as they did in 2009.

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 the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

We’ve got plenty of water, says Sacramento region

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

The Sacramento region’s largest water districts have given a resounding answer to the question of whether they could handle three more years of drought: We have plenty of water.

The State Water Resources Control Board last month asked California’s urban water districts to evaluate how much water they would need in the next three years if drought persisted – and whether their supplies would meet that demand. Districts that certify their supplies are adequate will not face mandatory water-use cuts. Those with inadequate supplies must set conservation goals proportional to their anticipated shortfall.

The new localized approach to water conservation in California is a sharp reversal from last year, when a “we’re all in this together” ethos led the state to demand mandatory water-use cuts of more than 28 percent throughout most of the Sacramento region compared with 2013.

Each of the 10 largest districts in the Sacramento region told the state last week that their water supplies are healthy and there is no need to impose mandatory percentage-based cuts again this year. Some districts reported large surpluses, contending they could withstand multiple years of drought without running out of water. Others reported a surplus but said that they would ask for voluntary conservation from customers. …

Click here to read the full article