CA Politicians Reach Into Transportation Funds, Ignore Crumbling Infrastructure

california roads infrastructureNow there is no question that road and bridge maintenance is lagging in the Golden State. Most counties have an average pavement rating of “at risk” or “poor” according to a finding by the California Transportation Commission. In addition to the safety hazards caused by poor road maintenance, there is a direct cost to the average California driver of hundreds of dollars for vehicle maintenance and tire wear.

Before assuming that that the Sacramento politicians are justified in seeking to dig deeper into drivers’ wallets, it is important to point out that billions in transportation tax dollars have been spent on other programs. State government has been diverting a billion dollars a year in annual truck weight fees to pay debt service on general obligation bonds and another $100 million annually in gas tax revenues to the general fund.

Now, in theory, all transportation tax revenues are to go for transportation purposes. Voters have passed several propositions they were assured would guarantee this result.

However, Sacramento has used slight-of-hand to divert these revenues. For example, after voters approved $20 billion in transportation bonds in 2006, bonds that were to be repaid from the general fund, officials later decided to use transportation tax revenue for bond repayment, freeing up general fund revenue for other purposes.

Some will argue that it is appropriate that transportation taxes repay transportation bonds, but voters were lead to believe the money would come from the general fund. When the state passes school bonds, they are repaid from the general fund.  When water bonds are passed, they too are repaid by the general fund. There is no reason transportation bonds should be different. By using transportation tax revenue to pay off bonds, there is not enough money left to maintain the improvements the bonds pay for.

Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff has a better idea that will slap the hands of those who have been reaching into the transportation tax cookie jar and diverting funds from road and bridge maintenance. Huff’s legislation, Senate Constitutional Amendment 7, would close the loopholes and stop this theft of transportation dollars. SCA 7 is the only plan in the Legislature that would provide funds to improve state roads and highways without raising taxes.

However don’t look for quick or easy passage of SCA 7. Its flaw? It does not require a tax increase and for the majority party in Sacramento, which is obsessed with extracting more money from taxpayers, this flaw is likely to be fatal.

It is hard to blame California drivers if they feel a like a lot like the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield who would complain, “I don’t get no respect.”

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Originally posted on HJTA.

CalChamber Unveils List of 2015 “Job Creator” Bills

Since 2008, CalChamber has been identifying bills that will improve the state’s job climate and stimulate our economy.  We put them on our annual “Job Creator” list hoping to put a spotlight on proposals that will encourage investment in our economy.

Last week, we released the 2015 “Job Creator” list.  This year’s list includes 11 bills that will improve our legal climate, lower costs for employers, spur tourism, and create construction jobs. The list follows recommendations made in our annual business issues guide, called “Foundation for a Better California.”

Each year we hope to have as many job creator bills on our list as we do on our job killer list.  Let’s hope our policy makers make that possible in the years to come! 

The list of 2015 job creator bills includes the following proposals:

Creates Construction Jobs

AB 35 (Chiu; D-San Francisco) Creates Affordable Housing Opportunities. Expands the existing low-income housing tax credit program, making the state better able to leverage an estimated $200 million more in Federal Tax Credits.

AB 323 (Olsen; R-Modesto) Expedites and Reduces Cost for Roadway Repair and Maintenance Projects. Streamlines infrastructure development by extending indefinitely the current CEQA exemption for certain roadway repair and maintenance projects.

AB 641 (Mayes; R-Yucca Valley) Expedites and Reduces Cost for Housing Projects. Streamlines and reduces regulatory burdens for the approval and construction of housing developments by providing an expedited review process under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Improved Legal Climate

AB 52 (Gray; D-Merced) Disability Access Litigation Reform.  Seeks to improve access for disabled customers and limit frivolous litigation against businesses for construction-related accessibility claims by providing an opportunity for the businesses to timely resolve any potential violations.

AB 54 (Olsen; R-Modesto) Disability Access Litigation Reform. Seeks to improve access for disabled patrons without harming businesses through frivolous lawsuits by providing businesses with a 60-day right to correct the violation for a claim based upon a constructed related accessibility standard that was changed or modified in the prior three years.

AB 588 (Grove; R-Bakersfield) Reduces Frivolous Litigation. Seeks to limit frivolous litigation under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act, by allowing an employer a 33 day right to cure technical violations on an itemized wage statement that did not cause any injury to the employee.

AB 1252 (Jones; R-Santee) Protects Businesses from Proposition 65 Lawsuits. Provides needed relief to small businesses by prohibiting a person from bringing a Proposition 65 lawsuit against a business employing fewer than 25 employees. Failed passage in the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee, 04/14/15. Reconsideration Granted

AB 1470 (Alejo; D-Salinas) Reduction of Costly Employment Class Action Litigation. Limits frivolous class action litigation against employers in California who are creating high paying jobs by creating a rebuttable presumption that employees earning at least $100,000 and performing non-manual labor and at least one exempt duty are exempt from overtime requirements.

SB 67 (Galgiani; D-Stockton) Disability Access Litigation Reform. Seeks to limit frivolous litigation against small businesses and those that have sought to comply, by limiting remedies to injunctive relief and expanding the current period to correct any violation from 60 to 120 days.

Tourism

SB 249 (Hueso; D-Logan Heights) Enhanced Driver’s License. Encourages international trade and tourism by authorizing the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue enhanced driver licenses to U.S. citizens to expedite legal traffic at the border.

Workplace Improvements/Training

AB 1038 (Jones; R-Santee) Flexible Workweek. Provides employers with the opportunity to accommodate employees’ needs as well as business demands by allowing employees to request a voluntary, flexible workweek agreement that can be repealed by the employee at any time with proper notice. Failed passage in the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee, 04/22/15. Reconsideration Granted.

Cumulative Job Creator Signatures

2014: 14 job creator bills identified, 5 sent to Governor, signs 5

2013: 16 job creator bills identified, 2 sent to Governor, signs 2

2012: 34 job creator bills identified, 9 sent to Governor, signs 9

2011: 5 job creator bills identified, 0 sent to Governor

2010: 16 job creator bills identified, 4 sent to Governor, signs 4

2009: 18 job creator bills identified, 2 sent to Governor, signs 2

2008: 3 job creator bills identified, 2 sent to Governor, signs 2

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Denise Davis is vice president, media relations and external affairs at Cal Chamber

Despite record tax haul, CA legislators seek to raise rates

tax signWith a big tax surplus flowing into state coffers, California shattered records last year with a historic haul dwarfing those of other large states around the country. This year, meanwhile, legislators planned still further increases.

“During the 2013-14 fiscal year that ended last June,” the Sacramento Bee reported, “California collected $138.1 billion in taxes of all kinds, 16 percent of all state taxes collected in the nation and more than the next two states, New York and Texas, combined.” The majority of the sum came from personal and corporate income taxes, according to the Bee.

Money maze

At first blush, California’s cash-in promised straightforward results. “Through the end of March, state general fund revenue was about $1.3 billion ahead of projections,” Jason Sisney, California’s chief deputy legislative analyst, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “April revenue is likely to add at least $1 billion more than projected.”

But thanks to the Golden State’s arcane fiscal requirements, revenue was set to be apportioned in counterintuitive ways:

“Under the state’s budget formulas, ‘virtually all or more than all of the additional revenue, relative to projections, may be required to go to schools and other statutory and budgetary commitments, such as the state’s rainy-day fund and debt payments,’ Sisney said. As a result, ‘The amount of extra state money available for other purposes could be little or nothing, and in some scenarios, reducing non-school spending on programs could be required.’”

Tax watchers, the Chronicle noted, paid special attention to a surge in taxes amassed through payroll withholding. In a report cited by the Chronicle, Standard & Poor’s called the increase “a sign that California’s economy is firing on all cylinders.” But that interpretation did not extend to the Golden State’s self-employed economy, since entrepreneurial taxpayers don’t have their taxes withheld in advance by an employer.

New hikes foreseen

Despite the influx of revenue, legislators have not been satisfied with tax rates. Assembly Bill 464, introduced by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, “would give local governments the power to add another 1 percent to the combined state-local sales tax rate with voter approval,” the Bee reported.

Senate Bill 16, meanwhile, introduced by state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, would hike several of California’s car-related taxes and fees. “The measure would increase the state gasoline tax by 10 cents per gallon, raise the state vehicle annual registration fee by $35, and levy a $100 per year surcharge on zero-emission vehicles that don’t use gasoline,” The Bond Buyer noted. “Beall’s plan also would phase in a 3.5 percent increase in state vehicle license fees over five years.”

On at least one issue where elected officials remain divided, the prospect of higher taxes has deepened. Although the push to legalize marijuana in California would presumably bring more tax revenue to Sacramento, Colorado’s uneven experience with the process has led to increasing reticence among Californians who don’t want to struggle with similar problems. As CalWatchdog noted previously, Coloradan legislators have divided over what to do with the excess tax revenue.

Up in smoke

marijuana-leafThe indirect tax consequences of legal marijuana could also mount. At a recent panel convened by the Northern Californian chapter of the ACLU, “Paul Gallegos, a former district attorney in the marijuana-growing heartland of Humboldt County, noted that a pot plant needs 6 gallons of water each day over its 150-day growing cycle,” according to ABC News. Amid California’s protracted drought, water rates and rationing penalties could be dramatically effected.

Finally, more comfortable on more familiar ground, some legislators have re-trained their attention on increasing taxes on tobacco products. State Sen. Richard Pan, D-San Francisco, “wants to raise California’s tobacco tax by $2 a pack, to bring in $1.5 billion a year for smoking prevention and smoking-related medical costs now borne by taxpayers through Medi-Cal, the state’s healthcare program for the poor,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Should citizens be allowed to videotape police in action?

Faced with mounting criticism over civil liberties abuses, lawmakers in Sacramento greenlit a so-called clarification of Californians’ right to videotape and photograph police officers on the job.

Senate Bill 411, introduced by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, protects the practice so long as active bystanders are “not interfering with official duties,” the Los Angeles Times noted.

videotaping policeAccording to the bill’s language, “the fact that a person takes a photograph or makes an audio or video recording of an executive officer, while the officer is in a public place or the person taking the photograph or making the recording is in a place he or she has the right to be, is not, in and of itself, a violation[.]”

What’s more, Lara’s bill set out that photographing or videotaping police in that matter would not “constitute reasonable suspicion to detain the person or probable cause to arrest the person.”

Setting a trend

Passing 31-3 in the state Senate, SB411 headed to the Assembly, setting up California to become a possible trendsetter in the way citizen monitoring of police could be treated. Currently, no national consensus has formed around the issue, leaving legislative momentum up for grabs at the state level.

Although settled constitutional law has recognized both a right to videotape and a right to prevent interference with policing, widespread departures from that standard have prompted state lawmakers to intervene. In Colorado, for instance, a recent bill “proposed making it a crime for police to stop citizens from filming,” as the Daily Beast observed.

But, across the country, pieces of legislation have run into trouble regardless of which side of the debate they favor. In Connecticut, for instance, a bill permitting “lawsuits against police officers who interfere with those photographing or videotaping them during the performance of their duties was blocked Monday by Republicans in the judiciary committee,”according to the Hartford Courant.

In Texas, meanwhile, a police-friendly “cop-watcher” bill drew fire from legal observers, journalists, gun owners and others:

Dallas-area House representative Jason Villalba introduced HB 2918, which would make it a misdemeanor to photograph police within 25 feet — raising serious concerns that the bill, if passed, would violate the First Amendment and prevent individuals from holding police accountable. For Texans legally carrying a firearm, the buffer zone required would be 100 feet under Villalba’s proposal.

Halting progress

As Calwatchdog.com previously reported, Sacramento has labored to keep up with changing technology, police tactics and public opinion. In January, several Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation around the use of on-cop bodycams. By videotaping situations police entered into, the logic ran, misconduct would decrease at the same time that police gained clear evidence of proper conduct that could help prevent lawsuits or help resolve them to the departments’ benefit.

police-body-cameraAttorney General Kamala Harris, for her part, has long considered police abuses to be an important part of her political and legal agenda — a stance that could gain prominence as her bid to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer draws more potent challengers.

Despite widespread support for bodycams among Democrats, along with many libertarians and some Republicans, the policy has attracted its share of problems. In Los Angeles, where Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti blazed a path toward standardizing the equipment, concern has persisted over the use of cloud storage, as Southern California Public Radio reported:

“Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will present this month his proposed city budget for the coming year. It’s expected to include money for body cameras for all Los Angeles Police Department officers. But some security analysts argue the LAPD’s plan to store body camera video in the cloud could make the images more vulnerable to attack than if the department placed them on its local servers.”

As yet, the question of cloud storage for recordings of police has not yet threatened to stall the progress of SB411  in Sacramento.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

State Proposes $1 Billion Drought Relief

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News:

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders on Thursday proposed a $1 billion package of emergency legislation meant to help California weather its crippling drought.

But a news conference that unveiled the package — aimed at demonstrating how much the state is doing — seemed to spark more criticism about what Brown and other state leaders are not doing as the drought drags on into its fourth year.

Strangely, two-thirds of the money — $660 million — is earmarked for flood control projects, money California voters approved in a 2006 flood control bond. …

Click here to read the full story

Proposed Bill Will Force Parents to Choose: Vaccinate or Homeschool

The measles outbreak has injected the California Legislature with a new urgency in dealing with vaccine issues. First up is a new bill, as yet without a number, by state Sens. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, the latter a pediatrician.

According to Pan’s website, the bill “will repeal the personal belief exemption that currently allows parents to effectively opt their child out of vaccines in our schools.” Under the exemption, “a parent may choose to opt their child out of school vaccine requirements that bi-partisan legislative majorities passed to protect students.”

As the Sacramento Bee reported, the vaccination issue has roiled California in unexpected ways, with “anti-vaxxers” cutting across familiar ideological and political categories. “I’m a registered Democrat, but that could possibly change,” one parent told the paper. “I could never be with a party that mandates, and takes away freedom from people.”

But Republicans have been wary of championing residents seen as directly responsible for the outbreak of major diseases. Some GOP officeholders in Sacramento have begun to reverse their earlier support of California’s relatively broad personal belief exemption, which extends beyond a carveout for religious beliefs. Others have reaffirmed a measured commitment to both vaccination and parental choice.

According to the Los Angeles Times, however, the bill would nevertheless extend some political cover to conservatives whose constituents favor close parental control of medical choices:

“The legislation does not address children who are completely home-schooled. It would still allow children to avoid vaccination for medical reasons including allergic responses and weak immune systems. The mandate only applies to children attending public or private schools.”

Democratic divisions

Perhaps surprisingly, Republicans may have already felt the worst of the political awkwardness — while Democrats face more internal disagreement. As the Wall Street Journal reported, “Dr. Pan wrote a 2012 law that went into effect last year that required a consultation with a health care practitioner to obtain the personal belief exemption. Gov. Jerry Brown added an exemption based on religious beliefs upon signing that law.”

Now, Brown’s office has indicated the governor is open to erasing the personal belief exemption.

Both California’s U.S. Senators, Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, also have urged their fellow party members to consider eliminating the religious-belief exemption. In a letter to California Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley and other officials, the senators set out an uncompromising position:

“California’s current law allows two options for parents to opt out of vaccine requirements for school and daycare: they must either make this decision with the aid of a health professional, or they can simply check a box claiming that they have religious objections to medical care. We think both options are flawed, and oppose even the notion of a medical professional assisting to waive a vaccine requirement unless there is a medical reason, such as an immune deficiency.”

What’s more, Boxer and Feinstein went after parents who sought modified or delayed vaccination schedules even for preschool children — a move that could unsettle the swift but fragile bipartisan consensus forming around the Pan-Allen bill.

As BuzzFeed reported, the response among Democrats has not been as crisp and confident as Boxer and Feinstein might have hoped:

“Several liberal lawmakers unequivocally said parents should vaccinate their kids. But when pressed further on the state laws that allow parents to skip vaccinating their children if they have a medical, religious, or ‘personal belief’ reason not to do so, their answers became less clear.”

Nationally prominent California Democrats, from Rep. Maxine Waters to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, couched their language in a way that steered clear of Boxer and Feinstein’s vaccination absolutism.

The office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris — who hopes to replace Boxer in the Senate — declined to answer any questions about Harris’s own stance.

Originally published on CalWatchdog.com

Atkins Proposes $1.8 Billion Tax on CA Drivers

For the second time in as many weeks Californians got the news that Sacramento politicians are proposing yet another big tax hike.  The truth is that new taxes would never be required were it not for Sacramento’s mismanagement of existing tax dollars.

Last week, it was the proposal to deal with the very real problem of “revenue volatility” in California’s tax structure with the very unreal “solution” of a $10 billion tax on services.

But the latest proposal comes from new Senate leader Toni Atkins who proposes a brand new tax on drivers to pay for highway and road repairs in California.  This new “fee” would take $1.8 billion dollars out of the pockets of hard working California citizens over the next five years.

Now, most Californians would wholeheartedly agree that our roads are in terrible shape.  Years of neglect have resulted in a highway system that, according to a recent state report, requires a massive infusion of $59 billion.  But taxpayers have a very good question that has yet to be answered:  How is it that California has the highest gas tax in the nation and yet cannot keep its roads in decent condition?

Moreover, although the exact nature of this new “fee” has yet to be determined, Senator Atkins’ comments in proposing the new revenue source can only be described as foolish and insulting. Here is what she said:  “California cannot have a strong middle class or a thriving economy if our roadways are congested and people and goods cannot move efficiently.”

Really?  A left-wing politician now claims that this new tax is needed to protect the middle class?  She is simply blind to the truth that the progressive policies of heavy taxation and over regulation are crushing the middle class in California.  As is so common now in California, statements from politicians such as Atkins reveal a profound disconnect between their pampered lives and the lives of ordinary citizens.

So, instead of slamming Californians with another tax hike, what is a better way to meet the funding needs for our crumbling highway system?  Glad you asked.

First, let’s demand that gas tax revenues pay for roads, not bike lanes, environmental mitigation programs and mass transit.  The latter programs are all well and good, but gas taxes should go for roads.  (For purposes of full disclosure, as a cyclist I support bike lanes.  But I don’t want my gas taxes paying for them).

Second, how much of our transportation dollars are wasted on burdensome labor restrictions?  So-called “Project Labor Agreements” add between 25 to 35% to the cost of highway construction. Let’s get rid of PLA’s and, while we’re at it, “prevailing wage” laws which also add to the cost of construction unnecessarily.

Third, let’s direct valuable transportation dollars to those systems that actually work.  This would mean abandoning the doomed-to-fail High Speed Rail Project that is sucking up tax dollars in a way that voters never approved.

Fourth, we can agree that gas tax revenue has fallen a bit short of expectations because cars are now more fuel efficient.  But if that is the case, why does the state still subsidize electric vehicles? Shouldn’t we abandon those subsidies and direct those dollars to filling potholes?

Instead of reflexively demanding higher taxes, our elected officials should do what other states seem to do without controversy – prioritize spending.  Now there’s a novel concept.

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.

Originally published at HJTA.org

Foie Gras Battle Continues

Just two days before the deadline, California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office filed notice the state would challenge U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson’s January ruling that federal law preempts the state’s ban on serving foie gras.

The phrase in French means “fatted liver” and comes from a goose or duck that is force fed to produce the delicacy. The case is named after the main plaintiff, based in Canada, the Association des Eleveurs de Canards et d’Oies du Quebec vs. Harris.

Harris’ office declined to comment on the filing. But advocates of maintaining the ban were quick to weigh in, beginning with Paul Shapiro, the Humane Society’s vice president of farm animal protection. According to Reuters, heclaimed, “California has the right to prevent the commerce in such a cruel and inhumane product.”

That’s anything but certain. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the plaintiffs who challenged the foie gras ban expressed certainty that constitutional law was on their side. They said:

“We’re very confident that the district court’s judgment will be upheld on appeal. The decision was based on the simple fact that, in the field of meat and poultry, federal law is supreme. California does not have the right to ban wholesome, USDA-approved poultry products, whether it’s foie gras or fried chicken. We look forward to having our victory affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

The Ninth Circuit, however, took up the issue before. In 2013, it turned back an injunction by out-of-state farmers to put the California ban on hold until the matter could go through the courts.

That raises the possibility that the ban will be upheld again, triggering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Facing federal law

As CalWatchdog.com previously reported, Wilson ruled the ban ran afoul of federal poultry regulations — specifically, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, or PPIA. He wrote:

“This issue boils down to one question: whether a sales ban on products containing a constituent that was produced in a particular manner is an ‘ingredient requirement’ under the PPIA. California cannot regulate foie gras products’ ingredients by creatively phrasing its law in terms of the manner in which those ingredients were produced.”

The ban arose in 2004, after then-State Sen. John Burton, D-San Francisco, introduced Senate Bill 1520. The bill prohibited foie gras from being produced or sold in California, thereby ruling out imports of the fattened-liver delicacy. Wilson’s decision approved the importation and sale of foie gras, but did nothing to alter California’s prohibition on production.

The perils of prohibition

However the legal case against the ban may fare in higher court, observers have taken note of the practical effect of foie gras prohibition. Much like America’s experiment with alcohol Prohibition, 1920-33, banning foie gras appeared to increase Californians’ appetite for what was banned.

As Josh Barro detailed at the New York Times, demand for foie gras rose precipitously both immediately before and after the ban:

“‘We saw an up in volume two years ago when the ban went into effect,’ said Ariane Daguin, chief executive of the specialty food supplier D’Artagnan, which sells to both restaurants and consumers. ‘People wanted to see what the brouhaha was about. Now what is happening is all the chefs who are our friends and have been buying other things from us want to put foie gras back on the menu.’”

What’s more, as Robin Abcarian reported in the Los Angeles Times, fattened liver “never truly disappeared from menus.” Chef Ken Frank, a big foie gras proponent, told Abcarian he “skirted the ban by giving customers foie gras, randomly delivered, he said, with a note explaining the gift was a protest.”

Although he insisted he “went to great lengths not to violate the letter of the law,” Frank himself has been dragged into court by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which brought suit against him and his restaurant in March 2013.

Originally published on CalWatchdog.com

California State Spending Well Above National Average

As reported in the Sacramento Bee:

California contains 12.2 percent of the nation’s population but its state government accounted for 13.8 percent of all state spending in the 2012-13 fiscal year, according to a new Census Bureau report.

California’s spending on education and highways was, however, below the national averages for those two categories, while its welfare spending was well above the average.

States collected $1.7 trillion in revenues and spent that much during the fiscal year and California accounted for $233.5 billion of the spending, including federal pass-through funds for welfare, health care, education and other services.

The national total was a 2.1 percent increase from the previous year, the Census Bureau said, while California’s 7.5 percent increase was by far … 

 

CA to legalize online poker?

As reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune:

 — Will 2015 be the year California legalizes online poker?

Two lawmakers at the state Capitol are betting big that it will be.

But their competing bills, introduced early this session, show there’s still strong disagreement about which industry players should control and benefit from the popular, and lucrative, business.

Candidates include card clubs, Indian tribes, race tracks and out-of-state gaming companies.

Lawmakers and these groups have failed for nearly a decade to craft rules … 

Full Story Here