The Citizen Army That Will Recall Gavin Newsom

Even in deep blue California, it is possible to achieve the impossible. The technology to facilitate mass uprisings is mature and ubiquitous, and will function with or without the complicity of the social media and search monopolies. The political realignment we are witnessing in California is not partisan, it is not conservative or liberal, right or left, or Republican or Democrat. It is comprised of old and young, rich and poor, black and white and everyone else. This is a mass uprising. California’s pandemic shutdown isn’t just pushing the economy to the brink, it’s taken away whatever remained of the trust that Californians had in their elected officials.

This mistrust is finding expression in a growing movement to recall California Governor Gavin Newsom. Already, tens of thousands of California voters have signed up as volunteers to sign and circulate recall petitions. That number is growing every week. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Agenda are aligning. Alliances are forming. Gavin Newsom’s actions have created a unity that transcends political ideology and defies conventional labels. This is exemplified in the Open California movement.

The Open California movement isn’t found on just one website or Facebook group, and its members are as diverse as California’s electorate. What appears to be the largest group on Facebook is “Reopen California, established on April 11 and already attracting over 170,000 members. And along with large membership, there is high intensity, as exemplified in the Freedom Rally that took place on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall on May 24. Along with Reopen California, which appears to be the biggest Facebook group, there is “Reopen California…NOW!” (7,168 members), “FULLY REOPEN CA NOW MOVEMENT,” (6,350 members), “Re-Open California #EndTheLockdown” (5,124 members), and dozens more groups, many with thousands of members, even more with hundreds of members.

This just scratches the surface of the resistance that’s formed. There’s “Californians Against Excessive Quarantine” (13,460 members), “Leaving California” (10,500 members), and partisan groups such as “Flip it Red California” (31,484 members) and “Make California RED Again!” (21,895 members). There are thousands of smaller groups. All of these have seen their membership surge in the past few weeks. This is evidence that hundreds of thousands of Californians, if not millions, have been mobilized in resistance to the lockdown, and nearly all of them want to recall Gavin Newsom.

How many of these activists will sign a recall petition, or circulate one? And then there is the recall movement itself, including two groups, already working together, “Recall Gavin Newsom” (42,673 members), and “Recall Gavin 2020,” which has “only” 7,567 members, but is linked to 58 satellite Facebook groups, one for each California county, comprising over 25,000 total members.

And where else can be found natural allies of a grassroots recall movement in California?

California’s Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has over 200,000 members. Every one of them knows that Gavin Newsom is the leader of a government that has imposed the highest taxes in America onto Californians. Every one of them knows that if Gavin Newsom has his way, taxes are going to keep going up. How many of them will vote for a recall?

Then there are California’s dozens of local tax fighting organizations from San Diego to Eureka, there are California’s Tea Party chapters, 2nd Amendment supporters, people who resist over-vaccinating their children, preppers, three-percenters, constitutional oath keepers, and State of Jefferson rebels. These groups add additional tens of thousands of members who want to recall Governor Newsom.

But we’re just getting started.

The resistance in California is a mass movement, with broad populist appeal. Gavin Newsom hasn’t done anything to control the takeover of our public education system by fanatics. They have made it almost impossible to discipline students who are disruptive or even violent, turning many California schools into war zones where learning is impossible. These same fanatics have turned basic sex education into extremist “gender” indoctrination. Millions of parents are enraged by this, and now they can send a message by recalling Gavin Newsom.

When you add it all up, it’s more than a movement, it’s an army, and recruits are everywhere.

What about California’s 2.0 million independent contractors whose jobs were threatened the day Gavin Newsom signed AB 5? How many hundreds of thousands of them lost their jobs, or now have to worry about their jobs?

What about the nearly 3.7 million Californians who have already filed for unemployment benefits in just the last two months, because Gavin Newsom chose to quarantine the healthy, instead of just protecting the vulnerable? What about California’s now 4.6 million unemployed, more than 25 percent of the workforce?

What about the Christian evangelical communities in California, with millions of voters, who are all appalled at what Newsom has done? And of course, what about the 4.5 million Californians who voted for Trump in 2016, who are politically disenfranchised and determined to do something?

Gavin Newsom’s problems have just begun. California’s state and local governments faced unprecedented financial hardship before the pandemic shutdown. Only a light breeze was necessary to disrupt their finances, and what’s happening today is a hurricane. And even after the economic weather stabilizes, the state government’s financial house of cards will remain scattered. Newsom squandered his time in office, fixing nothing, only making problems worse. And his attitude, which consistently favored cronies and non-citizens over normal hard working Californians, is his undoing.

Despite rhetoric to the contrary, Gavin Newsom never cared about normal Californians who want affordable housing. Instead of deregulating so developers can build affordable housing again, he’s spending billions on “affordable housing” that costs taxpayers over a half-million per unit.

Gavin Newsom also doesn’t care about people who want safe streets. Instead of helping the homeless by getting them off the street and into treatment centers in places where they are affordable, he’s building shelters on some of the most expensive real estate on earth, and actually providing them drugs and alcohol.

And Gavin Newsom has locked Californians in their homes at the same time as he’s eliminated bail and released thousands of prisoners. Along with millions of civilians, expect plenty of members of law enforcement to support a recall of this governor.

Realignment is coming to California. Gavin Newsom has provided the spark that lit the fire, illuminating decades of mismanagement and abuse by the one party state.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

How Will We Get Around After the Virus?

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives by putting our health at risk, disrupting our work lives and robbing us of most of our recreational activities. It has also evaporated all of our assumptions about transportation policy in California.

First, in one of the few positive consequences of the pandemic, California’s highest-in-the-nation cost of gasoline is way down. In October of last year, the average per-gallon price of gas in California was $4.18. Today it is $2.72. Naturally, no one could have anticipated the crash in the oil market because of rapidly diminishing demand. The low price of gas would be a cause for celebration if it were not for the fact that most are having to shelter in place at home.

Second, while the price of gas is down, the excise tax is not. Thanks to the 2017 gas tax hike of 19 cents per gallon, California now has 58 cents per gallon of gas taxes, 76 cents when the federal excise tax is included. Gas tax proponents argue the funding is necessary for road projects, but with the sudden onset of double-digit unemployment, a cut in the gas tax would be welcome relief for those who need to drive every day.

Third, the coronavirus is likely to sharpen the debate over whether gas taxes are a reliable and stable source of revenue to begin with. One of the justifications for the gas tax hike in 2017 was the decline in revenues due to more fuel-efficient vehicles at the same time vehicle miles traveled were increasing. The coronavirus is likely to accelerate this trend as high-risk individuals travel less frequently and those who can, work from home. Will this increase the push for a vehicle-miles-traveled tax as a replacement tax for the excise tax? Implementation and privacy concerns suggest that shift will not be rapid assuming it happens at all.

To read the entire column, please click here.

The American Media Has Betrayed America

There aren’t enough disparaging epithets in the English language to adequately describe “journalists” such as ABC Nightly News anchorman David Muir, the dashing forty-something actor who pretends to share important national news with America. Five days a week, Muir recites agenda driven propaganda as if it were truth, while his allies who run the social media monopolies throttle down, demonetize, shadowban, or flat out censor reports that conflict with his narrative.

One of Muir’s biggest crimes is his facade of objectivity. Unlike the hosts of the cable news networks, such as CNN’s rabid Don Lemon, or MSNBC’s smirking Rachel Maddow, Muir isn’t obvious. He spreads his phony lies and distortions with a straight face, never breaking character. If you aren’t exposed to the other side of his stories, it works.

It isn’t just David Muir, of course. Other pretenders include CBS’s Norah O’Donnell, who along with her reporters never saw a Spanish consonant that didn’t require a hard roll. NBC’s Lester Holt, who made it his business to debate candidate Trump in the 2016 presidential debates, instead of leaving that job to hapless Hillary. The diligent mediocrity who reports from the White House for NPR, who thinks everything has to do with race and gender, because flogging that obsession takes no work and reliably builds a career.

For over three years, and only with the occasional exception of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, the entire American media establishment, online and offline, has been complicit in spreading lies; despicable, anti-American lies. They spread the Russian collusion hoax for nearly three years, shamelessly exaggerating every smug utterance from the loathsome Adam Schiff. Again and again, they predicted that this time, Trump’s presidency was done for, and when Trump was finally exonerated, they just moved on to the next hoax.

The catalog of malpractice committed by these malicious partisan hacks that call themselves journalists in America is too vast to summarize. The terrifying “white nationalists.” The baseless smears on Brett Kavanaugh. The Ukraine impeachment. The perennial “climate crisis,” which would always fill in whenever there wasn’t some more useful phony story to spread. And all of it, every single bit of it, was calculated to take down President Trump and stigmatize anyone and everyone who ever supported him or even just defended some of his actions.

The media’s capital crime, however, is their coverage of the Chinese Coronavirus pandemic. And if the national media establishment had not already repeatedly demonstrated that they are nothing more than a political action committee attached to the Democratic party, more people would be fooled. But as it is, the timing of this virus, the response to this virus, and the reporting on this virus; all of it is suspect. The repercussions of media malpractice is more deaths, destruction of the constitution, and quite likely an economic depression.

This is not overstating the case. Imagine if the media covered this crisis with honesty. Sure, in the early stages of this pandemic, nobody knew what to make of it. But why were the only voices accorded credibility by the media those who called for a lockdown? Why were virologists and epidemiologists ignored if they suggested that maybe we should quarantine the sick and the at-risk, and allow healthy Americans to acquire herd immunity? Look to Sweden’s experience. That approach is working there.

Worse, why has the media ignored every report or study or journal article or clinical abstract that finds treatment with hydroxychloroquine, zinc sulfate, and azithromycin to be effective? Why have they persistently spread the lie that a seven day course of hydroxychlorquinine is dangerous, when millions of people use it for years on end to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis? Why don’t we ever hear about doctors around the world that are successfully using this treatment to prevent COVID-19 in patients who have been exposed, and to cure it in patients who’ve tested positive? Why?

Who is pulling the strings of mainstream media in the United States? Why is it this media circus is focused on vaccines that may be available sometime next year, and will probably only be partially effective, without offering the slightest concern that vaccines are already over-prescribed? Everybody knows vaccines are an important tool to maintain public health, but why has the media painted the issue black and white? Maybe getting as many as 90 vaccines before the age of 18 is too many. Maybe vaccines should be used more judiciously. Maybe people don’t want to be forced into getting a vaccine in order to have an “immunity passport.”

The horrifying constitutional implications of where we’re headed as a nation during this dress rehearsal for martial law are not of interest to the media. Along with the nauseating, infantile feel-good-we’re-all-in-this-together corporate commercials that have rolled out in between the useless television newscasts, the only news coverage available paints people who object to the lockdown as, that’s right, Trump supporters. Or white nationalists. Or “conspiracy theorists.”

And why wouldn’t all of this be a conspiracy? Why wouldn’t a rational person at least consider that possibility, when this false, destructive news coverage is just the latest movement in a song they’ve been playing for years, where the repetitive theme is that conservatives are bad, nationalists are bad, patriots are bad, liberals are good, globalists are good, and the Trump “resistance” is noble? It’s far too coordinated, too well timed, too relentless, to not maybe be more than just the spontaneous product of independent deep thinkers like David Muir.

We are trained to think of a conspiracy as if it is inherently impossible, something that only a deranged individual would seriously consider as a possible explanation for events. That’s fine. Don’t call it a conspiracy. Call it a convergence of special interests that are smart enough to see where they want events to go, and therefore don’t require a score or a conductor. The instrumentalists who play in this elite orchestra are smart enough to know what they’ve done.

They didn’t choose the Swedish approach, and because they didn’t, every small business, every small landlord, every single propertied interest that lacks massive reserves of cash and capital, is now going to get gobbled up by multinationals. That’s a fact. And as millions wait in the unemployment lines – spaced six feet apart, wearing stupid masks of dubious value – they will depend on government to pay their bills, and they will not expect any Chinese coronovirus cure for which big pharma does not approve.

The media has always been powerful. With the advent of social media, today they are more powerful than ever. And they don’t care about Americans. They don’t care about America. They do the bidding of a global elite that wants to stamp out populist dissent around the world. It wants to consolidate economic power in the hands of billionaires and corporations. It wants to erase borders and nationalities. It wants to drive billions of people out of rural areas and into megacities. For these elites, the Chinese coronovirus pandemic is a golden opportunity.

It’s not a conspiracy, though. It’s just the conventional wisdom of the super rich. The media, if they cared, now more than ever would do their historic job, questioning this conventional wisdom. Instead they are tools. It is unforgivable.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

Coronavirus Chronicles: A Small Business Recession Could Turn into a Depression

Year to date, the Dow Index of the U.S.’s 30 largest companies is down 14 percent; the S&P 500, which tracks 500 large-cap companies, is down 8 percent; and the NASDAQ, an electronic system that trades many of the world’s fastest growing companies, is up more than 4 percent. Clearly, for the stocks of some of America’s large companies, the coronavirus pandemic is your run-of-the-mill correction, never mind a bear market.

Not so for America’s small businesses. In a recent survey by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) in late April, 52 percent said that they expect to be out of business within six months, whether or not they make changes to their operations during the pandemic; 20 percent believe they will be out of business within three months; and 12 percent expect to close their doors within just one month.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom tried to offer some solace to small businesses at an event at a small gift shop in Sacramento: “To see your [entrepreneurial] dream come to fruition and then potentially be at risk because of this pandemic is devastating. And so it’s a way of expressing not just empathy, but a deep admiration and appreciation for these entrepreneurs that put everything on the line.”

“Empathy . . . admiration . . . appreciation,” and other niceties are well and good, but to get California’s small businesses back on their feet calls for serious and substantive reform. Among PRI’s recommendations:

  • Repeal AB 5 which forces firms to classify most independent contractors as employees, effectively destroying gig-economy jobs and one of California’s most innovative industries.
  • Permanently remove barriers to occupational licensing. Onerous and unreasonable occupational licensing requirements have barred many Californians – especially those poor and struggling – from breaking into well-paying jobs.  Sunsetting these requirements would allow many more people to pursue higher paying careers and a path to economic independence.
  • CEQA reform — independent contractors and builders have been forced out of state or out of business due to overregulation and lawsuits from the California Environmental Quality Act. After 50 years – CEQA is badly in need of an overhaul.
  • Remove red tape. California small businesses are mired in red tape – conflicting and overlapping regulations that only a lawyer can understand have cost small business owners billions of dollars. Newsom should borrow a page from Donald Trump who pledged early on in his administration to remove two regulations for every one enacted.  Trump has far exceeded this pledge, but Newsom could rise to the challenge.
  • Tax relief. California is one of the highest taxed-states in the country.  Many small businesses are sole proprietors putting them in the highest brackets.  Lowering taxes would help them rebuild and save their businesses.

The governor’s press release touts the following to help California’s small business: letting small businesses slide for a year on paying sales taxes (some of the highest in the nation) up to $50,000; guaranteeing loans for small businesses who don’t qualify for federal funds; providing $17.8 million to California’s Employment Development Department (aka – unemployment office) to offer faster services; and starting a jobs website.  It’s not clear how the latter two will help small business owners, other than the presumption that they too, will soon find themselves unemployed. Amusingly enough, the press release lede is the federal government’s loans to small businesses.

The late great economic expansion which began in mid-2009 failed to restore entrepreneurship to its pre-recession level according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This recession could very well turn into a depression for small business. As an entrepreneur and former restauranteur, Gavin Newsom knows first-hand the impact of government imposed taxes and regs on small business. To save California’s small businesses, he knows that he must do more than the current “relief” measures.

Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

The Golden State’s Record-Breaking Deficit

Every state and municipal budget in America will take a big hit because of the coronavirus lockdowns, but no public purse is in as much trouble as California’s. Its Department of Finance recently estimated that the Golden State could face a $54 billion shortfall in the fiscal year beginning July 1, which surely must be the largest deficit any state has ever accumulated, surpassing the $40 billion hole that nearly swallowed Sacramento in 2008. Still, though Governor Gavin Newsom said last weekend that the staggering deficit was “a direct result of Covid-19,” that’s clearly not true. Critics have long warned that the state’s tax base is volatile, being increasingly reliant on wealthy residents and vulnerable to sharp contraction in the next recession. Combine that with California’s spending spree—including expenditures to fix problems that the state’s own bad policies have worsened—and the swing from prosperity to penury isn’t hard to understand.

It’s no exaggeration to say that California—with its 13.3 percent personal income-tax rate, the highest of any state—is the model of progressive fiscal policy. The state also takes a big tax bite out of capital-gains income, another significant source of revenue. In 2017, Californians reported $142 billion in capital gains, by far the largest amount of any state. Two-thirds of that total came from people making more than $1 million. The top 1 percent of California earners now account for about 23 percent of the state’s adjusted gross income but pay 46 percent of the income tax—nearly $50 billion last year, all of which came from an estimated 15,000 households. Before the coronavirus recession hit, California projected that more than 70 percent of its general fund revenues—or $102 billion—would come from personal income taxes. That’s compared with just 25 percent in the 1960s, when the top rate was about half what it is today.

California’s problem: the income of the rich is highly variable, based heavily on dividends, capital gains, and bonuses, which mostly vanish in recessions. In the 2008–2009 downturn, for instance, California’s income-tax collections declined by $7 billion—from $50 billion to $43 billion—in one year. They’ve come roaring back, especially in the last few years, as the stock market reached new heights. California added new taxes, bumping up the rate for those earning more than $250,000 a year and increasing the state sales tax. Originally passed as temporary measures, these tax increases were extended in 2016 for another 15 years. That helped fill the till even higher during the recovery but means that any future tax increases will come on top of already-high rates.

California officials blame the projected $54 billion shortfall on the coronavirus shutdown, but steep deficits always loomed in the next recession. Last year, the Public Policy Institute of California estimated that, even in a moderate downturn, the state would face revenue shortfalls averaging more than $22 billion a year for the next four years—totaling more than $90 billion. For a severe recession—as we may now be facing—the study projected revenue losses of $170 billion stretching over five years.

Volatility is the enemy of government budgets because states and localities must continue to provide services in a recession, and their cost often rises. California projects, for instance, that its expenses will go up by an unanticipated $7 billion as it must increase spending on services for those hit by the downturn. It expects another $6 billion in costs associated with fighting the virus itself, though Washington may reimburse some of that.

A volatile tax base can also encourage overspending as governments amp up their budgets in good times. That’s certainly what happened in California. The state’s budget has grown by $59 billion since 2014, a compound annual rate of about 6 percent. Some of the added spending has addressed problems that seem to be of the state’s own making—a consequence of bad policies. For instance, in the last budget, the state added $3 billion to address homelessness and housing, in addition to money that municipalities like San Francisco were already spending. But the state’s housing and homeless problems are largely homemade. A Government Accountability Study found that California has the highest costs in the nation for constructing “affordable” housing—up to $750,000 for a single unit. California alone accounts for half of the shortfall in housing construction nationally in the last 20 years. Meantime, homelessness in the state has been increasing at far faster rates than in the rest of the country, as cities like San Francisco have made themselves more welcoming to street living by decriminalizing low-level property crimes and drug offenses and distributing syringes and free meals.

Some of this funding may be the first to be cut. But reducing spending won’t be easy because advocacy groups have locked in much of the expenditures with referenda and legislation. Proposition 98, for instance, guarantees funding for public schools based on the amount spent the previous year, and it requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature to override these constraints. In addition, the enormous pension debts accumulated by the state’s retirement systems have generated growing funding demands—only likely to rise further now. In the last 20 years, the amount that state government has been required to contribute to CalPERS has grown from less than $400 million in 2000 to $15 billion last year. The pension system’s administrators warn that stock market losses could require substantial new contribution increases over the next five years. It’s likely that the state and municipalities will do what they have done in previous recessions—decline to boost these payments—at the cost of increasing the state’s burgeoning pension debt, requiring bigger contributions when the state economy begins to recover.

Under former governor Jerry Brown, the state started accumulating a rainy-day fund, now amounting to $17 billion, but even that cushion won’t last long in California. Officials are counting on more federal aid, but after dishing out nearly $3 trillion already, Republicans in Washington are not in the mood for major new spending to help states solve budget problems that go beyond the virus. That might put pressure on Governor Newsom to reopen the state’s economy faster than originally planned, in hopes of a surge of tax revenues to cut the projected deficit. Barring that, the state may be looking at a repeat of strategies in the previous recessions, when it borrowed heavily to close budget gaps. To do that, however, the state must get permission from taxpayers, and such borrowing is expensive. In 2004, for instance, the state floated $15 billion in bonds to close deficit gaps precipitated by the bursting of the dotcom stock bubble. It cost $19 billion to repay those loans, and the state had to make payments throughout the next recession, and all the way into 2015, before it could close the books on that borrowing.

Earlier this year, when California was flush with revenues and spending liberally, Newsom boasted that his state was “America’s coming attraction.” Let’s hope not.

Steven Malanga is the senior editor of City Journal, the George M. Yeager Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and the author of Shakedown: The Continuing Conspiracy Against the American Taxpayer.

This article was originally published by City Journal Online.

Stop the Mandates, Give Business Time to Recover

Proponents of a newly-proposed privacy initiative, the so-called California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), claim to have enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The actual number of qualifying signatures may be close, based on my experience with previous initiatives.  

But as someone who has signed a few ballot initiative arguments, I question whether this initiative should move forward at all. In the face of an unprecedented health and economic crisis, should the sponsors pull back their proposal?  

I can think of three good reasons why the sponsors should wait. 

First, we now have record unemployment, business failure, and state and local budget deficits.  Almost every business I know has been touched in some way by the coronavirus, either because of the impact of “shelter in place” orders or because consumer purchasing patterns have changed dramatically. Many business owners have laid off or furloughed employees while some are still trying to operate bare bones operations. And many smaller companies have been forced to close their doors – hoping and praying that they will be able to reopen in the future.

Against this bleak backdrop, incredibly, the sponsors of the current law, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), are now proposing a new privacy regulatory regime. Ironically, the previous law has only been in effect since January 1, and the Attorney General’s office is on its third rewrite of the regulations. Business groups large and small are still confused about the language in the regulations, concerned about the scope of the requirements and unable to afford the cost of compliance. But regardless of the problems with the CCPA, the sponsors want to force a new set of business mandates and additional costs.

It is simply the wrong time to propose new mandates and costs on business. Business owners must focus on rehiring employees, restarting their business and a financial plan to get past the first six months, and Governor Gavin Newsom and the legislative leaders are focused on public health, economic recovery, wildfire protection, and homeless and housing programs. But the initiative sponsors seem to be locked into pursuing their initiative and other tone-deaf proposals that will discourage business recovery.  

Second, the initiative creates a new state agency – just what we don’t need in a year when we are facing a $54 billion dollar budget deficit. With a shortage of state revenue for health, education and community assistance programs, this initiative and other proposals will create costly new government agencies. Obviously, those plans should be scrapped to allow government to focus on shoring up and stabilizing essential services. 

The final reason this initiative should not go forward now — or frankly, any time in the future — is that it ties the hands future governors and legislatures. A “perfect” policy, whether by law or by initiative, is impossible to craft. The CPRA contains language that would prevent any legislative modification even if the initiative caused serious, lasting detrimental impacts. No initiative should limit the ability of the current Governor and the Legislature and future leaders to make changes. 

Privacy law, in particular, is a relatively new policy area that is very complex and is changing rapidly due to changes in technology. This type of issue requires the legislature to adjust and improve the laws and regulations over time. In truth, the legislative process may take longer than I prefer, and often changes are less significant than I hope, but the legislative arena offers the opportunity to illustrate what is wrong with a particular policy and as well as a solution to fix it. This initiative destroys that process and sets a dangerous precedent for “freezing” policy without the potential for improvement. 

The Governor, the Legislature, businesses and even privacy proponents share a common goal – an aligned and collaborative effort to protect the health of Californians while employees and employers find a way reopen and serve their customers. Privacy considerations and business success are not mutually exclusive, but now is not the time – and this is not the right initiative – for major changes to consumer privacy policy.

John Kabateck is NFIB State Director in California.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.

Did Ballot Harvesting Impact March 3 Bond and Tax Proposals?

Next day returns on the special election for California’s 25th congressional district indicate that a Republican, Mike Garcia, is holding a 56 percent to 44 percent lead over Democrat Christy Smith. That looks awfully good for Garcia. And while in this case Garcia’s lead does look insurmountable, in California, early returns don’t always equal final results.

According to California’s current elections code, mailed in ballots are counted as long as they are postmarked by election day, and arrive up to three days later. In practice, this translates into final results in close elections being delayed for several weeks.

California’s election code also permits so-called “ballot harvesting,” which is alleged to swing the results of close elections. And unless, at the very least, both candidates and parties have equally effective voter harvesting operations, why wouldn’t it?

The process works this way: A campaign operative canvasses a neighborhood in the days prior to an election. Armed with a cell phone app that identifies which households have voters that are registered with the candidate’s party, they only knock on those doors.

“Hello, have you voted? No? You have not? Well do you have your ballot? Why don’t you fill it in and I’ll take it and submit it for you?” Or, if the person has already filled out their ballot, but haven’t gotten around to mailing it, “here, let me take that and get it mailed for you.”

Depending on who you ask, ballot harvesting in California was a major factor in flipping seven congressional seats from Democrat to Republican in November 2018. One thing is certain; in that election the GOP had almost no ballot harvesting operation, whereas the Democrats had thousands of paid operatives knocking on the door of every Democratic household in every battleground district.

Did Ballot Harvesting Affect the Outcome of Tax and Bond Proposals?

Plenty of controversy has been generated by the new statewide mandate to send mail-in ballots to every voter in California, along with ballot harvesting. But the focus has been on how this impacts elections to U.S. Congress or the State Legislature. Less evaluated but also impacted are votes on state and local tax and bond proposals. As part of every election, without fail, hundreds of localities put proposals in front of voters. And every election, several billion in new taxes and borrowing are at stake.

Historically, for several election cycles up to and including November 2018, California’s voters have overwhelmingly approved new local taxes and bonds. Typically over 70 percent of local tax proposals and over 90 percent of local bond proposals are approved by voters. But something happened in the primary election of March 3, 2020. Voters decided they’d had enough.

By tabulating data compiled by CalTax on local tax and bond proposals immediately after the March 3 election, the following preliminary voting results were reported:

This is a stunning result. Instead of 70 percent of local tax increases passing, only 31 percent of them were showing, so far, as approved. Instead of 90 percent of local bond proposals passing, 42 percent were showing as approved. But then what happened?

The next chart shows final results, which California’s dazzlingly efficient voting bureaucracy was able to deliver on April 21, only 49 days later. So what was the impact of late voting? How was the final outcome affected by the efforts of paid political operatives to knock on the doors of every Democrat and harvest the ballots they’d received in the mail?

As can be seen, for whatever reason, late vote counts did make a difference. The number of approved new taxes jumped from 42 percent to 44 percent. The number of approved bonds jumped from 31 percent to 36 percent. Don’t laugh. That’s another $171 million in additional annual taxes, and an additional $1.1 billion in new borrowing.

It’s worth wondering exactly how the percentages changed. For example, next day results showed 39 bonds passing, and final results showed 44 of them passing. But that’s a net number. What really happened?

The analysis performed to answer that question (an Excel file) can be downloaded here. It shows every tax and bond measure that appeared on a local ballot in California on March 3, comparing next day results to final results. In reality, eight bond measures that were losing a day after the election ended up passing, and two bond measures that were passing in the next day results ended up losing. With respect to the local tax measures, it was a bit closer: five tax measures flipped from fail to pass, and three flipped from pass to fail.

What Does It All Mean?

New York Times journalist, Jennifer Medina, citing tracking data in California, reported that “roughly 56% of voters 65 and older returned a mail ballot. Just 19% of those younger than 35 did so.” Medina was reporting data from the May 12 special election in California, but it’s interesting to wonder if it holds true for the state at large.

Most of the analysis published in mainstream media, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, claim vote-by-mail does not help either party. Mainstream media also promotes a consensus that vote-by-mail does not increase the risk of fraud, as this typical analysis from NPR helpfully attests. But the NPR report also reinforces the argument that older voters tend to be far more likely than young voters to submit mail-in ballots.

With two elections already behind us in California in 2020, a few observations may be useful. First, voter sentiment has changed significantly. The level of support for new taxes and bonds has nearly inverted, a shift far too big to dismiss as a blip. With the pandemic shutdown having crashed public sector tax revenue, this should be a worrisome development for anyone who wants more taxes and more borrowing. Will the pandemic crisis exacerbate voter disillusion with new tax proposals, or offer them a new motivation to approve new taxes?

The other observation that might come out of these 2020 California elections is that vote-by-mail, notwithstanding possible concerns about fraud, may actually help Republicans. Voter harvesting, on the other hand, will harm Republicans. They will be harmed because it is unlikely that in California, where Democrats have far more money to spend (public sector unions, left wing billionaires), the GOP cannot hope to match the Democrat voter harvesting operation. And even if they do, come November, they will knock on GOP households that are far more likely to have already mailed in their ballots, whereas the Democrat households will be more likely to still be holding on to theirs.

This article originally appeared in the California Globe.

Will The Coronavirus Pandemic Lead To Tax Increases?

In January, Gov. Gavin Newsom presented a proposed budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 which envisioned a several billion dollar increase in spending for existing programs as well as a host of new programs. But that was before COVID-19 arrived at our shores.

In over the course of just three weeks in March, it became obvious that the original budget plan would have to be scrapped because of the most rapid economic downturn America has ever seen.

So it was with great interest that all those who follow California politics were watching last Thursday as Newsom released the “May Revise” of the budget. To no one’s surprise, the huge dive in state revenues forced the governor to slash $19 billion from January’s initial plan.

According to the governor’s Department of Finance, the budget deficit is $54 billion. But this figure may be overstated in order to present to the public the worst possible case. The non-partisan Legislative Analyst projected the deficit to be as low as $18 billion with a worst case scenario of $31 billion.

The question is whether the budget shortfall will lead to a demand for tax increases. Taxpayers can also take some comfort that there are no immediate plans for broad-based tax increases. The governor proposed two tax hikes, a suspension of a business deduction for what are known as “net operating losses” and a tax on vaping products.

To read the entire column, please click here.

COVID-19 Ruse for Social Justice Agenda of Early Release for Charged Criminals

Presidential advisor Rahm Emanuel, speaking about the financial crisis in 2008, said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste… it’s an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

The California Judicial Council, a little-known state entity that controls the entire court system, decided to use the Covid-19 crisis to implement its views on pre-trial release. In doing so, its members put public safety at risk.

The Council is chaired by the Chief Justice and its membership is largely comprised of Superior Court Judges and Appellate Court Justices. One of those Justices now oversees the Judicial Council’s continuing efforts to eliminate bail. A two year study by the Council that suggested $0 bail and other pre-trial early release measures inspired Senate Bill 10 (D-Hertzberg) which ended bail in California and replaced it with a risk assessment system as recommended by the Judicial Council. An initiative to overturn this law has now interrupted this plan and has qualified for the November ballot. Voters will decide if ending bail makes common sense for public safety. Based on the lessons of its use during this pandemic, we have a lot of examples why this is now highly questionable.

This same Justice has now recommended Emergency Rule 4 to the Judicial Council which was unanimously adopted. Rule 4 sets bail at $0 for all crimes except for 13 categories of serious and/or violent crimes. The remaining crimes are eligible for $0 bail and inmates charged with those crimes are eligible for immediate release from jail.

Although the Judicial Council’s study recommended a pre-trial inmate risk assessment as a critical early release or $0 bail measure, this risk-assessment of danger to the community was left out of Rule 4. Jail capacity and social distancing were represented as the reasons to adopt the emergency measures; yet once those measures were achieved Rule 4 was crafted without a stop-gap to limit Rule 4’s use once those safe jail thresholds had been met. Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes has taken proactive steps to protect the health and safety of jail staff including implementing all safety measures mandated by the Center for Disease Control. The jail’s population has been reduced by 45% over the last two months. Yet early release by the courts continues when no such overcrowding safety net is needed or necessary.

The reason neither jail overcrowding nor risk assessment are factors in the Council’s Rule 4 is that the rule is nothing more than a pilot project on pre-trial detention. The Justice herself admitted during a Judicial Council conference call that a Council working group spent the last two years working on a $0 bail project because, in her own words, pre-trial detention is “unfair and unsafe.” Timing is everything and the Judicial Council seized the opportunity provided by the health crisis to roll out a social experiment to eliminate bail. The pandemic may have been the publicly stated reason, but the foundation for $0 bail had been years early advocated by the Judicial Council. They made sure this crisis didn’t go to waste.

While the initial urgent need to reduce jail population was an important and necessary assertion, the Judicial Council unnecessarily and dangerously mixed its socially progressive goals of ending bail into these emergency rules.

That social agenda has exploited this pandemic as an excuse to empty jails and prisons across the nation in order to justify such measures as keeping with protection of the public. Rule 4’s misuse has exposed the ruse.

Here in Orange County, Commissioner Joseph Dane has given new meaning to early release. He often fails to consider the risk to public safety when ordering release, instead making a record totally relying on the pandemic and Rule 4 as his authority. He unilaterally refuses to adhere to state law that requires a minimum of 180 days in jail for convicted sex offenders violated their parole by cutting off their GPS ankle monitors or otherwise disabling them to avoid being detected by law enforcement. 

Commissioner Dane released seven convicted state parolee sexual predators who either cut off or tampered with their GPS devices, without imposing the mandatory 180 days in custody. One sex offender released re-offended within days, exposing himself to office workers. Six out of the seven have already re-offended. In Orange County in 2014, two convicted sex offenders were charged with cutting off their GPS bracelets and then going on a rape and murder rampage which left four innocent women dead. We all have reason to be concerned.

Social justice advocates will likely tell us that this experiment has demonstrated what they have been saying all along: early release and $0 bail work. They ignore what police chiefs, including LAPD Chief Michael Moore, are telling us – $0 bail is a gift to repeat offenders and a risk to public safety. On March 6, the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote an editorial entitled “The ‘No Bail’ Fiasco in New York” after the New York Police Department announced major crime had gone up 22.5% this February over a year ago. The reason: $0 bail reform which is “releasing people who have been arrested for one crime to go out and commit another.”

We’ve already seen it here in Orange County and not just with sex offenders. Commissioner Dane also recently released a third-striker career burglar on his “own recognizance” only to have him assault an Irvine police officer while committing another burglary just days later. Ventura County law enforcement leaders are so concerned that they sent an urgent letter to the Chief Justice imploring her to reverse these poorly thought-out orders.

We didn’t need an experiment to tell us what we already knew: when you let criminals out of jail they will commit more crimes. You also didn’t need to tell us certain crimes would go down when burglars know people are sheltering at home and can watch over their property or pick up Amazon packages off their porch before thieves can steal it.

This November California voters will have the opportunity to decide whether eliminating bail makes us safer. Certainly the Judicial Council has an unfair stake in the game and used it against us during this pandemic given its driving force behind SB 10 and conclusions that pre-trial incarceration is “unfair and unsafe” long before the Coronavirus contagion.

While it is an opportunity to not let a serious crisis to go to waste, the judicial mandate is to weigh evidence; not pre-judge facts.

Todd Spitzer, District Attorney, County of Orange.

Separating Good Bailouts From Bad Bailouts

The pandemic shutdown is about to enter its third month, and economic repercussions have just begun. Too much has been shut down for too long. In California, the initial reopen is not going to include huge business sectors – theaters, concerts, conventions, sports, travel, hotels – and other sectors such as restaurants and retail establishments are going to be at half-capacity. Business revenue and profits have crashed, with proportional hits to tax receipts. The cascading economic damage is likely to far outlast the spread of the virus.

The federal response so far has been the COVID-19 CARES Act Relief Bill, which allocates $1.8 trillion in emergency spending to stimulate the shut down economy. This dwarfs the $831 stimulus package passed in 2009, and is equal to more than half of 2019 federal revenue which was $3.5 trillion. In terms of spending, it represents a 40 percent increase to the 2019 federal spending of $4.4 trillion. Using these numbers, a reasonable estimate of the federal deficit in 2020 would be $2.7 trillion, before any additional relief bills are passed, which is likely.

California’s economy, huge and diverse, may confound its critics and weather the coming deep recession better than other states. The tech sector benefits by providing enabling technologies for distance learning and telecommuting, and it will also benefit from likely new infusions of cash into defense R&D as tensions with China deepen. California’s agricultural sector may slow down but it won’t crash, because people have to eat. And while California’s real estate industry has been in a bubble for years, the state’s irresistible weather and scenery guarantee it will remain a favored destination, as will its population emerging from the pandemic relatively healthy compared to other major states.

California’s state and local governments, however, face unprecedented financial hardship. Only a light breeze was necessary to disrupt their finances, and what’s happening today is a hurricane. And even after the economic weather stabilizes, the state government’s financial house of cards will remain scattered.

Only two months ago, Governor Newsom proudly released his 2020-21 budget, calling for record spending of $222 billion and projecting a $5.6 billion surplus. That was then. On May 7, the California state Department of Finance projected that between now and the end of the 2020-21 fiscal year, i.e., over the period ending just over one year from now, instead of a $5.6 billion surplus, they expect a $54 billion deficit. What about a federal bailout?

Governor Newsom has joined other governors, mostly from states controlled by Democrats, in criticizing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who stated “states dealing with budget issues resulting from the coronavirus pandemic should seek bankruptcy protections instead of receiving federal aid.” It’s going to be a tough negotiation.

If a Republican controlled U.S. Senate and a Republican occupying the White House cannot use this opportunity to demand reforms from financially mismanaged states controlled by Democrats, then they never will. The financial challenges facing California’s state government began well before the pandemic. And they weren’t limited to California’s state government, almost without exception, they also afflicted California’s local governments and agencies.

revealing article published by CalMatters last month explains in lurid detail what’s coming next for California’s cities. From north to south, it’s a dismal portrait.

San Francisco’s controller “recently estimated the pandemic will push the city between $1.1 and $1.7 billion into the red over the next two years — wiping out the city’s $800 million in reserves.” The pandemic is expected have at least a $100 million impact on San Jose’s budget. Los Angeles expects tax revenues to drop by $600 million; San Diego, $250 million. It’s the same story everywhere, from Eureka to El Centro.

California’s Three Financial Policy Failures

When it comes to civic finance in California, however, it is the long history leading into this immediate crisis that should be the real story. For the last several decades, policy decisions made by California’s elected democrats have had a cumulative impact and delivered accumulating consequences in three broad areas:

First, they have over-regulated literally everything, from retail and restaurant operations to manufacturing and resource industries, to home construction, and this has driven up the cost-of-living. A high cost-of-living has driven out the middle class and much of the tax base, exiled to friendlier states in America. It has also affected the second big category of policy mistakes, which is out-of-control public sector compensation.

Instead of paying attention to the impact their policies were having on California’s cost-of-living, and doing something about that, California’s elected officials instead compensated their public employees with wage and benefit packages that were far in excess of private sector norms. This helped mitigate public employees from the consequences of the policies that were making California unlivable for the citizens they served.

It’s important to view California’s third big policy blunder in the context of the first two. If California were an inviting place to retire on a limited fixed income, higher pension benefits would not have been such a priority for government union negotiators. And if the high cost-of-living hadn’t fueled demands for higher wages, governments wouldn’t have had to trade higher pension benefits in exchange for less expenditures in the present for higher wages. As it is, pensions were eating California’s government budgets. Before the pandemic struck.

Good Bailouts vs Bad Bailouts

Writing for Forbes last month, author Kathryn Judge expressed a common and valid warning usually heard from libertarians and conservatives, that there is a “moral hazard” in government bailouts of huge corporations that get into financial trouble. She correctly cites the corporate borrowing binge of the past decade, the useless channeling of that debt into stock buybacks, and makes the logical conclusion that these corporations did this because they knew that if they ever needed to, they’d get another bailout.

This is true enough, but there is a hierarchy of moral hazards, and the highest one, topping even corporate bailouts, is government bailouts. Corporations that cannot compete in a market economy, even those that get bailouts, eventually get their comeuppance. Governments, on the other hand, especially state and local governments, are not held accountable by the market, they are monopolies. And in California, they are barely accountable to voters.

Governments in states like California are controlled by public employee unions, who collect and spend over $800 million per year in member dues, and use that financial power to campaign and lobby for politicians who will do their bidding.

In these times, no serious observer is denying that federal stimulus money is necessary. But a good bailout might look like this: First, send money to individual households. Next, send money to small businesses. After that, and with extreme caution, send money to large businesses. And finally, with strings attached, send money to state governments. And make those strings tight indeed.

For example, before any federal money gets into Gavin Newsom’s hands, demand he convene the state legislature, and pass a pension reform act that adjusts all pension benefits to PEPRA‘s terms (the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013) for ALL state and local employees regardless of hire date, effective retroactively to January 1, 2020. Heck, maybe he can even do this via an emergency executive order. Do that one, simple thing, something everyone can understand, and something that would save hundreds of billions over the next few decades.

There’s much more that could be done. Moving back through the three policy blunders – lower public employee wages, along with lowering their pensions. Lower the cost-of-living through deregulation, so not only public employees can cope today, and thrive tomorrow, but everybody living in this still wonderful state.

This article originally appeared on the website California Globe.