Does drought pricing violate state law?

This is Part 1 of a series.

Calls now are going out to raise water prices even higher to spur conservation. Instead of fining people for watering their lawns, numerous economists are recommending just tacking a punitive surcharge onto water rates until use drops.360_dom_water_shortage_1228

But there’s a problem with this drought fix: It would violate Proposition 218, which voters passed in 1996. It requires voter approval for any tax increase. And higher rates for using more water effectively are a tax on usage.

CalWatchDog.com brought up the matter with Jon Coupal, president the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, a major backer of Prop. 218 and defender in court of voter consent for taxes, especially punitive or luxury taxes.

“Some of these tiered rates are probably illegal,” Coupal said. “To be fully compliant with Prop 218, a [water] district would probably have to characterize the higher tiered rate as a penalty or fine.” 

So voters would have to approve any higher water rates for “drought pricing,” “tiered drought water rates” or “water conservation rates.”

The matter also has been litigated in a case settled by the California Supreme Court in 2006, Bighorn-Desert Water Agency vs. Verjil.  That case concerned whether the public initiative process under Prop. 218 could repeal water-rate increases. The court established that water-rate increases or decreases are “property-related fees” subject to Prop. 218.

So do all water rates have to be approved by voters? No. Prop. 218 only stipulated any rate increase “shall not exceed the funds required to provide the service.” That allowed rate increases for higher operating costs or inflation. But it did not allow rate increases for anything above such costs, such as for water conservation, unless a majority of voters gave their approval.

Water Experts 

“Drought prices” are being advocated by some water economists from both sides of the political spectrum:

  • Kathryn Shelton and Richard B. McKenizie of American’s Future Foundation;
  • Benjamin Powell, director of the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech University;
  • Former U.C. Davis water economist David P. Zetland, writing on the libertarian website Reason.com;
  • Ellen Hanak and Caitrin Chappelle of the Public Policy Institute of California;
  • Jay Lund of U.C. Davis;
  • Stephanie Pincetl of the UCLA California Center for Sustainable Communities;
  • Peter Gleick of the Pacific Water Institute in Oakland.

These advocates call it a “market solution.” Yet 95 percent of system water in California is a monopoly controlled by the government, with only 5 percent sold on the spot market.  When purchasing a car, a computer or a hamburger, if one is dissatisfied with a high price or low quality, one simply switches to a competitor. But with water, one cannot do that except by moving into a new water district — something hardly practical for most people or businesses.

So even a “market solution” really is political, meaning it falls under the rubrics of state law, including Prop. 218.

Tiered usage

Many water districts already use a tiered structure for water usage, where those who use more pay more, to encourage conservation even in times and places where there is no drought. Such tiers can be structured around the water source or service (potable, recycled, construction, fire), and do not trigger Prop. 218.

But if the tiers are based on usage, then the tiers trigger Prop. 218 approval by voters.

Finally, long-term studies show tiered usage does not discourage use. See the study from July by the Centre for Energy Policy and Economics Department of Management, Technology, and Economics in Zurich, “Urban Water Demand and Water Rate Structures Over Decades.” It found:

“Using primary pricing data from 125 Texas communities spanning more than two decades (1981 – 2003)…. The adoption of water pricing structures alleged to promote water conservation (e.g. increasing block rates) does not lead to expected results as in our sample (13447 observations) consumption increased by 5-6 % … after the change occurred.”


In Part 2, we will further explore the notion of drought-pricing water. 


Wayne Lusvardi worked for one of California’s largest water agencies for 20 years in valuing land with water rights, agricultural land leases, and land fallowing contracts for water conservation. This piece was originally posted on Calwatchdog.com.

Petition Urges Obama To Let Border-Jumper Stay In The White House

The man who jumped the White House railing Sept. 19 deserves the right to live in President Barack Obama’s home, just as the president is allowing hundreds of thousands of border-jumping Central Americans to live in Americans’ homeland, says a new tongue-in-cheek petition posted at the White House website.Obama_family_tree

“We urge President Obama to immediately and publicly recognize that Mr. Omar J. Gonzalez, an oppressed migrant, was merely looking for a better life when he entered the White House after going over the classist, divisive and needless fence,” says the petition, which was authored by D.A. King, founder of the Georgia-based Dustin Inman Society, which advocates for actual enforcement of immigration law.

“In the interest of White House diversity and what will surely result in adding to the rich tapestry of love and community, we further demand that the President reform the mean-spirited laws regulating access to the People’s House,” saysKing’s’ petition, which mimics the pro-amnesty language used by business and ethnic lobbies.

“For justice and peace, upon his next return from the back-nine, Mr. Obama must award permanent lawful WH residency to Mr. Gonzalez and his family, along with a permit to work there. Because.” concludes the petition, which can be electronically signed at the White House website.

Once the petition gets 150 electronic signatures, the petition will be posted on the public side of Obama’s website.

White House officials say they will post a public response to any petition that gets 100,000 signatures.

King’s sardonic petition was posted Saturday, one day after Gonzalez jumped Obama’s household fence and dashed inside one of the doors into the president’s house. The president’s bodyguard detained the man, and exiled him to a federal law enforcement facility outside the White House border.

That’s a very different reaction than Obama approved for the 200,000 Central Migrants who have crossed the nation’s border since 2009.

Obama allowed nearly all of the unskilled and poor migrants — including roughly 135,000 adults, youths and children who have arrived since October 2013 — to apply via the courts for Green Cards that would allow them to stay in Americans’ homeland. They’re allowed to apply regardless of education, productivity or possible criminal records.

Obama’s deputies have only repatriated about 300 of the 200,000 migrants.

Roughly 70 percent of the migrants are children and youths who claim to be aged 17 or below. Many of those are being sent to U.S. schools, where they’re expected to absorb education resources originally approved for Americans’ children, including the children of low-income African-Americans, Latino-Americans and white Americans.

Other observers noted the contrast between the administration’s treatment of people who cross Obama’s border and the nation’s border.

“To be fair, the guy who made it over the fence at the White House should be able to live there now….with his family,” said a tweet from Richard Grenell, a liberal Republican.

Obama has the authority to repatriate the young migrants. Instead, he choose to let them apply for Green Cards via a 2008 law, which was written to protest young people who were forced by criminals to serve as prostitutes.

The president’s acceptance of the migrants is part of a larger effort to relax enforcement of immigration laws. In 2013, Obama’s deputies deported less than 0.2 percent of the roughly 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States for violating immigration laws.

Partly because of immigration, fewer natural-born Americans have jobs in 2014than had jobs in 2000, despite a population growth of 16 million.

Because of Obama’s policy for the nation’s border, more Central American migrants are expected to arrive in September and October.

The president’s support for the huge wave of Central American migrants and for greater immigration overall is so unpopular — including among Latinos — that even five Democrats and many business-backed Republicans voted Sept. 18 to limit his ability to provide unilateral amnesties to illegal immigrants. Those polls reflect long-standing public opposition to greater immigration.

King’s petition is intended to highlight Obama’s double-standard.

“We recognize that Omar has endured the oppression of the unfair White House entry system and that that building belongs to the entire world,” said a press release announcing King’s petition.

“We are the world,” the petition says, sarcastically.

Neil Munro is a contributor to contributor to Daily Caller. This piece was originally posted on Dailycaller.com.

Public Utilities Commission crashes into Uber, Lyft

This week was supposed to be a Kumbaya moment for state legislators and ridesharing services. On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law compromise legislation allowing the firms to continue to flourish, while requiring them to increase their insurance coverage.

But just before then, the California Public Utilities crashed its regulations into the ridesharing services’ carpool operations, such as Lyft Line and Uber Pool.UberStockholm-039

Carpooling via smartphone app has become a key element of the services’ strategies for competitiveness and growth. Uber’s carpooling service offers rates some 40 percent lower than UberX, its most affordable regular option.

But in the CPUC’s bureaucratic lingo, a car pool is called a “charter party carrier.” The CPUC’s letter to Uber read:

“In accordance with §5401, the Commission has consistently found that charter party carriers cannot charge an individual fare when carrying multiple persons in a vehicle, and, therefore, a person chartering a charter party carrier vehicle must have exclusive use of the vehicle.”

However, Bloomberg reported the CPUC also observed it “lacks the flexibility to allow a type of transportation service that is against state law,” counseling the companies to “petition lawmakers to modify the state code if they think it is outdated.”

In response, the ridesharing companies vented their frustration with the state’s legal hurdles.

Uber said:

“The only conclusion we can come to is that the PUC doesn’t like technology, environmental progress, or anything that might make California a better place to live.”

Sidecar said:

“San Francisco was quick to embrace Shared Rides because they are so convenient and well-priced you can get across town for a just a little more than you would pay for the bus.”

Lyft championed its Lyft Line carpool as contributing to “carbon reduction and improved air quality,” high priorities for many state and city officials.

Indeed, the CPUC’s own website — featuring Brown’s picture prominently at the top — boasts of its efforts to reduce carbon use:

“California has already taken some huge steps to lower the state’s carbon footprint.  Here are some of our most impactful programs. …”

Uncertain legal terrain

As Mark Rogowsky pointed out in Forbes, California’s regulatory framework is so arcane and complex the CPUC appears to have only inferred the transportation services’ carpools are illegal. Under current law, there actually are three categories of services:

1. A Passenger State Corporation, or PSC. Rogowsky explains: “[I]t can charge people individually for a shared vehicle. This is how SuperShuttle can drive around to multiple neighborhoods, pick people up and drop them all at the airport without running afoul of the law.

2. A “charter-party carrier,” oddly given the acronym TCP. “It can only rent out a vehicle by time or distance. Limos and charter buses fall into this category.”

3. Transportation Network Companies or TNCs, the category for ridesharing carpools. “The law for TNCs is unique in some critical ways — only TNCs are required to run criminal background checks on drivers, TCPs aren’t — but it hews closely to the way those vehicles have been regulated. And amid the legalese of Section 5401 of the state’s public utilities code, which concerns those TCPs, are these key words: ‘[N]o charter-party carrier of passengers shall … demand or receive compensation, for the transportation offered … on an individual-fare basis.’”

Scrambling to keep up

None of the services indicated it had any plans to shut down or suspend carpool features. Despite tooth-and-nail competition among the three, all have chosen in effect to call the CPUC’s bluff. As of yet, there is no indication the CPUC has created concrete plans to ensure their interpretation of the law is enforced — shifting attention back to lawmakers in Sacramento.

But the regulatory assault comes after the compromise worked out in the Legislature. Rather than ramming new regulations down the throats of the app-driven companies, lawmakers struck a deal that left all sides content, if only for the moment.

The CPUC’s action reminded everyone that not just legislators elected by the people, but unelected bureaucrats, hold clout in the Golden State.

James Polous is a contributor to Calwatchdog. This piece was originally posted on Calwatchdog.com.

IRS admits the “lost” Lerner emails

In the era of digital permanence, where terabytes of texts, emails and communications are automatically saved onto cloud servers and backed up via multiple redundant outlets, the IRS is claiming that thousands of critical emails in the investigation into potential criminal wrongdoing at the agency have been “lost.”  The assertion is comically absurd – after all, the government, which by many accounts is or has actively monitored millions of communications a year via the NSA, is simultaneously claiming that critical emails between principal subjects of the inquiry are now missing.  This week, the IRS commissioner admitted in Congressional testimony that the agency did not save the emails on Ms. Lerner’s blackberry, and it has no way of obtaining the information contained therein.  It would seem that federal officials are able to monitor all communications in America except their own. 130521_lois_lerner_2_328_js_605

Recall that this episode initially began with the surprise announcement last year that the IRS had inappropriately targeted conservative groups with increased scrutiny, as well as delayed their non-profit approval status, in an effort to limit the influence of their voice in the arena of public opinion.  After admitting its mistake, which by many accounts borders on the criminal, the IRS is now losing the public’s trust to an even greater degree.

One would naturally assume that the IRS must have some backup mechanism in place in order to protect critical information.  Mysteriously, however, the backup mechanism has also failed to yield the aforementioned communications.  If the backup truly failed, the next logical step would be to assume that the recipients of the email communications of the target individual could be collected to piece together at least a large portion of the relevant communications.  After all, there should be two copies of every email communication; one from the sender, and one for the recipient.  Surely, many subordinates and direct reports would have substantial communications with the relevant individuals which would help investigators piece together whether any criminal wrongdoing occurred.  It appears, however, that even this method is running into brick walls.

The IRS recently revealed that the emails of five key IRS officials, including an aide to Ms. Lerner, have also been “lost.”  The announcement comes after a key correspondence between Ms. Lerner and an IRS IT employee has been produced, in which Ms. Lerner asked if text messages are automatically backed up on IRS servers.  When the employee responded in the negative, she replied, “Perfect.”  One can logically deduce that Ms. Lerner did not want the contents of her communications to be revealed to the public.

Ms. Lerner, an agent held with the public trust in the collection of hard working taxpayer dollars, is hiding something.   The IRS needs to find this critical information.  The public needs to keep up sufficient pressure to ensure that the communications are located.

One need only imagine the scenario in reverse to ascertain how absurd the government’s position is in this matter.   Assume the IRS conducts a routine audit of an individual or private business (just recently, the Breitbart News, a well known conservative media outlet, announced that it is being audited by the IRS).  Certain records regarding business expenditures and other tax efficient write-offs are accidentally “misplaced” by the entity being audited.  Then the business or individual argues to the IRS that the relevant documents cannot be located.  The IRS would have little empathy in such a scenario, and the taxpayer would almost certainly lose the tax exemptions he or she was originally claiming.

It has long been said in America that no man or woman, including the President of the United States, is above the law.  Let us see whether the same can be said for the IRS.  So far, their silence and “missing” emails speaks volumes.

Ben Everard is a contributor to Capoliticalreview.com.

Guerrilla marketing fuels OC mystery campaign

Less than seven weeks from Election Day, political campaigns are looking for novel ways to distinguish themselves from all the election-related noise.

In Orange County, one creative independent expenditure has turned to a mysterious guerrilla marketing campaign to get its message out: It’s attacking a candidate — but won’t say just yet whom it’s criticizing.Jose Solorio

Posters of a man with his back turned, such as the one pictured at right, have been appearing throughout Orange County. They’re posted in conjunction with a new website that asks, “Who Turned His Back on Us?”

TurnedHisBack.com

The website, TurnedHisBack.com, features a short 15-second ad.

“He said he’d stand with working families,” the narrator opens in the online ad. “We believed him. He turned his back on us. Coming soon we’ll find out who.”

The ad campaign, which is paid for by the California Alliance for Progress and Education, an Alliance of Small Business Professional Organizations, won’t say whom they’re targeting.

The strategy may seem odd. But it’s straight out of the world of guerrilla marketing, which uses low-cost techniques, such as street art, graffiti and posters, to generate buzz and build public interest in a campaign.

We’re writing about it. You’re talking about it. And that’s exactly what they want.

State disclosure reports have yet to reveal target

However, California’s Political Reform Act, which celebrated its 40th birthday this week, doesn’t take kindly to political secrecy. Under state law, the independent expenditure campaign will be required to disclose whom it is targeting once it meets certain spending thresholds.

According to state disclosure reports, the California Alliance for Progress and Education has received $2,111 in funding from the California Dental Association since January. The committee lists Charles Bell and Thomas W. Hiltachk of the prominent GOP election law firm McAndrews & Hiltachk LLP as its treasurers.
It’s unclear which competitive Orange County race the guerrilla marketing is targeting, but state campaign finance laws will eventually solve the mystery.

Then again, the campaign might test those reporting requirements. After all, it has yet to actually attack a specific candidate — pushing the envelope of what constitutes political advocacy.

According to the state’s campaign disclosure manual, published by the Fair Political Practices Commission, “An ‘independent expenditure’ is a payment for a communication that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified California state or local candidate or the qualification, passage, or defeat of a clearly identified state or local ballot measure, and the communication is not coordinated with or ‘made at the behest’ of the affected candidate or committee.”

The mysterious “he turned our back on us” campaign hasn’t “expressly” advocated the “defeat of a clearly identified candidate.”

What’s considered a “clearly identified candidate” to the state’s political watchdog?

The FPPC says, “A communication clearly identifies a candidate or measure when the candidate’s name, photograph, or status as a candidate or officeholder is used, or the measure’s name, popular title, or official title is used.”

No clues from domain registration

The campaign didn’t leave many clues. The internet domain was registered on Aug. 26 by Adrienne Moore, a Sacramento-based graphic designer, according to online WHOIS domain registration information accessed at Register.com.

Without many clues, who could it be?
Based on the location of the posters, reference to “working families,” and political leanings of the ad’s sponsors, the “man who turned his back on us” is most likely former assemblyman and current president of the Rancho Santiago Community College District Jose Solorio. The Santa Ana Democrat is competing against Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen for the 34th State Senate district, which the Orange County Register considers to be “the most important race in the upper chamber.”

The election likely will decide whether Democrats have a two-thirds supermajority in the state Legislature.

“Janet Nguyen’s candidacy for state senate is the most important political fight in 2014 for Californians,” CalWatchdog.com’s Editor-in-Chief Brian Calle recently told Forbes. “And if Nguyen is victorious, Democrats would not have the necessary two-thirds majority in the Legislature to unilaterally raise taxes in the Golden State.”

Other possible contenders include the candidates in the 74th Assembly race between Huntington Beach Mayor Matt Harper and Newport Beach Councilman Keith Curry; and Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, who is competing in the 2nd Supervisorial district against Board of Equalization member Michelle Steel. All are Republicans.

John Hrabe is a contributor to Calwatchdog. This piece was originally posted on Calwatchdog.com. 

Acquiescent Teachers and Their Undemocratic Unions

Are Unions Democratic? The Internal Politics of Labor Unions and Their Implications, a report just released by the Manhattan Institute’s Daniel DiSalvo, examines unions – specifically the public employee variety, with an emphasis on teachers unions.

Addressing the democracy issue, he writes:Mexico Teachers Protest

Unfortunately, much evidence suggests that unions are, in the vast majority of cases, only superficially democratic. A review of the existing literature shows that:

  • Very few members vote in standard union-leadership elections (turnout is often below 20 percent; in one recent New York City public-sector union election, turnout was 4 percent).
  • Those who do vote are not representative of the membership as a whole (with older workers voting at higher rates, thus skewing, for example, union policies on the importance of pensions relative to wages).
  • Incumbent leaders often go unchallenged for long periods, sometimes “anointing” chosen successors (who then anoint another generation) instead of fostering genuine contests.
  • Unions, especially at the state and national level, often take political positions with which a substantial number of members disagree (thus forcing those members to pay, with their dues, for the advocacy of policies that they do not support).

DiSalvo ends by pointing to reforms that unions should adopt which would bring the “practice of union democracy in line with the values of American society and the spirit of the law.” The following are his recommendations for federal, state, and local governments:

  1. Require unions to publicize electoral procedures and report election returns. In particular, unions should report the names of the candidates for various offices; whether members voted in person, by phone, electronically, or postal mail; and the number of members who voted, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage.
  2. Require unions to adopt online voting systems, thereby eliminating cumbersome barriers to voting (such as traveling to the union hall to cast a ballot); improving transparency; speeding the dissemination of election results; and reducing the costs of holding elections.
  3. Stop requiring union members to pay for advocacy that they do not support. Specifically, public-sector unions need to formalize their political decision-making by holding referenda to gauge their members’ policy preferences more precisely. The results of these referenda should be made public.

The irony of these proposed legislative actions is that they are unlikely to see the light of day because the unions throw their considerable political heft around and effect legislation locally, on the state level and in D.C. And even if his first fix was to become a reality, I’m not sure it would accomplish much. Information like this would get buried in an email that few would read. His second suggestion is certainly reasonable and in fact has been adopted by the United Teachers of Los Angeles.

Number three gets into some interesting territory. DiSalvo says the union should hold referenda to gauge the political preferences of its rank-and-file. (The unions will counter that this is not necessary. The California Teachers Association’s political decisions are made by their State Council, an elected governing body, though in reality few members ever know exactly who is running, what they stand for and where and when the elections are.) DiSalvo also says that the results of the referenda should be made public. In fact, there is information along those lines that is readily available. Former National Education Association president Reg Weaver on more than one occasion has said publicly that his union breaks down as one-third Democrat, one-third Republican and one-third “Other.” Mike Antonucci reports that a 2005 NEA survey, consistent with previous results, found that members “are actually slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” And at a panel in which I was a participant in 2013, CTA president Dean Vogel claimed that his union membership is 65 percent Democrat and 35 percent Republican.

Granted none of the above numbers constitutes referenda, but the union elites are well aware that a significant percentage of their members are not on the left and clearly they don’t care. Almost all union spending goes in that direction. NEA spends money on Democrats at a 14:1 ratio. And the American Federation of Teachers is even more one-sided: it spends zero on right-of-center candidates.

Here in the Golden State, CTA is no better. Between 2003 and 2012, the union sent $15.7 million to Democrats and just $92,700 to Republicans – a ratio of well over 99 to 1. In toto, CTA spent over $290 million on candidates, ballot measures and lobbying between 2000 and 2013 and just about every penny of it went in a leftward direction.

Which brings us to the unions’ ATMs: their teachers. As DiSalvo reports,

… in a national survey of 3,328 teachers who were asked about their participation in union affairs, about half said that they were ‘not at all active’ or ‘not very active.’ Other research shows that the typical union member hardly participates in union activities … Such evidence suggests that few public employees exert pressure on their organizations in any significant way.(Emphasis added.)

And just what is the best way to exert that pressure?

The best thing a right-of-center, independent or apolitical teacher can do to make a statement is to stop paying the political share of his or her dues, resigning from the union to do so. They will have to give up a few minor perks, but those can be easily be recouped by joining a professional organization like the Association of American Educators. The new “agency fee payer” will get a refund for the monies that the union claims it spends on politics. I know many in the profession are afraid to emerge from the union womb, but they need to rise above it and make their dissatisfaction known.

Sadly, very few teachers have taken advantage of the agency fee payer alternative. While CTA claims that 35 percent of its 300,000 or so members are Republicans, only about 10 percent of its members withhold the political share of their dues. That means there are 75,000 Republican union members who are paying for causes and candidates they are opposed to. The NEA numbers are even worse. Only 88,000 of its 3 million members (2.9 percent) withhold the political portion.

Those disgruntled teachers who insist on staying in the union should go to meetings and make their views known. They’ll find other members who agree with them (more than you might think) and can run for positions of power within the union.

Granted, withholding more political money and raising hell at union meetings may not achieve all or even most of the results that DiSalvo seeks. But millions of dollars less to spend on their pet causes and an active militant minority might just make union leaders – all of whom have become all-too-comfy with their all-too-compliant members – more responsive to those they purportedly represent.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network.

Backlash to CA police militarization extends across political spectrum

The acquisition of a mine-resistant armored vehicle by the city of Davis has drawn national attention and fueled a statewide outcry over the armament of law enforcement with military-grade equipment.MRAP-police

In a detailed history of the so-called militarization of California police, the New York Times interviewed critics and defenders of the Davis vehicle, which carries a price tag of $700,000. “All of this equipment is needed, and this makes obtaining such equipment affordable,” said Christopher Boyd, president of the California Police Chiefs Association. “Armored vehicles are extremely valuable. They are very expensive. Most police departments cannot afford to buy them.”

A traumatizing incident

According to the Times, analysts said that the popularity of heavy arms on the force traces back to 1997 and the infamous “North Hollywood shootout,” wherein two bank robbers clad in body armor outgunned cops for an hour before being killed. “The North Hollywood incident really was the catalyst that told us it was time to make sure that we armed our deputies in the field,” recalled Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown.

Although CNN reported at the time of the shootout that officers had to commandeer supplies from a nearby gun store to mount an adequate defense, none of the 10 police officers or 15 bystanders injured in the melee faced life-threatening injuries. As the CNN report emphasized, however, the LAPD cops who first arrived on the scene carried nothing more powerful than their standard-issue 9mm Beretta handguns.

Bulking up on the cheap

In the mid-1990s, California cops typically packed a shotgun at most, with few even carrying a rifle, according to a Contra Costa Times review. The suddenly alarming and embarrassing situation played a key role in shifting priorities and attitudes for state law enforcement agencies. But California’s police militarization kicked into high gear during a perfect storm of tightening state budgets and growing federal largesse. As the Times noted, cash-strapped state PDs jumped at the chance to exploit programs created by the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security as the war on terror geared up.

Militarization in Southern California, however, wound up spreading beyond the LAPD, which has long led the trend thanks to city concerns over gang violence. The Contra Costa Times report highlights the Baldwin Park Unified School District’s three automatic rifles and LAUSD’s three grenade launchers.

Officials said only rubber bullets would be launched from those devices. But civilian concerns over disproportionate force have mounted from Los Angeles to Davis and beyond, especially in the wake of the high-profile police response to recent unrest in Ferguson, Mo. Importantly, conservative, libertarian and liberal interests alike have begun to stake out a rough consensus on the issue. For Californians on the left, police militarization has been tied to social and criminal justice issues of central concern. For libertarians, the controversy has fallen squarely under the rubric of civil liberties and state coercion. And for conservatives, a deeply dispiriting sense has set in that the good old days of friendly neighborhood cops have given way to a time when police look too much like strike teams sent to fight the world’s worst terrorists.

Whatever the bargains law enforcement can find on army-grade gear, public opinion may have already turned against the deals.

A protracted conflict

Changing sentiments, however, haven’t changed more than a handful of notable police purchases. Last month, the city of San Jose had to apologize after its under-the-radar acquisition of a drone. But the vehicle has remained in city possession, and residents’ opinions have remained mixed.

In Davis, meanwhile, the City Council has required police to return the $700,000 armored vehicle to the Department of Defense, sparking an outcry from law enforcement themselves. “We have a genuine and job-specific need for the types of equipment that most people wish that they wouldn’t have in their communities,” warned Davis Police Chief Landy Black.

James Poulos is a contributor to Calwatchdog. This piece was originally posted on Calwatchdog.com.

Dems spending more campaign cash against Dems in open primary system

Since the advent of the “jungle primary” system that runs the top two votegetters in the general election, Democrats have outspent Republicans when pitted against a member of their own party. That is to say California’s open primary system has caused Democrats to spend more money against fellow Democrats in political races.

The findings, released by Forward Observer, paint a surprising picture of California politics in the wake of the 2012 election changes. By constitutional amendment, Proposition 14 scrapped the traditional party primary system, as citizens embraced arguments that the new approach would help insurgents and better represent voter choice.

A noteworthy byproduct of the open primary system though appears to be that the opponents who spent the most to defeat Democrats in same-party races were fellow Democrats.

Numbers contradict usual assumptions

According to research by Forward Observer, out of 52 same-party races across elections for California’s state Senate, Assembly and House of Representatives, Democrats faced Democrats in 36 contests, while Republicans went head to head in 16 match-ups. Democrats poured $69 million into those three dozen races, while Republican totals reached just over $20 million, according to information drawn from the offices of the state Fair Political Practices Commission and the Secretary of State’s Office, as well as the Federal Election Commission.

Democrats, researchers concluded, outspent or outraised Republicans in same-party general elections by over three times — $3.42 in Democrat dollars for every $1 Republican.

Moreover, independent expenditures on behalf of Democrats well exceeded those made on behalf of Republicans. Elections where Democrats squared off caused almost $20 million to be raised or spent, while Republican dogfights attracted slightly more than $7 million.

The substantial sums represent outlays made over the course of only two election cycles, 2011-2012 and the current 2013-2014 campaign.

2011-2012 cycle not what might be expected

Forward Observer tallied the cash totals at play in each subset of races leading up to the 2012 elections. Research revealed that, among same-party Assembly races, Democrats raised $18.75 million across ten contests, while Republicans raised $8.4 million across seven. In both cases, those figures included independent expenditures.

Among same-party state Senate races, Democrats raised nearly $4 million between Democrats over two races — again inclusive of independent expenditures. (No Republicans went head to head in a 2012 state Senate race.)

During the six same-party contests between Democrats seeking congressional seats, meanwhile, candidates raised over $26 million. Republican candidates in the same situation raised just $6.3 million.

2013-2014: same pattern shaping up

Because this election cycle is not yet over, fundraising numbers have reached lower totals for the same classes of same-party contests. Among eight same-party Assembly races featuring Democrats, candidates raked in $8.4 million, inclusive of independent expenditures, prior to the middle of the month. Republicans facing one another in four same-party Assembly races, by contrast, have raised just over $1 million in total, including independent expenditures.

Regarding same-party Senate races, Democrats once again outpaced Republicans within the same time frame, with a haul of $5.5 million versus nearly $2 million, independent expenditures included.

Finally, in current Congressional races, Democrats have maintained their sizable edge in total funds raised and independent expenditures. Across five same-party contests for Congress, Democrats generated $8 million in funding prior to Sept. 15 of this year. Across two such races, by the same date, Republicans have so far amassed less than $3 million.

James Poulos is a contributor to Calwatchdog.com. This piece was originally posted on Calwatchdog.com. 

Want cheaper gas and economic growth? Lift crude oil exports ban

For nearly 40 years, there’s a been a ban on exporting crude oil from the United States to other nations in the world.

Now, a just-released study says lifting the ban could boost the U.S. economy between $600 billion to $1.8 trillion and save motorists up to 12 cents a gallon at the  pump.

Researchers for the Energy Security Initiative of the Brookings Institution called the ban “an anachronism that has long outlived its utility and now threatens to impair, rather than protect, U.S. energy, economic, and national security” and cites modeling that predicts broad-based economic benefits that include more jobs, better wages and higher gross domestic product if the ban got ditched.

The study from Brookings, which is considered a left-of-center think tank, claims the sooner the ban is lifted, the greater the economic impact.

“What is most important is our finding that in all these modeling scenarios, there are positive gains for U.S. households,” the analysis said.

For example, the Brookings study says lifting the ban would increase domestic oil production, which would increase gasoline supply. That would lead to a drop of the price of gas. The study estimated a reduction of nine cents per gallon for about five years up to as much as 12 cents a gallon if oil supplies are more abundant.

Furthermore, according to the Brookings modeling done by National Economic Research Associates, lifting the export ban reduces unemployment by 200,000 each year between 2015 and 2020.

“Allowing crude oil exports is in the national interest,” wrote the study’s authors. “Our analysis shows a direct correlation between increased U.S. oil production, net benefits to society, and lower gasoline prices.”

Bernard Weinstein, economist and associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University, agrees with the study’s findings.

“It’s not just the oil-producing states that benefit, everybody benefits in the form of lower gasoline prices,” Weinstein said. “It holds down power costs and heating costs in other parts of the country.”

U.S. oil production has boomed in recent years, largely due to technological advancements that allow companies to drill “tight oil” in places such as the Bakken formation in North Dakota, the Eagle Ford formation in south Texas and the Permian Basin in west Texas and eastern New Mexico.

Lifting the crude oil ban would further boost production in those areas, and that figures to mean more money for the general funds in those states through increased severance tax revenue and royalty payments made by oil companies.

“That goes without question,” Weinstein said. “The greater level of production, the more revenue is generated.”

But more production means more use of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” and that’s something environmental groups are dead-set against.

“I think the last thing we need to be talking about is exporting fossil fuels,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “We’re struggling to try to rein in carbon pollution as a nation … The American people want to see action and are concerned about the costs in increased pollution or a failure to reduce carbon pollution effectively. If we’re talking about exporting oil, we’re just talking about burning it somewhere else.”

The Brookings Institution study didn’t address environmental issues and concentrated on the economics of the crude oil ban. “We do agree these issues need to be recognized, though the impact on global emissions (in comparison to U.S. coal exports) is likely to be negligible,” the study’s authors said.

“This wasn’t a report based on proffering an energy policy based on climate change,” Nichols said. “This was based purely on (national) security. Fair enough, we have security issues. Those don’t trump climate change.”

Other critics, such as Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., argue that lifting the ban could lead to higher gas prices and make the United States more dependent on foreign sources of oil.

Last week, the former top Obama economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, cited the Brookings study and came out in full support of getting rid of the crude oil export ban.

“If we wish to have more power and influence in the world, in support of our security interests, and in support of our values,” Summers said at a presentation at the Brookings Institute, “and if we wish to have an influence that we pay for with neither blood nor taxes, I do not see a more constructive approach than permitting the export of fossil fuels.”

The ban was first put in place in 1975. In the wake of the Arab oil embargo, Congress passed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act that included a ban on crude oil exports in an effort to avoid price spikes.

But price controls were eliminated in 1981 and opponents of the export ban say that with the energy business now booming in the United States, the time is right for a change.

The crude oil export ban can be lifted either by a sitting president or through congressional action.

While the Brookings study says the economic gains will be felt most strongly the faster the ban is lifted, Weinstein doesn’t think it will happen soon.

“Not this year,” Weinstein told New Mexico Watchdog in a telephone interview. “Maybe in 2017, depending on how the midterm elections go and how the (2016) presidential election goes … Who knows what the President will do? Right now, he’s not doing anything that’s energy related like the Keystone pipeline. He says the administration won’t authorize any offshore lease sales between now and 2017.”

Rob Nikolewski is a contributor to Watchdog.org. This piece was originally posted on Watchdog.org. 

Bankruptcy could cut San Bernardino fire pensions

From The Calwatchdog:

It was a hot 102 degrees last Thursday in San Bernardino — perfect weather for a city bankruptcy “cramdown.” Federal Bankruptcy Court Judge Meredith Jury ruled the city, as Reuters reported, “may impose cuts to its firefighters’ overtime and pension benefits in a bid to reach a bankruptcy exit plan.”

In bankruptcy law parlance, according to Investopedia:bankruptcy insolvency money

“Cramdown allows the bankruptcy courts to modify loan terms subject to certain conditions in an attempt to have all parties come out better than they would have without such modifications. The conditions are mainly that the new terms are fair and equitable to all parties involved.”

The city wants keep vacant positions for firefighters who don’t show up for work. That would cut $4 million  in overtime costs. And firefighters would have to pick up the former city contribution to their pensions, which amounts to 14 percent of their net pay.

Jury said the city was persuasive in proving the current pensions and benefits contributed to the city’s bad finances. She now is allowing the city to reject the firefighters’ collective bargaining agreement.

In the bankruptcies of private businesses, federal bankruptcy courts have near-total discretion in disposing of assets and liabilities. But the San Bernardino and Detroit bankruptcies are testing whether judges have similar powers in municipal bankruptcies, in particular involving union contracts and pension obligations.

San Bernardino’s city charter expressly forbids imposing pay cuts on police or firefighters’ salaries, so the cuts have to be made to overtime and pension benefits.  The city is pursuing an amendment to its charter in a ballot initiative in November that would allow cuts in police and firefighters salaries as well.

The firefighters’ union wants to appeal the judge’s decision based on allegations the city didn’t follow state law in its negotiations. Judge Jury said their claim was mostly not legitimate.

Lucrative

The bankruptcy proceedings have brought forth the reason the city went bust.

Annual pay for the top 40 San Bernardino firefighters averages $190,000. And it averages $166,000 even for the bottom 40 firefighters.

If the court-ordered changes are enacted, those amounts would be reduced, respectively, to about $163,400 and $142,760.  The latter number still would be 3.6 times the city’s median income of $39,097. Moreover, San Bernardino remains one of the least expensive places to live in California, with the median price of a home $166,100, less than half the state price of $383,900.

San Bernardino filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 9 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code in August 2012. At that time the city was running a $45 million annual operating budget deficit.  As of January 7, 2013, the City General Fund had an $18,730,274 operating deficit.

San Bernardino reached an agreement with the California Public Employee’s Retirement System in June this year that cannot be disclosed due to a judicial gag order.  The city already has started making back payments to CalPERS for pension contributions.  Another undisclosed deal with the city’s police union was reached in August.

Economic problems 

The immediate cause of the bankruptcy was the city’s establishment of pension benefits equivalent to wealthier cities its own size, rather than pegged to its economic and tax base. Although the city’s economy finally has begun recovering from the Great Recession, it enjoys nothing near the productivity of such wealthy California coastal areas as Silicon Valley.

Even before the Great Recession, the city was hit with the closure of Norton Air Base. The city lost its economic base and has become a magnet for lower-end housing.

The city’s unemployment rate was 12.2 percent as of July 2014. And 17.6 percent of the population was below the poverty level in 2012.

Building permits were down from 537 in 2005 to 23 in 2012.  Burglaries are running at an all-time high of 1,306 per 100,000 of population as of 2012.

The city lost 32,937 in population from 2000 to 2012.  San Bernardino is the poorest city of its size in California and the second poorest in the United States after Detroit, which also gave its employees lavish pay and benefits that could not be sustained.

Selling water 

Strangely, the bankruptcy has not advanced consideration of one source of income for the city: groundwater. It is especially valuable during this time of drought.

The city is unique in arid Southern California because it has more groundwater than it needs.  It has so much groundwater that 1.5 million acre-feet are potentially extractable.

Plans have been in the works for decades to sell some of its excess groundwater to other water agencies, but this has never happened due the quality of the groundwater, local problems and California’s bureaucratic water transfer process.

The huge regional Inland Feeder water pipeline is about 10 miles east, but the city has never capitalized on its proximity as a potential economic resource.

Wayne Lusvardi is a contributor to Calwatchdog. This piece was originally posted on Calwatchdog.org.