The Missing Item in Health Care Discussion — the Tax Code

MedizinAttempts at creating a single payer health care system have stalled so a group of liberal organizations are backing a package of bills to achieve a form of universal coverage. But you can pull out the same label on this attempt that sidetracked single payer—“woefully incomplete.”  They don’t want to say how much this universal health care plan will cost or where the money is coming from.

Sure the state treasury is brimming with unexpected cash and the budget is at an all time high. However, anyone who has ridden the California budget rollercoaster over the last couple of decades knows that flush times won’t last.

Creating new entitlements on health care that provide subsidies as called for in the plan and includes all residents despite legal status has big dollar signs all over it.

The single payer proposal was weighted down with a $400 billion price tag. Even if the new effort would cost a smaller portion of that amount, the health care change would still add billions to state spending.

Tax increases would probably be part of the proposal to cover the cost. It is hard to see how they can be avoided. But, the M.O. of those seeking tax increases generally has been to get support for tax measures by limiting tax increases on someone else — the rich or corporations are favorite targets.

Such an idea just adds another story onto a tax structure built on a wobbly foundation. When the next economic downturn hits, the structure crumbles and many government programs will be gasping for fiscal oxygen, especially the proposed universal health care.

If health care reformers want to create a new way to expand health care coverage, they first better consider thinking about a tax code that will not undercut the economy and at the same time be able to better manage economic pitfalls.

Such a bill doesn’t exist in the proposed healthcare reform package.

ditor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Los Alamitos City Council approves ordinance to opt out of CA’s ‘sanctuary state’ law

Protesters chant during a May Day demonstration outside a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in San Francisco on Monday. Thousands are expected to take to the streets across the United States to participate in May Day demonstrations.

The city of Los Alamitos on Monday night approved an ordinance to opt out of California’s controversial “sanctuary state” law, in the boldest act of defiance yet by a municipality against Sacramento.

“It is impossible to comply with both the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California,” a Los Alamitos city agenda report spearheaded by councilman Warren Kusumoto reads. “In this situation, my belief is that the Constitution of the United States has precedence over the Constitution of the State of California.”

Los Alamitos officials voted 4 to 1 to approve the ordinance. However, it will not be officially voted on until April 16.

“We are declaring sanctuary from California’s sanctuary law,” Kusumoto, who introduced the legislation, told Neil Cavuto on Fox News ahead of the vote.

The proposal was met with much controversy, as Monday’s meeting saw a line of residents out the door to try and get in. It was divided between supporters of President Trump and a hardline immigration agenda and others aligned with immigration rights activists, expressing their outrage at the measure.

Dozens took to the podium to address the council in support and opposition against the move.

“Keep the pressure up & urge the Los Alamitos City Council to do the right thing. Call, email, attend meetings, rally – your activism is need now more than ever,” the ACLU of Southern California swiftly tweeted following the evening meeting.

Supporters of the measure argue that the California law is unconstitutional because it subverts federal law in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause.

Now, a small Orange County city of around 12,000 residents finds itself at the center of a larger conversation about immigration policies in not just the Golden State – but across the U.S.

Under Senate Bill 54, passed late last year, local law enforcement is prohibited from inquiring as to a person’s immigration status, detaining suspected illegal immigrants for ICE, and from acting as federal immigration agents.

Conservatives and many law enforcement groups argue that “sanctuaries” provide a safe haven for violent criminal aliens, while liberals and immigration activists argue such jurisdictions encourage undocumented aliens to cooperate with police without fear of deportation.

Earlier this month, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against California over its defiance of federal immigration enforcement efforts, intensifying the battle between Washington and the state, which has centered itself as the flashpoint in fights over the Trump agenda.

But with its actions on Monday, Los Alamitos appears to be positioning itself as the “resistance” to the “resistance.”

This article was originally published by

The Board of Equalization got the last laugh on a gas tax increase

Gas-Pump-blue-generic+flippedIn a normal universe, the rejection of a gas tax increase by a state agency would be based primarily on policy grounds. But in a strange mix of wonkish tax policy, political turf fighting and revenge, California drivers will be spared — temporarily — from a 4 cent per gallon tax increase on gasoline.

On Feb. 27, the Board of Equalization was expected to approve a routine request by the governor’s Department of Finance to raise the tax. But it did not. As a result, the state treasury will miss out on a little more than $600 million (much to the relief of California drivers, however).

Because California already has one of the highest gas taxes in the nation, citizens may not care one bit about why the Board of Equalization rejected the tax increase. But understanding how this happened is an object lesson in the strangeness that is California.

It begins with the “gas tax swap.”

In 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law two fuel tax measures commonly referred to as the gas tax swap, which adjusted the rates of the sales and excise tax on gasoline. (The excise tax is a “gallonage” tax based on the amount of gas purchased). The fuel tax swap legislation was designed to be “revenue neutral,” meaning the total taxes paid at the pump would not increase because of the change in the law.

But ensuring that the gas tax swap was actually revenue neutral required some backward-looking calculations, because the price of gasoline can greatly fluctuate. In short, the state had to determine how much sales taxes would have been collected had the law not been changed and then adjust the excise tax in an attempt to even things out. Yes, it’s weird, and the reason they did this is beyond the scope of this column.

For the last several years, the Board of Equalization was tasked with making that annual adjustment after receiving a recommendation from the California Department of Finance. That annual adjustment has always been viewed as routine and non-controversial.

All that changed last year because of two notable events: First, a massive increase in the gas tax and, second, a turf battle between the legislature and the Board of Equalization.

When the legislature enacted the infamous Senate Bill 1 raising the gas tax to a stratospheric level, which taxpayers are now trying to undo with an initiative measure, it also took away the Board of Equalization’s authority to make the annual adjustment. The adjustment that was to occur last month was to be the last exercise of that authority by the board.

In the meantime, progressives in the legislature were increasing their criticism of the Board of Equalization which they viewed as being a bit too sympathetic to taxpayers. (The Board of Equalization is the only popularly elected tax board in the nation and would actually give taxpayers a fair hearing when there are disputes over tax liability of individuals and businesses.)

In recent years, the Board of Equalization has endured a few minor (by Sacramento standards) scandals involving office space and political activity. The Legislature then saw these issues as an opportunity to pounce and deprive the Board of Equalization of the bulk of its authority, shifting much of its responsibilities to a new bureaucracy-driven California Department of Tax and Fee Administration that has no direct political accountability.

It is with that background that members of the Board of Equalization, including one Democrat, refused to adjust upward the gas excise tax, an otherwise ministerial act. And although the members who spoke against the increase cast their positions as looking out for California taxpayers, no one who has observed the Board of Equalization over several years missed the real message being delivered to the Legislature. The board’s decision leaves the fuel excise tax at 29 cents per gallon, instead of 33 cents, for another year unless the legislature finds a clever way to bypass the process.

When one considers all the machinations of politics and the manner in which legislation is enacted, it’s no wonder people refer to the California Legislature as a sausage factory. Actually, that’s an insult to sausage factories.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

City in Orange County Will Vote to Defy California’s ‘Sanctuary State’ Law

Sanctuary StateThe city council of Los Alamitos, in Orange Country, will vote Monday on whether to defy SB 54, the State of California’s “sanctuary state” law, which passed last year and went into effect January 1.

SB 54, officially known as the “California Values Act,” restricts state and local cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities. It is one of three “sanctuary state” laws that is being challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice on constitutional grounds.

According to legal experts, it is the only one of the three laws that has a chance of surviving. However, Los Alamitos is not waiting for the courts to rule.

The Orange County Register notes:

The state law, which took effect Jan. 1, “may be in direct conflict with federal laws and the Constitution of the United States,” reads the proposed local law.

Stating that council members have taken an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution, the ordinance says the council “finds that it is impossible to honor our oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States” and at the same time be in compliance with the new state law.

Supporters of the proposed city ordinance say that the city council members took an oath to defend the Constitution when they assumed their local offices, and that their duty supersedes the state legislature’s effort to resist federal immigration law.

However, critics say that the state law does not conflict with the Constitution.

Orange County has traditionally been a conservative stronghold, but the county was won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Democrats hope to build on that showing to unseat several Republicans in the U.S. House this year.

The Los Alamitos ordinance is one of several efforts by conservative regions of the state to chart a different path from the Democrat-dominated state government. The State of Jefferson and the New California movements are both efforts to withdraw from California as its “resistance” to the Trump administration intensifies.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named to Forward’s 50 “most influential” Jews in 2017. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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Prop. 57: Judicial Depravity in California

Police tapeIn November 2016, California voters passed Proposition 57, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act. Championed by Governor Jerry Brown, the measure expanded parole possibilities for nonviolent offenders and barred prosecutors from filing juvenile cases in adult court. Last month, California’s Supreme Court ruled that Proposition 57 could be applied retroactively. On those grounds, California’s Third Court of Appeals “conditionally reversed” the conviction of one of the most violent criminals in state history and expanded his prospects for early release.

Daniel Marsh was just 15 on April 14, 2013, when he broke into the Davis home of 87-year-old Oliver “Chip” Northup, an attorney and popular bluegrass musician, and his 76-year-old wife, Claudia Maupin, a pastoral associate at the Davis Unitarian Church, where the couple met. A police report said that the two were killed “in a way that manifested exceptional depravity,” which was no exaggeration. The autopsy report runs 16 pages and 6,658 words, noting that the murderer stabbed Maupin 67 times and Northup 61 times. Marsh disemboweled both victims; he placed a cell phone inside the corpse of Maupin and a drinking glass inside Northup.

In his lengthy interview with police, Marsh said that Maupin told him to “please stop.” Marsh kept on stabbing because “she just wouldn’t die.” The stabbing “just felt right,” and the double murder and mutilations, Marsh said, “felt amazing,” gave him “pure happiness,” and “the most exhilarating enjoyable feeling I’ve ever felt.” He inserted the phone and glass to throw investigators off track, and when police accused him of the murders, his first response was “I’m a kid.” Marsh’s public defender sought to have the confession tossed, but Judge David Reed rejected that bid. Marsh then offered an insanity defense, bringing in expert witness James Merikangas, a psychologist and neurologist, who claimed that Marsh was in a “dissociative state” when he killed.

Prosecutors Michael Cabral and Amanda Zambor made the case that Marsh was sane at the time of the murders; a Yolo County jury agreed, and in December 2014, Judge David Reed sentenced Marsh to 52 years to life in state prison. The killer received an additional year for use of a knife, but got no extra time for lying in wait or committing torture. The double murderer, now 20, would be eligible for parole after 25 years, when he would be in his early forties.

On February 1, 2018, the California Supreme Court addressed the case of Pablo Lara, a juvenile charged with kidnapping and raping a seven-year-old girl. The court ruled that Proposition 57 “applies retroactively,” because “the possibility of being treated as a juvenile in juvenile court — where rehabilitation is the goal — rather than being tried and sentenced as an adult can result in dramatically different and more lenient treatment.” Proposition 57 “reduces the possible punishment for a class of persons, namely juveniles,” and therefore, the court ruled, Proposition 57 “applies to all juveniles charged directly in adult court whose judgment was not final at the time it was enacted.”

On February 22, the Third Court of Appeals ruled that the case of Daniel Marsh “was not fully briefed until July 2017.” Therefore, “this initiative applies retroactively to defendant’s pending appeal, and that we must conditionally reverse for proceeding in juvenile court.” So all that painstaking work by Cabral and Zambor has been set aside by a three-judge panel headed by Kathleen Butz, an appointee of Governor Gray Davis. Also on the panel was Jerry Brown appointee Cole Blease, former attorney for the California Teachers Association. The appeal ruling does not name Northup and Maupin, the victims of the savage and pointless murder.

A proceeding will determine if Marsh was indeed suitable for trial in adult court. If so, the court will restore Marsh’s conviction for the two murders. If not, he will be re-sentenced as a juvenile and face a maximum punishment of incarceration until age 25. Whatever one chooses to call it, the proceeding is clearly a new trial for a sadist who has never shown the slightest remorse for his savage actions. In 2014, when the court declined to toss Marsh’s detailed confession, Maupin’s daughter Victoria Hurd said that the decision “restores faith in humanity in the midst of this depravity.” In 2018, when Hurd got word of the reversal, she told the Sacramento Bee: “This is so wrong. It’s come barreling back into our presence.”

Marsh is not the only shut-and-open case in the Proposition 57 pipeline. According to California’s attorney general, there were 71,923 juvenile arrests in 2015, 29.7 percent of which were for felonies. Five hundred and sixty-six juveniles were tried in adult court, and 88 percent were convicted. YOUNG MAN CONVICTED IN 2014 MURDER WANTS NEW TRIAL AFTER PROP. 57 PASSES, read a headline in the San Diego Union-Tribune about Kurese Bell, convicted of murder at age 17. PROP. 57 COULD TURN BACK TIME FOR MINORS CHARGED WITH MURDER, the Lompoc Record announced.

As with the case of Daniel Marsh, these judicial reconsiderations will have nothing to do with potentially exculpatory evidence or errors in trial; they are politically and ideologically driven attempts to overturn legal and proper verdicts. Relatives of Claudia Maupin, Oliver Northup, or other victims have good reason to see these efforts as perverse, even depraved.

New Bullet Train Woes Cause Fresh Headaches for Democrat Gubernatorial Candidates

High speed rail constructionThe March 9 release of the first updated business plan in two years for the state’s high-speed rail project could sharply intensify the pressure on Democratic gubernatorial candidates who back the project to explain their support.

The Republican candidates – Assemblyman Travis Allen of Huntington Beach and Rancho Santa Fe businessman John Cox – reflect the GOP consensus that the project is a boondoggle that’s unlikely to ever be completed. But the major Democratic hopefuls – Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, state Treasurer John Chiang and former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin – have all indicated they would continue with rail project, albeit with little of the enthusiasm shown by present Gov. Jerry Brown.

While the new business plan was depicted by the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s new CEO, Brian Kelly, as a constructive step toward salvaging the project, the plan’s key details were daunting:

The estimated cost of the project, which has yo-yoed from $34 billion to $98 billion to $64 billion, changed once again. The business plan abandoned the previous $64 billion estimate for an estimate of $77 billion – accompanied by a warning that the cost could go as high as $98 billion.

Even at the lower price tag, the state didn’t have adequate funds to complete a first $20 billion-plus bullet-train segment linking populated areas. The present plan for a Central Valley route has an eastern terminus in a remote agricultural fieldnorth of Shafter. That’s because the $9.95 billion in bond seed money that state voters provided in 2008 has only been buttressed to a relatively slight degree by additional public dollars from cap-and-trade pollution permits.

The business plan cites the possibility of additional federal funds beyond the $3.3 billion allocated by Washington early in the Obama administration. It doesn’t note, however, that domestic discretionary spending has plunged in recent years amid congressional concern about the national debt blowing past $20 trillion.

The business plan also promotes the possibility of outside investors. It doesn’t mention that such investors have passed on the project for years because state law bars the California High-Speed Rail Authority from offering them a revenue or ridership guarantee.

From 5 years behind schedule to 10 years behind

The initial operation of a bullet-train link serving California residents went from five years behind schedule, in the estimate of the Los Angeles Times, to 10 years behind schedule. The business plan said the project would begin operations no sooner than 2029.

The potential immense cost overrun of the bullet train segment in the mountains north of Los Angeles was fully acknowledged for the first time. A 2015 Times story laid out the “monumental” challenge.

Democratic candidates to succeed Brown have chosen to focus on housing, single-payer health care, immigration and criticism of President Donald Trump in most early forums and campaign appearances. But front-runners Newsom and Villaraigosa in particular seem likely to be pressed on how they can square their claims to be experienced, tough-minded managers with support for a project which seems less likely to be completed with every passing year.

Proposition 70 on the June primary ballot also will keep the bullet train on the campaign’s front burner, to some extent. It was placed on the ballot as part of a 2017 deal cut by the governor to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program until 2030. If Proposition 70 passed, it would require a one-off vote in 2024 in which cap-and-trade proceeds could only be used for specific needs with two-thirds support of each house of the Legislature. Republicans may be able to use these votes to shut off the last ongoing source of new revenue for the high-speed rail project.

This article was originally published by

Caltrain in Desperate Need of a State Audit

CalTrainThe State Legislature recently approved on a bipartisan basis, an Audit of the High Speed Rail Authority. The Legislature also needs to authorize an audit of Caltrain, the Bay Area commuter line.

Caltrain is exhibiting extreme incompetence and has wasted millions of dollars of public funds. If ever a public agency needs to face an audit, it is Caltrain.

Nobody wants Caltrain to fail. Caltrain provides a valuable commuting option to jobs, for workers on the peninsula. Recent events certainly would lead one to forecast that failure is where Caltrain is now headed.

At the Caltrain board meeting (3/1/2018), Caltrain authorized a new contract which they hope will salvage the Positive Train Control (CBOSS) disaster. It is truly amazing how Caltrain has managed to make so many bad decisions to implement this Federally mandated project.

For many years, Caltrain has been warned that CBOSS was headed in the wrong direction. A record documenting this history can be found in the blog of Clem Tillier.

Clem has for years been campaigning for a reset on CBOSS pointing out repeatedly its problems and forecasting its demise.

The signing by Caltrain of a new contract with a different vendor at this meeting to implement a new PTC project, finally after years of delay and incompetence, kills CBOSS as previously envisioned.

Clem predicts the cost in wasted dollars will be $150 million; I suspect the final bill will be much higher. Numerous delays have been involved; it is now quite possible that Caltrain may have to stop service at the end of this year, because Caltrain will not be able to meet the Federally mandated deadline that PTC be operational on its tracks by then.

The Staff report on the project and discussion took over 1 hour. How staff can deliver such a presentation and not really admit any fault of Caltrain in the CBOSS failure, but blame it on others, is amazing.

(It should be noted in comparison, that MetroLink down south, with over 500 miles of tracks, implemented PTC by 2016 at a final cost of around $200 million. Caltrain has failed thus far with implementation of PTC and will have spent at least $350 million. This is for only 50 miles of track)

Caltrain is now starting on an over $2 billion electrification project. The cost has doubled in the last 3 years and continues to balloon. It has just been announced another over $200 million escalation in cost to procure more EMUs)

With this past history, how can the public have any confidence that Electrification will succeed and provide the service they claim? Caltrain recently pushed the timeline for completion, out from 2020 to 2022.

Current CEO Jim Hartnett was a political appointment to lead Caltrain. Hartnett’s background, is he was an ex-Mayor of Redwood City. He possessed none of the required qualifications in experience or education involving rail operations that were deemed necessary during the search to replace the former CEO, Scanlon. Hartnett’s compensation of over $500,000 annually is grossly excessive when compared to other rail or transportation executive positions.

State Senator Jerry Hill is leading an effort for a sales tax ballot measure shortly to provide a subsidy of around $100 million annually, for Caltrain’s operations. The recent history of Caltrain’s operations should lead the voters to say NO to such a measure? Changes at Caltrain need to be made.

A State audit of Caltrain and its operation, by the non-partisan State Auditor, is sorely needed.

Founder of DERAIL, The original Grass Roots group opposing the High Speed Rail project.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Oakland Unified Besieged by Skyrocketing Pension Costs, Declining Enrollment

OaklandIt’s been a tumultuous era in Oakland. The Police Department has been enmeshed in an ugly scandal surrounding officers’ involvement with an underage sex worker that led to an officer’s suicide, firings and turnover in the chief’s office. City Hall was unable to prevent the Oakland Raiders from agreeing to move to Las Vegas. And in the past month, Mayor Libby Schaaf has engaged in a high-profile war of words with President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions over her opposition to federal immigration control efforts in her city.

But now Oakland is also wrestling with a painfully familiar story: financial turmoil in local schools. The state took some of Oakland Unified’s autonomy in 2003 after the Legislature approved an emergency $100 million loan to the then-reeling district. With $40 million of the loan still unpaid, the state continues to oversee district spending, though with a smaller role. Now there are new indications that even Oakland Unified’s limited autonomy could disappear for another long stretch as school officials struggle to make ends meet yet again.

In recent months, district officials had to approve what were described as “emergency” $9 million cuts in the district’s $521 million general fund 2017-18 budget and to authorize potentially greater reductions in 2018-19 as well. The cuts were widely denounced in public meetings as unnecessary and indicative of poor management.

This criticism has been buttressed by the Fiscal Crisis Management Action Team (FCMAT), the state agency that works with struggling school districts. In an August report, FCMAT warned that a “fiscal emergency” loomed if Oakland Unified officials didn’t quit spending reserve funds to cover budget shortfalls. FCMAT depicted the Oakland school board as irresponsible for approving cumulative raises for teachers of 14.5 percent in the 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years in a three-year span in which the cost of living went up by less than 2 percent. These pay hikes were the biggest drain on district reserves.

Oakland board members brought more criticism on themselves in January when they approved 5 percent pay raises for themselves. While the total amounts were small – $39 per board member per month – San Francisco Chronicle columnist Otis Taylor Jr. wrote that district students and parents were appropriately “livid” about the salary boost at a time when schools often lacked funds for basics like toilet paper.

A recent East Bay Times analysis suggested there was plenty of blame to go around for Oakland Unified’s fiscal headaches. It largely absolved district Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammel, who took over in January 2017, noting her predecessor had failed to follow through on plans to lay off 42 employees because declining enrollment had left the district with less than 37,000 students. Since enrollment directly determines how much state aid comes to districts, well-run districts usually reduce employees when enrollment drops. With enrollment down 33 percent from its 1999 peak of 55,000, Oakland Unified has thus faced constant pressure to downsize.

Pension costs grow 132% per teacher by 2020

But information distributed by the district before Oakland Unified trustees approved the recent $9 million in cuts pointed to another budget culprit – one that is hammering districts statewide. That is the bailout of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System approved by the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014. It phases in an 80 percent increase in annual contributions to CalSTRS from fiscal 2014-15 to fiscal 2020-21 – going from $5.9 billion a year to $10.9 billion.

More than two-thirds of this additional cost must be borne by local school districts. In 2014-15, they were required to pay 8.25 percent of teacher payroll to CalSTRS. Beginning in fall 2020, that amount will be 19.1 percent – a 132 percent increase in per-teacher pension funding obligations. Even in districts with high numbers of English-language learners – which receive additional funding under the Local Control Funding Formula, a 2013 state law – pension obligations have created major headaches.

School Services of California – a consultant which advises a large majority of the state’s 1,000 school districts – estimated last July that at least 280 districts would struggle to pay bills in the 2017-18 school year. A San Jose Mercury-Newsanalysis at the time suggested that the just-ended 2016-17 school year might be looked back on in 10 years “as the last good year in recent times for public education.”

The August 2017 FCMAT report on Oakland Unified raised additional concerns about why the district would struggle with its finances in coming years beyond inadequate funding. FCMAT faulted the district for inadequate internal budget controls, for allowing significant expenditures without board approval and for inadequate training of officials with budget responsibilities.

This article was originally published by

When do We Finally Say ‘No’ to Tolerating the Damage and Chaos of Homelessness?

What’s the best way for a free country to make decisions about how to spend tax money?

One way to do it is to hold elections to choose public officials who will make decisions on behalf of the people who elected them, then hold a fully public process to create budgets and appropriate the money that taxpayers are required to hand over.

Another way to do it is to find the people in society who are totally unable to manage their own lives and put them in charge of public spending.

That’s how we do it in California.

Our government at all levels has accepted the argument that the moment people self-identify as having “nowhere else to go,” they acquire a civil right to pitch a tent and live on public property ansanfranciscohomelessywhere, including streets, sidewalks, plazas, parks, stormwater channels and freeway embankments.

Then it’s your responsibility as a taxpayer to pay whatever it costs to mitigate the damage and clean up the chaos.

The cost is rapidly becoming incalculable, from the $17 million needed by the L.A. Bureau of Sanitation for homeless encampment cleanups, to the staggering damage from wildfires caused by cooking in the midst of dry brush, to the catastrophic toll of a hepatitis A epidemic that took 20 lives in San Diego and put hundreds of people in the hospital.

Taxpayers in Orange County are paying for month-long motel vouchers for hundreds of people as the price of reclaiming the intended public use of the Santa Ana River trail. It’s not clear what will be different in a month, but that was the deal reached in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge David O. Carter. He was involved because attorneys for seven homeless people filed a federal lawsuit alleging that their civil rights were violated by the eviction from the huge encampment.

Judge Carter personally walked the river trail with county and city officials to see the problem first-hand, and he acknowledged that the offer of shelter would be rejected by many. “Some who want to wander will wander,” he said.

Justice William O. Douglas said something similar in 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a vagrancy law in Jacksonville, Florida. This was the text of Jacksonville’s ordinance:

“Rogues and vagabonds, or dissolute persons who go about begging, common gamblers, persons who use juggling or unlawful games or plays, common drunkards, common night walkers, thieves, pilferers or pickpockets, traders in stolen property, lewd, wanton and lascivious persons, keepers of gambling places, common railers and brawlers, persons wandering or strolling around from place to place without any lawful purpose or object, habitual loafers, disorderly persons, persons neglecting all lawful business and habitually spending their time by frequenting houses of ill fame, gaming houses, or places where alcoholic beverages are sold or served, persons able to work but habitually living upon the earnings of their wives or minor children shall be deemed vagrants and, upon conviction in the Municipal Court shall be punished as provided for Class D offenses [90 days imprisonment, a $500 fine, or both].”

The law was “unconstitutionally vague,” Douglas wrote for the court in Papachristou v. City Of Jacksonville, criminalizing activities that “by modern standards are normally innocent.”

The justice defended night walking. He wrote that in his personal experience, “sleepless people often walk at night, perhaps hopeful that sleep-inducing relaxation will result.”

Douglas also cited poets as authority to throw out Jacksonville’s ordinance. “Persons ‘wandering or strolling’ from place to place have been extolled by Walt Whitman and Vachel Lindsay,” Douglas wrote, “They are embedded in Walt Whitman’s writings, especially in his ‘Song of the Open Road.’ They are reflected, too, in the spirit of Vachel Lindsay’s ‘I Want to Go Wandering.’”

And that’s federal law now, if you’re wondering how we got where we are today.

No matter how much money we choose to spend on services or housing — and the tax increases are stacking up — the public has no right to demand that people get off the streets. We’ll pay for the services and housing and still have to pay for the damage and the chaos.

Eventually some city or county official will have the courage to reject a settlement in one of these lawsuits, and he or she will fight all the way to the Supreme Court in defense of the public’s right to preserve public spaces for their intended use.

By then, five of the justices may recognize that Walt Whitman didn’t write “Song of the Open Sewer.”

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

olumnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”

Loss of local control a big issue in new water tax fight

Shower head water droughtThroughout his tenure as governor, Jerry Brown has consistently pursued new revenue for transportation, housing and water. The Legislature, whose default reaction to any problem is to raise taxes on middle-class Californians, has only been too happy to oblige. As a result, California drivers were hit last year with an annual $5 billion gas and car tax and property owners were burdened with a new tax on real estate recording documents to fund affordable housing. As if those tax hikes were not bad enough, now comes the third in a trifecta of tax insults: a new tax on water used by homes and businesses. That’s right, the Legislature is preparing to tax a public good that is essential to life, a precedent-setting tax that is unheard of anywhere else in the nation.

Supporters of the bill will argue that the tax is needed because roughly one million people (mostly in the Central Valley) don’t have access to consistently clean drinking water. This is a legitimate problem due to decades of neglecting basic infrastructure, contamination of water supplies and the failure to make access to water delivery the priority it deserves.

But raising taxes is the wrong solution to this problem. It is unconscionable that California, which has a record-high $130 billion General Fund budget with a $6 billion surplus, can’t provide clean drinking water to a million people using existing resources. Is this not the first role of government, providing a public good essential to life? Moreover, why should taxpayers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento have to pay higher water bills for a problem that is mostly limited to groundwater contamination in the Central Valley?

Most Californians haven’t even heard of this proposed tax hike. But that’s only because the Legislature is going out of its way to keep it hidden. Originally introduced as Senate Bill 623, the bill failed to advance last year because of widespread opposition. Nearly all residential homeowners would pay a dollar a month if this tax went through. The tax works on a sliding scale based on meter size — heavy commercial and industrial water users could pay up to $10/month. Not content to just abandon the bill, the governor has now decided to drop this tax in a budget trailer bill. These bills, often dozens of pages long with multiple topics, is the perfect place to hide a tax. If the bill moves forward, taxpayer advocates will watch carefully to ensure that the two-thirds vote requirement for tax hikes is enforced. Because most budget bills only need a majority vote, a lawsuit will quickly follow if the higher threshold is not met.

Our concern is that the governor has become so obsessed playing the “hide the tax” game that he hasn’t bothered to look at other alternative funding sources to solve this problem. If using a $6 billion surplus is off the table, there’s an option to tap into federal funding which is available for precisely this purpose. Or there are billions of dollars of unspent bond funds, including the recently voter-approved Propositions 1 and 84 that can be used to provide clean drinking water. Bond dollars are perhaps the best vehicle to provide major infrastructure improvements needed in the Central Valley. …

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