Will Taxpayers Be Mugged by Sacramento?

TaxesGovernor Brown has just released his spending proposal for 2017-18 and taxpayers should not be blamed if they feel like they are walking down a dark alley in a high-crime neighborhood.

While the governor’s proposed budget has been described as austere, it still represents a spending boost of 5 percent, a rate of increase only slightly smaller than last year’s 6 percent. Because the state is in the process of rewarding its employees with generous pay increases and covering an expanding requirement to fund their pensions — pensions that are currently subsidized by six percent of the general fund budget — more spending does not represent an increase in the quantity or quality of services for average Californians.

The Brown budget contains no major program increases except for transportation. But the kicker is that this would be contingent on higher taxes on gasoline and car registration. So, while state workers will be kept snug and comfortable, if commuters want those pot holes repaired, they must pay extra.

However, the governor’s budget should not be regarded as anything more than a place holder, as the ability to fund it is threatened from all directions. The new administration in Washington, as well as a majority of both houses of Congress, have made it clear that Obamacare is on the verge of elimination. There can be little doubt that federal funding for California’s massive expansion of Medicaid is in jeopardy. Because, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, a government program is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth, no one will be surprised when Sacramento looks to average taxpayers to make up the nearly $16 billion-dollar difference.

Then there is uncertain tax revenue. The extension of the nation’s highest income tax rates renders California highly vulnerable to economic fluctuations. Although growth had been tepid, we have experienced 90 months of economic expansion and financial experts warn us to be prepared for the next downturn.

As if these threats were not enough, Brown will have to contend with elements in his own party who believe in the axiom of former Senate leader, David Roberti, “When you’ve got it, spend it,” to which they would add the corollary, “If you don’t have it, spend it anyway.”

Chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee, Phil Ting, has already made it clear that he does not want to budget assuming the worst, that the Legislature must continue “investing in California,” a budgetary approach akin to Admiral David Farragut’s at the battle of Mobile Bay, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” While Farragut was successful, is it appropriate to put California taxpayers at dire risk through imprudent spending?

In May, the governor will issue a revised budget, no doubt with major changes, in advance of the June 15 deadline for final passage. If revenue is down, taxpayers may be treated to the spectacle of a cage match between those committed to spending, backed by their special interest allies, and those who advocate a slightly more cautious approach.

In Sacramento, fiscal sanity is relative. Ironically, our eccentric governor who thinks nothing of lavishing nearly $100 billion on a bullet train, may be the dwindling middle class’s best hope to fend off major increases to their already staggering tax burden.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This article was originally published by HJTA.org

Contentious Visa Program Under the Spotlight

130510_darrell_issa_mscott_328With contending pieces of legislation now up for consideration in Congress, California has returned to the national spotlight on one of the most contentious immigration issues — special visas granted by the federal government to attract foreign talent.

Long critiqued by economic nationalists, including some Democrats, the H-1B visa program has been accused of undercutting qualified candidates in key industries who are U.S. citizens. “The H-1B program offers 65,000 visas each fiscal year, with an additional 20,000 reserved for foreign workers who have advanced degrees from U.S. colleges and universities,” according to Ars Technica. “The visas are awarded by lottery each year. Last year, the government received more than 236,000 applications for those visas.”

With the prestige, economic importance and compensation level attached to those jobs, they have become a focus of reform for allies of President-elect Donald Trump. “Rep. Darrell Issa, one of the highest-profile Republicans in Congress and a supporter of Mr. Trump, said Wednesday in a statement on his website that he is reintroducing a bill designed to ‘stop the outsourcing of American jobs’ and ensure laws are not ‘abused to allow companies to outsource and hire cheap foreign labor from abroad,’” The Wall Street Journal reported. The bill would seek to achieve that outcome by hiking “required salaries for positions granted under the H-1B scheme that replace American workers from $60,000 to $100,000 per year,” according to the Journal.

Bipartisan frustration

In a sign of the cross-cutting partisan interests shaking up some established battle lines on immigration, Issa boasted a Democrat, fellow Californian Rep. Scott Peters, as the co-sponsor of the Protect and Grow American Jobs Act. Silicon Valley, where political allegiances at the end of the Obama era have begun to shift in new ways, has come under attack for its use of H-1Bs. “In 2013, the top nine companies acquiring H-1B visas were technology outsourcing firms, according to an analysis by a critic of the H-1B program,” Ars Technica recalled, noting that Microsoft rounded out the list’s top 10. “The thinking goes that if minimum H-1B salaries are brought closer to what high-skilled tech employment really pays, the economic incentive to use it as a worker-replacement program will drop off.”

But other big California corporations have not been left out of the criticism. “It’s specifically required that there be a shortage” in qualified candidates, Issa said of Southern California Edison, which he attacked for asking “employees being laid off to train their replacements,” as U-T San Diego noted.

“Edison said at the time of the layoffs that it was ‘not hiring H-1B workers to replace displaced employees. Any H-1B visa workers SCE does hire for its own workforce are paid a wage comparable to SCE’s domestic workforce. Disney and a handful of other California companies have been criticized in recent years for similar moves.”

Dueling drafts

Issa and Scott’s path forward has been complicated, however, by legislative competition from one of his fellow California delegates to Congress. “Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Santa Clara County Democrat, warned Thursday that she believes Issa’s bill could undermine Silicon Valley’s job market,” the San Jose Mercury News reported. “That’s because tech companies in a location such as Silicon Valley, where software engineers can command a starting wage of $140,000 a year, might still have incentives to use foreign workers for $100,000, Lofgren said.”

Casting her alternative as a return to the original intent of U.S. visa laws to attract the so-called best and brightest, Lofgen recently announced the details of a draft bill that will circulate formally in several weeks’ time. “Under her plan, employers who pay as much as 2.5 times to three times the prevailing wage in their metro area would get first preference to hire people through the H-1B visa program,” according to the Mercury News. Lofgren has suggested that Issa’s intended fix could leave some problems intact. “Raising the wage from $60,000 to $100,000 would do nothing to prevent the sort of outsourcing abuse we’ve seen under the H-1B visa program,” she warned, according to the paper.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Scientists Criticize Coastal Commission Over Huntington Beach Desal Concerns

Huntington Beach DesalSACRAMENTO – The Coastal Commission’s stated concern that a proposed Huntington Beach desalination plant’s intake pipes pose a threat to small and microscopic plankton has been rebutted in a letter from three prominent California marine biologists.

Anthony Koslow, Eric Miller and John McGowan — marine biologists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla — were responding to comments made at a Dec. 1 panel about ocean desalination in Ventura County by Tom Luster, the agency’s lead staffer on the desalination issue.

Luster actually had cited Koslow, Miller and McGowan’s research in arguing against open intakes given a 75 percent reduction in plankton off Southern California since the early 1970s. Citing the Scripps research Luster said it would be “hard to maintain and enhance marine life like the Coastal Act requires in a situation like this and so open intakes have a hurdle to overcome.”

In a sternly worded Dec. 29 rebuttal letter, Koslow, Miller and McGowan said Luster’s comment reflected “an inaccurate understanding of our research,” adding that their paper showed “many of the taxa are predominantly distributed offshore but share the same trend as more coastal taxa.”

“It is therefore not reasonable to attribute this decline to the impact of coastal development or nearshore power-plant intakes,” the scientists wrote. “We ask that you refrain from repeating your Ventura forum comments, or anything similar, as it presents an almost exactly opposite conclusion to that obtained by our research.”

The Scripps researchers’ conclusion was that large-scale ocean forcing, not local coastal processes, are behind changes off the Southern California coast since the 1970s. They added that they hoped their science could “inform regulatory decisions wherever applicable, but the science needs to be interpreted correctly.”

In an emailed response, Luster said his point was that the decline in plankton populations had made it difficult for the new proposed project, which he said “would represent an additional adverse effect to meet the Coastal Act’s requirement to maintain and enhance marine life productivity.” But Miller — one of the Scripps researchers — reiterated that their study, which found that environmental forcing had reached tipping points in 1976 and 1989, “did not detect an influence of power plant cooling water intakes on nearshore fish populations.”

“It’s a mystery to me how my quote was misinterpreted,” Luster said, in an interview.

The question at issue is no mere academic matter. The future of the Huntington Beach desalination plant isn’t just about one proposed facility, but about the statewide future of a technology that turns saltwater into drinking water. That’s a particularly important question as the state begins to emerge from a long-running drought. Decisions by the commission and other state agencies on the Huntington Beach plant will help decide whether developers pursue a number potential plants up and down California’s coastline.

A desalination plant went online last year in the north San Diego County city of Carlsbad, but the makeup of the Coastal Commission and state regulations have changed since the approval process for that facility. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the state water board “directed desalination plants to install wells — offshore or on the beach — or another type of subsurface intake that the state says would naturally filter out marine organisms.” However, the plant’s supporters point out that state laws require subsurface intake technologies to be technically, economically, socially and environmentally feasible.

According to Poseidon Vice President Scott Maloni, the harm to plankton is minimal.

“There are estimated to be 115 billion larva in the source water of the desal plant,” he said. “Our estimated entrainment is 0.02 percent. Put another way, for every 10,000 fish eggs the desal plant is anticipated to entrain two. That means that 9,998 fish eggs are not at risk. This entire debate is over the potential loss of two out of 10,000 fish eggs in the desal plant’s source water, 99 percent of which die of natural mortality.”

The latest fracas over the Huntington Beach desalination plant bolsters Coastal Commission critics who believe the commission’s problems with the plan stem more from its hostility to growth than any real concerns about the fate of the food chain’s lowliest members.

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

Senate Democrats Already Playing Politics With an Eye Towards 2020

For many Democrats in Congress, the media and in Hollywood, the collective freak-out over Donald Trump’s election continues apace. Their clear-eyed, sober post-election analysis of why Hillary Clinton lost has included accusing the FBI of colluding with the Kremlin, wondering why white, working-class voters in the Mid-West are racists (after backing President Obama in successive elections), and pointing to the Electoral College as an archaic relic of our antebellum past, standing athwart the “demographics is destiny” mantra they are fond of espousing.

Despite the lamentations, President-elect Trump has decided to forge ahead and do his job. He has nominated the majority of individuals that are to lead executive departments in his administration, an array made up mainly of standard, conventional Republicans. Faced with the responsibility to question these nominees on topics relevant to the positions they intend to fill, several Democrats have instead decided to posture and play politics while jostling for position in anticipation of the 2020 presidential race. As their party is left without its iconic leader and in ruins after the 2016 election, the Senate confirmation hearings serve as an excellent opportunity to make all the appropriate gestures in order to become the new talisman of progressives.

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey took the unprecedented step of testifying against Senator Jeff Sessions, nominated to be the next Attorney General of the United States. Normally, a witness testifies before a committee to bring to light facts that have bearing on the nominee’s ability and fitness to fulfill his obligations. Furthermore, it is unheard of for a senator to provide testimony against a fellow senator in a confirmation hearing. Booker decided that the nomination of Sessions to lead the Justice Department posed such a grave threat to our democracy that he was moved to testify against him. The only problem was that Booker’s overwrought performance brought no factual testimony against Sessions, merely the opportunity for Booker to emote on camera. Booker has certainly changed his tune since last year, where he declared that he was “blessed and honored” to work with Sessions on legislation that awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to civil-rights activists. What has changed since that moment of bipartisan and senatorial comity? One could imagine that this change of heart was spurred by glowing profiles of his new Senate colleague from California, and his insistence that he deserved a few as well.

Kamala HarrisKamala Harris, the newly elected Senator from California, already has many, many admirers. A profile in the New Republic ran down the accolades: projected as “the next Barack Obama” in the Washington Post, the “Great Blue Hope” in the San Francisco Chronicle, and The Hill, Mother Jones and The New York Times all have cited her as a 2020 presidential candidate. It makes sense that she should use the confirmation hearings of Trump nominees to signal to the party’s base that she will take on the mantle of a progressive leader of a party whose official leadership positions are occupied by people all over the age of 70.

Senator Harris sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which yesterday heard the testimony of Kansas representative Mike Pompeo, nominated by President-elect Trump to the position of CIA director. The incoming CIA director will have a myriad of pressing national security concerns that will be need to addressed immediately. Harris, though, had other priorities on her mind, mainly virtue-signaling to progressives that she will fight climate change anywhere, even Langley, Virginia.

Harris first quoted a statement from current CIA Director John Brennan, where he argued that climate change has contributed to political instability around the world. She asked Pompeo if he had any reason to doubt this assessment of CIA analysts. After Pompeo demurred, she followed up by asking Pompeo for his own personal beliefs on climate change. Pompeo responded by saying, “As the director of CIA, I would prefer today to not get into the details of climate debate and science.”

Having covered one topic so germane to the national security of the United States, Harris pivoted to another, specifically gay marriage. She brought up Pompeo’s voting record and stated position of belief in traditional marriage and his disagreement with the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling that legalized gay marriage in the U.S. “Can you commit to me that your personal views on this issue will remain your personal views and will not impact internal policies that you put in place at the CIA?” Harris asked. Pompeo gave Harris his assurance that his views on marriage would not impact his management of employees at the CIA.

Politicians sometimes make the mistake of only seeking short-term victories. Case in point: one minute you’re informing GOP leaders that “you’ve won,” and you pass far-reaching legislation on party-line votes and enacting new regulations without congressional input or approval. Then, you wake up on January 20, 2017 to see that your party has lost over 60 seats in the House, 13 in the Senate, 12 governorships, and 900+ state legislative seats over the course of your presidency. Oh, and your successor is Donald Trump.

Smarter politicians take the long view, and Harris and Booker are calculating that they will be better equipped to campaign under Obama’s “legacy” in 2020 than Hillary Clinton was in 2016. They will continue to present themselves as fresh, progressive alternatives, a role that Clinton, with her corporate speech fees and quasi-criminal syndicate masquerading as a charitable foundation, could never fulfill. Whether it is asking questions about social issues and climate change before a committee hearing dedicated to national security matters, or masquerading before the cameras in order to again castigate a Republican as an irredeemable racist, both Harris and Booker intend to send a message to their party’s left flank: “I am paying attention to your concerns, and by the way, can you send a check?”

California’s Total Government Debt Rises to $1.3 Trillion

california-debtjust released study calculates the total state and local government debt in California as of June 30, 2015, at over $1.3 trillion. Authored by Marc Joffe and Bill Fletcher at the California Policy Center, this updates a similar exercise from three years ago that put the June 30, 2012 total at $1.1 trillion. As a percent of GDP, California’s state and local government debt has held steady at around 54 percent.

For a more detailed analysis of how these debt estimates were calculated, read the studies, but here’s a summary of what California’s governments owe as of 6/30/2015:

(1)  Bonds and loans – state, cities, counties, school districts, community colleges, special districts, agencies and other authorities – $426 billion.

(2)  Unfunded pension obligations (official estimate) – $258 billion.

(3)  Other unfunded post-employment benefits, primarily for retiree health insurance – $148 billion.

This total, $832 billion, ignores the fact that these pension obligations are officially calculated based on a return on investment projection that currently hovers between 7.0 percent and 7.5 percent, depending on which pension system you consider. But CalPERS, the largest of California’s roughly 90 major state and local government worker pension funds, has already determined they will have to lower their rate of return projection to 6.5 percent, an action that when emulated by other pension systems will immediately raise the unfunded calculation from $258 billion to $390 billion.

Our estimate, which uses the assumptions municipal credit analysts for Moody’s now use when evaluating the credit-worthiness of cities and counties, uses a rate of return projection of 4.4 percent. That rate is based on the Citigroup Pension Liability Index (CPLI), which is based on high grade corporate bond yields. This rate is far more “risk free” than 6.5 percent, much less 7.5 percent, and when you apply this rate to calculate the present value of the future pension obligations facing California’s state and local governments, the unfunded liability soars to $713 billion, bringing the total of bonds, OPEB and unfunded pensions to $1.29 trillion.

This $1.29 trillion does not include deferred maintenance and upgrades to California’s infrastructure, nor does it include California’s share of federal debt. More on that later.

For the moment, let’s just assume the pension funds manage to earn around 5.5 percent per year. That’s less than the reduction to 6.5 percent they’re already acknowledging, but it’s more than the 4.5 percent that professional credit analysts are already using when reporting credit ratings for government agencies. That 5.5 percent assumption would put California’s total state and local debt right around a $1.0 trillion. How much would it cost to pay off a cool trillion in 30 years at a rate of interest of 5.5 percent?

Seventy billion dollars. That’s over $5,000 per year for every household in California. Just to make payments on debt. That’s before any payments for ongoing services.

It gets worse.

As noted in the study, if one allocates federal debt according to state GDP, the share affecting Californians adds another $1.8 trillion to their debt burden. Again, using rough numbers, we’re now talking about $15,000 per year, per household, just to make payments on local, state and federal government debt.

Nobody knows how this will unwind. If interest rates rise, debt service will rise proportionately. To spark inflation to whittle away the impact of debt payments may be the most benign scenario, but only if inflation affects wages and not just assets. Most scenarios aren’t pretty.

The study concludes:

“Combining California’s debt with publicly held federal debt, we estimate a total debt-to-GDP ratio of 125 percent (or 153 percent using the broader definition of federal debt). This level places California distressingly close to peripheral Eurozone countries that faced financial crises in 2011 and 2012. Portugal’s 2015 debt-to-GDP ratio was 129 percent and Italy’s was 133 percent.”

While recommendations were beyond the scope of this study, here are three:

(1) Reform pensions and compensation for government workers so they experience the same financial challenges and opportunities as the citizens they serve. Cap pension benefits at twice the maximum Social Security benefit (around $62,000 per year). At a minimum, enact these reforms for all future work performed, both by new and existing public sector employees.

(2) Invest a significant percentage of California’s pension fund assets in infrastructure projects here in California. By using a lower rate-of-return projection, pension funds can compete with bond financing. They will earn a risk-free rate of return, California will rebuild its infrastructure, and millions of citizens will be put to work.

(3) Reverse the extreme environmentalist agenda that controls California’s state Legislature. Enact reasonable reforms to enable development of land, water and energy to lower the cost-of-living and encourage business growth. Private sector unions should be aggressively leading the charge on this.

There are a lot of good reasons why California is probably not destined to endure the financial paroxysms that already grip nations such as Italy and Portugal. Our innovative spirit and creative culture still attracts the finest talent from around the world. But California’s political leadership will have to admit there’s a problem, and make some hard choices. Hopefully when they finally do this, they will be thinking about the citizens they serve.

Ed Ring is the vice president of policy research at the California Policy Center.

Dem-on-Dem Contests Cost the Party $90 Million in 2016

democrat supermajority sacramento californiaA new report tallying the costs of running against members of your own party revealed that Golden State Democrats spent big in 2016 on races without a Republican.

This year, “Democrats raised or spent a total of $90.8 million on same-party races — a 67 percent increase from 2014 when Democrats spent $54.3 million,” according to the study, citing data from the California Secretary of State, California Fair Political Practices Commission and Federal Election Commission, and issued this week by Forward Observer. “The average budget for a same-party race between Democrats was $3.95 million in the 2016 cycle, up 30.7 percent since 2014,” the last year in the Congressional election cycle.

That means Democrats are now spending massive sums of money against other Democrats in political races due to the passive of Proposition 14, the California top-two primary law which went into effect in 2012.

Those figures struck a sharp contrast to spending for similarly situated candidates in the California GOP, which spent far less over the same two-year period. Those state Republicans “raised or spent $2.76 million on same party races in 2016,” Forward Observer observed. “This is a sharp decline (approximately 84 percent) in spending on same-party races since 2014, when Republicans spent $17.2 million.” One key to the big divergence between Democrats and Republicans, the report noted, was the lack of any Republican-on-Republican competition for a seat in the state Senate or the U.S. House of Representatives.

Jungle primaries

Intraparty fights between Democrats attracted more outside spending this year. $339,000 went “to support Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, who is running against state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, in the 15th Senate District,” as the Sacramento Bee reported earlier this year, while “several hundred thousand dollars” went to “help former Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra or oppose the incumbent, Assemblywoman Patty Lopez, D-San Fernando, in Los Angeles County’s 39th Assembly District.”

“And in the Inland Empire, a campaign committee funded by the grocery workers union has spent $75,000 to support Eloise Gomez Reyes, the Democrat running to unseat Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, in the 47th Assembly District.”

For Democrats, the shifting political sands have complicated what was seen by some as an implicit advantage in the so-called “jungle primary” system California voters ushered in six years ago through Proposition 14. That initiative inserted a constitutional amendment to afford Californians a single, nonpartisan primary election, pitting the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, against one another in the general election. But instead of making candidates’ lives easier — and the Democratic party’s — Prop. 14 has appeared to have cost them, demanding higher expenditures. “Democrats have spent a total of $194.2 million on same-party races since Prop. 14 first went into effect in 2012,” Forward Observer concluded. “Republicans have spent $34.5 million over the same period. Thus, for every dollar spent or raised by Republicans, $5.64 was raised or spent by Democrats.”

Ideological Fights Within the Democratic Party

Another effect of the new system, harder to quantify but possibly more serious, has been a sharpening differences between the more moderate and more progressive wings of the party, sparking sometimes thorny disagreements that could have been soften had all candidates vying for office run against Republican opponents. In some cases, such as Kamala Harris’ race against Loretta Sanchez, the challenger was too weak to force a bruising battle over political agendas. In others, however, a more moderate non-incumbent drew a clear line on policy and was rewarded at the ballot box. Last year, for instance, Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer — a former aide to Gov. Jerry Brown who pitted himself against the BART strike and won support from Chuck Reed, the ex-San Jose Mayor spearheading public pension reform — bested Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, the far more liberal Democrat who initially had been widely expected to win the race to replace outgoing state Senator Mark DeSaulnier.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

California Democrats Behaving Like Confederates

For fiscal conservatives and free market advocates, the national elections in 2008 and 2012 brought no small measure of disappointment. In its eight-year run, the Obama administration imposed a host of new taxes – including several as part of the failed “Affordable Care Act” – and, just as egregious, nearly doubling the national debt from $10 trillion to over $20 trillion.

Those who advocate for lower taxes, property rights and less burdensome regulation understood and begrudgingly accepted that “elections have consequences.” (As President Obama was known to brag.) So it is now with amusement – if not outright schadenfreude – we are watching progressives across the nation, and especially here in California, melt down in shock and disbelief.

Particularly frustrating for progressives is their growing realization that many of the policies and actions of the last eight years that they jammed down the throats of conservatives and center right citizens from “fly-over” country are now coming back to haunt them. For example, former Democrat Senator Harry Reid from Nevada changed longstanding Senate rules regarding how many votes it would take to stop the filibuster of a presidential appointee. Progressives imposed that rule to pack the United States Court of Appeal for District of Columbia Circuit, a powerful court because it reviews most legal challenges over federal regulations. The “Reid Rule” will now be used by the Trump administration to fill his cabinet quickly over the objections and efforts to obstruct by Democrats and, more importantly, to seat a replacement on the U.S. Supreme Court for the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

Another example of their being hoisted on their own petard was discussed recently by California political analyst Tony Quinn who noted that the federal courts struck down most of Arizona’s efforts to enforce border security. The U.S. Supreme Court noted that, in the area of immigration, federal laws pre-empt conflicting and even complimentary state laws. That throws into doubt any efforts by California and other left-leaning states to enforce any so-called “sanctuary” policies.

confederate-flagBut all this hasn’t stopped California’s top Democratic leadership from posturing (mostly for the cameras) about how they will “stand up” to the federal government to protect “California’s values,” whatever that means. Apparently, Gov. Brown and newly elected legislative leaders have mistaken Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento with Fort Sumter in South Carolina which heard the first shots fired in the Civil War. They need to be reminded that things didn’t work out so well for the Confederacy back then and if, by taking on the federal government, they think they will get a better outcome, they’re probably wrong.

The latest evidence that Democratic leadership has lost its moorings with reality is the hiring of Eric Holder, the disgraced and corrupt former U.S. Attorney General in order to “push back” against both the Trump Administration and the Republican controlled Congress. (Holder advocated for international criminal Mark Rich, and was admittedly running guns to Mexico as part of the “Fast and Furious” scandal).

The hiring of Holder is an insult to all California taxpayers. First, California has a multitude of lobbyists in Washington, D.C. (all at taxpayer expense) to represent the actual interests of the state. Second, the action was clearly a provocation intended to generate a response from Washington. But California should be careful what it wishes for. The Congress of the United States has the power of the purse and California would do well to work collaboratively with those upon whom they rely for billions of federal dollars.

Near the close of the Civil War, President Lincoln gave his famous second inaugural address in which he implored Americans to show “malice toward none, with charity for all.” Let us hope that the petulant, foolish posturing of California’s political leadership receive as much grace from the federal government in the coming years.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This piece was originally published by HJTA.org

In Defense Of Jeff Sessions As Our Next Attorney General

jeff-sessionsHaving lost the presidential election to Donald J. Trump, and now with minorities in both the House and the Senate, Democrats have scrambled to throw roadblocks in the way of the incoming administration in an effort to slow down the inevitable policy changes that will soon affect every area of national policy, including the administration of justice. To that end, Sen. Jeff Sessions has been attacked ever since Trump nominated him to be the next attorney general of the United States. The familiar leitmotif is that Sessions is a racist, stemming from decades-old, questionable allegations of potentially racist statements. A further implication is the tired canard that many men of his age and background — white, Southern Republican lawmakers — are inclined to be racist, guilty until proven otherwise.

But what is Sessions’ true flaw? He is a conservative Republican who believes in traditional conservative policies and does not pay homage to political correctness to score political points.

Here is Sessions’ actual record on civil rights issues:

Sessions sought to amend the Violence Against Women Act so that it would actually help vulnerable women, instead of blindly supporting the act because of its name. With Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Sessions led senate efforts to pass the Finding Fugitive Sex Offender Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2011.

Sessions has worked tirelessly to pass bipartisan legislation to protect and support the victims of crime, enact policies for safer prisons, and promote fair sentencing practices, issue areas important to minority communities. He worked across the aisle with Sen. Ted Kennedy in 2003 to pass the Prison Rape Elimination Act, providing protection to perhaps the most voiceless members of our society.

Sessions voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act, deeming it a vital protection for voting rights, though he recognized the act’s shortcomings and intrusiveness in some respects.

He understands the value of law enforcement, who are on the front lines of protecting Americans’ rights and safety, and has sought to work with law enforcement officers instead of criticizing and demeaning them, as has become so fashionable these days.

Sessions has supported strong voter ID measures and other procedures to protect the integrity of elections, rightly recognizing that when elections are stolen, it is often the underprivileged who are the greatest victims, because they have little recourse.

Sessions prosecuted civil rights activists under charges of fraudulently changing the votes of African-American voters in 1985, earning him the derision of liberals for being racist despite the fact that he was seeking to vindicate minority voting rights, based on complaints by African-American officials and voters that others in their community had committed fraud.

Sessions first began his efforts to achieve sentencing parity for drug offenders in 2001. Nine years later, he finally managed to realize this goal by working with Sen. Dick Durbin to pass the Crack Cocaine Fair Sentencing Act in 2010. This legislation substantially benefits minority drug offenders who previously were subjected to wide sentencing disparities vis-à-vis powder cocaine users.

Sessions opposed George Wallace in the 1960s in Alabama, prosecuted actual racists, and led Senate efforts to honor the civil rights movement and leaders. Former Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and Labor Secretary Tom Perez has repeatedly praised Sessions in speeches.

Sessions’ career as both a prosecutor and Senator has been devoted to upholding the rule of law. He has done so because he is the kind of man and leader who will fight for what is right and what is best despite the criticism he faces, from whatever quarter.

Those who have worked with Sessions and know his character have strongly endorsed Sessions. His diverse supporters include the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, President Bill Clinton’s FBI Director Louis Freeh, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Victims of Crime and Leniency of Alabama, former Chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights Gerald Reynolds, several former U.S. attorneys general, 25 state attorneys general, and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.

Albert Turner Jr., son of the African-American activists prosecuted for voter fraud, rejects the idea that Sessions is a racist: “He is not a racist. … He was a prosecutor at the Federal level with a job to do. He was presented with evidence by a local District Attorney that he relied on, and his office presented the case. That’s what a prosecutor does. … I believe that he is someone with whom I, and others in the civil rights community can work if given the opportunity.” Former African-American Democratic Congressman Artur Davis described the voter ID laws that Sessions supports as “the right thing” to help prevent “the wholesale manufacture of ballots [, which is] the most aggressive contemporary voter suppression in the African American community.”

African-American Alabama Democratic Senate Minority Leader Quinton Ross said of his long relationship with Sessions, “We’ve spoken about everything from civil rights to race relations and we agree that as Christian men our hearts and minds are focused on doing right by all people. We both acknowledge that there are no perfect men, but we continue to work daily to do the right thing for all people.” The African-American founders of Victims and Friends United, a diverse organization devoted to protecting the rights of victims of crime, stated in their endorsement letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, “We have searched his background and could find no evidence that he is biased toward people of color.”

Prior to his years of service in the Senate, Sessions served as a U.S. attorney in Alabama, meaning he was the chief federal prosecutor in the Southern District of Alabama, and later as attorney general of Alabama. Few attorneys general have been so well qualified for the job of the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, as is Sessions.

Liberals lauded the attorneys general during the Obama administration, while conveniently ignoring how the Department of Justice was being turned into a political tool to advance progressive social policies instead of enforcing the law as it is supposed to do. Unequal enforcement of the law threatens all citizens. It is not the place of the attorney general to make new law, but rather to enforce the existing federal laws enacted by the legislature, or enshrined in our Constitution.

Jeff Sessions is precisely the sort of leader that the Department of Justice needs to protect the rights of all citizens — including women and minorities — through the equal application of the law and the even-handed promotion of justice. Liberal opponents do themselves no credit by attempting to assassinate the character of a good public servant in the pursuit of a quixotic goal. President-elect Trump is entitled to appoint cabinet members of his choosing, so long as they are fit for the job, as Sessions indisputably is — and as his Senate colleagues well know. Sessions should be swiftly confirmed so that the new administration can proceed with the task of filling out the rest of the top Department of Justice appointments, and then get on with the business of enforcing federal law throughout the land.

harmeet-close-up-shotHarmeet Kaur Dhillon is a trial lawyer in San Francisco at the Dhillon Law Group, and currently serves as the RNC committeewoman from California. From 2013 to 2016, she was the vice chair of the California Republican Party.

Kathryn Steinle’s Family Gets Go-Ahead to Sue Federal Government

 

kathryn-steinle-parentsThe parents of Kathryn Steinle have received the go-ahead to sue the federal government over Kathryn’s July 2o15 death; she was killed by an illegal alien holding a gun issued to a federal agent.

U.S. Magistrate Joseph Spero said Steinle’s parents can sue but stressed that the suit may be dismissed if there is no evidence that the illegal alien – Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez – stole the gun from a federal agent.

The gun in question came from the car of a federal agent — a car from which the gun was stolen. On August 28, 2015, Breitbart News previously reported that the .40 caliber round that killed Steinle was fired from a Sig Sauer handgun that had been stolen from a Bureau of Land Management agent. However, it appears the case will turn on whether Lopez-Sanchez stole the gun himself.

On July 7, 2015, Lopez-Sanchez told KGO-TV he shot Steinle, but he said it was an accident. He said he found the gun “lying on the ground wrapped in a T-shirt,” and that it “went off by accident when he picked it up.”

But the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Spero said the Steinle family “can sue the federal government for negligence because a ranger allegedly left the gun used in the shooting in his unlocked car.” He added, “Leaving a gun loaded makes (its) capability for harm readily accessible in the same way as leaving the key in the ignition of a vehicle.”

Spero dismissed Steinle’s parent’s suit against the City of San Francisco, even as he gave the go-ahead for the suit against the federal government. He “rejected [her parent’s] claims that the city was legally responsible for releasing Lopez-Sanchez without contacting the federal government and that federal immigration officials, who had known the city was holding him, had a duty to pick him up and deport him.”

AWR Hawkins is the Second Amendment columnist for Breitbart News and host of “Bullets with AWR Hawkins,” a Breitbart News podcast. He is also the political analyst for Armed American Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @AWRHawkins. Reach him directly at awrhawkins@breitbart.com.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Sales Tax the Only State Tax to Decrease in 2017

Taxes“Four years ago, voters approved Proposition 30, which raised the income tax significantly on the wealthiest Californians and raised the sales tax a tiny bit on everyone,” Capital Public Radio recently recalled. “That quarter-of-a-cent increase equated to paying an additional $0.01 on a $4 coffee; $1 on a $400 television; and $100 on a $40,000 car.” But on Election Day 2016, that changed. “Voters extended Proposition 30’s income tax increases in [November’s] presidential election with Proposition 55 — but that initiative allowed the Prop. 30 sales tax hike to expire.”

The shift means California’s sales tax is the state’s only tax to be decreased this year, from 7.5 percent to 7.25 percent. As the U-T reported, “Some local jurisdictions tack on their own assessments, so residents in certain areas will still pay more than the statewide rate.” In certain parts of the state, like the San Francisco Bay Area, voters allowed substantial increases.

From spending to taxing

Prop. 30 ushered in the so-called Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act of 2012, as California voters threw their support behind increased spending on state education and benefits. “The act increased sales tax and income tax rates to help maintain funding levels for public schools and colleges and pay for programs for seniors and low-income families,” U-T San Diego noted. “The additional revenue also provided local governments with a constitutional guarantee of funding to comply with a new state law that shifted lower-level offenders from state prisons to county jails.”

Some municipalities, particularly in parts of the state that joined a Democrat-led initiative to hike minimum wages, opted to raise more funds. “Bay Area voters this year generously approved taxing themselves in large numbers — and they’ll feel the pinch at the cash register in 2017 as local sales taxes across Silicon Valley take effect even as a state tax expires,” according to the San Jose Mercury News.

“As California cities struggle to fund basic city services like police, fire protection, libraries and parks, they’re increasingly turning to voters for help. And voters this year said ‘yes’ to tax hikes in at least eight Bay Area cities in exchange for fewer potholes, less traffic and more cops, including San Jose, Newark, Martinez and Pleasant Hill.”

Pension pinch

For years, public pension costs have steadily built pressure on Golden State cities. In some areas, the problem has become egregious: The city of El Monte, in Southern California, shelled out 28 percent of its general fund to pay retirement costs. “Among California’s 10 largest cities, only San Jose paid as much toward retirement costs relative to its general fund. Los Angeles spends 20 percent of its general fund on retirement costs,” the Los Angeles Times revealed. “El Monte’s outsize pension bill weighs heavily on the San Gabriel Valley city of 116,000, where half the residents were born outside the United States and a quarter live below the poverty line.”

Meanwhile, CalPERS, the nation’s largest public pension fund, has struggled with its own imbalanced budgets. “CalPERS has 65 cents for every dollar that it needs to provide pension benefits for almost two million people,” Fox Business recently recalled. “CalPERS pension debt is roughly $164 billion and mostly likely will grow larger in coming years.”

In an effort to come to grips with the problem, the fund reduced its forecasted return on investment from 7.5 to 7 percent. “It has been paying out $5 billion more a year in benefits than it’s receiving in contributions and investment returns, not a sustainable trend,” the Fresno Bee noted in an editorial. “With investment returns averaging 4.6 percent during the past decade, some experts urged CalPERS to reduce its forecast even more.” But that would risk pushing more California cities toward bankruptcy — or toward even higher local taxes.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com