Obama To Release $34 Billion In New Regulations After Mid-Terms

In 2012, the Obama administration was heavily criticized for delaying major regulations until after the presidential election. A new report by regulatory watchdogs found that the White House may once again be delaying major regulations that are expected to cost a total of $34 billion.

The American Action Forum (AAF) reports that the White house is set to relePresident Obama Delivers Statement On Death Of Nelson Mandelaase 15 major regulations, totaling $32 billion in costs, until after the midterm elections. A significant amount of these regulatory costs come from energy and environment regulations emanating from the Environmental Protection Agency, according to AAF.

The most extensive regulation set to be released after the elections is the EPA’s ground-level ozone standard. The regulation does not currently have a price tag associated with it, but when the rule was previously vetoed by the White House in 2011 its cost was put at $90 billion.

The EPA is also expected to finalize its rule limiting carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants by January. This rule would ban the construction of new coal-fired power plants unless they use carbon capture technology. The coal industry and Republicans argue this rule would force the shutdown of more coal plants and coal mines.

“Many of these regulations are controversial, including the GHG [greenhouse gas] rule, and have spent years in the courts and the rulemaking process,” said AAF’s regulatory policy director Sam Batkins, the report’s author. “Regardless of possible motive, if this schedule remains in place, there will be no shortage of major regulations issued immediately after Election Day.”

Another major rule set to hit Americans after the election is the Department of Energy’s new conservation standards for incandescent lamps, which is projected to cost $13 billion over the long term. The rule is expected to cost $863 million per year and raise consumer prices by 40 to 70 percent, according to AAF.

It’s not just the lighting industry that’s expected to get hit with billions in regulatory costs, but the coal industry as well. On top of the costs imposed by EPA carbon dioxide limits, the agency is also hitting the coal industry with a coal ash rule in the wake of coal ash spills into rivers.

The coal ash rule is expected to be released this December and is projected to cost more than $20 billion.

This is not the first time the Obama administration has been criticized for releasing major regulations after an election. Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe hit President Barack Obama in the wake of the 2012 election for holding back major regulations for political reasons.

A report in 2012 by Inhofe’s office details the ways the White House pushed back the publication of major regulations, which could have hurt Democrats in 2012.

“President Obama has spent the past year punting on a slew of job-killing EPA regulations that will destroy millions of American jobs and cause energy prices to skyrocket even more,” Inhofe said in a statement on his 2012 report. “From greenhouse gas regulations to water guidance to the tightening of the ozone standard, the Obama-EPA has delayed the implementation of rule after rule because they don’t want all those pink slips and price spikes to hit until after the election.”

More than a year later, The Washington Post confirmed Inhofe’s claims and reported the Obama administration delayed key environmental and Obamacare regulations until after the 2012 elections.

The Post reported that former administration officials said “the motives behind many of the delays were clearly political, as Obama’s top aides focused on avoiding controversy before his re-election.”

Michael Bastasch is a contributor to The Daily Caller. This piece was originally posted on Dailycaller.com. 

Two Tales of a City – How Detroit Transcended Ideology to Reform Pensions

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss.”
–  Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities

Traveling through suburban Detroit, a sprawling city of 143 square miles whose population has dropped from nearly two million to less than 700,000, you can often imagine you are in rural Tennessee. Rutted narrow roads bend past groves of cottonwood, oak and silver maple. Deer and jack rabbits forage in tall grass. Until you pass a burned out ruin of a home, not yet removed, obscured by greenery, it is difficult to imagine that these neighborhoods once were filled with homes, set 35 feet apart and carpeting the land for mile after mile.download (2)

According to the so-called “right wing propaganda machine,” the tale of Detroit’s demise is attributed to the unchecked power of labor unions. Private sector unions were inflexible in the face of foreign competition, driving Detroit’s auto industry into irreversible decline. Public sector unions gobbled up every dime of taxpayer revenue they could bully and intimidate politicians into granting, further straining the finances of an already imploding city. Financially unsustainable pension benefits, ultimately, drove the city of Detroit into bankruptcy.

A different tale emerges from the left side of the ideological spectrum. Taken from a guest column written for MSNBC.com, here’s a quote from Jordan Marks, executive director of the National Public Pension Coalition, a group largely funded by public sector unions:

“While public coffers were running dry, Wall Street banks were out to make millions. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who now sits in jail, worked with Wall Street banks that designed an illegal borrowing scheme that evaded state debt limits and piled on unwise interest rate swaps. When interest rates plummeted, Wall Street demanded more than $300 million from Detroit to terminate these swap deals – making a bad situation even worse. These same Wall Street firms stand to make millions if other cities move to privatize their pension plans.”

These two tales of Detroit’s struggles both have elements of truth. With respect to Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy, it is unfair to blame public sector unions as the primary cause. While the city’s unions were unwilling to adjust their pensions and benefits until it was too late, even if they had, the city’s finances would have failed anyway because it lost nearly two thirds of its tax base. And while the automotive industry’s unions were unwilling to adjust their pensions and benefits until it was too late, that industry would have shrunk anyway, because very capable foreign competitors gained strength starting back in the 1960′s. It is unrealistic to expect, under any circumstances, that Detroit’s auto industry could have maintained the overwhelming global market share it had up to and through the 1950′s. Without economic diversification, Detroit was destined to fall hard.

The tale that comes from the left, however, strains credulity even further. First of all, public sector unions don’t represent the “left.” They represent the state. When Jordan Marks writes about banks colluding with corrupt politicians, he is referring to politicians elected and controlled by public sector unions. His assertion that “Wall Street banks” exploited Detroit does not reflect reality. Bankers issue bonds – debt – to cities who willingly borrow the funds because their union agenda forces them to spend more than they collect in taxes and fees. Government pension fund managers pour billions of dollars into Wall Street investment firms every year. Bankers and city governments – controlled by government unions – work together to exploit taxpayers and private businesses. They use the state power of imprisonment to enforce punitive levels of taxation, to pay down debt and unfunded liabilities incurred so they could live beyond their means. Wall Street bankers and municipal government unions work together to build a financial house of cards, and when it collapses they deserve equal blame.

How Detroit has solved its pension crisis will not please the ideologues. For the libertarian right, the failure to throw everyone into 401K plans must rankle. For the left, the new plan’s built in “triggers” that adjust benefits when necessary to compensate for possible future shortfalls in investment returns violates their goal of an immutable defined benefit. But it works. And the libertarian’s ideological enthusiasm for individual 401Ks contradicts their entirely valid criticism of overly optimistic investment return projections on the part of pension funds (Detroit’s was 7.9% a year). When the market tanks, and periodically it does, only a pooled plan with multi-generational, active payees plus retired participants, with adjustable benefits, can maintain solvency through a balance of contributions from active workers and returns from invested assets. A pooled 401K plan is nothing more than an ideologically impure version of individual 401K plans. An adjustable defined benefit plan is nothing more than an ideologically impure version of a fixed defined benefit plan. They can be functionally identical, two tales of the same thing, and they are both practical compromises.

Detroit’s failures, and Detroit’s probable ascendancy from now on, is easy to describe using hyperbole and polemics. But ultimately there is one destiny, one tale in reality, that will define Detroit’s future. Cutting through the rhetoric, cities around the nation may look to Detroit for answers, especially regarding their new pension plan, because Detroit has passed through a clarifying crucible of pain and self-evaluation that cities with better weather and more diversified economies have deferred. One big market correction will erase those advantages. The tale of Detroit makes for compelling analysis, from New York to LA.

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Lawsuit could expand state control of groundwater

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner just issued a preliminary ruling that Siskiyou County must regulate groundwater well permits along the Scott River in accordance with “Public Trust Doctrine.” This means the water now mainly used by hay farmers also will have to be divided among commercial sports fishing, kayaking, Indian Tribes and tourist-hotel interests.

The result will be more water shortages as additional political special interests divvy up a limited supply.

The key is the “Public Trust Doctrine,” which was explained in a 1993 report by the California State Lands Commission:Adjudicated-water-basins-DWR

“This Doctrine originated in early Roman law and, as incorporated into English Common law, held that certain resources were available in common to all humankind by ‘natural law.’ Among those common resources were ‘the air, running water, the sea and consequently the shores of the sea.’ Navigable waterways were declared to be ‘common highways, forever free,’ and available to all the people for whatever public uses may be made of those waterways.

“In California, the Public Trust Doctrine historically has referred to the right of the public to use California’s waterways to engage in ‘commerce, navigation, and fisheries.’ More recently, the doctrine has been defined by the courts as providing the public the right to use California’s water resources for: navigation, fisheries, commerce, environmental preservation and recreation; as ecological units for scientific study; as open space; as environments which provide food and habitats for birds and marine life; and as environments which favorably affect the scenery and climate of the area.

“In National Audubon Society v. Superior Court of Alpine County (1983), the California Supreme Court held that the public trust doctrine protects not only navigation, commerce, wildlife and fishing, but also ‘changing public needs of ecological preservation, open space maintenance and scenic and wildlife preservation.’”

Court case

ThSiskiyou County court case involves a recent lawsuit brought by the Environmental Law Foundation and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations against the State Water Resources Control Board and the County of Siskiyou.  ELF charged that decreased water flows in the Scott River over the past 20 years are due to excessive agricultural extractions of groundwater that flow into the river, which has harmed fish populations and the navigability of the river for recreational rafting and boat fishing.

The Scott River runs 60 miles in Siskiyou County, located along the northerly state border with Oregon.  The Scott River watershed is 800 square miles.  About two-thirds is privately owned and a third publicly owned.  Forty-five percent is used for forestry, 40 percent for grazing, and only 13 percent for cropland.  The Scott River Groundwater Basin is still the only one in all of California that has surface water and groundwater legally defined as “interconnected” (Water Code 2500.5).

The Scott River watershed was “adjudicated in 1980,” meaning the normal court system for water rights settled local disputes.  The Siskiyou County Superior Court ruled that all groundwater within 500 feet of the river was subject to court monitoring and restrictions on pumping.

The ruling included safeguards for fish, wildlife and natural river flow under the Public Trust Doctrine.  The county issues well drilling permits outside the 500-foot zone, and the court-appointed Watermaster does so within the 500-foot setback.  However, the county court has never appointed a Watermaster to govern well permits along the banks of the river within the 500-foot strip.

Writing in the June 26 issue of the California Water Law Journal, Bryan Barnhart said the ELF suit could have sought enforcement by the state Attorney General or the modification of the Siskiyou County court decree to assign a Watermaster for enforcement.  Instead, the ELF filed its case in a Sacramento County court seeking to expand the Public Trust Doctrine to groundwater for the first time in California.

The Sacramento Court has issued an interim ruling that California groundwater falls within the jurisdiction of the Public Trust Doctrine. For the interim ruling to stand under final court review, ELF would have to prove that the Scott River is navigable and that sufficient groundwater flows into the river for Public Trust purposes to be impaired.  A superior court ruling, however, would not set legal precedent across the entire state.

The Public Trust Doctrine also is supposed to apply only when “feasible.”  Whether the Scott River is navigable would have to be a factual finding of the court, as well as whether the Doctrine is feasible during an historic drought.

Inconsistencies with lawsuit 

Other developments have not deterred the ELF from filing and threatening lawsuits to agricultural irrigation districts both in Siskiyou County and California’s Central Valley asserting that groundwater falls within the Public Trust Doctrine:

  • A December 2000 study in the California Agriculture journal found that 80 percent of the decreased water flows over 48 years in the Scott River are due to “climate change.”
  • The recently released California Statewide Groundwater Elevation Monitoring study shows Siskiyou groundwater basins are not “Unmonitored.”
  • In May 2013, the county and North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board sponsored a UC Davis hydrologist to develop a groundwater management tool to better manage stream flow conditions in the Scott River.
  • Since 2007 the nonprofit Scott River Water Trust has increased river flows by market leasing of farm water during fish migration periods.

Overblown lawsuits?

ELF has also sent letters to 22 water irrigation districts in the state threatening to sue if they fail to comply with a 2009 law requiring the reporting of the measurement of groundwater basins.

A reply came from Robert Kunde, manager for the Wheeler Ridge-Maricopa Water Storage District in Bakersfield: “We comply with the vast majority of what the law requires.  We just haven’t filed some paperwork to document it.” He said high water prices due to drought are driving water conservation more than the threat of regulation.

Mark Mulkay of the Kern Delta Water District in Bakersfield said his district has been measuring water in order to charge its customers since 1965.

And nine of the purportedly noncompliant districts have already provided verification to ELF that they are following the law.  Where some water districts are too small to be able to afford such paperwork, Ted Trimble of the Western Canal Water District in Oroville is working on creating a regional water plan.

Water Grab?

If the ELF case prevails in Siskiyou County, it may not be long before such legal challenges are made against adjudicated urban water basins upon which Southern California depends for about 60 percent of its water supplies in a dry year.

The recent $10.5 billion proposed water bond that recently failed in the California Senate included $150 million for projects proximate to “major metropolitan cities for a river that has an adopted revitalization plan” (alluding to the proposed Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan).  All such a project needs besides money is more water than the trickle that travels down the concrete-lined flood channels today.  And the only place to get that water is from local groundwater basins.  Water is turning into an elixir for ecological redevelopment projects.

At stake in the Siskiyou County groundwater case — for both rural and urban groundwater users — may be more than a drop in the bucket. Making room for kayaking in the Scott River may also make way for it in the Los Angeles River by diverting drinking water from residential users to kayakers and water-oriented real estate development in a replay of “Chinatown.”

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

 

White House To Ignore Court Ruling, Keep Handing Out Obamacare Subsidies

The Obama administration will continue handing out Obamacare subsidies to federal exchange customers despite a federal court’s ruling Tuesday that the subsidies are illegal.

A D.C. Court of Appeals panel ruled Tuesday morning that customers in the 36 states that didn’t establish their own exchange and use HealthCare.gov instead cannot be given premium tax credits, according to the text of the Affordable Care Act itself. ObamaFlag

But the White House said in response that it will continue handing out the billions of taxpayer dollars in subsidies. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that while the case continues to be battled out in the courts, the administration will continue to dole out billions in tax credits to federally-run exchange customers.

“It’s important for people all across the country to understand that this ruling does not have any practical impact on their ability to continue to receive tax credits right now,” Earnest said in a press briefing Tuesday.

A three-judge panel issued the ruling Tuesday, concluding 2-1 that the federal subsidies are illegal. The Department of Justice is seeking an en banc ruling from the appeals court, which would require all judges in the court to rule on the case. Eleven judges on the court would hear the case: seven Democrats and four Republicans.

That decision will likely also be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Sarah Hurtubise is a contributor to The Daily Caller. This piece was originally posted on Dailycaller.com.

Nonprofit allegedly gets taxpayer grants after IRS revokes tax status

 The executive director of a South Florida business group is accused of applying for government support as a nonprofit even after the IRS revoked the group’s tax-exempt status in 2010.

Had government officials, including the Miami-Dade Department of Public Housing and Community Development, only bothered to verify the organization’s nonprofit claims, they would have found the group’s tax designation was canceled for failing to file tax returns since 2006.

PHCD caught on to the alleged scheme in 2012, but not before another $460,000 was approved.download (1)

Hilda Hall-Denis, president and executive director of the Business and Technology Development Corporation, a “business incubator,” was arrested Thursday and is facing multiple felony counts relating to the alleged misuse of local and federal funds, including U.S. Housing and Urban Development grants, according to the county’s inspector general.

The arrest comes more than four years after the IRS revoked the nonprofit’s 501(c)(3) status. By that time, BTDC already had taken in hundreds of thousands in taxpayer money. Another $380,000 in Community Block Development Grants and $80,000 in local Community Redevelopment Agency money went to the group after 2010.

“The tax-exempt classification was an essential requirement for both the CBDG funds administered by the County and the Homestead CRA funds,” an IG statement reads.

Hall-Denis is also accused of fraudulently using personal information of business owners being mentored by BTDC, submitting phony receipts and invoices, failing to pay vendors and paying her employees only a percentage of their full salaries.

She even received funding from Florida’s Division of Blind Services for hiring a visually impaired worker. But investigators assert she didn’t fully compensate her blind employee, either, according to the IG statement.

BTDC paid $1 a year in rent courtesy of a subsidized rent program from the city of Homestead.

Watchdog.org independently obtained BTDC’s 2009 IRS tax filing — submitted after the tax-exempt status was stripped —and found Hall-Denis took home nearly $90,000 in direct income, or a third of the organization’s total revenue. That same year BTDC reported a $37,000 loss. In 2008, she made $102,000.

According to the IRS forms, the firm claimed it was providing business development services and technical assistance for seven startup businesses.

The investigation, led by the Miami-Dade Office of the Inspector General and the State Attorney’s Office, found that Hall-Denis tried to obtain another $500,000 grant last year, but the county public housing agency was by then aware of the alleged scheme.

A spokesperson for the inspector general’s office told Watchdog.org the case is an ongoing investigation and no further information could be disclosed.

William Patrick is a contributor to Watchdog. This piece was originally posted on Watchdog.org.

Public Pensions: How The Past Can Devour The Future

The stock market has hit record highs and public pension funds are reporting record levels of capital, yet public pension costs keep growing, leaving some observers puzzled. A new book by French economist Thomas Piketty helps clear up the confusion.

In his book, Capital in the 21st Century, Piketty explains that capital is wealth derived from past activities (e.g., your savings represent wealth you accumulated over the past) that combines with labor to produce, and split the benefits from, economic growth. Everything works fine so long as returns promised to capital are lower than economic growth rates. But when returns promised to capital are higher than economic growth rates, Piketty says the past “devours the future.”

That’s what’s happening with public pension costs. When elected officials promise pensions to public employees they create capital (assets for employees, liabilities for governments) requiring a high rate of return that forces governments to divert spending from current activities. Here’s how it works:download

As pensions are promised, the employees who will receive the pensions and the governments that promised the pension make upfront contributions into a trust fund (a public pension fund) that invests that capital in the hope that earnings on those contributions will grow sufficiently to make the future payments. The size of the upfront contribution is a function of the rate of return the parties expect the fund to earn on capital (the “expected return”). The higher the expected return, the lower the upfront contribution, and vice versa. Everything works fine if the actual return equals the expected return, but if the actual return falls short of the expected return, governments have to make up the difference. (Employees don’t have to share in the cost of deficiencies because they are promised their pensions regardless of investment performance.) When that happens, governments have to shift spending from services, raise taxes, or both.

In other words, public pension funds must earn the expected return or governments have to divert money from other activities to cover the deficiency. Historically, according to Piketty, capital tends to expect a return of 4.5-5% per annum. That’s tough enough when GDP growth doesn’t reach those levels, but governments like California base upfront contributions on an even higher rate of return, usually 7.5-8% per annum. That’s why public pension costs are rising.

For example, even though the pension assets managed by the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) earned an enviable 7.1% per annum over the ten years through 2013, pension costs for California governments were billions of dollars more than expected. California governments would have had to spend much less on pension deficiencies had upfront contributions reflected a lower expected rate of return. That outcome is simply a consequence of Piketty’s principle that a high rate of return to capital reduces money available for other activities.

Another consequence is that, once public pension assets fall behind pension liabilities, it’s virtually impossible to catch up if a high expected rate of return was employed to set upfront contributions. For example, even though the stock market is up more than 100% since 2009 and CalPERS has averaged extraordinary annual returns of 14% since then, the unfunded pension liability (i.e., the deficit when pension liabilities exceed pension assets) owed by California governments has improved (declined) only 30%. Even now, five years into a great bull market, CalPERS needs to earn double-digit annual returns just to keep the unfunded liability from growing.

These outcomes are not due to investment lapses by CalPERS, which is extremely good at its job of managing pension assets, or to the Great Recession, but rather to math. In fact, as Warren Buffett has explained, governments were way behind on their pension promises even before the Great Recession. That’s because the expected rate of return employed by governments like California in setting upfront pension contributions implicitly forecast the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) to reach 20,000 before the Great Recession, but even at its peak before the 2008 financial crisis, the DJIA reached only 14,000. Today, the DJIA would have to be over 30,000 to have provided the expected rate of return. With the DJIA just now reaching a record 17,000, the difference must come from governments. That means more cuts to services, higher taxes or both.

Public employees did not cause this problem. Politicians making promises requiring high rates of return caused it. Meeting that rate of return will continue devouring the future. Citizens must plan accordingly.

David Crane is the President of Govern for California. This piece was originally posted on Foxandhoundsdaily.com.

Want to end border surge? Stop flow of money to Central America, experts say

One solution to the illegal immigration crisis gripping the nation’s southern border may be as simple as stopping U.S. aid to Central American governments.

“It’s cheaper to take care of them in their own country instead on the other side of the border, on the U.S. side, because they become a burden on social services, which is more expensive to handle in the U.S. than in their own country,” said Florida resident Penny Rambacher, who, along with her late mother, Noreen, opened 48 schools in less than 10 years in some of the poorest areas of Guatemala.images

Rambacher’s Miracles in Action organization works to help the poor through “education, vocation and sustainable projects.”

“Instead of building walls to prevent them to coming to the U.S., we provide them with opportunities in their own country. Instead of coming to the border, they come to school,” Rambacher said.

But still, thousands of unaccompanied minors have flooded the southern border since October, with as many as 90,000 expected by the end of the year. President Obama wants $3.7 billion to deal with the crisis, with $300 million slated to go directly to foreign governments.

In 2012, USAID gave Guatemalans $5.1 million for basic education. Together with its corporate partnerships, USAID plans to spend more than $10 million on education, health and nutrition in Guatemala.

Not according to New York Times columnist David Bornstein, who’s also an author and speaker.But is all that American money flowing into Central America really doing any good?

In his book, How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, Bornstein said the most effective social programs are run by individual entrepreneurs and not big organizations.

“One of the biggest questions to ask,” Bornstein said in an interview with Florida Watchdog, “is what are the organizations and programs that are working in those countries that are making the biggest difference on people’s life based on the evidence that is available?

“The long term solution for poverty is not for everybody to try to move to the United States, but for countries to try to use more intelligent methods to spread economic opportunities to places where historically there haven’t been much,” he said.

Joaquín Villalobos, a former Salvadorian politician and guerrilla leader, goes even farther criticizing the current system, saying outside money is the source of the crisis in Central America.

He writes in Spain’s largest daily newspaper, El País, that as the amount of outside money grows, labor force participation falls. The only people who profit are the well-financed entrepreneurs who have figured out how to separate the people from their money.

It’s a vicious cycle that leads to violence and an exodus of the native population.

“More emigration, more remittances. More remittances, less productivity. Less productivity, more unemployment. More unemployment, more violence and more violence more emigration,” he said.

“Six million migrants, about 12 (percent) Guatemalans, 14 (percent) Hondurans and almost 40 (percent) Salvadorans, live in the United States,” he wrote. “In the last (20) years these Central American migrant workers have sent an incredible sum of $124 billion in remittances to their home countries. Exporting their poor has become a lucrative business for the local oligarchs (privileged groups).”

It also shrinks the labor pool, leading governments in places like Honduras and Guatemala to find creative ways to collect taxes.It creates a consumer economy “artificially financed with proceeds going to the ruling families in each country,” he said.

One way is to tax charitable donations. Rambacher, the school founder, said about six years ago the Guatemala government began to charge a 29 percent duty on products donated to the country. That made it more costly for nonprofit organizations to send assistance.

“The reason they do it, I think, is because they (the government) are looking for ways to bring in money because they don’t tax their own people and have an income source,” she said. “So, they figure one easy income source is charge a tax on the donations coming in. It’s the same with donations coming by ocean containers. It encourages us to buy the humanitarian help in Guatemala, which actually helps the local economy. However the quality of the products is not the same, and some donors like to give products and not money.”

Rambacher said if corruption was removed and red tape cut, she could build a new school in Guatemala for as little as $25,000. That, she said, could change lives and increase employment in the Central American country.

“Restaurants, hotels and other companies are very happy because now they have qualified people is trained and ready for work,” she said.

Marianela Toledo is a contributor to Watchdog.org. This piece was originally posted on Watchdog.org.

CA Ballot Measure Could Take Rights From Churches, Media and NRA

Given California’s many serious problems, including high unemployment, a listless economy and drought, one might think our Sacramento politicians would not have time on their hands to promote laws that have no force or effect in California. One might also think it unwise, at a time when our state is surviving on temporary tax increases (Proposition 30), to spend millions to place such a pointless law on the statewide ballot. One would think that state lawmakers would have more sense than to waste time and money on such legislation, but they would be wrong.

The California Legislature recently approved Senate Bill 1272, which would submit to California voters an “advisory” ballot proposition advocating a kipLyallCartoon_citizensUnited_300dpi-1024x768change to the U.S. Constitution that is intended to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which held that the First Amendment prohibits government from restricting political independent expenditures by associations, corporations and labor unions.
That SB 1272 is poorly drafted is gross understatement. It dramatically oversimplifies a complex and nuanced area of constitutional law.

Article V of the United States Constitution establishes the exclusive procedures for proposing constitutional amendments. The first method requires a proposed amendment to be passed by two-thirds votes in both houses of Congress. The second requires an application from two-thirds of the state legislatures requesting a constitutional convention. Amendments proposed by either method are then submitted to the states for ratification. Because SB 1272 follows neither procedure, it is of no legal consequence whatsoever. It is no more legally binding than a Gallup poll.

The Legislature is abusing the statewide ballot process to conduct polling research in regards to proposed Congressional action. And as far as opinion polling goes, SB 1272 is a particularly expensive vehicle. According to the Senate Appropriations committee, ballot printing and mailing costs are $55,000 per page and will likely total $275,000 to $550,000 if this proposition appears on the general ballot. If it appears on a supplemental ballot, the total printing and mailing costs could run as high as $4 million. These figures do not begin to account for the additional costs borne by the county registrars’ offices for the processing and tallying of ballots.

Finally, SB 1272 presents a facile, unsophisticated solution to a complex problem. Reasonable minds can (and often do) disagree on the issues involved in Citizens United, such as the appropriate balance between free speech rights and the need to combat political corruption. But SB 1272 goes far beyond addressing these issues; it urges Congress to propose a constitutional amendment that “make[s] clear that the rights protected by the United States Constitution are the rights of natural persons only.”

Were this the law, churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious entities would have no free exercise rights. Neither the Wall Street Journal nor CBS News would have any freedoms of speech or the press. Advocacy groups like the NRA, chambers of commerce, and taxpayer associations would have no right to speak or to petition the government for redress of grievances. And no collective entity, be it a corporation or partnership, business or nonprofit, a Fortune 50 company or a local mom and pop shop, would enjoy property rights of any kind. There would be no requirement that government takings from entities other than individuals be justly compensated or that regulation comport with due process. SB 1272 would not merely throw the baby out with the bath water, it would burn down the entire neighborhood – a neighborhood that took centuries to construct.

It is safe to assume that the Legislature did not intend to ask the voters whether Congress should propose a constitutional amendment that would permit the government to search the headquarters of the ACLU, the National Right to Life Committee or the NAACP arbitrarily and without a warrant, or to seize without compensation all the property owned by the Catholic church, or to quarter soldiers in rental units owned by corporate landlords. Then again, if a majority of California legislators failed to appreciate the subtleties of this issue, is it reasonable to expect voters to be better informed?

SB 1272 is a pointless, poorly drafted proposition that is likely to mislead many voters. As such, it is a waste of the voters’ time and the taxpayers’ money. Californians can send a powerful message to our irresponsible legislature by voting No on this meaningless measure. And for once, this is not a liberal v. conservative issue – it is a matter of common sense and responsible governance.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. This piece was originally posted on Hjta.org.

Planned Parenthood Has Abortion Quotas, Says Former Clinic Director

Former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson says she has proof that a Texas Planned Parenthood clinic had abortion quotas — target numbers of abortions it needed to perform in order to meet its budget.

Johnson, who left the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas in 2010, released a budget statement for the 2010 fiscal year she said shows that the clinic was expected to perform at least 1,135 abortions that year.download

Johnson’s group, And Then There Were None, whose stated goal is “to provide financial, emotional, spiritual and legal support to anyone wishing to leave the abortion industry,” released a photograph a few weeks ago of a Colorado clinic receiving an award for having performed more abortions in the first half of the 2013 fiscal year than they had in the second half of the 2012 fiscal year.

Planned Parenthood responded very directly that “First, and plainly, Planned Parenthood does not have ‘quotas’ for any of our services,” but that they do “aim to expand access to all of our services … and yes, we absolutely do celebrate our progress in ensuring that more people have access to the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion.”

That’s why Johnson decided to release the budget statement, she said, which shows that her clinic needed to make at least $313.29 per abortion performed. The Bryan clinic, which closed in the summer of 2013, performed both medical and surgical abortions up to 14 weeks. Johnson said that this budget, “specifically for the abortion part of our facility,” sought to double the number of abortions performed in the previous fiscal year.

Johnson said that staff “generally look at the previous year’s performance and demographic information” to determine the quota. Planned Parenthood did not respond to requests for comment.

Tristyn Bloom is a contributor to the Daily Caller. This piece was originally posted on Dailcaller.com. 

A look at CA’s mixed-bag teacher firing reform

In some respects, it’s now easier to fire teachers in California. In others, it’s more complicated.

That’s the verdict on AB 215, the version of several different firing reform bills that cleared the Legislature and received Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature late last month.

In the wake of the Miramonte Elementary School sex abuse scandal, where a Los Angeles teacher’s conviction on 23 felony counts of molestation and lewd conduct led to some $30 million in damages paid to his victims, Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, introduced AB 375. But that bill was marred by last-minute amendments and dogged criticism. School administrators and others insisted that AB 375 underprotected students and unduly complicated the firing process, creating the potential for even greater abuses.

Under strong pressure, AB 375 was vetoed by Gov. Brown in late 2013. In a brief statement, Brown admonished legislators for the bill’s strict limitation of depositions and its bar on amending charges, even in light of new evidence.

Halting progress

Efforts at reform continued:  State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys, introduced SB 1530. That bill would have taken firing authority away from the three-person Commission on Professional Competence and placed it in the hands of local school boards. School districts would also have been permitted to place teachers on unpaid suspension merely if suspected of serious misconduct. Plus, the bill would have scrapped California’s controversial 45-day notice for teachers facing disciplinary action; critics pointed out that the lengthy period created the opportunity for abusive teachers to remain in the classroom.

The California Teachers Association sunk that piece of legislation, even though it passed the state Senate by a lopsided bipartisan majority of 33-4.

Meanwhile, Buchanan herself was undeterred. She returned this year with AB 215, which quickly gained more favorable attention from organizations and interests that had successfully dispatched her prior effort.

The California School Boards Association, for instance, considered supporting the new bill, despite helping sink AB 375. Notably, however, CSBA stopped short of a full endorsement, opting to “support if amended.” In a detailed release, CSBA itemized its concerns: AB 215 did not define “egregious misconduct” so as to include embezzlement, fraud, or lawful but inappropriate conduct; additionally, the bill did not allow any exceptions for its seven-hour limit on depositions; and, finally, it permitted teachers to challenge their immediate suspension pending dismissal.

As others observed, AB 215 created an arbitrary set of offenses which triggered swifter dismissal — and another set that didn’t. Teachers involved in drugs, abuse, or neglect were targeted, but not teachers who committed aggravated assault or armed robbery.

Nevertheless, Gov. Brown signed AB 215 into law. This time, he didn’t issue any comment.

New battle lines

torlaksonOther key players in state education immediately began to respond to the new law, however, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson — the beneficiary of union support in his bid for a new term this year and in his initial 2010 bid — released a prepared statement that portrayed his support for AB 215 as part of a broad consensus among education advocates.

Opponents of the bill, however, remain convinced that the new law’s advantages are outweighed in some respects by its disadvantages. “In short,” editorialized the San Jose Mercury News, “the bill starts to extend criminal due process protections to teacher employment cases, even though courts have previously correctly said that the same standards should not apply. In a court of law, for example, a criminal defendant can remain silent. But in the workplace, and in discipline cases, a worker is expected to explain his or her actions.”

Nevertheless, strong bipartisan support exists for the law. Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen, R-Modesto, described AB 215 as an imperfect but “balanced proposal” that secured “a win-win for students, parents, for teachers, for schools.” Opponents may find their time best spent pursuing reform along other lines, especially in the wake of the Vergara decision that ensured students a constitutional right to adequate teaching.

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