How LAUSD’s Chocolate Milk Ban Became an Environmental Disaster

chocolate-milkThe Merriam-Webster dictionary defines idiocy as “extreme stupidity; something that is extremely stupid or foolish.”

That’s the best thing that can be said about the Los Angeles Unified School District’s decision in 2011 to ban chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk. It might be worse than idiocy, but let’s go with that.

LAUSD has more than 640,000 students enrolled, a population that would make it the 26th largest city in America. When the district discards its trash every week, it’s an event.

Republic Services, the company that has had the LAUSD rubbish-hauling contract for nearly five years, estimated last year that the district throws out 600 tons of organic waste, including liquids, every week. Most of that is uneaten food. The liquid is unconsumed milk. White milk.

LAUSD serves milk to students from kindergarten through 12th grade every day for breakfast and lunch. The “milk options” on the menu are “White Low Fat 1%,” “White Fat Free” and “White Non-fat Lactose Free.”

But this segregated milk policy is a failure with the students and a hazard for the environment. It’s not easy to throw away two servings of milk per day for the population of the 26th largest city in America.

At a recent meeting of the LAUSD school board’s Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee, board member and committee chair Monica Ratliff asked Robert Laughton, director of the district’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety, about a photo in his report that showed students pouring milk into a trash can.

“Do we throw it down the drain?” she asked. “Where does it go?”

“Originally, they poured it down the drain,” Laughton said, “but the city didn’t like milk going down the sewer system. You can’t put it down the storm drain, that’s against the law. The city isn’t crazy about it going to Hyperion (the wastewater treatment plant) either so now they’re pouring it into black trash bags and putting it into the trash bin. So it’s pretty much going across the counter and into a trash can.”

From there, the milk in the trash bags is hauled to local landfills. That probably includes the notorious Sunshine Canyon, a city- and county-owned facility operated by Republic Services, which takes in about a third of L.A. County’s garbage. It has become Granada Hills’ most obnoxious neighbor due to worsening odors.

If milk is causing problems at Sunshine Canyon, the situation may improve next year. That’s when LAUSD plans to start hauling its organic waste to another county in order to comply with new state regulations for mandatory organic waste recycling. The issue was before the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee because it’s going to cost a lot of money to haul 600 tons per week of organic waste to a composting facility as far away as southern Kern County.

The district would like to reduce food waste. Board member Scott Schmerelson said he’s been trying for a year to help nonprofits pick up unserved meals for food banks. “It’s the most convoluted and difficult process to have the correct insurance to be able to do that, and people just give up,” he said.

Different menus might help. If there’s one thing that’s certain about a “Turkey Pastrami Croissandwich with Cheese” (lunch, grades 9-12, September 27), it’s that a carton of white 1-percent milk will not pair well with it. …

Click here to read the full column from the L.A. Daily News

Susan Shelley is a columnist for the Southern California News Group. Reach her at Susan@SusanShelley.com and follow her on Twitter: @Susan_Shelley. 

The Property Tax is Pure Tyranny

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image14115451The arrival of autumn means more than leaves turning color.

Toward the end of September, California residents will be receiving their 2016-2017 property tax bills.

What they will also be receiving is an example of economic tyranny.

In the Golden State, the property tax on a $1 million home is likely to be several hundred dollars more in the 2016-2017 interval than in the previous interval (2015-2016). Government always wants more money for roads, schools and social programs.

The property tax is really a form of a wealth tax because the property tax is levied on an asset that is still in the owner’s possession. Another example of a wealth tax is a tax on one’s funds in a bank account.

There is no property tax on a person’s furniture, clothing or appliances. Nor is there a property tax on a person’s jewelry, computers or books.

There is no property tax on assets like stocks, bonds or businesses until the asset is sold (assuming the asset has appreciated in value).

And, worse, the tax on a new home in California can be much higher. For example, if someone purchased a home in 1975 for $50,000 and sold it in 2015 for $1 million, the new owner would pay a property tax based on the $1 million price.

During the 40 years (from 1975 to 2015), the home increased in value 20 times. However, the new owner — compared with the old owner — is not receiving 20 times as much in police, fire and school services that the old owner received.

If the owner of a home fails to pay his or her property tax, the home can be confiscated by government authorities or a tax lien can be placed on the property.

The time has come to eliminate the property tax. However, people will ask:  How will the schools, the fire department, the police department and other local services be funded?

The answer is to use an income tax. Using an income tax has the advantage of an owner not being forced to leave his home for lack of a tax payment. A person with no income simply pays no tax — property tax or income tax.

Imagine, the horror an unemployed person will face is he cannot pay his property tax bill. He has a good chance of facing foreclosure and, ultimately, homelessness.

The horror can be extremely acute for an older person living on a fixed income, and perhaps all such income comes from Social Security. Why should such a person face the humiliation of homelessness?

The time to end property-tax tyranny has arrived. California residents must demand that that city and state officials repeal the property tax.

Richard Colman is a the president and found or Biomed Inc, a biotechnology, publishing, and informatics company.  He lives in Orinda, California, a community of 18,000 people 15 miles east of San Francisco.

The Lie Behind Public Financing of Political Campaigns

campaign-financeDemocrats in the California Legislature have presented Gov. Jerry Brown with a bill that would legalize public financing of political campaigns, similar to initiatives that have taken root in several cities and states across the country. This is not only a bad idea that will in fact result in more special interest involvement in elections, it also is an end-around by the Legislature to impose its will against that of the citizens they represent. The California Political Reform Act states that no taxpayer money may be spent by the government on political campaigns. This political spending provision was passed by voter referendum in 1988.

The California Constitution requires that any measure passed by the voters can be undone only by a second ballot measure, unless provided for otherwise in the act. When this ban on taxpayer funding of political campaigns was passed, it specified that no changes could be made unless it was by passage of a subsequent ballot measure, or by a two-thirds majority of the Legislature; and only changes that “would further the purposes” of the act would be allowed via legislation. Unsurprisingly, Democratic lawmakers have adapted the Orwellian premise that furthering the purpose of a voter-backed ban on taxpayer financing of political campaigns means undoing the law without assent from the voters.

The disregard that lawmakers in California have for their constituents is clear, and it should be clearer still to all Californians what this type of legislation will do to the political process. Far from ridding politics of special interest influence, forcing taxpayers to fund political candidacies that they oppose will increase the power and leverage that certain special interests wield in the state capitol.

To become eligible for taxpayer campaign funds, a candidate must first accumulate a certain number of small, private donations. Knowing this, special interest organizations can simply direct members and supporters to contribute enough small-dollar donations to meet the public financing threshold. In this way, a special interest group can turn a number of small donations into massive taxpayer funds directed to their preferred candidate, while the special interest group can still buoy their candidate with independent expenditures. The result is that the hand-picked candidate has the benefit of special interest support and the tax dollars of hundreds of thousands of voters, many of whom may not even support the candidate.

Supporters of taxpayer-funded political campaigns like to think that they are eliminating a great evil from politics. But a publicly funded candidate is under the same influence of special interests as a privately funded candidate, the only difference being that the candidate accepting taxpayer dollars can exude some moral superiority while still under the thumb of their special interest benefactors.

The truth is that money is a great barrier to entry in politics, and incumbents already in office know that. To effectively communicate a message to voters does, in fact, require money. The candidates best-armed to communicate a message to voters are incumbents, as they have already proven their worth to one special interest group or another, and have been rewarded with campaign funding. A lesser-known challenger does not have the same ability to reach out to a special interest group that can bundle enough small donations to reach the threshold for public funding of a campaign.

Democrats in Sacramento, as eager as ever to retain and expand power, have now conceived of a plan to limit political competition by making it more difficult for candidates to compete against incumbents that are backed by powerful unions, trial lawyers and other progressive interest groups. Rather than give greater voice to candidates that are supported by voters and not special interests, this misleading legislative proposal ensures that taxpayers will be forced to fund candidates who articulate views and opinions they may vehemently oppose. Better yet, their proposal to have your tax dollars subsidize their political campaigns, regardless if you might disagree with their ideas, is in direct defiance of the will of the voters and of California law.

Special interest groups are very powerful in California because our state government is very powerful. Government overreach pervades every facet of our day-to-day life in California, and special interests will continue to lobby lawmakers to gain preferential treatment from the Leviathan. If lawmakers were truly interested in reducing the influence of special interest money in politics, they would not force taxpayers to fund their campaigns, but rather advocate for legislation that reduces the power and influence the government has over the people. But how likely is that?

Alexander Tomescu is an associate attorney at Wewer & Lacy, LLP, focusing in the practice of election and campaign law.

Proposition 54 and the “We Can Do Whatever We Want Act”

TransparencyAmid the ballot initiatives gifting Californians with a 200-plus page voter guide is at least one sensible idea. Proposition 54 targets “gut and amend” (Ganda) bills, which are diametrically opposed to responsible legislative deliberation.

Ganda legislation takes “how a bill becomes law” civics book descriptions, then adds “not” at the beginning. In the race to beat the legislative end-of-session deadline, power brokers take bills that have cleared most legislative hurdles and replace them with completely different bills. Then they rush them through the minimal scrutiny of the last-minute frenzy (e.g., with multiple committee hearings in a single room in an hour).

This year’s appropriation of nearly $1 billion in pollution fee money is one example. Earlier illustrations include transforming a Silverlake Reservoir bill into requiring that gun buyback programs test weapons for criminal involvement (2014), California Environmental Quality Act exemptions for housing projects into increased alternative vehicle technology funding (2013), and pension reform into a fire prevention fee repeal (2012). The last three weeks of 2011’s session included 48 Ganda bills (my favorite: morphing a measure allowing tuberculosis information disclosure into one preventing local government bans of project labor agreements).

Unfortunately, bills sensible enough to command sufficient consensus can pass in daylight. Only legislation failing that test requires Ganda evasions.

That is what Proposition 54 addresses. It would require any bill to be both in print and available on the internet 72 hours before it could be enacted (with a ‘public emergency” escape clause). It would also intensify the sunlight on the sausage-making by mandatory videotaping of all public meetings, to be posted online within 24 hours, and by allowing any citizen to record any public meeting and use it without restriction.

Despite Proposition 54’s potential to protect Californians from legislative back-room bullying, it has opponents, particularly among power brokers. One rebuttal is, in essence, that despite missing deadlines or failing to get approval, sometimes legislatures “just need to act.” But that is not a reason; it simply assumes its conclusion — the powerful must be allowed to circumvent the rules whenever they decide it is necessary. That is why the Democratic Party opposes Proposition 54 with a preposterous rhetorical Ganda, twisting its protections against unwarranted legislative abuses into a claim that it would better allow “special interests” (i.e., those targeted for harm to fund legislative presents for others) to “block timely legislative action.”

The core problem is that for Ganda bills to benefit Californians requires several false things to be true.

The bill would have to be the Legislature’s business. Unfortunately, despite injecting itself everywhere, very little legislation can actually advance our general welfare. Benefiting some at others’ expense is another matter, but such bills deserve destruction, not greasing through.

Only the Legislature must be competent to deal with the issue. Where people can work things out for themselves, no legislation is needed, except repeal of what prevents voluntary private solutions. Those lauded by politicians for their wisdom during campaigns deserve the power to use it in their own affairs.

The problem must be too urgent to wait for ensuing terms. The sponsor must know how to implement an efficient and equitable solution. It must also come as a sudden surprise. But it is laughable to think of our legislators quickly developing real solutions to serious problems unrecognized just weeks before, and still needing to sneak them through.

Gut and amend survives only because it lets urgency insulate legislators from accountability. Capitol power brokers may “need” it for their purposes, but it harms citizens. That is why eliminating Ganda is important and also why all such legislative attempts have been killed. Proposition 54, which the legislature would morph into the “We Can Do Whatever We Want Act” at the last minute, given the chance, deserves support, in order to take such chances away.

Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University, a research fellow at the Independent Institute, adjunct scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and member of the FEE faculty network. His most recent books are Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014) and Lines of Liberty (2016) 

Average Costa Mesa Firefighter Makes Nearly $250,000 Per Year. Why? Pensions.

Does that fact have your attention? Because media consultants insist we preface anything of substance with a hook like this. And it even has the virtue of being true! And now, for those with the stomach for it, let’s descend into the weeds.

According to payroll and benefit data reported by the city of Costa Mesa to the California State Controller, during 2015 the average full-time firefighter made $240,886. During the same period, the average full-time police officer in Costa Mesa made $201,330. In both cases, that includes the cost, on average, for their regular pay, overtime, “other pay,” the city’s payment to CalPERS for the city’s share, the city’s payment to CalPERS of a portion of the employee’s share, and the city’s payments for the employee’s health and dental insurance benefits.

And if you think that’s a lot, just wait. Because the payments CalPERS is demanding from Costa Mesa – and presumably every other agency that participates in their pension system – are about to go way up.

We have obtained two innocuous documents recently delivered to the city of Costa Mesa from CalPERS. They are entitled “SAFETY FIRE PLAN OF THE CITY OF COSTA MESA (CalPERS ID: 5937664258), Annual Valuation Report as of June 30, 2015,” (click to download) and a similar document “SAFETY POLICE PLAN OF THE CITY OF COSTA MESA (CalPERS ID 5937664258), Annual Valuation Report as of June 30, 2015,” (click to download). Buried in the bureaucratic jargon are notices of significant increases to how much Costa Mesa is going to have to pay CalPERS each year. In particular, behold the following two tables that appear on page five of each letter:

Projected Employer Contributions to CalPERS  –  Costa Mesa Police

employer-contributions-to-calpers

Projected Employer Contributions to CalPERS  –  Costa Mesa Firefighters

projected-employer-contributions-to-calpers-costa-mesa-firefighters

In the rarefied air of pension arcana, pension systems can get away with a lot. If you’re a glutton for punishment, read these notices from CalPERS in their entirety and see if, anywhere, they bother to explain the big picture. They don’t. The big picture is this:  For years CalPERS has underestimated how much they are going to pay in pensions and they have overestimated how much their investments will earn, and as a result they are continuously increasing how much cities have to pay them. This notice is just the latest in a predictable cascade of bad news from pension systems to cities and other agencies.

Coming down to earth just a bit, consider the two terms on the above charts, “Normal Cost %” and “UAL $.” It would be proper to wonder why they represent one with a percentage and one with actual dollars, but rather than indulge in futile speculation, here are some definitions. “Normal Cost” is how much the city pays (never mind that the city also pays a portion of the employee shares – we’ll get to that) into the pension system if it is fully funded. The reason pension systems are NOT fully funded is because, again, year after year, CalPERS underestimated how much they would pay out in pensions to retirees and overestimated how much they would earn. Read this disclaimer that appears on page five of the letters: “The table below shows projected employer contributions … assuming CalPERS earns 7.5 percent every fiscal year thereafter, and assuming that all other actuarial assumptions will be realized.”

And when the “Normal Cost” payments aren’t enough, and the system is underfunded, voila, along comes the “UAL $,” that bigger catch-up payment that is necessary to restore financial health to the fund. “UAL” refers to “unfunded actuarial liability,” the present value of all eventual payments to retirees, and “UAL $” refers to the payments necessary to reduce it to a healthy level. Notice that for firefighters this catch-up payment is set to increase from $4.2 million in 2017 to $6.8 million in 2022, and for police it is set to increase from $5.8 million in 2017 to $10.1 million in 2022. This is in a small city that in 2015 employed an estimated 125 full-time police officers and 75 full-time firefighters.

As always, it must be emphasized that the point of all this is not to disparage police or firefighters. No reasonable person fails to appreciate the work they do, or the fact that they stand between us and violence, mayhem, catastrophe and chaos. And it is particularly difficult for those of us who are part of the overwhelming majority of citizens who appreciate and respect members of public safety to have to disclose and publicize the facts of their unaffordable pensions.

The following charts, using data downloaded from the CA State Controller, put these costs into perspective:

Average and Median Employee Compensation by Department
Costa Mesa – Full time employees – 2015

average-and-median-employee-compensation-by-department

In the above chart, before sorting by department and calculating averages and medians, we eliminated employees who worked as temps or only worked for part of the year. This provides a more accurate estimate of how much full-time workers really make in Costa Mesa. Bear in mind that most part-time employees still receive pension benefits, as will be shown on a subsequent chart. As it is, during 2015 the average full-time police officer in Costa Mesa was paid total wages of $121,636, about 15 percent of that in overtime. But they then collected another $79,694 in city paid benefits, including $59,337 paid by the city towards their pension, AND another $11,562 that the city paid towards their pension that the State Controller vaguely describes as “Defined Benefit Paid by Employer.” Total 2015 police pay: $201,330.

Also on the above chart, one can see that during 2015 the average full-time firefighter in Costa Mesa was paid total wages of $150,227, about 32 percent of that in overtime. They then collected another $90,659 in city paid benefits, including $72,202 paid by the city toward their pension, and as already noted, another $10,440 that the city paid toward the employee’s share of their pension. Total 2015 firefighter pay: $240,886.

To distill this further, the following chart shows, per full-time employee, just how much pensions cost Costa Mesa in 2015 as a percent of regular pay.

Average Employer Pension Payment as % of Regular Pay
Costa Mesa – Full-time employees – 2015

average-employer-pension-payment-as-of-regular-pay

As the above chart demonstrates, employer payments for full-time employee pensions during 2015 already consumed a staggering amount of budget. For police, every dollar of regular pay was matched by 80.5 cents of payments by the city to CalPERS. For firefighters, every dollar of regular pay was matched by a staggering 94.4 cents of payments by the city to CalPERS.

The next chart shows the impact this has on the city of Costa Mesa budget. Depicting total payroll amounts by department, it compares the same variables, total employer pension payments as a percent of total regular pay. As can be seen, the percentages are nearly the same, despite this being for the entire workforce including temporary and part-time employees, some who may not have pension benefits (most do), and many who do not receive top tier pension formulas which the overwhelming majority of full-time public safety employees still receive. As can be seen, for every dollar of regular police pay, CalPERS gets 75 cents from the city, and for every dollar of firefighter pay, CalPERS gets 92 cents from the city.

Total Employer Pension Payment as % of Regular Pay
Costa Mesa – All active employees; full, part-time and temp – 2015

total-employer-pension-payment-as-of-regular-pay

At this point, the impact of CalPERS stated rate increases can be fully appreciated. And because this article, already at nearly 1,000 words, has violated every rule of 21st century social media engagement protocols – keep it short, shallow, simple and sensational – perhaps the next paragraph should be entirely written in bold so it is less likely to be lost in the haze of verbosity. Perhaps a meme is in here somewhere. Perhaps an inflammatory graphic that shall animate the populace. Meanwhile, here goes:

Once CalPERS’s announced increases to the “unfunded payment” are fully implemented, instead of paying $10.9 million per year for police pensions, Costa Mesa will pay $15.2 million per year, i.e., for every dollar in regular police pay, they will pay $1.04 toward police pensions. Similarly, instead of paying CalPERS $6.4 million per year for firefighter pensions, Costa Mesa will pay $9.1 million per year, i.e., for every dollar in regular firefighter pay, they will pay $1.30 towards firefighter pensions.

Wow.

So just how much do Costa Mesa’s retired police and firefighters collect in pensions? Repeatedly characterized by government union officials as “modest,” shall we report and you decide? The following table, using data originally sourced from CalPERS and downloaded from Transparent California, are the pensions earned by Costa Mesa retirees in 2015. Excluded from this list in order to present a more representative profile are all pre-2000 retirees, since retirement pensions were greatly enhanced after the turn of the century, and it is those more recent pensions, not the earlier ones, that are causing the financial havoc. Also excluded because the benefit amounts are not representative and the retirement years are not disclosed, are all “beneficiary” pensions, which survivors receive.

Average Pensions by Years of Service
Costa Mesa retirees – 2015

average-pensions-by-years-of-service

While these averages are impressive – work 30 years and you get a six-figure pension – they grossly understate what Costa Mesa public safety retirees actually get. There are at least four reasons for this: (1) The data provided doesn’t screen for part-time workers. Many retirees may have put in decades of service with the city, but only worked, for example, 20-hour weeks. They would still accrue a pension, but it would not be nearly as much as it would be if they’d worked full time. (2) Nearly all full-time employees are also granted “other post-employment benefits,” primarily health insurance. It is reasonable to assume that for public safety retirees, the value of these other post employment benefits is at least $10,000 per year. (3) Because CalPERS did not disclose what department retirees worked in during their active careers, this data set is for all of Costa Mesa’s retirees. That means it includes miscellaneous employees who receive pensions that are, while very generous, are not nearly as good as the pensions that public safety retirees receive. (4) While recent reforms have begun to curb this practice, it has been common at least through 2014 for retirees to purchase “air time,” wherein for a ridiculously low sum they are permitted to claim more years of service than they actually worked. It is common for retirees, for example, to purchase five years of air time, so when their pension benefit is initially calculated, instead of multiplying, for example, 20 years of service times a 3.0 percent multiplier times their final salary, they are permitted to claim 25 years of service.

All of this, of course, is dense gobbledygook to the average millennial Facebook denizen, or, for that matter, to the average politician. To be fair, it’s hard even for the financial professionals hired by the public employee unions to acknowledge that maybe 7.5 percent (or even 6.5 percent) annual investment returns will not continue for funds as big as CalPERS, or that history is no indicator of future performance. And even if they know this, they’re under tremendous pressure to keep silent. So the normal contribution remains too low, and the catch-up payments mushroom.

Finally, to be eminently fair, we must acknowledge that since modest bungalows on lots so small you have to choose between a swing set or a trampoline for the kids are now going for about a million bucks each in most of Orange County, making a quarter million per year ain’t what it used to be. But there’s the rub. Because until the people who work for the government are subject to the same economic challenges as the citizens they serve, it is very unlikely we’ll see any pressure to lower the cost of living. Everything – land, energy, transportation, water, materials, etc. – costs far more than it should, thanks to deliberate political policies and financial mismanagement that creates artificial scarcity. But hey – artificial scarcity inflates asset bubbles, which helps keep those pension funds marginally solvent.

Cost-of-living reform, if such a thing can be characterized, must accompany pension reform. What virulent meme might encapsulate all of this complexity?

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

Reinstating Program for Low-Income Seniors – What Took So Long?

Property tax assistance for low-income seniors, the blind and the disabled is available again. In 2009, the Legislature ended the Property Tax Postponement (PTP) program that for 40 years had allowed low-income seniors, the blind and the disabled to defer payment of their property taxes.

That the PTP program is back is good news, but the question beproperty taxgs to be asked, why was a program that for vulnerable homeowners could mean the difference between remaining in the homes where they had resided for decades or being forced out into the street, canceled in the first place?

The answer is a sad commentary on how Sacramento works when political insiders think no one is looking.

First, it is important to recognize the unofficial motto of the state Legislature, which is, “When you’ve got it you spend it.” This is what then Senate leader David Roberti said in response to Gov. George Deukmejian’s effort to return excess tax revenue to taxpayers in 1987. Unsaid, of course, is that lawmakers are equally willing to spend even when they don’t “got it.” This helps explain why, even before the economic meltdown in 2008, the state budget was running a deficit of billions of dollars.

When the recession came, and state revenues declined, the Legislature’s response was to raise taxes on Californians whose economic fortunes had also plummeted. Lawmakers raised sales taxes and income taxes. They even went after parents by cutting the tax deduction for dependent children in half.

While taxpayers got a haircut, the highest paid state workers in the nation were fully protected. Bureaucrats who had been given furlough days to cut costs, were fully reimbursed for lost pay.

The Sacramento politicians made a few cuts to limit the increase in state spending, but spending, nevertheless, continued to expand. The motivation for cutting at least one program, was clearly mean spirited.  To save a few million dollars in the current budget, legislators eliminated the Property Tax Postponement program.  However, this program, so important to low income seniors, was never a handout or an entitlement. The state recovered all costs, plus interest, when the home was sold or the owner passed away.

Taxpayer advocates immediately set about lobbying for the return of the PTP program, a program that pays for itself. Finally, even thick skinned lawmakers were embarrassed and approved reinstatement of the PTP in 2014.  However, claiming that time was needed to train staff and prepare paperwork, the benefit was not to be available for another two years.

Time is up and the Office of the Controller will begin taking applications in October. To be eligible for property tax postponement, a homeowner must be 62, or blind, or have a disability. The homeowner must also have a household income of $35,500 or less, have at least 40 percent equity in the property, and occupy the home as the primary residence, among other requirements.

The interest rate for taxes postponed under PTP is seven percent per year. Postponed taxes and interest become due and payable under PTP when the homeowner moves or sells the property, transfers title, defaults on a senior lien, refinances, obtains a reverse mortgage, or passes away.

Funding for the program is limited and is available on a first-come, first-served basis. The program application and details are on Controller Yee’s website or by phone at (800) 952-5661.

However, taxpayers who need this assistance must remain vigilant. If lawmakers think no one will notice, they may throw the PTP overboard again, as they did in 2009.

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 the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Teachers Union Assault on Charter Schools

school education studentsWith the increasing popularity of charter schools in California, special-interest opposition to them has grown, primarily among those most threatened by their success: the state’s powerful teachers unions.

With more than 1,200 charter schools in California and with an estimated 580,000 students attending charter schools in the 2015-16 school year, the state boasts more charter schools and charter school students than any other in the country. According to the California Charter Schools Association, approximately 158,000 students are on wait lists hoping to attend such schools.

Clearly, they are popular and there is public demand for them. Perhaps it’s the flexibility and accountability of the schools. Maybe it’s to avoid the poor performance of the typical public school, which protects some underperforming teachers with tenure and other rules. Whatever it is that attracts so many parents to charter schools, something about them is upsetting to the state’s teachers unions.

On August 31, the California Teachers Association announced it was launching the “Kids Not Profits” campaign. The stated goal of their efforts is to garner “more accountability and transparency of California charter schools.” But that’s not all. The campaign further aims to expose “the coordinated agenda by a group of billionaires to divert money from California’s neighborhood public schools to privately-managed charter schools.” And that is where the misdirection, deception and political chicanery begin.

For those without expertise in the charter school movement, keep one thing in mind: Charter schools are public schools. They just approach teaching and kids’ learning differently than the neighborhood public schools that are overburdened by political limitations and bureaucracy, much of which has been perpetuated and sustained by union leaders.

The idea that billionaires are trying to enrich themselves by taking away money from local schools is not only false but an inflammatory scare tactic meant to denigrate the good work philanthropists are doing in charter schools to help repair the broken, status quo public school system that other special interests, like the unions, prefer.

The Kids Not Profits website tries to demonize these efforts by pointing out that charter school advocates spent over $11 million in the June 6 primary to influence state legislative races and school board elections, because they “want private corporations to be able to profit from public education.” Their claims are patently false and not grounded in fact.

Take, for example, one of the state’s — and nation’s — chief advocates for charter schools, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. In January, Hastings announced a $100 million fund to help improve access to quality education. He is giving money to schools — not trying to “profit” or take money from public education.

On the other hand, what CTA neglects to mention in its campaign is that it has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into political campaigns over the past couple of decades, including $4.2 million from January through the end of June this year via its Issues PAC, plus more than $1 million through the Association for Better Citizenship to influence local races. Then there’s the nearly $1 million spent by the California Federation of Teachers to support candidates and ballot initiatives. And that doesn’t take into account the millions they will spend on other political fights in November.

It’s also important to understand how much “profit” the unions take out of California schools. In 2009 alone, the CTA’s “income was more than $186 million, all of it tax-exempt,” according to an analysis of public records by Troy Senik, writing for City Journal. The income the union collects year after year comes directly from taxpayer-funded teachers’ paychecks. Imagine if that money could stay with good teachers or was spent directly in the classroom for students.

There’s nothing wrong with donating to political campaigns. What matters is whether the outcomes they seek are reasonable. Unfortunately, the outcomes desired by the teachers unions just happen to be a status quo where their interests are catered to, regardless of their effects on students. And that’s why they are threatened by charter schools — because they lose revenue for their political agendas

In the past month, local unions like United Teachers Los Angeles, which is best remembered for threatening to strike in 2014 if its members didn’t receive a 17.6 percent raise, have also gone on the offensive against the education reform community.

UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl announced in August that the union was launching an ad campaign carrying “messages that billionaires should not be driving the public school agenda.”

“This is a major intervention in shaping the public narrative,” Caputo-Pearl told members at the union’s 2016 conference, which featured repeated attacks on charter schools and those who fund some of them.

The dishonest narrative the unions want to present is that they are the ones standing up against sinister billionaires who just want to make money. The problem is, it is just not true.

Never mind that teachers unions in California get more than their fair share of the multibillion-dollar education budget in the state, and have considerable leverage in how education funds are allocated and what policies govern public schools. They have had control of public education for a long time, so it is they, the union leaders, who should be held responsible for the deterioration of California public schools — a public school system where more than half the students lack proficiency in math and English. It’s indefensible.

Attempting to shift the blame for shortcomings in our education system on reformers and charter school advocates is purely diversionary. It isn’t charter school proponents who are undermining education. Nor is the current state of affairs the fault of the average teacher who works hard every day to educate the children of our state.

Behind the façade of “kids not profits” — and whatever public narrative unions are trying to spin — the unions’ goals are fundamentally about one thing, and that is political power. This is what thwarts progress in our education system. Instead of embracing innovation and progress to help students, the union bosses have chosen to stifle any form of competition and reform. Their latest campaign is just another sad and frustrating attempt to deceive the public and maintain political power.

Brian Calle is the opinion editor for the Southern California News Group and Sal Rodriguez is a staff columnist.

This piece was originally published by the Orange County Register and the Southern California News Group.

Tax on Candy Should Be Rejected … Again

candyIt’s not often that California voters support a ballot measure by over a two-thirds vote but that’s what they did in 1992 when rejecting a sales tax on snack foods and candy. Now Assembly members Lorena Gonzalez and Cristina Garcia want the voters to take a second look at that action by supporting a tax on snack foods and candy to offset a tax cut on feminine hygiene products, diapers and toilet paper. But when you look at the numbers, it appears a gambit to raise taxes rather than a balancing act of budget priorities.

Gov. Brown vetoed the tax exemptions on tampons and diapers, saying the state budget is “precariously balanced.” In total, cutting taxes on diapers and tampons would reduce revenue by $45 million. However the substitute proposal by Assembly members Gonzalez and Garcia would add $1 billion in revenue.

Voters put a prohibition on taxing food products in the state constitution, adding snack foods, bottled water and candy, following a tax increase on those particular products to help balance the state budget during the early 1990s recession. One year later more than 66 percent of the voters supported Proposition 163 to remove the tax on snacks and set up a safeguard in the constitution against taxing food.

The tax on snacks was so unpopular that no argument supporting the tax was published in the official state ballot voter guide. In the argument in favor of Prop. 163 signed by two Democratic Assembly members and an executive with the bottled water association, the tax was called regressive and a first step in taxing all food.

Certainly, times have changed in the last 25 years. For instance, look at the reversal in support of legalizing marijuana then and now. However, snack foods are more common and more widely accepted than cannabis. Are the changes in attitudes so dramatic that a two-thirds support for cancelling a tax on snack foods can be turned into support to tax such products?

The Assembly members supporting a renewed candy tax might embrace a sentence in the Proposition 163 ballot argument that argues California has a proud tradition of not taxing the essentials of life. In pushing the tax cut on diapers and feminine products they have made a similar charge. But substituting a tax on food products for other items considered essential for life and adding hundreds of millions of dollars to the state and local treasuries in the transaction seems more like a budgetary shell game.

The idea of a constitutional amendment to tax candy and snacks puts another focus on the battle over Democrats securing a two-thirds margin in the legislature. With a two-thirds vote, a constitutional amendment eliminating the constitutional provision provided by Prop. 163 could be put on the ballot.

If successful, another line from the ballot argument of Prop. 163 would be put into question. If Prop. 163 passed, the argument’s authors promised, taxes on candy and food products would be prohibited “forever.”

We shall see.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Controversial Climate Change Legislation Signed by Gov. Jerry Brown

Photo courtesy Steve Rhodes, flickr

Photo courtesy Steve Rhodes, flickr

Over staunch opposition on his right, Gov. Jerry Brown signed several new climate bills into law, aiming to keep California on the regulatory trajectory first set during former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration.

That suite of laws, “in which polluters pay to offset emissions under a declining cap, is on tenuous footing amid litigation and uncertainty in the Legislature,” the Sacramento Bee noted. The idea of a new set of rules, “negotiated by Brown and legislative leaders last month, was significant to many moderate Democrats who viewed spending in their districts as critical to buttress a state climate program that has faced heavy resistance from industry,” the paper added.

Complex divisions

Some Democrats with that stance have worried that national and statewide populist sentiment could pose an especially sharp threat to their political fortunes this election year. Complicating the ideological picture still further, “many lawmakers representing low-income communities of color made themselves a force in the state’s climate change debate after complaints that existing policies weren’t doing enough to benefit the districts they represent,” as the Los Angeles Times noted.

But Democrats further to the left did not want to back down, or be seen as backing down, to industry interests. At the same time, however, their own interests have not shifted measurably closer to Gov. Brown’s, which have wound up at loggerheads with party members to his left over allocations to projects such as the state’s bullet train. With talks moving slowly, “Brown negotiated the spending plan with top Democratic legislative leaders Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon of Paramount and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles,” according to KPBS. “It was approved on the last day of the legislative session, Aug. 31.”

Big ticket

Environmental activists and policymakers embracing their cause had to scramble to craft the fresh scheme in a way that seemed to ensure it could survive a spirited fight during the legislative process. “The new plan, outlined in SB32, involves increasing renewable energy use, putting more electric cars on the road, improving energy efficiency, and curbing emissions from key industries,” NPR reported. “Brown signed another bill, AB197, that gives lawmakers more oversight of regulators and provides aid to low-income or minority communities located near polluting facilities such as oil refineries and factories.” All told, the package amounted to some $900 million in outlays sourced from the state’s cap-and-trade revenues. “The money represents two-thirds of the available funding from California’s carbon-emission fee,” noted KPBS.

On hand for Brown’s signing ceremony in Fresno, Republican Mayor Ashley Swearengin touted the prospect of statewide infrastructure construction associated with Brown’s environmental agenda, which would include the long-simmering high-speed rail effort. With success, “Swearengin added, the Valley will see a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the next 20 years,” the Business Journal noted.

Lingering resistance

But business, energy and conservative groups, which had struggled to turn the tide against the bills, quickly vented their frustration. “Taken together, SB32 and AB197 impose severe caps on the emission of greenhouse gases in California, without requiring the regulatory agencies to give any consideration to the impacts on our economy, disruptions in everyone’s daily lives or the fact that California’s population will grow almost 50 percent between 1990 and 2030,” said Allan Zaremberg, California Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, in a statement.

Under Zaremberg’s leadership, the organization has spearheaded litigation targeting the current cap-and-trade regime. “A state appellate court is considering a challenge by the California Chamber of Commerce, which argues the fee is a tax that needed support from two-thirds of the Assembly and Senate in order to be valid,” KPBS recalled. “Republicans have in the past said it’s irresponsible to spend money generated from a fee being challenged in court.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Bills inspired by Stanford rape case miss big part of the problem

Brock turnerBrock Turner is a free man, and now California’s justice system is on trial.

When the former Stanford student was sentenced in June to only six months in prison for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, a sickening thud landed like a punch to the gut of millions of people who were following the high-profile trial.

Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky could have sentenced Turner to 14 years in prison and prosecutors asked for six. But despite the prosecutors’ recommendation and an impassioned letter from the victim describing her life-destroying ordeal, read aloud in court, the judge sentenced the young man from a wealthy family to just half a year in prison. “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” Persky explained.

In the uproar that followed, Persky moved to civil court and no longer hears criminal cases, a recall effort was launched against him, and the California Legislature sent two bills to the governor’s desk.

AB701 modifies the definition of rape to include selected acts that under current law are charged as “sexual assault” and “forcible sodomy.”

AB2888 ensures that sex crimes against an unconscious or severely intoxicated victim trigger mandatory prison sentences without any argument over whether “force” was used to commit the crime.

Another, SB813, removes the statute of limitations so rapists can be charged no matter how long ago the crime occurred.

Do these laws heighten the risk of wrongful convictions?

Try this test: Instead of thinking about Brock Turner, think about the three Duke lacrosse players who were wrongfully accused of gang rape in 2006. After a year, North Carolina’s attorney general declared the three men innocent. The Durham district attorney was convicted of contempt and disbarred.

The challenge is to get the law right so innocent defendants can clear their names and innocent victims can get justice, sometimes in cases where only two people were present, and one was unconscious or close to it.

Perhaps the law should address what happened to Turner’s victim after the crime.

In her statement to the court, the victim said she originally thought Turner would “formally apologize, and we will both move on.” Instead, “he hired a powerful attorney, expert witnesses, private investigators who were going to try and find details about my personal life to use against me.”

That’s what happens to victims of sexual assault when the perpetrator is wealthy or powerful enough to use character assassination as part of a legal or public relations defense. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Daily News