Some Candidates’ Tax Plans Go in ‘Less Freedom’ Bracket

TaxesAmerica’s first income tax was temporary. Abraham Lincoln signed it into law in 1861 to help pay for the Civil War.

Although that tax and a later one in 1894 were challenged as unconstitutional, the issue was settled in 1913 with the 16th Amendment, which changed the Constitution specifically to allow income taxes.

The income tax in 1913 was nothing like the one we know today. It was a flat 1 percent on income over $3,000, topping out at 7 percent for earnings above $500,000. Of course, most Americans earned a lot less than $3,000 in 1913, when you could buy a pound of sirloin steak for 24 cents.

Today a pound of sirloin steak is enough to make you swear off red meat, and the income tax is enough to make you swear, just generally.

The U.S. government now lays claim to as much as 39.6 percent of the income of individuals in the highest of seven brackets, and our corporate tax rate is 35 percent, among the highest in the world. The tax code is ornamented with multitudes of rewards and punishments, the result of a century of political deal-making for the benefit of various constituencies and the promotion of assorted goals.

The federal income tax has become a massive weapon of control over the lives of the American people, exactly the opposite of what the framers of the Constitution intended. With outrageously high tax rates, the government can force people or businesses to “voluntarily” take actions that will reduce their taxes. This neatly sidesteps the constitutional limits on the federal government’s power and makes your life the plaything of elected politicians.

As the tax plans of the 2016 presidential candidates are released, watch for the motive of the proposed changes. Are they designed to increase your freedom or to increase the government’s management of your freedom?

Dr. Ben Carson has proposed a flat tax of 10 percent to 15 percent. Score that as an increase to freedom. With a flat tax, the government has no say in what you do with your money.

Donald Trump has proposed a top tax rate of 25 percent, which begins at $150,000 of personal income, and a tax rate of 15 percent for all business income. His business tax rate would apply to people who work freelance, own a small business or otherwise derive income from business activity instead of wages. Trump’s plan includes a tax rate of zero for income up to $25,000 for single filers and $50,000 for married couples filing jointly. Score the plan as an increase to freedom, with bonus points for recognizing how many people are now independent contractors instead of employees.

Bernie Sanders would increase the death tax from 40 percent on estates worth over $5 million to 65 percent on estates worth more than $3.5 million. Score that as a reduction in freedom. The money has already been taxed, and the choice of what to do with it after death rightfully belongs to the person who owns it.

Hillary Clinton would raise the tax rate on short- and medium-term capital gains from the current top rate of 23.8 percent to between 24 and 39.6 percent. She says “short-termism” is bad for the economy and hurts workers. Score that as a reduction in freedom, moving us further down the road of government interference in our personal and business decisions.

Tax-reform ideas are a window into a candidate’s philosophy of government. How much power should Washington have over our decisions? More? Less? All? None?

Once, these questions were debated in a constitutional convention. Today they’re tax proposals.

Chicago Illustrates the Importance of Prop. 13

Chicago, Carl Sandburg’s “City of the big shoulders,” is about to find out just how heavy a tax burden homeowners are able to bear. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has revealed his plan for a massive property tax increase to pay for unfunded pension obligations. And for taxpayers, it isn’t pretty. The mayor wants a $543 million increase in property taxes to cover police and fire pensions, as well as additional taxes and fees to close a projected $745 million budget shortfall.

How much this will cost the average homeowner is not yet clear. Emanuel is seeking approval from the Legislature to exempt those homes worth less than $250,000 from the increase, meaning more valuable properties would absorb the entire burden.

The uncertainty may also be contributing to a decline in home values in recent months, as shown by the Case-Shiller Home Price Index. Buyers may not be so ready to cut a deal that will see them inheriting a massive property tax hike.

In order to illustrate the seriousness of the city’s fiscal crisis, and perhaps to make it easier to extort more from property owners, Emanuel is claiming that without the additional revenue, public safety will be decimated. Twenty percent of the police force and 40 percent of firefighters will lose their jobs, he threatens.

Still, two years ago, the mayor foreshadowed the coming tax increase when he warned that in order to pay the mounting bill for government employee pensions — a bill that would triple in 2015 when a balloon payment comes due — property taxes could be forced to go up 150 percent.

This is a frightening scenario for homeowners, but not so much for homeowners in California. For us, notwithstanding equally daunting pension problems, the good news is Proposition 13. Although city mismanagement is also common to California – a number of cities have been forced to file for bankruptcy in recent years, largely due to exploding government employee pension debt – officials are prohibited by Proposition 13 from soaking property owners to cover up their dereliction. While Chicago homeowners are sitting ducks for higher property taxes, in California, increases are limited to two percent annually.

Add to the property tax limitations that Proposition 13 gives voters the final say on new local taxes and requires a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature to increase state taxes, and it becomes easier to understand why it is a target of so many Sacramento politicians, most of whom owe their election to their government employee union allies. If they can eliminate the impediments to tax increases established by Proposition 13, the politicians will be in a much better position to repay and reward their political benefactors.

Without Proposition 13 Californians could soon experience what it is like to live in Chicago without ever having to leave their homes. And it could be even worse. Chicago’s budget director has already gone on record as saying Mayor Emanuel’s property tax increase is not enough.

Originally published by

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.

Referendum to Restore Personal Choice in Vaccinations Dies

vaccine2The drive to restore California’s vaccination exemptions through the state referendum process has failed.

At stake was Senate Bill 277, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on a wave of concern that “herd immunity” among California children was compromised by a growing anti-vaccination trend. Coauthored by state Sens. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, and Ben Allen, D-Redondo Beach, SB277 “will require all children entering kindergarten to be vaccinated unless a doctor certifies that a child has a medical condition, such as allergies, preventing it,” as the Los Angeles Daily News summarized the law.

Missing the mark

After submitting signatures gathered in the hopes of meeting the legal threshold of adequate public support, organizers behind the would-be measure discovered that their numbers had fallen short: “They turned in some 228,000 signatures on petitions for a referendum to overturn the measure, far short of the number needed to qualify it for next year’s ballot,” as the Los Angeles Times reported. “Referendum supporters needed the signatures of 365,880 registered voters by Monday to place the measure before state voters in November 2016.”

Efforts to meet the requirements were bedeviled by the shoestring character of the operation. “While the campaign deployed paid signature gatherers in the final stretch before the deadline, it was largely a volunteer effort,” according to the Sacramento Bee, “a tough task given that successful initiative campaigns typically cost millions of dollars.”

Citing internal documentation, the Bee noted that some California counties weren’t represented at all in the final tally. “Organizers in six counties did not submit any signatures by the deadline, according to an initial survey of raw data from the California secretary of state’s office. While the organizers’ spreadsheet contains estimates for large population centers like Orange County, Los Angeles County and Riverside County, they did not have an estimate for 16 counties in addition to the six the secretary of state said did not submit signatures,” the paper reported.

Raising allegations

vaccination cartoonBut one of the foremost political figures behind the movement to restore the personal belief exemption to mandatory child vaccinations alleged that the signature-gathering effort had fallen victim to foul play. “The leading proponent of the effort, former Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, said in an email Monday that volunteers were coerced and threatened while collecting signatures,” according to the Associated Press. “Donnelly did not return repeated messages inquiring about the effort’s chances but said in his email that he was proud of the volunteers who worked on the campaign ‘whatever the outcome is.’” Donnelly said the push “was sabotaged from without and within by powerful forces from its very inception, but we never gave up and we never gave in.”

Although Donnelly had gained notoriety of late as an outspoken gubernatorial candidate, his charges have yet to faze supporters of the stringent vaccination mandate. In remarks to KOVR Sacramento, Pan said he supported “the right to pursue a referendum,” according to the Daily News. But Pan also told reporters he was “sure the voters of California are not interested in letting a privileged few take away the rights of all Californians to be safe from preventable disease,” the AP noted.

Plan B

As the deadline for submitting signatures neared, some anti-vaccination activists created what could be a second opportunity to accomplish objectives similar to the hoped-for referendum. In a recent message posted to Facebook, the group announced that they had filed for a so-called Parental Rights Constitutional Amendment Initiative. “The measure was filed now in part because the filing fee for initiatives is going up Jan. 1 from $200 to $2,000,” the post said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Supporters have six months to collect signatures for an initiative, far longer than 90 days provided for a referendum.”

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Remembering Allan Hoffenblum

Allan Hoffenblum 2The sudden death of Allan Hoffenblum was a tear in the fabric of California’s political world. He was an endless source of information to the media and political players who subscribed to the California Target Book which he co-founded and managed amassing much information on California’s political races.

More importantly to many of us in the political world he was a friend and a mentor.

I knew Allan for many years and was pleased to host him a number of times at the public policy class I teach at Pepperdine University. On each occasion he would re-new an old friendship with the public policy school’s then dean, Jim Wilburn, who Allan recruited to work on President Nixon’s re-elect campaign in California in 1972. Allan took pleasure in sharing his knowledge and experiences with students.

Allan managed many political campaigns once he opened his consulting business. But, it was in his role as an independent observer of the political scene that gained him his greatest following as he explained the complex, rough and tumble world of California politics with an unbiased eye. I often heard him express harsh words for the Republican Party that he worked for in the ‘60s and 70s as it slowly lost its competitive edge.

Allan liked to tell me about the time he was directing political efforts for the Republican Party and used the Proposition 13 tax revolt to boost many of his candidates. Here’s how I wrote up his story in my book, The Legend of Proposition 13 that was published a dozen years ago:

Hoffenblum remembered that one of the candidates for Assembly, Dennis Brown, came to see him with some interesting polling information. Brown’s poll consisted of two questions. The first question asked how voters intended to vote in his race. The answers showed that newcomer Brown was substantially behind. The second question asked, if you knew that Dennis Brown supported Proposition 13 and his opponent opposed it how would you vote? The numbers nearly flip-flopped. Hoffenblum decided to poll other districts using similar questions. The results were nearly the same.

Hoffenblum sought out Jarvis and put together letters in sixteen races, including the State Senate, the Assembly and Congress, all tailored to each particular race. Jarvis’s letters stated simply that the Republican newcomer had supported Proposition 13 and that the Democratic incumbent had opposed it. The letters hit just a few days before the election and caught the incumbents off guard.

Fourteen of sixteen incumbents opposed by Jarvis were defeated. Pro-Prop 13 Republicans elected to the legislature for the first time were dubbed “Proposition 13 babies.” Hoffenblum said, “It was the biggest election landslide for California Republicans since the election of Warren Harding.”

Times have changed but Allan’s perceptive analysis of the California political scene was eternal. Many, including me, will miss him.

You may read more about Allan Hoffenblum’s career in the Sacramento Bee here and the Capitol Weekly here.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Politichicks “Horrified” by “Taxifornia 2016”

James Lacy is the Stephen King of California political writing. His latest book, Taxifornia 2016: 14 Essays on the Future of California, illustrates the nightmare-come-true for the once Golden State by exposing the facts and the political realities fueling California’s deepening fiscal problems. But unlike a Stephen King fiction horror fest, the monsters in Taxifornia 2016 are real.

A sequel to Lacy’s book Taxifornia: Liberals’ Laboratory to Bankrupt America, Taxifornia 2016 is a collection of 14 essays authored by conservative and libertarian writers. Like a documentary on the making of a gruesome horror film, Taxifornia 2016 is a behind-the-scenes explanation detailing how California has become the Democrat party’s Frankenstein monster threatening to wreak havoc on its unsuspecting taxpayers.

California’s 800 pound Frankenstein in the political living room is the unfunded pension liability made possible by the alliance of Democrat officials and unions. Taxifornia 2016 is a damning indictment of that relationship. The unfunded liabilities for the state’s two largest pension system, CalPERS and CalSTRS, total “at least $190 billion combined” and may actually exceed $500 billion depending on projected rates of return (p. 131). The Little Hoover Commission has concluded that such rising pension costs “will crush” California government. Lacy and his contributors expose how the deals are made and the names of those in the backrooms making those deals — Senator Dianne Feinstein’s husband Richard Blum and Secretary of State Kamala Harris to name just two.


Stockton’s Pension Struggles Offer Lessons for California

StocktonIt was an official document, circulated by former Republican Assemblyman and Board of Equalization member Dean Andal, who is well respected for his understanding of fiscal matters. The city pooh-poohed the suggestion, and provided its own economic analysis, although it refused to share the detailed data with the media or the public.

The bad news was easy to believe. Stockton’s bankruptcy exit plan didn’t address the fiscal elephant in City Hall (unfunded pension liabilities). The city was following the basic route taken by the Bay Area city of Vallejo, which also went bankrupt and soon again faced deep fiscal problems.

The crux of Stockton’s plan was a voter-approved tax and spending plan. Measure A raised the city’s sales tax by three-quarters of a cent. Measure B was an advisory vote for how the money would be spent. The tax-hike campaign promised significant new spending on popular programs, especially law enforcement in that crime-plagued city. Voters approved the measures.

Now, after collecting the tax for 15 months, the data seems to confirm what Andal had been saying. “After only one full budget year, the city has already broken three fundamental promises and is destined to return to insolvency within four years,” wrote Andal in a letter this month to supporters and opponents of the 2013 ballot measures.

First, the city promised to hire 120 net new police officers over three years, with 40 new officers hired by last July. The city hired only 13 new officers so far. Second, the city promised the new sales-tax measure would raise $29.5 million by July, but fell $1.4 million short. Third, the “plan of adjustment” expected its pension payments to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System to be nearly $23 million – but the actual costs were $23.7 million higher.

The Stockton situation is of statewide importance because it’s clear the state’s unfunded pension liability crisis has not gone away even in relatively good economic times. “All these budget problems show up at the service level,” Andal told me. He says Stockton faces “service insolvency,”  i.e., a budget so troubled the city cannot provide adequate levels of public services.

Stockton spent $38 million in legal fees in a nationally watched bankruptcy proceeding. Judge Christopher Klein ruled that cities could cut pension benefits in bankruptcy. Stockton officials chose not to do so, relying instead on other cuts and sales-tax increase. Now that their numbers might not be adding up, it puts the city in a difficult position, Andal argues, given it already has the highest sales tax allowed by law, the highest utility tax in the Central Valley and some of the highest developer fees.

Other cities will likewise find limited ability to raise new revenues as CalPERS continues its plan to ramp up its bill for cities that participate in its pension plan. Yet Sacramento officials act as if the pension problem is gone. There’s hardly an issue legislators didn’t try to address in the recently concluded legislative session, yet nothing of substance to deal with growing pension debts. The good-government group California Common Sense confirms that the state’s unfunded pension liabilities continue to show a pattern of steady increases.

Pension reformers led by former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and former San Diego city councilman Carl DeMaio have proposed a statewide measure that would subject most local pension increases to voter approval. They say the title and summary Attorney General Kamala Harris offered for that measure includes the same union-backed poison pill (claiming the initiative undermines constitutional benefit protections) she used for previous pension reform measures. They plan take the matter to court.

So nothing much has changed at the statewide level, with the state political establishment squelching reform. Sadly, it might take another economic downturn to get Sacramento officials to check out the problems in a city just 50 miles from the Capitol.

Originally published by

Steven Greenhut is the California columnist for U-T San Diego.

Excitement Surrounds CA GOP Prospects

Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey, flickr

Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey, flickr

When California Republican activists converged on the Anaheim Marriott in mid-September, they experienced something they hadn’t felt in years.


“It’s an exciting time for the delegates as we embark on a journey in 2016 by selling principles of limited government and holding the line on taxes,” said Allen Wilson, a delegate to the state party and member of the Los Angeles County Republican Central Committee. “That resonates with millions of Californians.”

Since former State Senator Jim Brulte took over the helm in 2013, the state party has made steady progress in picking up legislative seats and rebuilt its party operations. Last November, California Republicans defeated two Democratic incumbents — the first time in two decades that a Democratic incumbent has lost re-election to the Legislature.

Brulte also put Democrats on the defensive in the Central Valley, forcing the state party to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to rescue Assemblyman Adam Gray in his re-election campaign.

CA GOP will be tested in 2016

Although Brulte deserves credit for a shrewd campaign strategy and effective fundraising, Republicans’ legislative gains in 2014 were aided, in part, by a record low turnout. The 2014 electorate also skewed heavily toward older, more conservative voters.

According to an analysis by Political Data, Inc., less than 10 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted last November.

“In California, an 18- or 19-year-old was more likely to be arrested this year than actually vote in one of the statewide elections,” Paul Mitchell of Political Data, Inc., told KQED earlier this year.

Next year, Republicans won’t be so lucky, when the presidential election is expected to draw more young people to the polls.

But, this time around, state GOP activists say that the party is doing a better job of reaching the younger generation as demonstrated by the turnout at the state party convention.

“The most exciting thing is to see the numbers of young people in attendance,” said Dr. Alexandria Coronado, a longtime Republican activist and former president of the Orange County Board of Education. “They are energized and ready to work for the conservative cause.”

CA GOP: “No Longer in Hospice Care”

Republicans have reason to be optimistic, but state political observers say the party still has a long way to go.

“The California Republican Party used to exist in the hospice care of American politics, but now they’re undergoing plastic surgery,” said John Phillips, an Orange County Register columnist and co-host of “The Drive Home with Jillian Barberie and John Phillips” on KABC AM 790. “Unfortunately, it’s the doctor that did Kanye West’s mom.”

Phillips believes that Republicans’ best chance is to embrace “tough on crime,” fiscal conservatives.

“If they want to expand the base, they need to run fiscal conservatives who are hard on criminals and are social libertarians,” Phillips said. “Otherwise, have fun handing over control of the state to the SEIU.”

That approach has worked in San Diego, where Mayor Kevin Faulconer has achieved sky-high popularity. There’s even talk that Faulconer won’t draw a major Democratic opponent in 2016.

Nearly one hundred delegates and guests made the short journey up from San Diego County and shared their optimism with their fellow GOP activists from around the Golden State.

“I’d say the convention was a success as we re-adopted a solid, conservative platform and adopted a common sense rule to skip two conventions in the ‘on’ year,” said San Diego County Republican Chairman Tony Krvaric. “A lot will depend on how the presidential race develops, but I’m very optimistic about our chances to have a ‘Republican wave’ in 2016 which will have reverberations all the way down the ticket.”

That positive attitude was echoed throughout the convention halls.

“This working weekend made me realize how far we have come,” former Downey city councilman Mario A. Guerra, who ran a strong but unsuccessful State Senate campaign in 2014, wrote on Facebook, “and how much more we need to do here in California.”

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Should’ve Left Markets Alone

HaggenWho’s to blame for the Haggen grocery disaster?

Haggen last week announced it was pulling out of California, Arizona and Nevada, abandoning most of the 146 Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions groceries it bought early this year. Haggen blames Albertsons and has sued it. Plenty of others blame Haggen, saying the small chain had no business buying all those stores.

But I think most of the blame goes to the Federal Trade Commission. It never should have ordered those stores to be sold in the first place.

The FTC has a weird obsession with what it considers monopolies. Whenever two sizable chains merge, some nameless FTC bureaucrat uses some opaque formula – well, hey, nobody really knows whether they use a formula or just flip coins – to come up with some split-the-baby “solution” to prevent the much feared “monopoly.” So when Albertsons decided to buy the Safeway chain, the unknown FTC bureaucrat got busy playing SimCity with the West Coast grocery market. “You can keep the two stores here but you must sell that one over there. …”

In the end, the FTC said that if Albertsons and Safeway wanted to merge, they had to sell 168 stores. Haggen, an 18-store chain in the Pacific Northwest, agreed to take 146 of them, many in California.

Why did these stores have to be sold? Well, the FTC apparently believes that a single owner could exert some kind of neighborhood monopoly power simply by owning two stores that are close to each other. (And no, I can’t explain why Starbucks apparently is exempt from this rule.)

But exactly what kind of monopoly could two neighborhood stores have, anyway? The FTC fears the two stores could raise their prices. But if they did that, what would you do if you were a customer? You’d decide that you are not stuck with only Vons, Albertsons or Pavilions. You can go to Gelson’s, Ralphs, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or a newcomer named Grocery Outlet Bargain Market. You can buy groceries when you make your biweekly trip to Costco or Target. You can stop at any convenience store or in nearly any gasoline station on the way home to get an item or two. You can have Amazon deliver groceries to your door if you want. The grocery market is vibrant, chock-full of choices and competitive – now more than ever. Why is the FTC wringing its bureaucratic hands over this phantom monopoly?

What the FTC doesn’t appreciate is that two stores operating close to each other would enjoy economies of scale and – since they operate in the larger, very competitive universe – would be more inclined to lower their prices, not raise them. It would be a benefit to consumers to let stores operate close to each other.

But alas, because of the FTC’s weird obsession with phantom monopolies, it forced Albertsons to unload the stores earlier this year. Things unraveled quickly. Albertsons sued Haggen for allegedly failing to pay for all the inventory. The new Haggen stores were widely knocked for having high prices, and customers deserted. (Proof of the very competitive grocery market.) Haggen sued for $1 billion, claiming Albertsons gave it misleading pricing information. Haggen filed for Chapter 11 early this month, closed 27 stores and then last week decided to walk away from most of the rest of the stores it bought from Albertsons. It’s a disaster.

Funny, but in announcing the decree to sell the stores in January, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said: “Absent a remedy, this acquisition would likely lead to higher prices and lower quality for supermarket shoppers in 130 communities. This settlement will ensure that consumers in those communities continue to benefit from competition among their local supermarkets.”

Instead, because of the FTC’s “remedy,” supermarket shoppers got higher prices, closed stores and a loss of competition. Workers lost their jobs.

In the Haggen grocery disaster, the most damaging monopoly power was that wielded by the FTC.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

ditor of the Los Angeles Business Journal

New Carbon Rules Press Aggressive Environmental Agenda

car exhaust1In the wake of a big legislative setback, Gov. Jerry Brown’s wish to use regulations to cut fuel emissions is swiftly coming true.

This month, Democratic lawmakers couldn’t muster enough votes to slash gasoline use by half within 15 years. Now, the state Air Resources Board has taken action widely seen as compensatory. “The action, coming two weeks after a stinging defeat for Gov. Jerry Brown’s planned 50 percent cut in petroleum use by 2030, signaled his administration’s determination to press forward with an aggressive environmental agenda through the regulatory process rather than by legislation,” noted the New York Times.

Resurgent regulations

In a unanimous, 9-0 vote, the board chose to reactivate California’s standards on low-carbon fuel, created years ago but recently held in legal limbo. The regime constituted “the first regulation of its kind in the U.S. when it was established in a 2007 executive order by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger,” as the Wall Street Journal reported. “It had been frozen since 2013, as the state made revisions to the law following a court challenge.”

“The California regulation further tightens the state’s emissions regulations, already the most stringent in the U.S. It requires fuel makers to reduce emissions by developing cleaner fuels or adopting greater use of biofuels. It also requires fuel producers to take into account all emissions for delivering gasoline, diesel or biofuels to California customers.”

Tweaks to the rules made in the wake of the court challenge included “streamlining the application process for alternative fuel producers seeking a carbon intensity score,” according to Ethanol Producer Magazine.

The interventions quickly drew howls from the oil and gas industry, which views the rules’ requirements as unattainable. Tiffany Roberts, director for fuels and climate policy at the Western States Petroleum Association, told the Sacramento Business Journal they weren’t feasible, suggesting that “even if oil businesses are able to incorporate those pollution-cutting methods, they still cannot meet the program’s aggressive standards.” Defenders of the plan, meanwhile, focused on its perceived benefits. “It will drive new technologies, not only in transportation fuel but in hybrid cars, electric cars and other means of transportation,” Pacific Ethanol spokesman Paul Koehler told the Business Journal.

Political heat

Industry interests haven’t fueled the only criticism of Brown’s regulatory approach, however. Earlier this month, the administration heard out the complaints of a gaggle of state lawmakers — including Democrats — frustrated by the activism and assertiveness of the Air Resources Board. Their debate with Brown “turns on questions of how the state can meet its environmental goals with the right balance between the executive branch, which prizes the ability to act independently, and state lawmakers, who want their own stamp on government programs,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

That disagreement came to a head amid the collapse of the Senate’s planned 50 percent cut in statewide petroleum use. “If the board made decisions adversely impacting constituents, many of whom have already been struggling economically, the consequences could be dire,” uneasy Democrats feared, as CalWatchdog previously noted. “What’s more, angry voters would have little way to respond but at the ballot box.”

While state Senate pro Tem Kevin de Leon portrayed the cut’s failure as the consequence of a massive industry campaign, Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, instead focused on the Air Resources Board’s “tremendous arrogance,” the Times reported, “noting that he’s never taken campaign money from the oil industry but remains skeptical about the measure.”

But the board’s recent successes at advancing its agenda suggested its influence was set to grow. Tipped by concerned scientists, it launched the investigation into the Volkswagen Group of America that revealed the auto company’s secret years-long use of “a defeat device to circumvent CARB and […] EPA emission test procedures,” as emissions compliance chief Annette Hebert revealed.

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L.A. Teachers Union Livid Over Plan to Charterize 260 Schools

According to a memo unearthed by Los Angeles Times writer Howard Blume, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and other charter advocates want to create 260 new charter schools in Los Angeles, enrolling at least 130,000 students. The document includes various strategies that include how to raise money, recruit teachers, provide outreach to parents and navigate the political battle that will undoubtedly ensue. In addition to Broad, other education philanthropists named in the plan are David Geffen and Elon Musk, as well as the Gates, Bloomberg, Annenberg and Hewlett foundations.

Judging by the United Teachers of Los Angeles response, you’d think that Hitler had reinvaded Poland. In full battle-mode, the union staged a press conference and protest rally in front of the new Broad Art Museum in downtown L.A. last Sunday. Led by UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl, we were regaled with the usual barrage of bilge. Perhaps most indicative of the union leader’s ideas, which come right out of a Politburo manual on the importance of the centralization of power, “Deregulation has not worked in our economy, has not worked in healthcare and has not worked in housing, and it is not going to work in public education.” Other telling comments from the union boss included:

  • “The billionaire attacks must stop.”
  • Charters are “unregulated” and will create “inappropriate competition.”
  • “Billionaires should not be running public education”
  • Citing alleged horror stories, “Broad and John Arnold funded New Orleans after Katrina”

Not to be outdone by Caputo-Pearl’s ludicrous comments, retired kindergarten teacher and protester Cheryl Ortega groused, “Charter schools are destroying public education. Mr. Broad wants to own 50 percent of our schools. … That’s untenable.” (You’re right, of course, Cheryl – it’s a business venture! An 81 year-old man worth $7.6 billion has an evil plan to increase his wealth by buying our schools.)

The billionaire-phobia has apparently spread from unionistas to their Los Angeles school board cronies. New board member Scott Schmerelson is really ticked. “The concept amazes and angers me. Far from being in the best interest of children, it is an insult to teaching and administrative professionals, an attack on democratic, transparent and inclusive public school governance and negates accountability to taxpayers.” Board president Steve Zimmer, chock full of righteous indignation, claims that the Broad plan to expand the number of charter schools in the district “represents a strategy to bring down LAUSD … .”

While much of the naysaying can be laughed off, some of their talking points do need to be debunked. Perhaps worst of all was Caputo-Pearl’s “unregulated” crack. Nothing could be further from the truth. As public schools, charters are indeed regulated, though not as heavily as the sclerotic traditional public schools. While LAUSD is in part strangled by its bulky union contract, only a small percentage of charter teachers are unionized. The non-unionization factor – along with his far left politics – forms the basis of his “inappropriate competition” claim.

Something that Caputo-Pearl doesn’t address is the fact that wherever charters emerge, parents flock to them. As the California Charter School Association points out, there are 40,000 kids who are on charter school waitlists in Los Angeles, unable to enroll in a high quality school of their parents choosing because there aren’t enough seats. Broad’s proposal would certainly delight those families.

And truly absurd was Caputo-Pearl’s insinuation that New Orleans schools hit the skids after Katrina. While the hurricane did devastating damage to the Crescent City, a much more vibrant all-charter school system sprang from the catastrophic floods. Courtesy of the Heartland Institute:

Before Katrina (2005) After Katrina (2015)
State district ranking 67 out of 68 41 out of 69
Percent attending failing schools 62 7
Percent performing at or above grade level 35 62
Students receiving free or reduced lunch 77 84
Percent graduating 4 years 54.4 73
Percent attended college < 20 59

However, a closer look at many of the complaints reveals not so much anger about billionaire involvement in public education, but envy that Broad doesn’t want his largess to go to the traditional public schools. But really, why would he do that? He may as well flush his money down the toilet.

LAUSD does not need more money. The “official” per-pupil spending in L.A. is $13,993, far more than the national average. This dollar amount is really not accurate, however, because it omits a few “minor” expenses like the cost of building and maintaining schools, interest on various payments, bonds, etc. When all these expenditures are added in, the spending figure comes to about $30,000 per student per year.

And just what kind of return-on-investment do we get? Very little, if the just released California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores are any indication. The test results showed that only one-third of L.A. students performed up to their grade level in English and one-fourth did so in math. (Not surprisingly, L.A. charter students far out-paced kids who went to traditional public school schools.)

Perhaps New Orleans is the model the philanthropists should look at. Mr. Broad wants to raise almost a half-billion for his new project, resulting in half of Los Angeles schools becoming charters. Maybe he and his partners can be coaxed to throw in another half-billion and make the city an all-charter district like New Orleans.

As for L.A. School Board chief Zimmer’s comment that more charter schools are going to “bring down LAUSD” – nope, LAUSD has managed to do that all by itself. Luckily, charter schools are there to pick up the pieces and hopefully, more children will be rescued from subpar schools in the future, thanks to Mr. Broad and his philanthropic partners. Standing ovations all around.

Originally published by

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.