California “Sanctuary State” bill a Trojan horse in waiting

If the Republican Party of California were to have a secret wish list, they would be in favor of the Assembly passing the Senate Bill 54 “Sanctuary State” legislation that has already gained approval by a party-line 27-12 tally in the Senate.

from the L.A. Times

Given the nature of the legislation where state law enforcement would refuse to co-operate with federal agencies to locate and deport undocumented residents who run afoul with the law, why would the GOP desire passage and have Governor Brown sign the bill that they have bitterly opposed?

The answer is simple. When SB-54 backfires with federal funds being taken away from California law enforcement along with what is sure to be a higher crime rate, voters are bound to take out their frustrations out at the ballot box. The Republican Party of California despite having less than one third of the seats in the Legislature and no statewide office holders may well find itself in a place to gain power once again that has long eluded them.

With California’s tight budget impaired by pension shortfalls for State workers and public assistance given to undocumented residents, losing funds from Washington, D.C., might not prove to be universally popular. Law enforcement and victims of crime are especially effected by the collateral damage SB-54 brings. This is especially true in suburban areas where the sanctuary city movement is weakest.

Where the state would be especially vulnerable is if illegal aliens/undocumented residents are not turned over to ICE and then commit serious crimes. How this could is justified by political leaders such as SB-54’s sponsor Assemblyman Kevin de Leon and candidate for governor Gavin Newsom? Is it possible to hold a pro law and order stance while trying to rationalize the victimization of the next Kate Steinle?

Even if Federal law enforcement funds being taken away from California by the Trump administration are replaced by revenues from the state budget, critics will surely claim sanctuary city legislation will result in fewer pot hole type repairs being taken care of. Even in the highly taxed progressive Golden State, there may limits of how far residents can be pushed in the name of social justice.

Public safety workers in general have been under attack by liberals in California and throughout the rest of the country. From New York with Mayor Bill de Blasio reigning in the police, to Chicago, Ferguson, Los Angeles and San Francisco, law enforcement has been put under increased scrutiny, especially in their dealings with African American citizens.

Use of deadly force, racial profiling and statistical analysis has placed law enforcement in a difficult position trying to justify their policies. Combined with civilian review boards, body cameras and politically correct interrogation procedures, those in Blue have had to adapt to what charitably can be termed defensive law enforcement procedures.

Also playing a role in the battle against crime circa 2017 has been the increased number of unprovoked violent attacks on police officers. It doesn’t take a genius to determine that this alarming trend has been enhanced by negative media coverage they have received from the fifth estate.

The bad press received by policeman has wormed its way into the local political spectrum. Recently, a group of about 400 protesters crashed a Berkeley City Council meeting to protest their involvement at an Urban Shield Expo put on by the department of Homeland Security.

The purpose of Urban Shield is to show new equipment, strategies and practice exercises to assist some 40 law enforcement agencies combat terrorist threats and violent demonstrations. As might be expected the prisoner rights organization Critical Resistance opposed advanced tactical training for law enforcement on the grounds it is oppressive, racist and discriminatory against racial minorities.

Despite a demonstration, shouting match and a couple arrests, even liberal Berkeley did not cave in (at least not that night) to having their police department skip the free federal training program. It was likely a good decision because in the past, law enforcement has been placed in multiple precarious situations in the wacky world of this progressive college town.

However, what occurred in Berkeley is not an isolated incident in California where virtually every aspect of law enforcement is challenged by well meaning groups who don’t especially like those who wear a badge. The first places they attack are any proposals to expand and modernize county jail facilities. Such tactics are the antithesis to the “build it and they will come” school of thought.

What makes this worse is that Federal dollars pay for most of these improvements. Sanctuary city proponents believe that not providing holding cells for illegal alien felons is an important component to their opposition to the activities of ICE.

Anyone wearing a uniform is subject to scrutiny by liberal media critics. Recently, extensive coverage was given to a hunger strike by some 72 inmates at Folsom correctional Institute. Sympathy was given to the prisoners who claimed lousy food, lack of exercise, isolation, poor medical care and substandard vocational training was making their lives miserable.

What wasn’t mentioned is that this group were not exactly Boy Scouts. They are serious felons who are part of an Administrative Segregation Unit. This means that those in this group have been accused of committing serious crimes while being incarcerated (including rape, murder, assault and drug smuggling). When in this program the state tries to determine if they should be prosecuted in order to add time to their mostly lengthy sentences. So if security is a bit tight with them …

Even with law enforcement being sliced and diced by progressive leaders in California, there is no move currently going on to do away with those who protect us from the bad guys. They play an important role when any type of trouble from robbery to domestic abuse ensues. A love-hate relationship has always existed between the two groups. This is why it is important for political leaders in Sacramento to be careful in their criticism of the police because one never knows when they will be needed.

Such an ever present reality is why Gov. Brown should be a follower of Aesop’s Fable reminder of “look before you leap” when it comes to signing SB-54 into law. Even though Brown is half way out the door in his fourth term, he should consider what might happen to his legacy if the sanctuary cities legislation backfires and brings his old Republican enemies into having a real say in state government once again.

Sb-54 may well turn out to be a Trojan horse in waiting. So  beware of what you wish for Jerry!

What taxpayers should know about the California budget

BudgetCalifornia voters are pretty good at figuring out what is going in the state capital when it hits them directly. For example, recent polling shows that citizen awareness of the $5.2 billion annual gas and car tax is very high and, incidentally, very negative.

But the same can’t be said when it comes to the more complicated and arcane actions of our state politicians such as the annual California state budget process. While Californians are painfully aware that taxes are very high (they’ve been watching their friends and neighbors moving out of state at record pace) they typically have little comprehension of where their tax dollars go. That’s not surprising since California ranks dead last in budget transparency according to a recent study by U.S. News & World Report.

Nonetheless, here are the main takeaways that every California taxpayer should know.

First, the budget is huge – over $125 billion in general fund spending – by far the largest budget in California history. Since the recovery began after the great recession, taxpayers have infused California’s General Fund with $41 billion and special funds by $28 billion. That translates into a 63 percent increase since 2010. And property owners have done their part as well. With real estate values fully recovered (and then some) property tax revenues are up 72 percent. This is where our schools get the lion’s share of their money.

Second, the budget is only balanced if you ignore debt. The majority party is practically breaking their arms trying to pat themselves on the back for a “balanced budget.” This is like a family celebrating the fact that they paid all their bills this month but ignoring the fact that they have a mortgage that is way beyond their means over the long term. California’s pension debt is, by some measurements, close to a trillion dollars.

Third, the budget is, as usual, full of tricks and questionable accounting. One of the more dubious ploys involves borrowing from special funds. This year, there’s a proposal to borrow $6 billion (with a “b”) from the state’s Surplus Money Investment Fund to reduce the unfunded liability of the state’s pension fund, PERS. While there is agreement that appropriating more money to PERS now helps to reduce unfunded liability in the future, that payment should come from current revenue, not a special account designed to cover ongoing operating expenses.  Let’s call this for what it is: Paying your Visa bill with your MasterCard.

The budget is being praised for adding a couple billion more to the state’s rainy day fund (technically called the Budget Stabilization Account) bringing it to over $8.4 billion. But recall during the last recession, the budget shortfall was many times that amount. Thus, while it seems like a lot of money, the state’s reserve funds remain woefully inadequate. You can’t save a penny a day for a couple of years and think it will be enough to fix the roof when it collapses.

Other trickery includes several dozen so-called “trailer bills.” These are supposed to be budget related bills – many are not – that can pass with a simple majority vote and are not subject to citizen referendum. Because they can be jammed through on short notice without citizen recourse, they are a favorite tool of the majority party to effectuate big policy changes. Two examples of this are the gutting of the California Board of Equalization – one of the few state tax agencies in America actually accountable to voters – and a blatantly political power grab by changing the law as it relates to recall elections designed solely to throw a lifeline to a tax-and-spend democrat who cast the deciding vote on the gas and car tax hike.

Bottom line? The majority party has adopted laws and policies which will unquestionably push state spending permanently higher by expanding programs, increasing welfare costs and giving their political funders – labor unions – higher compensation via costly collective bargaining agreements. Our elected leadership is driving California right off the cliff.  Thelma & Louise would be proud.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This piece was originally published by the Orange County Register 

Is a financial collapse of the United States imminent?

meltdown-620Debt, like sulfuric acid, eats away at everything.

If an individual misses a home-mortgage payment, guess what will happen? Miss a few more payments and a bank or other lender will take possession of the individual’s home.

What is the case with government debt? When government goes into debt, there are few, if any, initial consequences.

When President Andrew Jackson left office in 1837, the United States had no national debt. By 1981, 144 years later, the national debt reached $1 trillion.

Today, 36 years after 1981, the national debt is $20 trillion.

America’s debt is largely financed by the purchase of American “treasuries” (bonds, bills, and notes).

During World War II, Americans bought war bonds to help defeat Germany and Japan.

Buying war bonds was considered a patriotic duty. Famous individuals (like Hollywood actors) implored Americans to buy war bonds. Americans responded enthusiastically. If they had not, taxes would have had to go much higher to pay for the war. And who bought these war bonds? Answer: Almost all of the buyers were Americans.

Today’s $20 trillion debt is financed by bond-buyers, most of whom are residents of China, Japan, Europe and the United States.

Is buying American bonds really a safe practice?

Debt is not a problem until and unless it becomes a problem.

What would happen if buyers of American bonds decided that America, for some reason, was not a safe place for buying bonds?

If the event of such an occurrence, investors might just dump American bonds. Demand for bonds would drop. A bond worth $100,000 might fall to $1,000.

In an economic crisis, holders of American dollars might lose confidence in the American currency and rush to sell whatever dollar holdings they have. Such action would be called a “speculative attack” on the dollar.

As holders of dollars engaged in massive selling, the dollar, against other currencies, would tumble. For example, today it takes $1.27 to buy a British pound. A sinking dollar might mean that the cost of a British pound would be $2.25.

Look at the euro. Today, a euro costs $1.11. If the dollar were under attack, a euro might rise to $2.50.

A declining dollar might mean that a trip to London or Paris would become too expensive. The same would be true for Americans who wanted to buy French wine or German cars.

To protect the value of the dollar, the U.S. Federal Reserve, a federally-established bank, could raise interest rates. If interest rates went from about one percent, where they are today (in terms of what is called the “federal funds” rate), to 10 percent, foreigners might want to buy American bonds. A yield of 10 percent on a presumably safe investment would be very attractive.

High interest rates, however, could mean that a home mortgage that now has an interest rate of four percent – about $1,400 a month for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage on a $1 million dollar loan – might rise to $14,000 a month. How many Americans could afford a mortgage that required a payment of $14,000 a month? (A payment of $14,000 a month would require a borrower to pay $50 million over 30 years.)

High interest rates would bring housing construction to a halt. Car loans and other loans might not be affordable.

The consequences of high interest rates would be that construction workers, automobile workers, and others would lose their jobs, creating a severe recession or an economic depression. Unemployment could reach 30 percent or higher as it did in the 1930s.

There may never be a day of reckoning over America’s current massive debt. But history teaches otherwise.

In 1940, when Great Britain was already fighting in World War II, a British pound cost $4.03. After the war (in 1945), a British pound cost $2.80. As the post-war years continued, Britain repeatedly devalued the pound so that it now costs, as stated above, $1.27.

In this writer’s opinion, the United States is operating like someone who has used a credit card to buy a Rolls-Royce. Eventually, the bill comes due.

If one looks at the value of the 1970 American dollar, today that dollar is worth 15 cents.

American’s ought to be prepared for an economic collapse. In such a case, it might be wise to own gold because no one might want worthless dollars.

Be prepared for America to become the next Greece.

Are you listening, Donald Trump?

Re-regulating Markets is No Solution to State Housing Crisis

house-constructionBy almost all accounts, economists, academicians, social scientists, policy makers and industry experts agree that at the root of California’s housing problems is a profound lack of supply.  Accordingly, what’s needed as a solution, these notables say, are more incentives for the private development sector to do what it does best:  build.

However, judging from the bills coming out of the state Legislature, lawmakers – all of whom have well-advertised bills to “solve” the state’s housing crunch – don’t seem to have a clue, particularly in the state Assembly.  They want more control, more power, more government.

Take AB 1506 (Bloom), for example.  Before it was withdrawn for lack of support, AB 1506 would have ushered in to California a well-documented policy scam:  rent control.  Rent control has failed everywhere it’s been tried.  It persists, in communities like Manhattan and Los Angeles where it’s been around long enough to become normal but where the mismatch between incomes and rent is profound. 

What rent control has done is to artificially hold housing prices down.  But, what it has also done is to discourage investment in housing by limiting what an individual can earn on his or her investment.  Moreover, by limiting the income one can recoup from renters, rent control has led to more and more properties falling into disrepair as maintenance and other property improvements are further deferred.

Another Assembly offering, AB 1521 (Bloom), actually passed the lower house.  AB 1521 would give an individual the first right of refusal to purchase a rental property thereby limiting the price and extinguishing market forces.  More government control.

The Assembly also said yes to AB 1505 (Bloom), which for the first time in California, says that market-rate housing can’t be built in the state until an “affordable housing” component is provided.  This requirement means a newly built market-rate home or apartment must be severely discounted to prices or rents well below the market, regardless of what it cost to build – leading to higher-priced housing overall, as builders try to make up the difference.

Meanwhile, the state Senate believes it has the problem licked – boasting in a recent press release:  “Senate Passes Package of Bills to Address California Housing Crisis”.  The Senate package contains lots of legislation – mostly toothless tigers.  But, a centerpiece of that reform package contains SB 277 (Bradford) – the Senate mirror to AB 1505.  It, like its Assembly twin, means local governments can demand deep discounts before new housing is approved.

(Imagine being a homeowner and being told by government that you have to lower your price before you can sell your house.  Yet, that’s essentially what both AB 1505 and SB 277 do.)

But, the latest re-regulation initiative may be coming from the local level of government.  Los Angeles County supervisor Sheila Kuehl – no friend of housing during her 14 years in the state Legislature – recently admonished her colleagues, on the Board and elsewhere, and called for more governmental regulation of housing:

“I want to challenge my colleagues at all levels of government to squarely face the realities of our housing market” Kuehl said.  “For far too long policymakers nationally, in the state, and locally have prioritized real estate profit over a healthy housing market.  Weak housing and rent control regulation combined with shortsighted land use planning has turned L.A. County into the most unaffordable place to live in the entire country.”

In the past, Kuehl has called for county-wide rent control, even though the ordinances in the Cities of Los Angeles, Santa Monica and West Hollywood have helped bring about the current housing shortage plaguing the region.

California already has the most substantial housing regulations in the nation.  If you want to build here, prepare for five to seven years – and several thousands of dollars per unit – being added to your plans before they are approved.  If you want to rent out your property, the government’s going to tell you what pets to admit and for whom, whether or not your tenants can smoke, when a tenant can vacate the apartment, whether or not your property is a nuisance and what will remedy the situation, what pesticides you can use both inside and outside rental units and, in some jurisdictions, what rents you can charge.  And, that’s just for starters.  More government, more control.

Rome is burning – and what your state and local lawmakers are proposing to put the fire out is more of the same.

onsultant specializing in housing issues.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Meanwhile – Back In The Real World

CNN sad faces on Ga election night 5-20-17My temperance mentor W.C. Fields had a saying: “Never give a sucker an even break nor smarten up a chump.” At the risk of smartening up the media, Democrats and George Soros-funded “resistance” chumps, I’d like to remind the rest of us that outside of the Left-wing bubble things are going quite swimmingly in the real world.

Ever since Donald Trump won the presidency, liberals have comforted themselves by saying it was all a mistake. They assume he is foolish, self-indulgent and incompetent. Much like the campaign last fall, the Left has believed their media cheerleaders that all was well – that by now Trump would be on the ropes or gone and the GOP would be reeling from electoral disasters.

The crown jewel was going to be Democrats capturing Georgia’s 6th Congressional district in the special election last Tuesday. The stars were in alignment. Their candidate had received 48% + in the April primary election, just a few thousand votes short of the 50% that would have given him victory.  His Republican opponent for the runoff received 18% in the primary.

Manhattan, Georgetown, San Francisco and Hollywood loved the Democrat Jon Ossoff, eventually providing his campaign with $32 million. Ossoff outspent Republican Karen Handel by over $10 million, which in a Congressional district with 500,000 voters is a huge amount. The Democrats, drinking deeply of the media-supplied Kool Aid, insisted that the election was a “referendum” on President Trump.

There were more traditional Democrat vs. Republican issues that could have been the race’s focus. But the Democrat rabid left, the Soros and Resistance looney tunes who now set the tone for the party, needed a pound of Trump flesh. In his announcement speech Ossoff said he was running “to make Trump furious.” The race did not need to be a referendum on President Trump. The Democrats made it so. They lost. President Trump won, again. He and the GOP are now 4 for 4 in special elections. (For UCLA grads that means the Republicans have won 100% of them.)

Republican Handel beat Ossoff 52% to 48%. Without going into deep psephology, the result is much worse for the Democrats than that margin makes it appear. In 2016 the Democrat candidate in this district raised $0 for his campaign and received 124,917 votes. $32 million was spent for Jon Ossoff for this election. He received 124,893 votes. The more the voters heard and understood the Democrat message the more votes Handel picked up. As Ohio Democrat Congressman Tim Ryan morosely but accurately observed the day after the election, “Our brand is worse than Trump’s.”

Ryan was spot-on, which brings us to the real world, where the Democrats are in a world of hurt. President Trump is dong to them and the media what cat owners do with those red dot laser pointers. Point it so the dot appears on one wall and the cat runs full speed at it, often crashing head first into the wall. Point it at the opposite wall and the cat rushes over there, often crashing head first into that wall.  Then point it at the sofa and the cat races there to catch it. But it never does.

President Trump’s latest “go chase the red dot, you dolts” moment with the media and Democrats was his trolling them on having taped his conversations with former FBI Director Comey. The Left furiously chased that red dot for several months, bumping into the walls labelled “no proof.” The president turned the laser pointer off a couple of days ago by announcing that he really didn’t tape anything, leaving the media and Democrats with egg on their faces and much of America with a large smile on theirs.

While the Democrats, media and the Soros-funded Left continue to chase the red dot of Russian “collusion,” conservative judges are being appointed, the economy is roaring ahead, federal regulations are being eviscerated, basic American industries are being revitalized and Republicans continue to win elections.

Some liberals not totally invested in the Trump-as-Hitler narrative are catching on. Katrina vanden Heuvel, the very liberal editor and publisher of the very liberal “The Nation” wrote a piece about how the media is being duped and played for fools by the Trump administration. Her point is that there is nothing to the Russian kerfuffle but the Left’s total focus on it allows Trump to advance his agenda while liberals are searching for Boris and Natasha in the Lincoln Bedroom. While the Left is looking for Russians, President Trump is implementing his conservative agenda.

Twenty-one constitutional conservatives have now been nominated for Federal judgeships, with dozens more in the pipeline. New jobs are being created at near record numbers. The number of Americans dropping out of the workforce is steadily declining for the first time since George W. Bush was president. Federal regulations are being slashed and burned. Coal mines are re-opening in Pennsylvania. Small business, which employs 70% of the total American workforce, finds itself free from Big Brother and able to operate at a profit. Thanks to our withdrawal from the bogus Paris climate “accords,” American industry can ignore the dictates of socialist European bureaucrats. The stock market has responded with a series of record highs.

The American people are taking note. The headline on the results of a a recent CNBC national survey is, “Economic Optimism Surges To Record High As Trump Gets Credit For The Economy.”  The take away lines from survey are: “The latest CNBC ‘All American Survey’ finds that 30% of the public are both optimistic about the economy now and for the future, the second quarter in a row that present-future optimism scored so high. That’s the highest reading in the survey’s 10-year history.”

The Democrats are now paying the price for the nearly year-long plunge into the fever swamps of Trump Derangement. They and their Media/Soros paid allies chortle about President Trump’s approval ratings that hover in the low-to-mid 40s. It should be sobering to Democrats that a CBS News poll released the morning of the Georgia election found that only 31 percent of Americans thought a Democratic takeover of Congress would make their lives better.

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni is very liberal, but like Katrina vanden Heuvel a realistic one. The day after the Georgia election he wrote, “So a party sorely demoralized in November is demoralized yet again — and left to wonder if the intense anti-Trump passion visible in protests, marches, money and new volunteers isn’t just some theatrical, symbolic, abstract thing.”

Theatrical, symbolic and abstract perfectly sums up the “resistance” to President Trump. Or to paraphrase Shakespeare in Macbeth, it is “a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

The resistance hit its high water mark last Tuesday in Georgia and will slowly recede. The Democrat base activists are demoralized and confused, feeling like children whose parents tell them that Santa is coming the next morning – every day for 6 months.

In the real world, where Santa is not coming tomorrow morning, some people hate President Trump.  Many more people hate liberals. That’s real news, in the real world, and is good news for America.

Bill Saracino is a member of the Editorial Board of CA Political Review.

Orange County fire captain rakes in over $500,000 thanks to soaring overtime pay

A $245,350 overtime payout — the 13th largest of the more than 1.3 million public workers surveyed statewide — boosted Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) captain Gregory Bradshaw’s total compensation to $508,495 last year, an amount more than four times greater than his $116,846 salary.

While Bradshaw was OCFA’s top earner, his fellow fire captains weren’t too far behind, with the average fire captain having received $301,791 in pay and benefits last year — according to an analysis of freshly released 2016 salary data published on TransparentCalifornia.com.

In 2014, an OCFA board member expressed frustration over “an accounting gimmick used to generate significant overtime costs,” according to an Orange County Register report.

While the Board’s concerns led to the implementation of an overtime cap effective April 1, 2015, overtime pay continued to rise nonetheless — with last year’s $47 million expenditure representing a more than 18 percent increase from the previous year.

The continued growth in overtime pay was also evident on an individual employee basis: The 44 OCFA employees who received overtime pay in excess of $100,000 last year represent a nearly threefold increase from the previous year, when there were only 15 employees who earned that much.

Transparent California’s research director Robert Fellner noted an alarming trend where a handful of employees who had received overtime in excess of their regular salary in the preceding years actually increased their overtime pay in 2016, after the cap was in place.

“Several employees who were already more than doubling their salary from overtime pay actually saw an increase after the cap took effect — which suggests that cap might need to be tightened a bit.”

To explore the full OCFA dataset as well as historical data dating back to 2011, please click here.

Orange County cities

Transparent California — the state’s largest and most accurate public pay database — recently added 2016 pay data for 411 California cities and 49 counties.

The site now features 2016 data from every Orange County city but Placentia — which has not yet replied to a public records request for this information.

“It is disheartening that Placentia has not yet responded to our records request, but we very much appreciate the professionalism of all the other Orange County governments who facilitated our request in a prompt manner.”

Overtime pay up 19% at Anaheim

The City of Anaheim was home to the 5 largest overtime payouts of any Orange County city surveyed:

  • Fire Engineer III Brian Pollema’s $204,458 OT pay boosted his total compensation to $403,528.
  • Fire Fighter III Daniel Lambert’s $186,228 OT pay boosted his total compensation to $357,184.
  • Fire Engineer III David Shimogawa’s $163,325 OT pay boosted his total compensation to $338,937.
  • Fire Captain Mark Dunn’s $157,673 OT pay boosted his total compensation to $372,496.
  • Senior Electrical Utility Inspector Kenneth Heffernan’s $155,356 OT pay boosted his total compensation to $300,917.

Of the 148 California cities with at least $1 million in overtime pay surveyed, the average year over year increase in overtime pay was 5 percent.

Anaheim’s 19 percent increase in overtime pay was the most of any Orange County city and the 13th largest statewide.

The next four cities with the largest overtime pay increases in Orange County were:

  • Buena Park: 18.5 percent, 14th largest statewide.
  • Irvine: 17 percent, 17th largest statewide.
  • Costa Mesa: 17 percent, 21st largest statewide.
  • Fullerton: 14 percent, 30th largest statewide.

Orange County pay data

In 2015, the only Orange County worker to make over $400,000 in pay and benefits was Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, who received total compensation of $400,214.

The 2016 county payroll data reveals 11 workers making over $400,000 — with two county psychiatrists topping $500,000 apiece.

Total compensation at the county experienced a much milder increase, however, rising only 3 percent to just under $2 billion last year.

To view the complete datasets in a searchable and downloadable format, please visit www.TransparentCalifornia.com.

California Budget: Balanced and progressive or out of control?

Jerry Brown Budget 2017SACRAMENTO – The California Assembly and Senate have until Thursday to approve the budget deal announced by Gov. Jerry Brown last week, but there’s little uncertainty about the outcome. The general-fund budget is a record-setting $125 billion – something Brown describes as “balanced and progressive,” given that it spends more on social programs, but doesn’t bust the bank.

In fact, the budget plan conforms almost exactly to the governor’s longtime fiscal approach. He wants to fund social programs as much as possible, but not create new, permanent spending programs that cannot be curtailed when fiscal times are bad. He talks repeatedly about frugality, yet his budgets continue to ramp up state spending to record levels. He did set aside $8.5 billion for the rainy-day fund to prepare for any downturn.

Even the governor’s approach to the state’s unfunded pension liabilities is prototypical Brown. The governor speaks regularly about the size of the state debt to pay for pensions and retiree medical programs, but he typically addresses the problem with small-scale solutions that trim debt levels without antagonizing state workers and the unions that represent them.

This particular deal would borrow money from a state fund that pays a low interest rate, and pay down some of the state’s pension debt by investing it with the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which predicts a fairly high rate of return (7 percent). Brown says this plan will save the state $11 billion over the next two decades simply because of the difference in interest rates.

In terms of spending, the budget uses $1.2 billion in new revenues from the state’s recently passed tax increase on tobacco to help pay for growing costs to Medi-Cal, the state health program for low-income residents. But about half of those new revenues will be earmarked to health care providers and to family-planning entities like Planned Parenthood. It expands spending on the state’s K-14 educational system.

The budget also expands spending for both of the state’s university systems (the University of California and California State University), but the nearly $300 million combined in increased higher education spending comes with some conditions. The plan withholds $50 million from the University of California until the Office of the President fulfills the recommendations made earlier this year by a state auditor. It also requires California State University officials to “find space for students denied entry to their preferred campus or program,” according to the Sacramento Bee.

The budget increases spending on subsidized affordable-housing programs by $400 million. The budget also will allow more people to take advantage of the state-level Earned Income Tax Credit. Under new criteria, low-income people earning up to $22,000 a year will qualify for state EITC payments, up nearly $8,000 from previous standards. The new eligibility standards also apply to people who work for ridesharing companies or are involved in other forms of self-employment, according to various news sources. The budget doesn’t include an extension of the cap-and-trade system, although the system is likely to be extended in separate legislation.

Furthermore, the budget spends $100 million to set up a new agency to deal with the legalization of recreational marijuana sales, including the creation of a tax office along the Redwood Coast in the heart of marijuana-growing country.

The whole budget, which includes all spending (from bonds, etc.) totals $183.2 billion. But the biggest controversies are not around the amount of money the state will spend. The Legislature used the trailer-bill process – normally reserved for technical amendments to budget matters – to pass some controversial, nonbudget-related matters.

For instance, Democrats are fighting a recall measure against state Sen. Josh Newman of Fullerton. Republicans targeted him because of his vote on the recently passed gas-tax increase. One trailer bill in the budget would extend the timelines for the recall, making it more likely that the election would be put on a regularly scheduled ballot timeframe that would be more favorable to the Democratic incumbent. Another trailer bill would reduce the power of elected officials in the state Board of Equalization, a tax board. Yet another creates new dam-safety rules, following problems at the Oroville Dam spillway last winter.

Still, what Democrats described as responsible drew some rebuke from Republicans, who note that general-fund spending is nearly $40 billion higher in this budget than it was six years ago. Balanced and progressive or out of control? It depends on which side of the aisle one sits on. But everyone at least agrees that it’s basically in balance.

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

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Democrats Talk Openly About Challenging Nancy Pelosi’s Leadership

Nancy-Pelois-denied-CommunionHouse Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is facing unprecedented pressure, as frustrated Democrats have begun — for the first time in seven years — to talk about replacing her after a series of disappointments at the ballot box.

Pelosi was hailed as a driving force behind Democrats’ victory in 2006, when the party seized both houses of Congress and set the stage for victory in the 2008 presidential election. She became the first female Speaker of the House, and set about centralizing power in the Speaker’s office, ruling her caucus with unquestioned authority and promoting an unapologetically liberal agenda.

However, Pelosi’s role in the Obamacare debacle of 2009-10 helped provoke the Tea Party wave, sending her party to historic defeat and costing her the Speaker’s gavel. Amazingly, Pelosi did not resign at that point, and dispatched several would-be challengers, most notably Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC), who later lost his seat to a Republican. She also fended off a challenge by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) after 2016. Pelosi has been a prolific fundraiser for the party, even if she has also become a lightning rod for criticism and a useful political foil for Republicans to run against.

Ironically, Pelosi’s power within her caucus only grew as the Democrats lost seats, because most of the losses were in conservative swing districts. That left a core of liberal representatives from major cities, and blue states such as New York, Illinois, and Pelosi’s home state of California. There has been no political constituency in the caucus for an ideological alternative to the left-wing agenda that Pelosi and her coterie have continued to push even in defeat.

The high expectations that Pelosi set for Tuesday’s special election in Georgia may prove to be her undoing. Early in the week, with Jon Ossoff expected to win, Pelosi let it be known that she expected to take back the Speaker’s gavel after 2018. But Republican Karen Handel surged to victory, partly by tying her opponent to Pelosi.

As reality hit home, some Democrats began to break the taboo around challenging their leader. MSNBC analyst Matthew A. Miller tweeted: “No Dem wants to say it publicly, but taking their top bogeyman Pelosi off the table would help too. Fair or not, it’s the truth.”

Now, other critics are beginning to emerge.

“It’s time for some change. I think it’s time for a new generation of leadership,” said Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA). And Rep Filemon Vela (D-TX) told Politico: “I think you’d have to be an idiot to think we could win the House with Pelosi at the top … Nancy Pelosi is not the only reason that Ossoff lost. But she certainly is one of the reasons.”

But Pelosi also has her defenders — and she will not go easily.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

This piece was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Void in Leadership Continues for California High-Speed Rail

High Speed RailFour months after then-California High Speed Rail Authority Chief Executive Jeff Morales told authority board members he was moving on and two months after Morales made his decision public, the agency overseeing the state’s $64 billion bullet train project hasn’t settled on his successor.

In 2012, four months after Chief Executive Roelof van Ark abruptly left following two stormy years, Morales already had the job. This time around, the same speedy selection process seemed likely. The RT&S transportation industry website reported after Morales’ decision was announced in April that the board was likely to have his replacement approved before Morales’ final day of June 2.

But the CHSRA board met in closed session on the succession issue on May 10 and June 14 without reaching a decision. The rail agency’s number two job – deputy chief executive – has also been vacant since Dennis Trujillo left in December.

The empty slots atop the CHSRA power structure come at a critical time.

According to a federal report prepared under the Obama administration, the state’s high-speed rail project is already seven years behind schedule and on its way to having a 50 percent cost overrun on the $6.4 billion, 118-mile first segment now being built in the Central Valley.

The project also continues to face legal challenges which argue that it violates the terms of Proposition 1A, the 2008 ballot measure providing $9.95 billion in bond seed money for the project. The rail authority has won most recent judgments. But opponents remain confident they eventually will prevail because of a 2014 state appellate court ruling that held the project still was subject to a financial “straitjacket” that would require it to show short- and long-term financial viability without public subsidies before the project could significantly proceed. The project’s struggle to attract private investment shows that at least in the private sector, there are many doubts that the bullet train could operate successfully without such subsidies.

Obama administration rules could haunt project

But the election of Donald Trump as president in November also has led to a huge new headache for CHSRA. All 14 California House Republicans have urged Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to reverse Obama administration actions that loosened federal rules to give California access to about $3 billion in federal dollars for the project.

Rep. Jeff Dunman, R-Turlock, and his colleagues have focused their harshest fire on a 2012 decision that gave the state the go-ahead to spend about $200 million in federal funds but not have matching state spending. The decision went against longstanding Washington precedent.

Withdrawing all federal funding could also be justified by citing the Obama administration’s 2009 regulations for projects that were to be paid for or partly paid for with money from the economic stimulus bill passed a month after President Obama took office. The Federal Railroad Administration rules said projects that didn’t demonstrate “reasonableness of financial estimates” and “quality of planning process” would get no funding.

That’s the same agency which recently concluded the project was seven years behind schedule and on course for a 50 percent cost overrun on its initial segment

The California High Speed Rail Authority board’s next meeting is July 18 in Sacramento.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Recall effort stymied by Sacramento

Members of the California Legislature apparently believe they have the power to change outcomes they don’t like. This is like awarding the NBA Championship to Cleveland by retroactively mandating that all of Golden State’s three point baskets be counted as only two.

While basketball is not on the minds of lawmakers, they are working to interfere with something of much greater value to average Californians, their constitutional right to recall elected officials. The Sacramento politicians think they have found a way to derail what appears to be a successful grassroots effort to recall state Sen. Josh Newman, who cast a key vote imposing a new $5.2 billion annual gas and car tax on already overburdened taxpayers.

The power of recall is a powerful tool of direct democracy. The secretary of state’s website says, “Recall is the power of the voters to remove elected officials before their terms expire. It has been a fundamental part of our governmental system since 1911 and has been used by voters to express their dissatisfaction with their elected representatives.”

In the 29th Senate District, covering parts of Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, voters have been busy exercising their right to recall their tax-raising representative Josh Newman. Much to the surprise of Sacramento insiders, it looks like the campaign will succeed in gathering enough signatures to force the senator to be held accountable in a special election — already the secretary of state has instructed county registrars to begin counting the signatures. The chance that the recall of one of their own will be successful has lawmakers panicking. Their solution is to surreptitiously change the recall rules that have been in place for over a century.

500px-Capitol_Building_MG_1600_Sans_watermarkWith little notice, the Legislature amended Senate Bill 96, as it was about to pass in connection with the state budget on June 15, for the purpose of changing the rules governing the current recall effort. The purpose of the bill is shamelessly transparent: “It is the Legislature’s intent that the changes made by this act in the Elections Code apply retroactively to recalls that are pending at any stage at the time of the act’s enactment… .”

Their end game is delay. They want to delay the ultimate vote on ousting Newman for as long as possible, despite the constitutional guarantee to have the vote as quickly as possible — between 60 days and 180 days from the recall petitions having been certified.

Here’s how they do it: First, they try to delay the petition review process by requiring the county Registrars of Voters to check the validity of every signature submitted. Normally, the registrars are permitted to check a random sample of the signatures, saving both time and money.

Second, and more disturbing, is the provision buried deep in the text that states, “Notwithstanding any other law, the Secretary of State shall not certify the sufficiency of the signatures [on the recall petitions] until the Legislative Joint Budget Committee has 30 days to review and comment on the estimate [of recall costs] submitted by the Department of Finance.”

Here’s the kicker. The Department of Finance is part of the governor’s office and the bill does not require the governor’s office to prepare that analysis under any time limit. Gov. Brown, who has already come out against the recall, can simply delay that report indefinitely, which, in turn, would hold up certification of the recall effort and the ultimate election.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that those in power in Sacramento will stop at nothing to retain their power and influence, putting their own interests ahead of those of average Californians. But lawmakers who disrespect voters should be wary. Polls show that nearly 60 percent of Californians oppose the new gas tax. The higher taxes will kick in just before the beginning of next year’s election season. Voters are very likely to remember who is responsible and choose to retire multiple representatives, not just a single senator, in the regularly scheduled 2018 election.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This piece was originally published by the Orange County Register