L.A. Minimum Wage Hike: How Will Businesses React?

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

The Los Angeles City Council tentatively voted to increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. The business community opposed the move. How business will react is unclear but there was much discussion during the debate over issues such as lost jobs and companies eyeing more business-friendly locations.

The wage increase is to be phased in over time, so the immediate impact may not be felt. But businesses ought to keep score when the effects hit so that officials will be cognizant of the consequences. If the wage increase does not cause economic disruptions and businesses do not actually leave Los Angeles, the business community’s credibility will suffer in the face of a mere exercise in rhetoric.

The vote to pass the minimum wage increase was 14 to 1. The council gets to vote once more on the measure after an ordinance is drafted by the city attorney, but the lopsided vote indicates there is no turning back. The council even set the wage above the recommended level offered by Mayor Eric Garcetti, who initially proposed an increase to $13.25 an hour.

The city council’s version contains an inflation clause and offers an extra year for small businesses and nonprofits to comply.

However, the business community does not consider these admissions enough. Ruben Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce said, “There is simply not enough room, enough margin to absorb a 50 percent increase in labor costs over a short period of time.”

The chamber’s president and CEO Gary Toebben wrote to his members about the many small business owners who testified in various hearings on the measure. He wrote, “They also talked about the likelihood that in order to provide a wage increase for some employees, they would have to reduce hours for others.”

Toebben noted wryly, “Last week, there were banners hanging throughout City Hall celebrating Small Business Week. There are many small business owners in L.A. who don’t feel like the city is celebrating them today.”

Earlier on the day of the vote, the Los Angeles County Business Federation (BizFed) released a survey on business conditions in the area. According to a release from BizFed, “The city of Los Angeles stood out again as being cited most frequently by employers as unfriendly.  Santa Clarita and Glendale were ranked in the top 5 most business friendly cities, which is notable because officials from those two cities are actively courting city of Los Angeles businesses in light of the proposed city of Los Angeles minimum wage increase.” (Author’s emphasis.)

So what will Los Angeles businesses do? Once the minimum wage law takes effect will there be jobs lost or hours cut? How many businesses move to a different location? Business credibility is on the line. Crying wolf and not acting will damage efforts to turn around what many decry as unfriendly business policies.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Californians Pay To Have Their Lawns Spray Painted Green

Front yard waterGov. Jerry Brown is cracking down on how much water Californian’s use in their daily lives, and that means parched lawns are turning brown as the state heads into its fourth year of drought.

In steps some savvy entrepreneurs who have a solution to water restrictions: spray paint your lawn green, don’t waste water on it. Lawn painting companies, like Xtreme Green Grass, are seeing business boom.

“I probably have about seven appointments scheduled in just the next week or so.” David Bartlett, the company’s owner, told KXTV-Sacramento.

Bartlett’s company sprays a non-toxic green dye across the brown areas of your yard, making look as if it’s been freshly watered. The service takes about an hour and costs 25 cents per square foot.

That may seem like a lot, but Bartlett says it’s way cheaper than making your lawn “drought-friendly” by bringing in new plant material. Doing that can cost homeowners several thousand dollars.

Most of California is going through an “exceptional” drought period, according to monitors, and some 37 million residents are being impacted by less-than-normal rainfall and snowpack. The Golden State saw record low snowpack this year.

In response, Gov. Brown mandated that statewide water use shrink by 25 percent, pushing for fines up to $10,000 for those who use too much water. Republicans have blamed federal and state policymakers for flushing lots of water out to sea every year because of the delta smelt — a small, endangered fish.

“For the governor to come out and say, ‘Look, we all have to now take shorter showers and kill our front lawns and stop washing our cars,’ that is not the answer,” said Travis Allen, Republican State Assembly member. “Forty percent of our water is going into the Pacific Ocean. The answer is, let’s stop sending that water into the Pacific, and let’s send it into our cities, into our homes.”

“Sacramento and Washington have chosen to put the well-being of fish above the well-being of people by refusing to capture millions of acre-feet of water during wet years for use during dry years,” U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a Republican who represents the Bakersfield area. “These policies imposed on us now, and during wet seasons of the past, are leaving our families, businesses, communities and state high and dry.”

Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

California’s Government Unions Collect $1 Billion Per Year

PileOfMoney“If you say there is an elephant in the room, you mean that there is an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about.”

–  Cambridge Dictionaries Online

If you study California’s Legislature, it doesn’t take long to learn there’s an elephant in both chambers, bigger and badder than every other beast. And considering the immense size of that elephant, and the power it wields, it doesn’t get talked about much.

Because that gigantic elephant is public employee unions, and politicians willing to confront them, categorically, in every facet of their monstrous power and reach, are almost nonexistent.

Government reformers and transparency advocates are fond of attacking “money in politics.” They attack “soft money” and “dark money.” Most of the time, these reformers are on the so-called political left, concerned that “rich billionaires” and “out-of-state corporations” have too much political influence. They are misguided and manipulated in this sentiment. Because billionaires contribute to both major political parties (and both political wings) roughly equally, and the largest corporations – in state and out of state – play ball with the government unions because, as monopolies or aspiring monopolies, large corporations and government unions have an identity of interests that far outweighs any motive for conflict. At the state and local level in California, there is no amount of money, anywhere, that comes close to the sums that are deployed by government unions to control our government.

Thanks to a lack of transparency so thick that public corporations, and even private sector unions, are required to submit far more publicly available reports on their operations than public sector unions, it is almost impossible to estimate how many government union members there are in California. From the U.S. Census we know that California’s “full-time equivalent” state workforce numbers 397,348, for local governments, 1,313,344, meaning there are – on a full time basis – about 1.7 million state and local workers in California. But how many of them pay dues? And what is their total statewide revenue?

If you turn to the 990 forms that government unions file with the IRS, you’ll note that the California Teachers Association’s 990 reported “dues revenue” of $172.3 million in 2012. You’ll also know they were sitting on $100 million in cash and securities, net of all long and short term liabilities and not including their fixed assets and real estate. But that’s just the financials for the CTA’s state office. If you search for “California Teachers Association” on Guidestar, here’s the message you get on the results screen: “Your search for California Teachers Association produced 1,083 results.”

As we noted in a 2012 CPC study entitled “Understanding the Financial Disclosure Requirements of Public Sector Unions:”

Most of the statewide unions, such as the CTA, the CSEA, the CFT and the CPF, collect revenue from members through their local affiliates, which themselves retain most of the money for local collective bargaining and political expenditures. There are over 1,300 CTA local affiliates, 20 (public sector) SEIU local affiliates, 42 AFSME local affiliates, 45 AFT local affiliates, several hundred CSEA (School Employees) local affiliates, and hundreds of CPF (Firefighter) local affiliates. Then there are federations of various unions, such as the California State Employees Association and the Peace Officers Research Association of California, which also collect revenue from members through local affiliates.

There are over 6,000 local government union organizations in California, each of them an independent financial entity, each of them merely required to file a minimal 990 form that barely, and with a maddening lack of clarity, discloses financial transfers between entities. Against this opacity, there is no precise way to learn just how much money California’s public sector unions collect every year, no way to determine how many members they’ve got, no way to determine their annual dues assessments.

An article published nearly five years ago on UnionWatch, “Public Sector Unions and Political Spending,” estimates the total annual dues revenue of California’s public sector unions at $1 billion per year. While the number of state and local government workers has actually declined slightly since 2010, the percentage of unionized state and local government workers has increased, as has their average pay upon which dues are calculated. That estimate, $1 billion per year, is probably still accurate.

Behind closed doors and off the record, Democrats resent government union power with increasing intensity. But apart from an isolated whisper here, a passing utterance there, they are silent. Just like their Republican colleagues who grasp for their own pathetically minute share of government union contributions, they fear the wrath of the elephant in the room at the same time as they keep taking the money.

*   *   *

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

Jeb Bush: Capitalism Can Solve Global Warming, Not Gov’t

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image12155315Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has a simple message on global warming: capitalism has done more to help the climate than the “progressive model.”

“The United States has actually been one of the places as it relates to carbon emissions where there have been the best gains because of the explosion of American innovation in creating huge increases in natural gas production and consumption that has lowered carbon emissions,” Bush said in an interview with The Daily Signal.

“The capitalist system has actually done more than the command and control progressive model,” Bush said.

Bush has come under fire by environmentalists and left-wing groups for “denying” the “science” behind global warming, but then again, so has every other Republican presidential candidate this election cycle.

In the interview, Bush criticized the “hard-core left” for politicizing the global warming debate to the point where anyone who disagrees with activists is labeled things like anti-science.

“The problem is climate change has been co-opted by the hard-core left and if you don’t march to their beat perfectly then you’re a denier,” Bush said.

As for what Bush thinks about mankind’s contribution to global warming, the former Florida governor acknowledged the climate is changing, but added that it’s not clear what percentage (if any) is being driven by human activity.

“The climate is changing. I don’t think anybody can argue that it’s not. I don’t think anybody truly knows what percentage of this is man-made and which percentage is just the natural evolution of what happens over time on this planet,” Bush said.

“I think we have a responsibility to adapt to what the possibilities are without destroying our economy, without hollowing out our industrial core,” he added. “There are things that we can do that are commonsensical about this.”

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Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

Air Board Asks Courts to Create New Tax

carbon-tax-1In a landmark case before the Third District Court of Appeal, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) recently argued for creation of an unprecedented tax doctrine that could raise billions of dollars in new revenues. The ARB described the new revenue not as a tax or a fee (or any other recognized revenue-raising mechanism), but as a “byproduct” of a regulatory program.

The case, California Chamber of Commerce v. California Air Resources Board, challenges the legality of the cap-and-trade auction ARB set up as part of its program to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to meet goals outlined in AB 32, the climate change law.

CalChamber is arguing that (1) the ARB exceeded the authority the law granted it by reserving GHG allowances to itself and auctioning those allowances to GHG emitters to raise revenues, and (2) such an auction is a “tax” requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, which was not obtained.

(CalChamber is not challenging AB 32 or the cap-and-trade mechanism itself, because the goals of AB 32 can be achieved effectively using cap and trade. In fact, the efficacy of cap and trade to meet the GHG reduction goals would be unaffected in the absence of the auction.)

The lawsuit aims to prevent the powerful regulatory agency from expanding its reach beyond the boundaries set by the Legislature, and to maintain the integrity of the revenue-raising rules of Proposition 13. But the ARB has raised the stakes even higher by suggesting that the revenues raised by the auction are neither taxes nor fees.

The auctions so far have raised nearly $1.6 billion in revenues that have been deposited into state coffers. The Legislative Analyst has estimated the auction will raise tens of billions more dollars by 2020.

The ARB instead claims that the auction is a legitimate exercise of its regulatory powers and that the billions in new revenues are “incidental” to that regulation. In fact, the ARB flatly states that the auction was not enacted for the purpose of increasing revenues; therefore, it is not a tax.

The Air Board had previously acknowledged that the auction revenues resided comfortably within the state’s tax system, and as “a non-distortionary source of proceeds” could be used “as a substitute for distortionary taxes such as income and sales taxes.”

The lead doctrine on determining whether a charge is a fee or a tax is the California Supreme Court decision in Sinclair Paint v. Board of Equalization. The court held that a regulatory fee is legitimate if (1) there is a reasonable relationship between the amount charged and the burdens imposed by the fee payer’s operations; (2) it is not used for unrelated revenue purposes; and (3) the remedial measures funded with the charge are caused by or connected to the fee payer’s operations. Lacking any of these factors, the charge is a tax.

Since it is apparent that the auction cannot meet these criteria, the ARB dismissed Sinclair’s relevance, stating that the “requirements that govern fees are not useful for reviewing other exercises of the police power.” Even though the ARB claims the revenues are incidental to a regulatory program, it declined to label them as “fees.”

In other words, the ARB has asked the court—in the case of fees imposed for regulatory purposes—to disregard the leading doctrine on regulatory fees.

To be sure, there are charges that government legitimately imposes that are neither fees nor taxes which fit comfortably within the Proposition 13 rubric: special assessments and development fees for infrastructure, charges for goods and services, fines and penalties for law breaking.

But the ARB has sought refuge in none of those time-tested revenue constructs. Instead, it has asked the court to invent a new, unique category of non-tax, non-fee, non-assessment, non-penalty, non-service charge that fits the auction revenue system.

The ARB is seeking a safe harbor for revenues “incidental to regulation” that it claims are not regulatory fees, and which will generate tens of billions of dollars for new spending programs that somehow are not taxes. In fact, next year the revenues from auctions will be one of the largest sources of state revenues—and bound to grow as the ARB allocates even more allowances to itself.

CalChamber has vigorously disputed this new doctrine, calling it “unprecedented, undemocratic and amorphous.” Proposition 13 and the Sinclair decision have limited and rationalized tax and fee doctrine for 37 years, setting out the rules that balance operational flexibility with accountability.

The Court of Appeal will hear oral arguments in this case later this year.

 is president of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Mandatory Vaccination Bill Quickly Advancing Through Legislature

vaccine2After a fractious debate, the California Senate passed a revised draft of the controversial bill that would largely eliminate the state’s religious and personal belief exemptions for child inoculation. With the bill on a likely track for passage in the Assembly, momentum has begun to gather for even more muscular pro-vaccine legislation.

Sweeping changes

As CalWatchdog.com previously reported, state Sens. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, and Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, had to rewrite key passages of the bill’s language in order to head off potential constitutional challenges to its treatment of kids without the specified vaccinations.

The bulk of the original bill remained intact, however, sweeping away California’s longstanding and generous rules permitting parents to keep their children vaccine-free. “Several Republican senators tried to stall the bill by introducing a series of amendments that would have reinserted the religious exemption and required labeling of vaccine ingredients,” according to the Sacramento Bee. But Democrats moved swiftly to shut them down.

For some critics, barring unvaccinated children from public school remained a bone of contention. “It’s clear that a large portion of concerned parents will likely withhold their children from public schools because of their concerns or lack of comfort from the vaccination process,” said GOP state Sen. John Moorlach, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

But some carveouts were set to remain. “The legislation only addresses families that will soon enroll their children in school,” as Newsweek observed. “Under the proposed law, children who aren’t currently immunized are not required to get vaccinated until seventh grade. The law still allows families to opt out due to medical reasons, such as a history of allergies to vaccines and inherited or acquired immune disorders or deficiencies.”

The so-called grandfather clause represented a major concession to parents’ groups, which had succeeded in stalling Pan and Allen’s legislation once before. Now, as the San Jose Mercury News reported, “more than 13,000 children who have had no vaccinations by first grade won’t have to get their shots until they enter seventh grade. And nearly 10,000 seventh-graders who today aren’t fully vaccinated may be able to avoid future shots because the state does not always require them after that grade.”

Regulatory momentum

Despite the lenience built into the advancing legislation, the pro-vaccine logic that propelled it has already increased momentum for an even more assertive approach to enforcing inoculation.

As KQED News has noted, “two other vaccine-related bills are making their way through the Legislature a bit more quietly. One would require preschool and child care workers to have certain vaccinations; another seeks to improve vaccination rates for 2-year-olds.”

“If SB792 becomes law, California will be the first state in the country to require that all preschool and child care workers be immunized against measles, pertussis and the flu.”

Supporters of the ratcheted-up regulation sought to head off more controversy by downplaying the invasiveness and inconvenience of their approach. “We certainly aren’t out to arrest people who aren’t vaccinated,” said Kat DeBurgh, executive director of the Health Officers Association of California, a group that sponsored SB792. “We wanted to make this just like any other violation of code that an inspector would look for. If you don’t remediate, then there is a fine to the day care center.”

At the same time, pro-vaccination analysts have speculated that the Golden State will save money the more it ensures vaccination. Referring to a recent study showing that Iowa’s health care spending would double if it added a personal belief exemption, Tara Haelle suggested that California’s “health care cost savings would be far more substantial” once its exemption was eliminated, although, she conceded, “no thorough analyses are currently available.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Take Our Jobs, Please

JobsThere’s a joke about public sector union bosses making the rounds in Sacramento lately:  What happens when the California Legislature hands over a blank check to the California Teachers Association?  It’s returned the next day marked “insufficient.”

No matter that spending on schools is up 36 percent over the last four years, the state budget has increased 25 percent over the last three and the state is running a surplus of nearly $7 billion, it is never enough. The government employee unions are continuing to press for higher taxes and more spending from which they benefit both in terms of money and political power.

Since California already imposes the highest taxes in all 50 states in almost every category except taxes on property – we rank 19th highest – the obvious target is Proposition 13 which limits annual increases in property taxes.  To take on Proposition 13, public unions, including the two major teachers unions and the Service Employees International Union, have joined with some rag-tag groups of Bay Area radicals to create a front group, calling itself “Make It Fair.” The stated goal is to strip Proposition 13 protections away from businesses, including small mom-and-pop stores and residential rentals, thereby creating a “split roll” in order to seize another $9 billion in tax revenue annually.

To undermine support for Proposition 13 — which remains overwhelmingly popular in public opinion polls – Make It Fair attempts to make homeowners feel unjustly burdened. Backers of higher property taxes on business say that Proposition 13 provides commercial property special advantages, but it does not.   California has always taxed all real property at the same rate whether residential or business.

The facts are unimportant to the government employee unions. They accuse owners of commercial property of not paying their fair share in property taxes. This ignores studies that show that business property is actually paying a higher percentage of the total property tax than when Proposition 13 passed and that business property is generally assessed at closer to market value than is residential property. This is due to the frequent improvements businesses make to property to remain competitive and these improvements are taxed at current market value.

But if the government employee unions are really only going after owners of commercial property, why should the average homeowner be concerned?

First, those who delude themselves into believing that the appetite of unions for tax dollars will be satiated if we just give in to their demands, should know that California state and local government employees are the highest paid in the nation. They did not become this way because the union leadership were shrinking violets. Once business property is taxed at a higher rate, there is no question that residential property – homeowners – will be the next target. Already union-backed legislation has been introduced in Sacramento to make it easier to increase taxes on homeowners.

Secondly, most homeowners rely on jobs in order to pay their mortgages. If taxes on commercial property, including those on small businesses and residential rental property, are jacked up,  so prices and rents will go up as well. Business that can’t increase their prices because of competition from firms located in other states and countries are likely to join the exodus of companies that have already left California.  And they will take those jobs with them.

A recent front page story in the Torrance Daily Breeze, “Tractor Firm Kubota Exits Torrance for Texas,” illustrates the point. The report says the firm, a 43-year resident of the community, will be departing along with 180 jobs, and reminds readers that Toyota made a similar announcement last year. This hemorrhaging of jobs is a direct consequence of California’s hostile business climate, and this is before any increase in the property tax.

It would be a mistake to underestimate the negative impact that changes to Proposition 13 would have on the California economy. A study from the Pepperdine University School for Public Policy reveals that a “split roll” would result in the loss of nearly 400,000 jobs and $72 billion in economic activity over five years.

If front groups were required to adhere to truth in labeling standards, the group “Make It Fair” would be compelled to call itself either “Take Our Jobs, Please” or “Make Us Poor.”

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.

Originally published on HJTA.org

Pension Reformers are not “The Enemy” of Public Safety

“You will find that powerful financial and investment institutions are the ones promoting the attacks on your pensions. Firms like Berkshire-Hathaway and the Koch brothers are backing political candidates and causes all over the country in the hopes of making this issue relevant and in the mainstream media. Why? Because if they can crack your pension and turn it into a 401(k), they will make billions. Your pension is the golden egg that they are dying to get their hands upon. By the way, it was those same financial geniuses that brought about the Great Recession in the first place. After nearly collapsing the entire financial system of western civilization, they successfully managed to deflect the blame off of themselves and onto government employee pay/benefits.” – Jim Foster, Vice President, Long Beach Police Officers Association, posted on PubSec Alliance website

These comments form the conclusion to a piece published by Foster entitled “What does ‘unfunded liability’ mean?,” published on PubSecAlliance.com, an online “community of law enforcement associations and unions.” If you review the “supporters” page, you can see that the website’s “founding members,” “affiliated organizations,” and “other groups whose membership is pending” are all law enforcement unions.

public employee union pensionIn Foster’s discussion of what constitutes an unfunded pension liability, he compares the liability to a mortgage, correctly pointing out that like a mortgage, an unfunded pension liability can be paid down over many years. But Foster fails to take into account the fact that a mortgage can be negotiated at a fixed rate of interest, whereas a pension liability will grow whenever the rates earned by the pension system’s investments fall short of expectations. When the average taxpayer signs a 30 year fixed mortgage, they don’t expect to suddenly find out their payments have doubled, or tripled, or gone up by an order of magnitude. But that’s exactly what’s happened with pensions.

Apart from ignoring this crucial difference between mortgages and unfunded pension liabilities, Foster’s piece makes no mention of the other reason unfunded pension liabilities have grown to alarming levels, the retroactive enhancements to the pension benefit formula – enhancements gifted to public employees and imposed on taxpayers starting in 1999. These enhancements were made at precisely the same time as the market was delivering unsustainable gains engineered by, as Foster puts it, the “same financial geniuses that brought about the Great Recession in the first place,” and “nearly collapsing the entire financial system of western civilization.”

This is a huge failure of logic. Foster is suggesting that the Wall Street crowd is to blame for the unfunded liabilities of pensions, but ignoring the fact that these unfunded liabilities are caused by (1) accepting the impossible promises made by Wall Street investment firms during the stock market bubbles and using that to justify financially unsustainable (and retroactive) benefit formula enhancements, and (2) basing the entire funding analysis for pension systems on rates of return that can only be achieved by relying on stock market bubbles – i.e., doomed to crash.

You can’t blame “Wall Street” for the financial challenges facing pension funds, yet demand benefits based on financial assumptions that only those you taint as Wall Street charlatans are willing to promote.

Foster ignores the fact that the stock market bubbles (2000, 2008, and 2014) were inflated then reflated by lowering interest rates and accumulating debt to stimulate the economy. But interest rates cannot go any lower. When the market corrects, and pension funds start demanding even larger annual payments to fund pensions and OPEB that now average over $100,000 per year for California’s full-career public safety retirees, Foster and his ilk are going to have a lot of explaining to do.

There is a deeper, more ominous context to Foster’s remarks, however, which is the power that government unions, especially public safety unions, wield over politicians and over public perception. The navigation bar of the website that published his essay, PubSecAlliance, is but a mild reminder of the power police organizations now have over the political process. Items such as “Intel Report,” “Pay Wars,” “Tactics,” “Tales of Triumph,” and “The Enemy” are examples of resources on this website.

When reviewing PubSecAlliance’s reports on “enemies,” notwithstanding the frightening reality of police organizations keeping lists of political enemies, were any of the people and organizations listed selected despite the fact that they were staunch supporters of law enforcement? Because pension reformers and government union reformers are not “enemies” of law enforcement, or government employees, or government programs in general. There is no connection.

Here are a few points for Jim Foster to consider, along with his leadership colleagues at the Long Beach Police Officers Association, and police union members everywhere.

TEN POINTS FOR MEMBERS OF PUBLIC SAFETY UNIONS TO CONSIDER

(1)  Not all pension reformers want to abolish the defined benefit. Restoring the more sustainable pension benefit formulas in use prior to 1999, and adopting conservative rate-of-return assumptions would make the defined benefit financially sustainable and fair to taxpayers.

(2)  Over the long term, the real, inflation-adjusted return on investments cannot be realistically expected to exceed the rate of national and global economic growth. You are being sold a 7.0 percent (or more) annual rate of return because it is an excuse to keep your normal contribution artificially low, and mislead politicians into thinking pension systems are financially sound.

(3)  As noted, you can’t blame “Wall Street” for the financial challenges facing pension funds, yet demand benefits based on financial assumptions that only those you taint as Wall Street charlatans are willing to promote.

(4)  If public safety employers didn’t have to pay 50 percent or more of payroll into the pension funds – normal and unfunded contributions combined – there would be money to hire more public safety employees, improving their own safety and better protecting the public.

(5)  Public safety personnel are eyewitnesses every day to the destructive effects of failed social welfare programs that destroy families, ineffective public schools with unaccountable unionized teachers, and a flawed immigration policy that prioritizes the admission of millions of unskilled immigrants over those with valuable skills. They ought to stick their necks out on these political issues, instead of invariably fighting exclusively to increase their pay and benefits.

(6)  The solution to the financial challenges facing all workers, public and private, is to lower the cost of living through competitive development of land, energy, water and transportation assets. Just two examples: rolling back CEQA hindrances to build a desalination plant in Huntington Beach, or construct indirect potable water reuse assets in San Jose. Where are the police and firefighters on these critical issues? Creating inexpensive abundance through competition and development helps all workers, instead of just the anointed unionized government elite.

(7)  If pension funds were calibrated to accept 5.0 percent annual returns, instead of 7.0 percent or more, they could be invested in revenue producing infrastructure such as dams, desalination plants, sewage distillation and reuse, bridges, and port expansion, to name a few – all of which have the potential yield 5.0 percent per year to investors, but usually not 7.0 percent.

(8)  Government unions are partners with Wall Street and other crony capitalist interests. The idea that they are opposed to each other is one of the biggest frauds in American history. Government unions control local politicians, who award contracts, regulate and inspect businesses, float bond issues, and preserve financially unsustainable pension benefits. This is a gold mine to financial special interests, and to large corporate interests who know that the small businesses lack the resources to comply with excessive regulations or afford lobbyists.

(9)  Government unions elect their bosses, they wield the coercive power of the state, they favor expanded government and expanded compensation for government employees which is an intrinsic conflict of interest, and they protect incompetent (or worse) government employees. They should be abolished. Voluntary associations without collective bargaining rights would still have plenty of political influence.

(10)  Expectations of security have risen, the value of life has risen, the complexity of law enforcement challenges has risen, and the premium law enforcement officers should receive as a result has also risen. But unaffordable pensions, along with the consequent excessive payments of overtime, have priced public safety compensation well beyond what qualified people are willing to accept. Saying this does not make us “The Enemy.”

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

Are Californians Ready to Drink ‘From Toilet to Tap’?

Photo Credit: The International Rice Research Institute

Photo Credit: The International Rice Research Institute

Looking for an edge in coping with California’s drought, officials around the state have embarked on a public relations campaign for recycled drinking water.

Proponents of the new push hoped to capitalize on the bad publicity hitting the bottled water industry, where several suppliers have come under scrutiny for drawing their water from California. This month, “Starbucks announced that it would begin a process to move the bottling operations for its Ethos water brand to Pennsylvania,” NBC News reported. Nestle, meanwhile, refused to stop sourcing its water from public lands in the Golden State, although its pumping permit expired decades ago, and activists have petitioned the California Water Resources Control Board to halt the practice.

“The attention on Nestlé’s permit bumped it to the front of the pile for renewal review. The process will take at least 18 months, Heil said. Meanwhile, Nestlé can continue to operate in the forest as long as the company continues to pay the annual fee of $524 on the expired permit and operate under its provisions.”

Feeling the heat, Nestle Waters North America’s Tim Brown took to the San Bernardino Sun to vouch that California bottling operations should not be considered water-wasting culprits. “Our latest conservation measures include a waste-water recovery project expected to save annually 25 million gallons of water,” he wrote. “We supported the recent water bond to improve infrastructure and protect and restore watersheds and ecosystems and we believe that California’s new groundwater management legislation is a step in the right direction.”

Public skepticism

Yet, “despite the extensive science that goes into cleansing recycled water down to its molecular construction, in a recent study, 13 percent of adults said they would point-blank refuse to try it,” according to The Week. “Similar efforts in the past to jumpstart the recycled water trend in the state have failed.”

California’s long history with recycled water projects has lent credence to those who expect the pattern to continue. “Enticing people to drink recycled water […] requires getting past what experts call the ‘yuck’ factor,” as the New York Times observed. “Efforts in the 1990s to develop water reuse in San Diego and Los Angeles were beaten back by activists who denounced what they called, devastatingly, ‘toilet to tap.’ Los Angeles built a $55 million purification plant in the 1990s, but never used it to produce drinking water; the water goes to irrigation instead.”

Orange County officials, however, have brightened hopes for the recycled water movement. As Southern California Public Radiosuggested, the O.C.’s successful recycling program has underscored why “calling it ‘toilet to tap’ isn’t fair.”

“The recycled sewage water makes quite a journey on its path to purification before it comes out of faucets at home. About 2.4 million Orange County residents get their water from a massive underground aquifer, which, since 2008, has been steadily recharged with billions of gallons of purified wastewater.”

According to SCPR, Orange County Water District officials overcame the yuck factor “with a massive public relations campaign that involved more than 2,000 community presentations.”

In Santa Clara County, where recycled water has been steadily employed for non-drinking uses, San Jose’s public figures have kicked off a similar effort. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews, and others held a recent press conference around their own consumption of recycled water, the Contra Costa Times reported. “‘Delicious,’ said Liccardo, as cameras clicked. ‘Good stuff!’ said Matthews, as video rolled.”

Nudging state law

At the statewide level, fans of recycled water had a bit more news to cheer as well. In Sacramento, the author of a string of recycled water-use bills stretching across the several years, Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, recently secured committee support for Assembly Bill 1463, another proposal pushing the approach to conservation. “Gatto’s legislation to help reduce the barriers for onsite-water recycling and allow more Californians to participate in safe and sustainable recycled-water practices was approved by the Assembly’s Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee on a 15-0 vote,” according to California Newswire.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

America: Losing Our Religion

cross“Losing My Religion” is not just a song by R.E.M. It’s also a fact of American life.

That’s the message of a survey of more than 35,000 Americans just released by the Pew Research Center. The key finding: the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation is growing, from 16 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2014. That’s nearly a quarter of the adult population. Meanwhile, the number of Christians in the U.S. is down 8 percent.

Pew estimates that the U.S. now counts about 56 million unaffiliated adults. The unchurched are larger than the number of Catholics and mainline Protestants and nearly equal to the number of evangelicals.

And it’s having a political impact. Look at the backlash last month to the “religious freedom” law passed in Indiana that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples on religious grounds. The huge wave of criticism shocked conservatives who are used to seeing “religious freedom” trump every argument. This time, conservatives were forced to back down.

The rise of the unchurched is partly due to the growing numbers of millennials. Millennials (Americans born after 1980) are the least churched generation — 35 percent are unaffiliated. But the turning away from religion is not confined to them. The Pew survey shows Christians declining and the unchurched increasing in every age group. Even seniors.

The growing number of unchurched matters politically because religiosity is a key marker of political affiliation. Not religion. Religiosity.

Today, if you can ask a voter only one question to identify his or her political leanings (besides “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?”), the best question would be “How often do you go to church?”

Pew reports that, among Americans with no religious affiliation, Democrats and Democratic-leaners outnumber Republicans and Republican-leaners 61 to 25 percent.

In 1992, I held a post as visiting professor of American politics at a leading Jesuit university. One of the perquisites of that position was an invitation to tea with the Cardinal. After we exchanged pleasantries, the Cardinal asked, “Is there anything happening in American politics that I should be aware of?”

“As a matter of fact, your eminence, there is,” I answered. “Since 1980, religious Americans of all faiths — fundamentalist Protestants, observant Catholics, even Orthodox Jews — have been moving toward the Republican Party. At the same time, irreligious Americans have found a home in the Democratic Party.

“This is something new,” I said. Then I went a fateful step further, adding, “I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea of a religious party in this country.”

The Cardinal pounced. “Well,” he said, “I’m a little uncomfortable with an irreligious party in this country.”

“Your eminence,” I responded, “I think I’ll have more tea.”

The unchurched are an important constituency in the Democratic coalition that Barack Obama brought to power. Democrats don’t like to talk about them, however, because they don’t want to be seen as “the godless party.”

The split between the churched and the unchurched goes back to the 1960s, when values became the defining partisan issue in the U.S. Bill Clinton once said, “If you look back on the sixties and, on balance, you think there was more good than harm, you’re probably a Democrat. And if you think there’s more harm than good, you’re probably a Republican.”

The backlash to the sixties among religious Americans helped create the Reagan majority. The growing number of unchurched Americans has undermined it. We’ve seen views on same-sex marriage and marijuana liberalize with astonishing speed.

In the long run, the Pew study is good news for Democrats. The problem is, politics doesn’t just reflect long-term trends, like changing demographics and declining religiosity. In politics, short-term factors typically dominate.

2008, for example, was a good year for Democrats. In the nationwide exit poll on election day, 16 percent of voters said they had no religious affiliation. They voted 67 percent for Democrats in elections for the House of Representatives.

2014 was a bad year for Democrats. In the 2014 midterm, the percentage of voters with no religious affiliation rose to 18 percent, even though the turnout of young voters was down. But enthusiasm for Democrats lagged in 2014, even among the unchurched. Only 60 percent of them voted for House Democrats.

Sure, the demographic trends look good for Democrats. The problem is, demographics is long. Politics is short.

(Bill Schneider is a professor at George Mason University and a contributor to Al Jazeera. This piece was posted most recently at the Huffington Post)