What Recent Pension Ruling Means for California’s Taxpayers

pension-2Last week, the California Supreme Court issued a ruling in Cal Fire Local 2881 v. CalPERS, a case involving public employee pensions. For taxpayers, the decision was a mixed bag. On the plus side, the court refused to find a contractual right to retain an option to purchase “air time,” a perk that allowed employees with at least five years of service to purchase up to five years of additional credits before they retire. Under this plan, a 20-year employee could receive a pension based on 25 years of contributions.

On the negative side, the high court left intact, for now, the so-called California Rule, which has been interpreted as an impediment to government entities seeking to reduce their pension costs. The rule, unique to California, provides that no pension benefit provided to public employees via a statute can be withdrawn without replacement of a “comparable” benefit, even as deferred compensation for services not yet provided.

The unanimous 54-page opinion by the Supreme Court resulted in a wide variance of headlines and social media posts. The Associated Press read “California’s Supreme Court upholds pension rollback.” Ironically, a conservative reform group sharply criticized the decision for failing to repeal the California rule outright while another conservative policy organization called it a “victory for taxpayers.”

So what was it?

To read the entire column, please click here.

Medicare expansion would make socialized health insurance inevitable

MedizinSeveral lawmakers want to pull more people into Medicare. This would hurt anyone with private insurance, and it would inevitably lead to single-payer, government funded healthcare, which would deprive people of any choice over their healthcare.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., recently introduced S.470, a bill that would let any citizen or permanent resident between the ages of 50 and 64 buy into Medicare. It received broad support from her Democratic colleagues. Numerous 2020 presidential hopefuls, including Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., have co-sponsored the bill.

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives want to go even further. In December, Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., introduced a plan called Medicare for America. It would allow anyone in America, regardless of age, to buy into an expanded Medicare system that covers prescription drugs along with dental, vision, and hearing benefits. Those currently covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP would be shunted onto the new plan, as would anyone who buys policies on the individual market.

These proposals would cause prices for private plans to spike.

Medicare underpays for the services its beneficiaries receive. In 2017, hospitals only received 87 cents per dollar spent treating Medicare patients. That means Medicare underpaid hospitals by $53.9 billion.

As more patients shift to Medicare, providers will have to charge private insurers more to make up the difference. That will result in higher premiums for the privately insured.

In other words, Uncle Sam would charge people twice for Medicare, once through the IRS and again at the doctor’s office.

Gradually, people on private plans would get sick of high prices and start moving to Medicare. As people abandoned private plans, insurers would start going out of business. Before long, it would be easy to turn Medicare into an obligatory, single-payer program. That would leave patients with no insurance options.

Patients wouldn’t like that. More than seven in 10 folks with employer-sponsored health insurance are satisfied with their plans. Nearly 60 percent of people say they oppose Medicare for All if it comes at the expense of private insurance, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

Expanding Medicare is a bad deal. Lawmakers should abandon the idea.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

Lessons from the Los Angeles and Oakland teachers’ strikes

Teachers in the nation's second-largest school district will go on strike as soon as Jan. 10 if there's no settlement of its long-running contract dispute, union leaders said Wednesday, Dec. 19. The announcement by United Teachers Los Angeles threatens the first strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District in nearly 30 years and follows about 20 months of negotiations. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) ORG XMIT: CADD303

After two teachers’ strikes in as many months in California, it is too soon to tell whether the labor disputes in Oakland and Los Angeles presage a new era of school-based activism.

But regardless of what comes next, this year’s strikes had much in common, and yielded valuable lessons and insights for other districts where labor troubles may also be brewing.

  • Both strikes were relatively short, lasting about a week. The timeline was shaped by the troubled finances of both districts that couldn’t afford to lose excessive amounts of state funds they receive based on student attendance.  Teachers also couldn’t afford to lose excessive wages by being out on strike for a lengthy period, or to take money off the bargaining table that could have been used to meet some of their demands. So there was pressure on both sides to resolve the strike within a reasonable amount of time.
  • In both cases, teachers appeared to come out ahead, achieving gains they might not have won without a strike. In Oakland’s case, teachers earned a gradual salary increase of 11 percent  — more than double the 5 percent the district offered before the strike began — although most of the gains will only come in the 3rd year of the agreement. In the case of Los Angeles, on the salary front teachers got less than what they demanded initially, and settled for the 6 percent the district had already offered. But they did get commitments from the district to reduce class sizes and significantly increase support staff like counselors.
  • In both strikes, demands went beyond those more typical of labor strikes which tend to focus on wages and benefits. Those were on the table, but equally important were a range of other issues , including lowering class sizes, providing more counselors, psychologists, nurses and other support staff, limiting school closures in Oakland and creating community schools in Los Angeles.  Both contracts also included provisions tied to regulating charter schools.re
  • In both Oakland and Los Angeles there remains a great deal of uncertainty about how the districts will pay for what they agreed to. In Los Angeles, Debra Duardo, the county superintendent of schools, said that the district has yet to address a projected $500 million operating deficit in 2021-22, and that the bargaining agreement “continues to move the district to insolvency.” In Oakland, Najeeb Khoury, in his official fact-finding report issued before the strike, doubted that the district could afford anywhere near a 12 percent salary increase.  Chris Learned, the state trustee appointed to approve budget expenditures, also suggested before the strike that such an increase ran the risk of putting “the district in financial distress.”
  • In both Oakland and Los Angeles, the strikes demonstrated deep public support for the teachers. It suggests that the days when teachers were held solely responsible for seemingly every shortcoming in the state’s public schools, along with the success or failure of their students, are over, at least for now.
  • In both conflicts, the teachers unions and their allies are looking to Sacramento, as well as voters, to approve more funds as a key element in making the agreements enforceable. But it is not clear where those funds would come from. Neither Gov. Gavin Newsom nor the Legislature has made any commitments beyond the funding increases that Newsom requested in his proposed budget in January.  In Los Angeles the strike did push the school board to place a long-delay tax on real estate parcels on a June 4 special election ballot.  If approved, it would help erase the district’s projected $500 million shortfall. Whether it will pass is another matter:  it will require voters to approve it by a two-thirds margin, which the last parcel tax measure nearly a decade ago failed to get.

Unaddressed in both Oakland and Los Angeles are deeper structural issues, such as the impact of declining enrollments, the crushing costs of meeting pension obligations, and stratospheric housing costs.

Whether these underlying forces will trigger further strikes — still a relatively rare event in California — is hard to predict. In only one other California district — San Ramon Valley Unified centered in Danville, a wealthy suburban community to Oakland’s east — have teachers actually authorized their union to call a strike if contract negotiations break down, although labor conflicts are brewing in other districts like Sacramento City Unified and Fremont Unified just south of Oakland.

The fact is that even with gains at  the bargaining table like those made in Oakland and Los Angeles, most teachers — and certainly beginning teachers who rely on a single income — will not be able to afford to buy a house in many urban and suburban districts, or even cover rents there.  (In the current salary schedule,teachers in Oakland with a B.A. degree make $46,570, which in three years would rise to just over $50,000 under the new contract.)

Those realities will make recruiting teachers an ongoing challenge, even as districts struggle to find teachers in key areas like math and science and special education. And it will continue to create churn in the labor force, with some teachers being tempted to leave so they can live in districts where living costs are lower — or to leave the profession altogether.

That may help explain the surprisingly large proportion of teachers in Oakland — 42 percent — who voted against ratifying the agreement.  This is one area where the Oakland strike outcome differed from Los Angeles, where only 18 percent of teachers voted against the contract. While making some significant gains at the bargaining table, many Oakland teachers sent a message that they were hoping for more.

Louis Freedberg writes about education reforms in California and nationally, and is the executive director of EdSource.

Expect More Surcharges as Businesses Cope with High California Costs

Business costs“Stopped by a Pizza Hut to bring some food in last night and was met with this beauty,” an L.A. Daily News reader emailed under the subject line, “Soon to be all over California?”

Two photos were attached. One showed a bright red sign displayed prominently on the restaurant counter. Printed in bold type was this message: “Service Fee Disclosure – This location includes a service fee on all transactions. The service fee partially offsets the increased cost of operations in the State of California.”

The second photo showed a receipt with a 3.5 percent “service fee” below the subtotal and above the sales tax, and in extra-large letters, “SVC fee partially offsets the rising costs in CA.”

But it’s not “soon to be” all over California. It’s already all over California.

Ground zero seems to be San Francisco in early 2008, when a local law known as the Health Care Security Ordinance went into effect. The law requires any business in San Francisco that has 20 or more employees to set aside funds for workers’ health care.

Many restaurants decided to add an extra charge to customers’ checks instead of raising menu prices. Initially, some restaurants labeled the fee, “Healthy S.F. Surcharge.” Then in 2011 the Board of Supervisors amended the ordinance to require that any restaurant owner adding a “health” or “healthy” surcharge had to spend 100 percent of the money collected on health care. The city attorney investigated dozens of restaurants, leading to a costly settlement in 2013. The surcharges didn’t go away, but the name changed. Today they’re generally called “SF Mandates.”

This year, San Francisco’s Health Care Security Ordinance will cost employers $1.95 for each hour that each worker is paid, unless the employer has 100 or more employees, in which case the rate is $2.93.

The restaurant business is labor-intensive, and the cost of labor in California has been going up.

In 2015, the state mandated that employers give their workers three days a year of paid leave. In the Northern California town of Redding, Che Stedman, the co-owner and executive chef of Moonstone Bistro, began adding a 3 percent charge to customers’ checks to help cover the cost. “That is 24 hours of full paid leave,” he said, “so now every single employee that we have, we have to make sure that we have that money banked.”

Then in March 2016, on the Saturday before Easter, Gov. Jerry Brown cut a backroom deal with labor union leaders and state lawmakers to ratchet up the minimum wage in California to $15 an hour by 2023 for smaller employers, and by 2022 for larger ones. The Assembly Appropriations Committee passed the measure in 90 minutes and within 24 hours it was on the governor’s desk for his signature.

The California Restaurant Association was steaming like a Chinese dumpling but they couldn’t do a thing about it.

Or could they?

“Due to a myriad of legislative and court decisions, some restaurants in California have elected to add a surcharge to their receipts to defray increased costs incurred over the last several years,” begins an article on the association’s website titled, “Understanding and Guidance on Surcharges.” The tone is matter-of-fact. “The increased costs of operating a restaurant can be attributed to minimum wage increases, health care, paid sick leave, restrictive scheduling, cost of food and supplies and increased pay equity between traditionally tipped employees and heart of the house employees.”

The article offers advice on how to calculate taxes correctly and how to avoid getting sued by a city attorney, such as the one in San Diego who filed a slew of cases in 2017 charging some surcharging restaurants with false advertising and consumer fraud.

Last November, a San Diego Superior Court judge ruled in one of these cases that “the surcharge is not unlawful as a matter of law.” Similar rulings followed in similar cases.

Still, the California Restaurant Association recommends that restaurant owners minimize the risk of lawsuits by clearly disclosing the existence of a surcharge on a prominent sign or posting, large and conspicuous enough so that the sign is “likely to be read and understood by an ordinary individual under customary conditions of use and purchase.”

To avoid the problem that San Francisco restaurant owners had with the “health” surcharge, the association recommends keeping the reason for the surcharge as broad as possible, suggesting as one example, “to defray the increased cost of operations.”

“In the State of California,” added the owner of the Pizza Hut in Los Angeles, a city in which businesses also have to deal with a gross receipts tax and a trash monopoly franchise system that has sharply raised the cost of sanitation service.

Stephen Zolezzi, CEO of the Food and Beverage Association of San Diego, said in 2018 that surcharges allow the restaurant industry to send a message.

“Yes, it’s a political statement,” he said. “We’re trying to show people the consequences of legislation that adds to the cost of doing business.”

So the next time you see a “rising costs in CA” service fee on your restaurant receipt, don’t complain to the management. Go online to findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov and get the names and phone numbers of your state Assembly and Senate representatives. Chew them out for passing laws that are running up your bills.

Susan Shelley is a columnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”

Originally published in the Los Angeles Daily News 

Kamala Harris Enthusiastically Endorses Rent Control

Rent ControlDemocratic presidential contender Kamala Harris shored up her progressive bona fides this weekend by endorsing Oregon’s first-in-the-nation statewide rent control policy, which became law last week.

“Earlier this week, [Oregon Gov. Kate Brown] made it easier for families to stay in their neighborhoods by enacting statewide rent control,” Harris tweeted yesterday. “No one should ever have to choose between paying their rent each month or feeding their children,” the California senator added.

Oregon’s new law caps rent increases at 7 percent plus inflation per year, and it imposes new restrictions on landlords’ ability to kick out tenants.

The law resembles the rent control system in San Francisco, where Harris was once district attorney. There, the price controls on rental properties resulted in exactly what most economists warn will happen: The supply of rental housing fell, and rents increased citywide.

That’s according to a 2018 study from three Stanford economists who looked at an expansion of San Francisco’s rent control in 1994. That year the city expanded its already existing rent regulations—which, as in Oregon, capped annual rent increases at 7 percent per year—to owner-occupied rental properties with four or fewer units, which had previously been exempted.

Because this expansion did not cover buildings that were constructed after 1980, the researchers were able to measure the effects of rent control by comparing very similar sets of housing in the same city. What they found vindicated a lot of standard critiques of rent control.

The Stanford study found that pre-1980 rent-controlled small apartment buildings saw a 25 percent decline in the number of tenants living in them compared to post-1980, non-rent-controlled buildings—often driven by landlords buying out or evicting their tenants and then converting formerly rent-controlled units to condos they’re able to sell at a market price.

The same study found that tenants in rent-controlled housing were more likely to be living at the same address ten years later, and that they saved anywhere from $2,300 to $6,600 a year on rent, adding up to some $2.9 billion in savings during the period examined in the study. That sounds like fodder for rent-control fans—except that the $2.9 billion saved by tenants in rent-controlled units was matched by a 5.1 percent increase in citywide rents, which cost tenants in non-rent-controlled buildings $2.9 billion.

San Francisco today is one of the most expensive places in the country to rent, with the average one-bedroom rent going as high as $3,000 a month. It also has a persistent and worsening homelessness crisis.

Harris’ enthusiastic endorsement of a policy that has failed so miserably in her own backyard is concerning, particularly as the senator has tried to present herself as a bold housing reformer.

Last summer, she introduced the Rent Relief Act, which promised refundable tax credits to folks earning as much as $125,000 per year and paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income in rent. As many pointed out at the time, this would if anything make housing more expensive by essentially subsidizing landlords for increasing rents without actually increasing the supply of rental housing.

There’s a broad consensus that high housing costs in and around many of America’s urban areas are the result of restrictions on new construction, and the best way of bringing prices down is to get rid of some of those restrictions. Instead, Harris is doubling down on counterproductive measures like poorly designed rent subsidies and price controls.

There’s not a lot any president can do about local restrictions on new housing supply. Land use decisions are almost entirely the province of state and local governments. But there is a lot that the feds could do to make America’s housing affordability problems worse. If a presidential candidate endorses statewide rent control, it’s not a good sign.

Christian Britschgi is an associate editor at Reason.

This article was originally published by Reason.com.

California Lawmakers Want More Dollars from the Middle Class

TaxesBlue collars in California are once again being targeted by lawmakers with a multitude of new taxes on the energy industry that will trickle into their pocketbooks.

Our current slate of lawmakers are aware from the California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office reports that personal income tax liability is concentrated among its top earners. Shockingly, almost 70% of the general fund comes from less than 5% of the population. The Governor’s budget summary for 2019-2020 reflects this scary trend.

The State has 40 million residents and relies on less than three percent or just over one million of its wage earners for most of the revenue allocated to the general fund. It’s enlightening to know that there are more than one million millionaires in California in the “basket” to help with the funding.

For more dollars and diversity, our lawmakers definitely need to be more creative in procuring attaining a great share of tax revenues from blue collar to support all the government programs. These extra costs on blue collar residents will “ensure” that California continues to suffer the highest percentage of people in poverty, homeless and welfare crisis that’s so acute it shocks the world.

A few of the creative new tax actions by our lawmakers for 2019 and 2020 under serious consideration are:

  • SB-246 Oil and Gas severance tax
  • AB-40 Zero-emission vehicles: comprehensive strategy
  • Property Tax Initiative on “Split Roll” to assess commercial and industrial properties at fair market value while leaving homeowners’ Proposition 13 protections in place

 

The 95% of the residents not contributing significantly to the General Fund, and most likely not able to afford an EV, will start picking up a higher percentage of the revenue directed to the General Fund and help subsidize grid infrastructure, charging technology, and the endless list of government programs that are now principally funded by the 5%.

The California Energy Island is a huge energy user requiring 60 million gallons of fuel manufactured daily in-state to meet the energy consumption demands of airlines, trucks and cars.

The extra costs imposed on the manufacturers are ultimately passed on to the consumers, a major reason that Californians already pay almost a dollar more for fuel than the rest of America, and more for the cost of electricity, that are both increasing with each new “tax “and additional regulation.

To manufacture those fuels out-of-state or out-of-the-country and ship them into California ports would be even more expensive to the consumer, and increase emissions to the world as no other location on earth has the same environmental controls than California.

Our lawmakers are getting votes by constantly attacking the energy industry, but the industry is not going anywhere. The industry’s just passing those additional costs onto the consumer, and wrongly absorbing the heat for raising the cost of fuel!

The unintended consequences of more taxes on energy is that the lifestyles of all 40 million residents of California that rely on the fuels and the products manufactured from those deep earth mineral/fuels, would result in blue collar folks contributing a greater portion to the General Fund than they now do. On the contrary, with no new taxes on the energy sector, the State can ensure that the top earning 5% continue to contribute 70% of the dollars to the General Fund.

ounder and ambassador for Energy & Infrastructure of PTS Advance, headquartered in Irvine, California.

5 bills target consumption of sugary drinks

SodaThe California Legislature’s determination to lessen the amount of sugary drinks consumed by state residents may never have been greater than now – at least if the metric used is the number of bills introduced. This session, five will be taken up, and more may be on the way.

For the third time, Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, has introduce a measure that would tax soda and other beverages sweetened with sugar.

The first two times, Bloom’s measure didn’t get out of committee after it faced intense, well-funded opposition from the American Beverage Association.

But Bloom told his hometown paper, the Santa Monica Daily Press, that the tax was urgently needed to nudge people to stop consuming so many unhealthy drinks.

“Everyone would acknowledge that health care costs are skyrocketing,” he said. “Diabetes and obesity are ongoing health-care crises and we need to get serious about prevention.”

Revenue from the tax – which has not been established yet but which was 2 cents per ounce in Bloom’s previous bills – would pay for programs meant to reduce diabetes and obesity. Bloom said 9 percent of state residents are diabetic and nearly half are at risk of developing diabetes.

Measure would ban Big Gulp-size sodas

Bloom’s bill will have plenty of similar company this year.

Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, proposes a ban on soda servings of larger than 16 ounces in seal-able cups sold at restaurants and grocery stores. A similar ban in New York City was thrown out by New York state courts – but not for a reason that has relevance in California. Judges repeatedly held that the New York City’s health board overstepped its powers in imposing the ban and should have deferred to the New York state Legislature.

Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, hopes to end the common practice of displaying sodas near the checkout stands of food, convenience and other retail stores.

Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, is for the fourth time proposing that sugary drinks sold in California have labels warning of their health risks. Monning said if tobacco products’ health risks are made plain with warning labels, so should the risks of soda.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, is touting a bill intended to prevent beverage companies from offering stores special deals with lower prices for sugary drinks.

Studies split on effect of Berkeley soda tax

Soda foes got good news on Feb. 21 when the American Journal of Public Health published a study saying that soda consumption plunged 52 percent in Berkeley in the first three years after the city adopted a soda tax.

But other research into Berkeley’s soda tax is far less encouraging, according to University of Southern California professor Michael Thom. He told the Santa Monica newspaper there was no evidence that residents reduced their caloric or sugar consumption and asserted there is little, if any, proof that soda taxes have a positive effect on human health.

A Harvard Business Review study based on an analysis of millions of transactions at California stores by Duke University professors Bryan Bollinger and Steven Sexton was also skeptical of claims of success in Berkeley. Published in January 2018, it noted that since most residents worked outside of Berkeley, they could readily buy cheaper soda elsewhere. The study also pointed to a factor not mentioned in any recent newspaper coverage of soda taxes:

“We found that much of the cost of the tax is not being passed along to consumers,” Bollinger and Sexton wrote. “Fewer than half of supermarkets changed the price of soda in response to the tax, and prices at chain drug stores did not change at all.”

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Is it time for California’s taxpayers to go on strike?

Tax reformAround California, public school teachers are on strike seeking more pay, better benefits and less competition from charter schools. They are also demanding that the rest of us pay higher taxes. Indeed, as part of the agreement that ended the strike in Los Angeles, teachers forced a concession out of the school district to officially support the partial repeal of Proposition 13 as it applies to business properties. That would have the effect of raising California property taxes as much as $11 billion annually and would surely accelerate the well-documented business flight out of California.

It’s not as though Californians are currently under-taxed. With the highest income tax rate, the highest state sales tax rate and second highest gas tax in America, it’s tough to make that argument.

So, I’m curious as to what would happen if, in reaction to the teachers’ strikes in L.A., Oakland and Sacramento, taxpayers decided to go on strike? The media seems obsessed with large, public demonstrations of crowds wracked with angst and victimhood. School districts lose millions of dollars when teachers go on strike because it impacts the Average Daily Attendance figures that provide the basis for disbursing tax dollars. But if taxpayers went on strike, how much more would they lose?

The reaction to a taxpayer strike would surely invoke claims that taxpayers are greedy, anti-education heathens. But, in reality, the vast majority of taxpayers are very much pro-education. They just don’t like the product they’re forced to pay for.

Let’s first dispel the urban legend that Proposition 13 “starved” education in the Golden State.

To read the entire column, please click here.

This Train Won’t Leave the Station

High Speed Rail ConstructionGovernor Gavin Newsom has canceled the bulk of the state’s long-proposed high-speed line between Los Angeles and San Francisco, leaving only a tail of the once-grand project — a connection between the Central Valley’s Merced and Bakersfield, not exactly major metropolitan areas. “Let’s be real,” Newsom said in his first State of the State address. “The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.” The project’s cost, originally pegged at $33 billion, ballooned over the last decade to an estimated $77 billion (or maybe as high as $98 billion), with little reason to assume that the cost inflation would end there.

This effectively puts an end to former governor Jerry Brown’s “legacy” project, the lone tangible accomplishment for a second gubernatorial stint that had been far better at raising taxes and imposing draconian legislation than building things. Brown wanted to build his beloved train in a state with some of the nation’s worst roads (despite its second-highest gas taxes), a deteriorating water-delivery system, and massive pension debt. With Brown finally in retirement, Newsom took the opportunity to free up billions of dollars that his Democratic allies would like to spend in other ways.

Perhaps the most critical national casualty may be the Green New Deal proposed by New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Much of her platform for a ten-year transformation of the American economy centers on transportation. In her bid to kill the internal-combustion engine, Ocasio-Cortez apparently seeks to eliminate both cars and planes. Her favored solution for cross-continental travel: a massive network of high-speed trains.

Some of this must seem fanciful even to the democratic-socialist heartthrob from the Bronx. In contrast with Western Europe, where several high-speed rail lines operate, the United States has huge distances between cities; its average population density is generally lower than that of the European continent. Even on the California coast, a 450-mile high-speed rail trip from  Los Angeles to San Francisco would have taken nearly four hours, compared with a one-hour plane ride. Imagine taking high-speed rail from Los Angeles to Chicago: a three-hour trip by plane becomes a 15-hour or longer trek across vast, empty spaces. During that time, the traveler would cover more high-speed rail mileage than the current length of the entire French system.

Even fervent supporters of the Green New Deal must recognize what California’s cancellation means: if high-speed rail is not feasible in the state with the three densest major metro areas in the nation, and the highest overall urban density, it is not feasible anywhere else in the United States. (And not just here: Britain’s proposed high-speed rail megaproject, HS2, also appears on the verge of cancellation. Sounding like Governor Newsom, a senior government official told Channel 4’s Dispatches public affairs program: “The costs are spiraling so much we’ve been actively considering other scenarios, including scrapping the entire project.”) It also suggests that the costs for a national network would be formidable and would require the printing presses at the Treasury to work overtime. Of the many high-speed rail lines built in the developed world, only two (Tokyo-Osaka and Paris-Lyon) have ever been profitable, and in each case highway tolls for the same routes exceed $80 one-way, making high-speed rail in those cases an economical consumer choice. California, the green heart of the resistance, has met fiscal reality; reality won.

Some greens and train enthusiasts, such as the deep-blue Los Angeles Timeseditorial board, have criticized Newsom’s move, and others remain adamant in their support of the plane-to-train trope. But California, which has embarked on its own Green New Deal of sorts, has seen these results:  high energy and housing costs, and the nation’s highest cost-adjusted poverty rate, and a society that increasingly resembles a feudal social order. Attempts to refashion global climate in one state reflects either a peculiarly Californian hubris or a surfeit of revolutionary zeal.

Of course, Newsom and the bullet train’s supporters justify spending billions more on the Central Valley line as a way of reviving the terribly challenged, impoverished economy of that region. Yet greens and their allies have already shown what comes of putting their ideas into practice—cutting water supplies to farmers, blocking new energy production, and leaving Route 99, the Valley’s main thoroughfare, in such awful shape that it has been named the country’s most dangerous highway. The Valley does not need a bullet train to nowhere. It needs, rather, policies that allow for its basic industries, such as agriculture, manufacturing, and energy, to expand and provide desperately needed jobs. Oil-rich California has been replacing in-state production for imported petroleum, to the enrichment of Saudi Arabia but to the detriment of California workers.

Newsom’s pullback from Brown’s Olympian high-speed rail vision may reflect growing concerns about the state’s economy. After several years of fairly robust growth, California’s job machine is now producing employment at mediocre rates, and worse than that in its biggest urban area, Los Angeles. The real-estate market, which was driving some of the revenue gains, appears stuck, with sales down and prices headed in that direction, though the regulatory environment is skewed to facilitate price escalation. If stock performance is weak, California could see its greatest source of revenue—capital gains from Silicon Valley—reduced. The last quarter saw falling tax collections, and any hiccup in the tech money machine, or even a mild recession, could prove devastating, as Brown himself warned before leaving office.

In Washington, Ocasio-Cortez and others will continue to push their fantastical Green New Deal, at least until the Senate votes on it. With the utterly predictable demise of California’s high-speed rail project, however, the Golden State may prove the unlikely place where would-be planetary redeemers were brought back to earth.

Proposed Bill Would Let 17-Year-Olds Vote in All California Elections

VotedCalifornia doesn’t have a particularly high opinion of the maturity of 18-year-olds, who can join the military but who can’t legally buy alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or firearms until they’re 21.

But Assemblyman Evan Low (pictured), D-San Jose, wants to go in a different direction on voting. He has introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 8, which would lower the voting age from 18 to 17. First it needs to get two-thirds support in both the Assembly and the Senate, then approval of a majority of state voters.

Twenty-three states allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they will be 18 on the day of the general election. Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo, has introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 4 to allow such voting in California.

But according to a San Francisco Chronicle analysis, no state allows voting at age 17 in general elections.

“Lowering the voting age will give a voice to young people and provide a tool to hold politicians accountable to the issues they care about. Young people are our future, and when we ignore that we do so at our own peril,” Low said in a statement provided to the Sacramento Bee.

Last year, Low’s similar proposal got 46 votes in the Senate – eight shy of the two-thirds threshold. He believes with Democrats now holding 61 of the Assembly’s 80 seats and 29 of the Senate’s 40 seats, his chances of making the ballot are much improved.

Republicans have been generally opposed to Low’s measure at least partly for partisan reasons. Polls in recent years have shown younger voters lean strongly to the left – to the point where a Gallup survey from last August found more of those aged 18 to 29 had a favorable view of socialism (51 percent) than capitalism (45 percent).

San Francisco nixed 2016 measure lowering voter age

But it’s not clear if Democrats will see the change as a way to gain a political advantage or are even enthusiastic about the idea. In May 2016, in San Francisco – where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 8 to 1 – the Board of Supervisors put Measure F on the November ballot, which would have lowered the voting age to 16 for local elections. But voters rejected it 52.1 percent to 47.9 percent, a 15,000-vote spread.

The debate over the measure likely foreshadowed the debate to come in the Legislature over Low’s bill.

Supporters said 16- and 17-year-olds were as capable as adults of making smart, informed election choices. They also said the voting change would promote awareness of civics at a time when polls show many young people are unfamiliar with basics about democracy.

Critics questioned why the measure had such a different view of young people’s maturity when it came to voting than with other adult privileges.

The close election may have been swung by a critical Chronicle editorial in September 2016.

“Young people must wait until the age of 21 to drink alcohol and, in California, smoke tobacco. They must wait until the age of 18 to serve their country,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote. “It makes no sense for San Francisco to send the message that voting is a responsibility any less serious than these are.”

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com