The Real Reasons Newsom Has Failed All Californians

While acknowledging that the outcome of the ongoing Newsom recall voting is anybody’s guess, it is worthwhile to imagine life in California if Newsom survives the recall and goes on to win reelection next year. Because the nonpartisan and growing opposition to Newsom and what he represents is not founded in “Trumpism,” nor is it the product of “out-of-state Republicans.”

The Newsom recall effort is a reaction, shared by independents and moderate Democrats, that California’s institutions are failing. Even life-long progressives are horrified by the appalling negligence and corruption that now defines governance in California. Examples of this are everywhere.

One may begin by imagining a future of endless fire seasons, where the air is so filthy that on any given summer day more than half the state’s residents can’t venture outdoors. Does anyone think announcing an electric car mandate will solve this problem, or that hiring state agencies to thin the forests will ever get the job done? There are solutions. Bring the timber industry back to the scale it operated at in the 1990s, and let them thin the forests and maintain the fire breaks, fire roads and transmission line corridors while supplying affordable lumber to Californians. That used to work fine, and with what we’ve since learned about forest management, would solve the problem and improve forest ecosystems.

Instead the policy, to be continued, is to make it impossible for property owners to ignite controlled burns or mechanically thin the undergrowth on their land, thanks to a tyrannical, Byzantine permit process that only the very wealthy and preternaturally patient applicant could ever navigate. Then once these residents are burned out of their homes, victims of the predictable cataclysms that are the result of thirty years of fire suppression, they’re subjected to a permit process to rebuild that is equally tyrannical, ensuring that very few of them ever get to return to the land they love.

And what of these electric cars that supposedly, as they proliferate, will suppress forest fires in lieu of responsible forest management? There’s nothing wrong with providing incentives to develop EV technology. But fossil fuel is still powering over 80 percent of California’s economy. Against that hard reality, the energy policies of the Newsom administration nonetheless intend to reduce CO2 emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Californians need to confront what it’s going to take to achieve this goal.

To cut CO2 emissions this much in just 8 more years means absolutely nothing that consumes energy is going to get built. The state will mandate urban densification at all costs. Suburbs will be subject to “infill.” New homes will be located in “transit villages.” Housing will be permitted that doesn’t include space for parking. Codes will be written to mandate smaller windows so structures won’t require as much energy to heat or cool, and light switches that shut off if their motion sensors think you’ve left the room. Natural gas hookups will be forbidden in new housing as California’s natural gas infrastructure is slowly dismantled, and any sort of suburban expansion on open land will be prohibited. Does this sound inviting?

It isn’t as if any major emerging nation – from China to India to Indonesia to Pakistan to Brazil or Nigeria – is going to bother with any of this expensive, extremist impracticality. They need energy, and they’re going to generate it by any means necessary.

If California’s enlightened policymakers really intended to set an example to the world, they would pursue an all-of-the-above strategy with energy development, and do it in a manner that is as efficient and clean and cost-effective as possible. That would be genuine altruism. Don’t hold your breath. Instead, the political machine represented by Newsom is not only shutting down natural gas power plants, they’re shutting down California’s only nuclear power plant, and demolishing hydroelectric dams. Expect ongoing power outages and electric power that costs several times more than it could in a rational market. Expect mandated appliances that are so energy and water efficient that they are hard to operate, break down often, require software “updates,” are leased instead of owned, and do a poor job.

Where there’s not much affordable energy, don’t expect much more water, either. California’s water infrastructure has been neglected for the past forty years, and a system that was designed for 20 million people is strained to the breaking point to serve 40 million residents. But if you want to build desalination plants and waste water treatment plants, you’ll need energy to operate them. And if you want to build off-stream reservoirs or recharge aquifers during wet winters, in order to pump water through the aqueducts to farms and cities during the dry years, you’re going to need energy. A lot of it. You’ll need energy to build and upgrade the system, then you’ll need energy to run the pumps. And that will jeopardize achieving the 40 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030. So it will not happen under a Newsom regime.

Instead expect water rationing at a level of draconian enforcement that will even surprise the fanatics. Californians could have more water, but not under the Newsom political machine. This isn’t just no more lawns, it’s no more trees or hedges. No more showers under a flow sufficient to wash the shampoo out of long hair. No more washing machines that effectively clean clothes without damaging them. As for farmers, kiss your land goodbye. Sell it while you still can to hedge funds that will build solar farms. Consumers? Kiss your affordable food goodbye. No more row crops, no more fruit. Expect to pay twice as much for vegetables. And as for California’s dairy industry? It depends on water guzzling alfalfa to feed the cows, so goodbye cows. No more affordable milk. No more affordable cheese.

Newsom’s California will cram down every public investment in infrastructure, whether it’s energy, water, or transportation. He’ll get cover from climate change activists whose passions are divorced from quantitative reality. He’ll also get cover from orthodox libertarians and even many anti-tax activists, who either disapprove of any government spending on infrastructure, or, somewhat more justifiably, distrust the government’s ability to complete any public works project at a reasonable cost and in a reasonable period of time. It’s not like they don’t have a point.

It used to be that public sector corruption, deplorable though it was, would at least get you something good in return. You might spend twice as much taxpayer money as might actually be necessary, but at the end of it all, there would be a tangible benefit to taxpayers. The much criticized “Big Dig” in Boston is a good example. It took years longer and cost billions more than promised, but when it was done, people could get from downtown Boston to Logan Intl. in 15 minutes, instead of an hour and a half. But we don’t even have that level of competence any more.

And then there are the homeless. If laws prohibiting vagrancy, petty theft, intoxication, and sale of hard drugs could be enforced again, the deterrent effect would mean, overnight, that half California’s homeless would suddenly find find shelter with friends and family. The rest of them could be housed in inexpensive barracks in inexpensive parts of California’s cities. The billions of dollars saved could be used to help them. But that would disrupt the profits of the Homeless Industrial Complex. So in Newsom’s California, expect to see more chaos on our streets, as countless lives are allowed to be destroyed under the pretext of “compassion” and “liberty.”

When it comes to the basic needs of Californians, water, energy, food, shelter, transportation, and safety, the Newsom machine has failed completely. A future with Newsom and his people in charge would mean soaking taxpayers for additional billions – ok, tens of billions – on “affordable housing” and “permanent supportive housing,” while the cost of housing would remain prohibitive. They’d continue to build these boondoggles at a cost, well documented, of over 500,000 per unit, along with “innovative tiny homes,” only 64 square feet in size, at a total project cost of over $200,000 per unit.

Step back a moment and think about this. Even in California, a crew of honest tradesmen could go buy a 120 square foot shed at Home Depot for around $5,000, and for another $20,000, if not much less, they could transport it, put it on a foundation, install plumbing, electric hookups, a bathroom and kitchenette, hook it up to the utility grid and someone could move in. But no. These “tiny homes,” half that size, cost ten times that much, and we’re supposed to be thrilled.

This is what out-of-control corruption looks like. This is the true face of California’s “progressive” movement. It is a movement whose public rhetoric comes from smarmy politicians like Gavin Newsom and passionate grassroots activists, but whose financial and political power rests in the hands of monopolistic corporations and entrenched government bureaucracies.

Why not deregulate housing, invest in enabling infrastructure, and allow more construction on raw land on the perimeter of existing cities and along freeway corridors? Why not reduce the excessive building fees and eliminate unnecessary, crippling delays in getting projects approved? Why not quarry aggregate, mine lithium, extract natural gas, and log and mill timber here in California? These steps would take hundreds of thousands of dollars off the price of a new home. But they would also undermine the power of the special interests that profit from scarcity.

This is life in Newsom’s California. This is the future he offers you. Anybody would be better. If you don’t like Republicans, vote for Paffrath, who is a Democrat with bold new ideas. At his political core, Gavin Newsom represents corporate corruption. A machine that spews progressive rhetoric on the topics of climate change, race, and gender while completely failing to meet the basic needs of every Californian regardless of where they come from or what they believe.

This article originally appeared on the website of the California Globe.

No More Government Unions?

Few states have been as profoundly shaped by their public-sector unions as California. Government labor groups there elect their own bosses and number among the biggest spenders on ballot campaigns to raise taxes and expand government. They have engineered some of the richest retirement benefits in the public sector—at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars in public debt.

But one California businessman thinks that he can change all that. Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper has filed a petition with the California attorney general’s office for a ballot initiative that would amend the state constitution to outlaw public-sector unions. “Public employment costs have exploded, including taxpayer-funded pensions and lifetime health benefits not enjoyed by employees in the private sector,” the petition reads. “Worse yet, some public employee unions have used their money and power to protect bad employees engaged in unspeakable misconduct and others who have completely failed at their jobs.”

Draper faces a strenuous uphill battle. He must collect close to 1 million signatures to qualify an amendment to the state constitution for the ballot—a path likely to be made more difficult by union-friendly election officials, who will throw obstacles in his way. If he succeeds, he’ll then face an election against the most well-heeled opponents: Golden State public-sector unions spend hundreds of millions of dollars every election cycle, and they’ll empty their coffers to defeat him.

Still, the politics of California are undergoing upheaval, as increasingly disgruntled voters consider recalling Governor Gavin Newsom, even as his closest allies, the public-sector unions, pour in money to help him stay in office. A recall of Newsom in the special election on September 14 would panic government union leaders and dramatically improve Draper’s odds of success.

Draper has long been critical of the direction of politics in his state. He made several attempts to put a question on the ballot to split California into several states in order to decentralize power and break the hold of special interests. That quixotic effort fell short in 2013, when he failed to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. But in 2018, he gathered enough names for a proposal to carve California up into three states. Though opponents derided the idea as “wacky,” they raised $10 million to ensure its defeat. Meantime, Draper committed more than $2 million of his own money to get the initiative on the ballot, only to have the state supreme court order it removed. “Apparently, the insiders are in cahoots and the establishment doesn’t want to find out how many people don’t like the way California is being governed,” Draper said then. “They are afraid to know the answer as to whether we need a fresh start here in California.”

Draper seems ready to undertake a massive effort against the state’s public-sector unions. A founding partner of the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, he’s made his money by investing in the likes of Skype and Tesla and has a net worth estimated by Forbes at $1.5 billion. He’s passionate about what he calls the decline of California and the role of public unions in the state’s politics. “Union bosses have run our state in the shadows for about 50 years. They punish candidates who don’t do their bidding for them. There is even evidence that they manipulate the courts,” he wrote in a recent article. “Union bosses have taken California schools from the top to the bottom, they have made it so that there are fewer jobs, more homeless, and people are fleeing the state to work. They have brought California quality of life from 1st to 50th.”

Unions have plenty of allies in state government in their efforts to thwart Draper. In 2012, for instance, Chuck Reed, a reform-minded Democratic mayor of San Jose, gathered enough signatures to place a referendum on the state ballot to allow adjustments to public-sector pensions and retiree health benefits. But then-Attorney General Kamala Harris, tasked with the job of writing a description of the initiative for voters, titled it misleadingly as a proposal that “Reduces pensions for public employees” and added several descriptions that mischaracterized the act. The Modesto Bee editorialized that her representation “read like talking points taken straight from a public employee union boss’ campaign handbook.” Disheartened, supporters withdrew the initiative.

More recently, the unions’ allies in state government have stepped in to protect them from membership losses in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME that government workers cannot be compelled to remain in a union. In response, state government entities have given unions the power to determine when and how members can resign their membership, and labor leaders have thrown up numerous obstacles. A recent class-action lawsuit by a University of California employee, filed with the help of the National Right to Work Foundation, charges that the school allows the University Professional and Technical Employees union to impose unreasonable conditions on employees looking to leave the group, including requirements that the union creates without informing employees when they file to resign.

Despite all these obstacles, Californians may be ready for dramatic change. Led by unions, Newsom supporters have poured $68.4 million into keeping him in office, compared with just $9.5 million being spent by opponents. Among Newsom’s biggest backers are the California Teachers Association, which has contributed $1.8 million, the state’s prison guard union ($1.75 million), and several locals of the Service Employees International union, which have collectively given $4 million. Even so, polls show nearly half of voters saying that they’ll vote for recall.

When voters are angry, all the union money in the world may not be enough. Just how angry are California voters? We’ll find out soon.

Steven Malanga is the senior editor of City Journal and the George M. Yeager Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

This article was originally published by City Journal Online.

California Bungled $316M From Feds Earmarked for the Homeless

After collecting $316 million from the federal CARES Act to house homeless people during the Covid-19 pandemic, California simply held onto the funds instead of distributing it. The state may now lose it.

That’s according to a new report from the state auditor’s office, that found the California Department of Housing and Community Development “did not take critical steps to ensure those funds promptly benefited that population,” the Associated Press reported.

The department was supposed to distribute the money to local groups to provide homeless services but it took so long to finalize contracts that those groups didn’t have access to much of the funding during the height of the pandemic, auditors found.

There’s a big problem when Congress throws so much money at the states that they cannot even spend it.

The state audit on the misuse of homeless funds found that the department didn’t give most groups access to the first round of federal funding until December 2020, seven months after it was announced by the federal government, and only recently gave them access to the second, larger round of funding.

Now, the groups might not be able to spend the money by a September 2022 federal deadline and may lose the funding. Funding that could be used to help with issues like San Francisco’s homeless human waste problem.

That’s right. The state that, as of January 2020, had about 151,000 homeless people may have to give back $316 million because it was too incompetent to spend it.

California has hit a new low, managing to take a terrible homeless situation and making it worse by possibly wasting $316 million.

The #WasteOfTheDay is presented by the forensic auditors at OpenTheBooks.com.

This article was originally published by RealClearPolicy.com

An Agenda to Fix California

As a recall election looms and embattled Governor Newsom fights for his political life, the political ads, as usual, are expensive pablum. That’s what we’ve come to expect, of course, but this election is nonetheless more than a referendum on a failing governor and failing policies. It’s a chance to think about what California could be. Instead of candidates pledging to “lower taxes on the middle class,” which obviously isn’t a bad idea, contenders for governor might discuss very specific policies they would champion.

Moreover, as voters cast their ballots and decide whether or not to keep Newsom in office, they might think about which candidates they’ll support in the future. Do they want to continue supporting political mannequins? Talking puppets that spout focus group tested cliches when you pull a string in their back? Or candidates that may be a little rough around the edges, but possess the courage, the vision, and the attention to detail that California needs now more than ever?

Here, being as brief but as specific as possible, are some ideas to solve some of California’s biggest problems. Most of them are controversial. It would be nice to find a politician with the guts to espouse all of them, without equivocation and without exception.

Problem: Unreliable and expensive energy:

Solution: Upgrade California’s natural gas powerplants to run at maximum efficiency and without being shut on and off. End the restrictions on natural gas hookups in new construction. Keep Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant open. Streamline the permit process for additional natural gas and nuclear power plants. Allow additional extraction of California’s abundant reserves of natural gas and oil. Relax if not repeal the CO2 emissions targets pursuant to AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. Continue to provide incentives for renewables, but recognize that an all-of-the-above energy strategy is an unavoidable necessity for developing nations with massive populations. Show the world how to do it in the most responsible manner possible. Restore abundant, affordable energy to Californians. Click here for more.

Problem: Scarce, expensive, rationed water:

Solution: Allocate a fixed percent of the state general fund to finance new investments in water infrastructure. Like energy, pursue an all-of-the-above strategy – runoff capture and storage, potable reuse of urban wastewater, off-stream reservoirs and expansion of existing reservoirs, percolation basins for aquifer recharge and recovery, and desalination. Invest enough to make the entire urban megapolis in Southern California independent of imported water. Streamline the punitive processes that make it take multiple decades to get projects approved. With all of this, again, set an example to the world of how to do it right. Restore abundant, affordable water to Californians. For more, go hereherehere, and here.

Problem: Congested, dilapidated, inadequate roads and freeways.

Solution: Recognize that smart roads are the future of transportation, not the past. Upgrade and widen all of California’s freeways. Recognize that automotive technology is in flux and repeal the zero emissions targets that prevent development of advanced hybrids. Develop protocols to designate smart lanes where next generation vehicles can convoy at high speeds. To make these investments cost-effective, reform the California Environmental Quality Act to reduce the time and expense of approving projects, and restructure CalTrans to outsource engineering and construction work to private contractors. For more, go herehereherehere, and here.

Problem: Homes cost too much.

Solution: Increase the supply of homes by increasing density in the urban core, and building entire new cities along the 101 and I-5 freeway corridors and elsewhere. Quit pretending that California, a vast state that is only 5 percent urbanized, is running out of room for people. Leave existing suburbs alone and leave zoning decisions to local elected officials. Recognize that wood framed homes with reasonable outdoor space are what most families prefer, and that these homes are less expensive than metal and concrete multi-story structures.  It takes two weeks to get a subdivision approved in Texas, but it takes twenty years to do it in California. End the war on suburbia and eliminate the outrageous costs and delays for building permits. For more, go here, and here.

Problem: There is a crisis of law and order and homelessness.

Solution: Restore the ability of police and courts to criminally prosecute and incarcerate citizens for selling hard drugs, public intoxication, and petty theft. For those homeless that haven’t committed crimes, construct centralized shelters in less expensive parts of cities and require job training and sobriety as a condition of entrance. California has wasted tens of billions constructing shelters and “supportive housing” at a cost that averages nearly $500,000 per unit. This is incredibly corrupt and utterly futile. Use that money to build safe barracks and pay counselors and vocational instructors. Reopen the fire camps for the able bodied criminal homeless and put them back on the fire lines. Take back our streets. For more, go here, and here.

Problem: Our forests are incinerating themselves and the air is unbreathable.

Solution: Bring back California’s timber industry, which as recently as the 1990s was harvesting 6.0 billion board feet per year from California’s forests. Today, barely 1.5 billion board feet come out. Why weren’t there massive fires every year back in 2000? Because logging was keeping up with regrowth as recently as ten years earlier. But now, for over thirty years, it has been nearly impossible to log, to thin, or do controlled burns, at the same time as our fire suppression industry has become incredibly effective. The result is overgrown forests of tinder dry, overcrowded and stressed trees. Of course they burn like hell. The solution is to let timber companies reopen mills and start logging responsibly again. They will clear the powerline corridors and maintain the fire roads and fire breaks, just like they used to, in exchange for logging rights. Prevent fires. Create jobs. Generate tax revenue. Supply affordable, in-state lumber for housing. Win, win, win, win. Click here for more.

Problem: Our schools are failing low income communities.

Solution: Stand up to the teachers’ unions, by creating competition in public instruction. This can be accomplished by making it easier to open charter schools, and taking away the cap on how many charter schools can operate. It can be accomplished by creating education savings accounts for every parent of a K-12 student, allowing those parents to use that money for the school of their choice – public, charter, private, parochial, or even homeschool. Theoretically, such a program could be revenue neutral or even save the state money. At the same time, reform the public schools by requiring a longer period before teachers can earn tenure, by favoring merit over seniority in layoffs, and by making it easier to fire incompetent teachers. Other ways to rescue K-12 education in California would be limit union negotiations to pay and benefits and outlaw teacher strikes, and to empower parents to opt-out of exposing their children to sexually explicit or politicized instruction. Click here for more.

The tragic reality in California today is that an entire complex – progressive billionaires, public sector unions, powerful environmentalist lobbyists and litigators, with nearly universal support from the legacy media, social media, and academia – considers most of these solutions, if not all of them, to be extreme. They’re not. They’re moderate, common sense solutions to serious problems that are obviously not being adequately handled based on what this complex considers to be the conventional wisdom.

Imagine California’s future if these policies became reality. The solutions suggested here for energy, housing, and forestry would actually generate tax revenue, along with hundreds of thousands of good jobs. The solutions suggested for education are revenue neutral. To supplement private investment, the economic boom these solutions would impart to the state overall would generate the tax revenue necessary for public investment in water and transportation infrastructure.

Imagine a state where instead of importing energy from Venezuela, or electricity from coal burning states, or lumber from British Columbia, or lithium from West African mines owned by the Chinese Communist Party, we would be producing all of these essential resources right here. Imagine the prosperity this would create. Californians consume these resources. That is reality. And even if we streamline what are currently crippling regulations, extraction operations located here in California will respect workers and the environment far more than they are being respected anywhere else in the world.

On a foundation of new and broad based prosperity, California can then afford to leapfrog other states and nations. California can innovate with transportation tunnels under its cities. California can innovate with passenger drones occupying aerial lanes above its cities. California can fund research into fusion energy and satellite solar power stations. California can solidify its position as one of the wealthiest and most innovative places on earth, but at the same time a place where ordinary families have a chance again.

California can be a place where there is abundance instead of scarcity, pragmatism instead of ideology, and optimism instead of pessimism. These values used to define California. They can do so again. California’s future can be very bright indeed.

This is the conversation California’s candidates for governor should be having.

This article originally appeared on the website of the California Globe.

Density And Our Property Rights

Several weeks ago, this column addressed Senate Bills 9 and 10, both of which deal with the controversial issue of housing policy and, more specifically, density of housing. Taxpayer advocates and neighbor associations have opposed both SB 9 and SB 10 because of the potential loss of local control and higher taxes. Both bills passed and now await action by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Senate Bill 9 permits “by right the development of two units on single-family lots” and allows “[subdivision of] a parcel that is zoned for single-family residential use” that “in conjunction with the two-unit provision” could “result in a total of four units on the lot.”

Senate Bill 10 would “authorize a local government to adopt an ordinance to zone any parcel for up to 10 units of residential density per parcel, at a height specified in the ordinance, if the parcel is located in a transit-rich area or an urban infill site.” It would override HOA agreements and voter initiatives that prohibited or limited such development in those areas.

But proponents of these bills, including some who write for this publication, have argued that conservatives who believe in property rights should support the bills. Their contention, however, is off the mark. To understand why, the very nature of property rights must be defined. When someone “owns” property, they possess a “bundle” of ancillary rights. A bundle of rights is a term for the group of legal privileges that attaches to the owner upon purchase. The bundle includes the right of possession; the right of control; the right of exclusion; the right of enjoyment; and the right of disposition. Increases in density, when not consistent with existing law, general plans or zoning, can negatively affect most, if not all, the ancillary rights of property ownership.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Newsom is Right – There’s Much His Replacement Can Do If He’s Recalled

During an August 19th interview with a panic-stricken Gov. Gavin Newsom, reporter Elex Michaelson asked Newsom if there’s really anything a new Republican governor could do with super-duper Democratic majorities in the legislature and with every statewide office in the hands of a Democrat.

“You can line-item veto everything coming out of the legislature…You can start to vandalize all the executive orders. You can eliminate the masking requirement for public schools. You can eliminate the vaccine requirements for public healthcare workers. So, many of the things that I signed through executive order can be done overnight.”

Newsom very well could spend hours opining on numerous powers unique to the office of the governor, many of which he has used to great effect in the past.

Upon being sworn in, a new governor could revoke every last emergency order related to the pandemic. Before those signatures are dry, he could call seven special sessions to deal with the major crises that Newsom has fueled with his regressive policies, including:

  • crime
  • water shortages/drought
  • wildfires
  • housing supply
  • homelessness/mental illness
  • government fraud
  • pandemic

Each session would be accompanied by a robust list of legislative priorities Californians have been demanding for years.

Though the Legislature will have concluded business the week before the recall election, they must respond to the governor’s call for special sessions, leaving behind the cover they’ve enjoyed over the past 18 months under the authoritarian executive. Legislators could continue to abdicate their duties by simply opening and closing sessions without actually doing anything, but a new governor could remind them of the 2022 redistricting battles that may hold them accountable for inaction.

The new governor will have significant influence over the 2022-23 state budget, the fight over which begins in earnest in October. Despite hundreds of billions of extra dollars thanks to federal COVID subsidies, California still faces substantial, long-term financing troubles. While Gov. Newsom boasts of the biggest state budget in history, the titanic funds undergirding the budget are one-time revenues that will tank once the Federal Reserve stops printing money and Congress avoids propping up spendthrift programs.

A new governor could issue guiding principles for the upcoming budget that will align expenditures and revenue. First, he could end all non-immediate, recurring expenditures. Excess budget funds should pay down long-term debt, not create new programs. This leader should then alert the counties that they will assume their role as the legal subdivisions and functional arm of the state, drastically reducing state bureaucracies duplicated within counties.

Newsom’s replacement could require every department head to produce a zero-based budget by Thanksgiving, justifying every expenditure with state statute and propose changes in law that would further streamline their responsibilities. For every budget that can’t be zero-based and built anew, ask for the department head’s resignation. Next, the new governor could require the Department of Finance to set up a metric by which all future contracts will be negotiated and seek ways to reduce state employees by attrition and incentives since more state services going forward would be run by the counties.

The new governor should implement absolute budget transparency and accountability. Ohio did it with their finances for less than what the governor makes in his annual salary and now, taxpayers have so much transparency that they can see what their governor ate for lunch. Next, the governor should send a memo to the management of every agency, department, commission, office and bureau and inform them of two things. First, the new administration will pursue a new course. Second, the memo must remind state government employees that they have a right to leave their government union and cease paying dues.

The governor should then make two more phone calls – the first to the independent State Auditor Elaine Howle to ask her to assemble a comprehensive list of every audit recommendation that previous administrations either ignored or rejected. Once compiled, send this list to every affected agency secretary and department head with the order to have a plan for full compliance within two weeks, allowing a modified appeal process if there are legitimate concerns for which the audit recommendations cannot be feasibly implemented. Apply the same due diligence with all internal department and agency audits as well as those from the Office of State Audits and Evaluations at the Department of Finance.

The second call should be to the governor’s press secretary to schedule a comprehensive press conference for the evening of Day 2 to outline his priorities and actions for the next several weeks.

A new governor can also reassert executive authority to expedite all infrastructure, water and housing projects that have been delayed by environmental review or opposed by not-in-my-backyard activists. That includes building the Sites and Temperance Flats reservoirs, housing developments that have already received ministerial approval from their local governments, and forest fire mitigation projects delayed for years. And without breaking a sweat, the new governor can stop all construction on the $100 billion high-speed rail boondoggle immediately, withdraw all eminent-domain lawsuits, and redirect only enough funds to retrofit bypasses intended for trains to instead be used as trucking lanes.

And for the schools, the governor should significantly reduce the Department of Education to a level that simply processes federal funds and mandates and otherwise redirect billions of dollars of administrative costs to the 58 counties offices of education directed to any program local school boards deem appropriate.

During a new governor’s first weeks in office, he should travel the state and talk to the people. Ask the best and brightest people to help deal with the many problems the current government can’t seem to address. Take recommendations from the people and create a Red Team Task Force that will organize these issues and propose innovative ways to deal with them. Let the people talk at open forums and town halls.

If a new governor is elected this month, that person will have one year to whip into shape a bloated, sleepy and sloppy state bureaucracy that has festered in mediocrity for years. And if the Legislature or entrenched bureaucracy is going to resist, the governor should plan for a one-hour presser every day to name names and let the people know why things aren’t changing.

Trust the people and remember, there is no time to waste.

Lance Christensen, Chief Operations Officer at the California Policy Center, has nearly two decades of public policy and political experience. He has worked as a legislative consultant in the California State Senate, as well as a finance budget analyst at the Department of Finance. More recently, Christensen served as chief of staff and senior policy advisor to California State Sen. John Moorlach.

This article was originally published by the California Globe.

How Unions Could Save America

The general perception within Conservatism, Inc. and libertarian circles is that collective bargaining is a violation of the right of the individual to seek work without being compelled to join a union. That sounds good in principle, but there’s much more to the story.

A few years ago, the workers at a local grocery store chain in California went on strike. The reason they voted to strike was that management had implemented a new policy whereby most of the employees, including full-time career workers, had their hours reduced to fewer than 25 hours per week. At the same time, these employees had their health coverage taken away.

It’s easy enough here to simply proclaim that this is the free market working for the greater good. After all, consider the Walmart chain. By sourcing most of its merchandise from overseas, exploiting economies of scale, and offering minimal pay and benefits, consumers are able to purchase food and other goods at prices far lower than a local, unionized grocery store chain could possibly achieve. Survival of the fittest. Economic Darwinism. Creative destruction. What could possibly go wrong?

But when you talk with the people who decided to go on strike, the other side of the story becomes obvious. Not everybody is a freelance gig whiz who can move to a low-cost city while writing code at $100+ per hour to service clients all over the world. Some people just want to do an honest day’s work, earn enough to support a family, and live with dignity. And if they’ve put 30 years into a job, with a decade to go before retirement, and all of a sudden their hours are cut and their benefits are gone, who is going to stand up for them?

More than a century ago, the need for unions was more obvious. The industrial revolution had spawned a manufacturing economy where there were no protections for workers. Adults and children worked long hours in appalling conditions. The emergence of unions in those years was a necessary reaction. Unions played a vital role in securing the rights that workers today take for granted.

While it’s much easier today to adhere to pure free-market orthodoxy, the reality is that America is a mixed economy. The debate over how much government and how many regulations are appropriate is better served by recognizing that neither extreme—pure libertarian capitalism or pure state communism—is a desirable outcome.

Unions in America today come in many varieties. Public-sector unions, which elect the politicians who supposedly manage them, and live on the taxes we pay, may be more problematic than private-sector unions. But in either case, it would be a mistake for right-of-center political movements to not consider many of their members as potential allies.

Unions Don’t Need to Have Wings

The general perception of unions, backed up by plenty of evidence, is that they are invariably committed to left-wing politics. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Union membership, even in some of the most notoriously left-wing unions, is often right-of-center.

As reported in the Orange County Register in 2018, the California Teachers Association president admitted that about 35 percent of his membership is Republican. This is in a state where only 24 percent of voters are registered Republicans. The National Education Association teachers union study in 2006 found that 55 percent of public school teachers “leaned conservative.”

The politics of California’s teachers’ unions are unambiguous. Their campaign contributions favor Democratic candidates by a ratio that typically exceeds 20 to 1. Why isn’t it 2 to 1, or less, if you take into account independent voters? Wouldn’t that better represent the membership? And what if NEA spending represented its national membership? Instead of spending 5 to 1 in favor of Democrats in 2020, what if they had spent 55 percent of their money on Republicans? Wouldn’t that more accurately reflect the political sentiments of their members?

In California, up until the rise of the social media mega-billionaires, public-sector unions ran the show. Collecting and spending roughly $1 billion per year, California’s public-sector unions have perennial financial power dwarfing that of any other special interest group. But what if their spending reflected the sentiments of their membership instead of their leadership?

Why, for example, did the firefighters union leaders agree to send their members onto the streets of Los Angeles to march in solidarity with the United Teachers of Los Angeles? Does the ideological agenda of the teachers’ union actually align with the typical political leanings of the average firefighter in California? Probably not.

One may rightly ask why public-sector unions have made it their business to influence politics at all, rather than just concerning themselves with pay, benefits, and issues of job safety. But if they’re going to be politically active, might they at least focus on issues where they have expertise? Why aren’t California’s firefighting unions lobbying to bring back California’s decimated timber industry? Restoring California’s timber industry would create jobs, pay for forest thinning and clearing around the powerlines, fire roads, and fire breaks, and Californians would no longer have to import lumber from British Columbia.

When right-of-center pragmatic American activists are looking for allies to join their movement, it would be hard to find more powerful potential allies than, for example, the firefighters’ union. But who is asking? Why aren’t firefighters themselves demanding that their union focus on changing the regulatory environment so private timber companies can thin the forests, saving lives and the forests themselves? Why aren’t activists going to these union leaders and saying “help us, only you have the political power to stand up to the extreme environmentalists who have brought us to this point.”

Some public-sector unions have already moved right-of-center. This is exemplified in California by the police unions striking back politically against the new lunatic district attorneys who took office thanks to mega-billionaire campaign contributions and dirty campaigns that relied on attacking the incumbent while disguising the motives of the challengers. Crime-friendly idiots like George Gascón in Los Angeles and Chesa Boudin in San Francisco are the result, and police unions have had enough. Nationally, this move to the Right on the part of police organizations was demonstrated by their almost universal support for the reelection of President Trump.

Private-Sector Unions Can Offer Powerful Support to the Right

A fundamental conflict exists between conservatives and private-sector unions: Conservatives support right-to-work laws and private-sector unions see those laws as an existential threat. It’s hard to get past a disagreement that big, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a try.

The approach would go something like this: We’re going to keep on fighting each other over the appropriate level of regulation to apply to private-sector unions, but meanwhile, we’re going to recognize together that America’s left-leaning establishment—co-opted by multinational corporations, mega-billionaires, and extreme environmentalists—is destroying the upward mobility of every working family in America.

This sort of rapprochement was evident in the long battle to open the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines. After unions lobbied for years in support of these pipelines, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was merely “unhappy” when Joe Biden killed it. Is that the best he can do? Trumka and his colleagues need to conduct a serious assessment of what kind of infrastructure is going to truly help the American worker. Not just the workers who get jobs to build the infrastructure, but the rest of America’s workers whose ability to pay their bills is enhanced when the right infrastructure is built.

Here is where unions can save America. Enabling infrastructure that socializes the cost of basic necessities—transportationenergy, and water—is a use of public funds and union workmanship that lowers the cost of living for everyone. When that happens, no matter how much they make, workers can do more with their money. All workers.

Union leaders must ask themselves, what is going to help everyone more: High-speed rail or wider and safer freeways? Wind turbines and solar farms, or clean natural gas power and safe nuclear power? Dead trees and water rationing, or water recycling, desalination plants, and new reservoirs?

The coalition that is currently running America into the ground is too powerful to be stopped without help from America’s powerful unions. If they want to save America for its middle class and aspiring low-income communities, right-of-center pragmatists and union leaders need to put aside their differences and fight together for the greater good.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

The California War On Gas Stations

Just a few months back, Petaluma in Sonoma County outlawed the construction of new gas stations, the first city in the nation to do so. Anyone who thought such an extreme measure would end there was being naive. Rather than a one-off event, the Petaluma City Council’s unanimous vote to change the zoning code became the model for others to follow.

And follow they did.

Less than a week after the Petaluma vote, Motor Trend reported that “one North Bay grassroots group leading the charge against new fossil fuel infrastructure in Sonoma County, the Coalition Opposing New Gas Stations (CONG), has managed to block the opening of three new stations.”

By August, according to Vice, other Sonoma cities had joined forces “to follow in Petaluma’s footsteps.” Using “the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority” – a coalition of elected officials representing the nine Sonoma cities and the county itself that exists to write regional climate-related law – “Petaluma’s neighbors are aiming to craft language for a single gas station ban that’s replicable in each jurisdiction across the region.”

While the legislation remains unfinished, and will eventually require the attention of attorneys, it “has widespread support and will come to a vote in September,” adds Vice. Needless to say, the ban cannot be questioned, because it’s being produced in the “service of the county’s broader goal to be carbon neutral by 2030.”

Certainly there’s little questioning in the media coverage. Reports treat the prohibitionists as selfless activists, forward-looking idealists, the smart set leading California – and the world – to a better future. And they likely think of themselves as such. But their policy pursuits aren’t consistent with improving lives.

For instance, limiting the options to buy gasoline raises prices. This won’t bother the wealthy in Sonoma County, where the median household income is more than $81,000 a year, almost $6,000 higher than the state median income. But it will hurt the residents who struggle financially, and the low-income workers from the outside who clean the wealthy’s homes, mow their grass, trim their trees, repair their plumbing, and take care of all the other tasks needed to keep houses neat and in working order.

“You’re creating an absolutely divided, racist society,” says Todd Royal, ​​co-author of three books on energy.

If the prohibitionists believe that in limiting the availability of gasoline they’re cutting emissions because people will drive less, they’re deluding themselves. Putting a lid on new stations will actually increase emissions, says Royal, because motorists are forced to drive farther to fill up.

For all the good intentions of the activists who want to shut down gas stations, whose civic engagement “comes from a good place,” says Royal, they are nevertheless misguided. They might celebrate their success in outlawing new stations, but their efforts are meaningless on any scale.

“If the United States shut down and ceased to exist,” he says, “global emissions will still rise because India, China, and Africa” won’t stop using energy from fossil fuel sources.”

Nor should they. The Third World deserves a chance to develop.

“Just turning the lights on,” says German media outlet Deutsche Welle, citing a United Nations report as its source, “could lift nearly 600 million people out of the depths of poverty.”

More gas stations would help the poor, too, certainly in the Third World but in parts of California, as well.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

Building Back the Bay

The promise of federal money never fails to move San Francisco Bay Area politicians to action. With the Biden administration’s bipartisan infrastructure bill likely to pass, the mayors of Oakland, San Jose, and San Francisco penned an open letter arguing that the Bay Area is in dire need of money to improve its infrastructure. The region does face a unique set of transportation challenges, but its most pressing infrastructure problems stem from the breakdown of law and order. The city’s inability to address madness and criminality on public transit and on the streets inhibits access to already existing amenities.

The Bay Area’s geography required city planners to develop a unique network of transportation routes. Set on a narrow peninsula, San Francisco is connected to its suburbs by a handful of bridges and Bay Area Regional Transit, or BART, which runs trains through an underwater tube. Current BART ridership is down nearly 90 percent from 2019—a decline owing only in part to work-from-home arrangements instated after Covid closures. The network has deteriorated for nearly a decade, with ridership stagnating through the late 2010s, despite local population growth. The system has long verged on unraveling.

I took my last BART trip three years ago, when I chaperoned Sunday school kids on an ill-advised trip to the Contemporary Jewish Museum near the city’s downtown. Marijuana smoke permeated the platform area. I wouldn’t complain—the drug is legal—but half a dozen students in the group had yet to be b’nai mitzvahs. Many fellow passengers that morning were mentally distraught or physically ill. Those in our party avoided the misfortune of sitting on a syringe, but our trip was not without disturbance. As we returned from our excursion in a train car filled with the smell of burnt rubber, an absent-minded middle-aged woman dropped her pants in plain view of our kids. Once home, we took extra-long showers; at my daughter’s recommendation, I sprayed our shoes with Lysol.

BART’s problems go beyond quality-of-life issues, however; the service is dangerous. The 2018 murder of 18-year-old Nia Wilson by a deranged transient attracted national attention on suspicion that the attack was motivated by racism. No evidence of racism surfaced, but the disintegration of social norms that led to the brutal murder of a young woman in a crowded train station right in front of her sisters is unmistakable. The transit system is overrun with frightful individuals: some wander, others ingest opiates, and still others accost commuters and harass women.

Wilson’s murder was horrific, but it was not an isolated incident. The system has been plagued by seemingly never-ending episodes of sexual assaultrobberiesand other violent crime. BART is reluctant to disclose crime data, but it regularly posts notifications of delays caused by criminal activity. Meantime, citizen journalists upload photos and videos on social media of BART’s dilapidated trains, human bilepublic urinationand menacing creeps. Would-be passengers take note and keep away.

BART’s board of directors recently approved a $2.44 billion budget for the fiscal year 2022, but the system is an emergency on rails. Most of its funding comes not from fares and parking fees but from federal, state, and local government sources, including $385 million in federal emergency funds. The network’s plan to hire 17 full-time janitors and 10 security officers won’t be enough to transform it into a usable service. Its plan to extend operating hours is a cruel joke; the prospect of a midnight ride on a Zodiac express will not entice riders. For a price equal to the expense of three embassies in Kabul, San Francisco runs a largely useless transportation network.

Cross-bay auto traffic has picked up somewhat since the city eased Covid restrictions in the spring, but driving through the Bay Area is often no safer than taking public transit. Tourists need to worry about having their car windows broken by street-dwelling lunatics or gang members. After the 2014 passage of Proposition 47, which dramatically reduced penalties for numerous crimes, California has seen an epidemic of organized crime. Auto burglaries spiked when tourism came to a halt during last summer’s lockdowns and rose further once the city began reopening a few months ago. As a result, sidewalks in touristy areas exemplify post–Prop. 47 culture: once the afternoon sun pierces the fog, they light up with the aquamarine twinkle of shattered windshields. To reduce crime and lure tourists back, San Francisco must increase police presence on its streets, but its police department is short 400 officers.

Other methods of Bay Area transportation exist, such as the Transbay bus service and Oakland & Alameda ferry lines, but they significantly prolong the duration of many suburban commutes. Cyclist and pedestrian advocates have proposed the whimsical idea of dedicating a Bay Bridge traffic lane to bicycles. Some might relish a daily five-mile pedal across the bridge in often windy, drizzly conditions, but others would undertake the slog only as a last resort. And biking is a non-starter for small children, seniors, and others with mobility challenges.

Transit infrastructure facilitates the movement of goods and people. It was once considered the most important function of government. Today, Bay Area mayors plan to use funds designated for infrastructure to build a host of amenities, including subsidized affordable housing and broadband internet. Yet they fail to provide safe travel, leaving harried commuters at the mercy of vagrants and criminals. Before securing funding for pet projects, Bay Area politicians should ensure that all civilians can actually get around the city.

Katya Sedgwick is a writer in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This article was originally published by City Journal Online.

Attempting To Repeal The Prop. 19 Death Tax

Whether you’re looking at historic election results or recent polling, it’s clear beyond any doubt that Californians hate death taxes. Back in 1982, voters overwhelmingly approved two ballot measures to abolish state inheritance and gift taxes—not only abolish them, but ban them permanently.

A few years later, rising property values had created a new kind of death tax. Property that was transferred within families was being reassessed to market value at the time of transfer, and because real estate prices had gone up so sharply, property that was transferred at the time of death brought with it a new annual property tax bill that was often unaffordable. Grieving families that were unable to pay the new tax bills were forced to sell family properties.

The political heat became so intense that the Legislature passed, by a unanimous vote in both houses, a measure that said homes and a limited amount of other property would be excluded from reassessment when transferred between parents and children. This measure was Proposition 58 on the 1986 ballot. It was approved by more than 75% of voters. Ten years later, voters approved Proposition 193 to extend the same tax rules to transfers of property between grandparents and grandchildren when the children’s parents were deceased.

Sadly, all these protections for California families were swept away by Proposition 19 in November. Many voters did not realize that this measure, presented in a costly ad campaign as something that would help wildfire victims, disabled people and seniors, also took away the constitutional protections that for decades had helped families climb the economic ladder by building generational wealth through property ownership.

To restore those constitutional protections for California families, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has just filed an initiative with the attorney general’s office. The “Repeal the Death Tax Act” would reinstate Propositions 58 and 193. Parents would once again be able to transfer a home and a limited amount of other property to their children without triggering reassessment and a property tax increase.

To read the entire column, please click here.