Prop. 15 Empowers Big Business, Destroys Small Business

California’s state and local governments, and the public sector unions that exercise nearly absolute control over the politicians who supposedly oversee them, have always had an insatiable desire for higher taxes. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has added even more urgency to their insatiable quest for more money from taxpayers, but through the years their basic game plan and goals have been remarkably consistent.

For example, the so-called “Split Roll” property tax increase which has finally made it onto the November 2020 state ballot in the form of Prop. 15, is something that has been proposed for years by California’s government unions and their supporters. This new tax is designed to undermine the historic 1978 Prop. 13, which limits property reassessments to when there is a change in ownership, and from that baseline keeps increases to maximum of two percent per year. Prop. 13 also freezes the property tax rate at one percent, although countless local “fees” have elevated the actual amount owners have to pay.

The way Prop. 15 is being sold to voters is based on its impact being restricted to commercial properties. Because residential properties are unaffected by Prop. 15, at least initially, proponents expect voters who own homes to not feel threatened by the measure. The airwaves are already saturated with ads in support of Prop. 15. To paraphrase, the themes are “make the wealthiest corporations pay their fair share,” “relieve the crowded classrooms,” “help local communities respond to the impact of COVID,” “put schools and communities first.”

It should come as no surprise that the top two donors in support of Prop. 15,  are the California Teachers Association PAC, so far contributing $6 million, and the SEIU California State Council, so far contributing $3.5 million. Taking into account the fact that once the pandemic slowdown has come and gone, this tax increase – if approved by voters – will still be in effect, do California’s state and local agencies really need more tax revenue?

Historical Trends Do Not Justify Higher Taxes

Since the CTA is a top supporter of Prop. 15, what are the enrollment and spending trends that have convinced them that California’s system of public education requires even more money?

If all that is taken into account is enrollment, there is no basis whatsoever for more spending. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2000 there were 6.1 million students enrolled in California’s K-12 public schools. According to the California Dept. of Education, in 2020 there are only 6.1 million students. If the student population is stable, why does the system need more money?

Meanwhile, when taking into account all spending on education – teacher and staff salaries, classroom spending, administrative overhead, debt service on school bonds, and the state’s annual CalSTRS contribution – California’s K-12 traditional public schools are currently funded at just over $20,000 per pupil. Public charter schools, by the way, survive on much less, but that’s another story. With that much money to work with, why can’t the system adapt to the present slowdown, instead of trying to raise taxes? Indeed, according to California’s Office of Legislative Analyst, successful adjustments have already been made.

Public education is only on part of California’s state and local spending. An examination of spending trends over the past twenty years, adjusting for population growth and inflation, shows a relentless march upwards. The following graph, the result of an analysis conducted earlier this year by the California Policy Center, shows that per capita state government spending in constant dollars has nearly doubled in the last forty years, and is up 50 percent over the last twenty years. Why?

What have Californians gotten in return for all that money? As noted in the earlier analysis:

“Compared to forty years ago, Californians cannot afford to purchase homes, they cannot afford to pay college tuition, they cannot drive on uncongested freeways, and they cannot expect their children to get a good education in public schools. Forty years ago, they could expect all those things. There have been many improvements to our lives over the past forty years – the tech revolution and precision medicine, to state two obvious examples – but apart from cleaner air, the state can’t take much credit for improvements to the quality of life for Californians. The state can take credit, however, nearly exclusive credit, for making California unaffordable, for ruining California’s public schools, for driving up the cost of college tuition and neglecting our highways.”

Add to that litany two additional catastrophes that California’s state government can take credit for: their misguided restrictions on logging and forest clearing are the reason forest fires are now destroying forests forever instead of just burning off underbrush, and their misguided attempt to convert to supposedly renewable energy is the reason residents are paying the highest utility rates in the nation while enduring electricity brownouts and blackouts.

Perhaps it is an oversimplification, but nonetheless worth stating: The primary reason for this incompetence despite record per capita spending is because California’s state and local agencies are ran by public sector unions, for whom higher pay, higher benefits, and higher headcounts are the primary objective, with efficiency and accountability actual impediments to achieving those goals.

How Prop. 15 Will Destroy Small Businesses

Worked into the language of California’s split roll property tax increase proposal is an exemption for commercial properties worth $3.0 million or less. Unfortunately, in California’s commercial real estate market, $3.0 million doesn’t buy very much.

Consider these $3.0M+ commercial listings in Los Angeles:

11,979 SF Industrial Building, Long Beach, $3.6M

13,290 SF Industrial Building, Los Angeles, $3.2M

12,150 SF Industrial Building, El Monte, $3.6M

6,119 SF Retail Building, Burbank, $3.3M

What about San Diego?

2,491 SF Retail Building, San Diego, $3.2M

11,800 SF Industrial Building, San Diego, $3.5M

San Jose?

8,050 SF Industrial Building, Milpitas, $3.7M

5,000 SF Retail Building, San Jose, $3.6M

Sacramento?

8,715 SF Retail Building, Sacramento, $3.1M

2,400 SF Industrial Building, Sacramento, $3.3M

12,000 SF Industrial Building, Sacramento, $3.0M

The point here is these listings are not for operations ran by “the wealthiest corporations.” Nor are these listings in the most expensive parts of the cities surveyed. Industrial sites in California’s major urban areas start at around $250 per square foot, which will buy 12,000 square feet of what is definitely not premium real estate. So who are harmed by Prop. 15?

People who own their own buildings, often multi-generational families, who have eliminated their debt, weathered the COVID shutdown, and operate low-margin manufacturing, retail and restaurant establishments are the people who are going to get killed by Prop. 15.

And what about those “wealthiest corporations?”

These big corporate owners of commercial real estate will pay more in taxes. But they will pass those taxes on to the consumers, including the small businesses that are tenants of many of these larger investor owned properties. Prop. 15 claims it will exempt – only until 2025 – retail centers worth more than $3 million if the “occupants are 50 percent or more small businesses.” Notwithstanding the bureaucratic hoops gaining these exemptions will impose, the relief is only temporary.

Prop. 15 will immediately punish those businesses that are are just above the lowest rung, the owners of commercial property worth anything over $3 million. Imagine a manufacturer of a niche product that manages to compete, thanks to low property taxes and a clean balance sheet, against much larger manufacturers. Imagine small, well managed companies that might eventually emerge to challenge or even displace larger competitors. Prop. 15 will crush them.

Prop. 15 eliminates one of the last, if not the last, competitive advantage available in California to financially responsible, long-standing small businesses that own their property. It is a cruel attack on the hardest working and least privileged among California’s business community, masquerading as the opposite.

This article originally appeared in the California Globe.

California’s Worst Bills of the Legislative Session

The final gavel fell last week on the 2020 legislative session.  Cut short by seven weeks due to the coronavirus, lawmakers were forced to take a backseat to Gov. Newsom, who made use of his wide-ranging emergency powers to lock down businesses to stop the spread of the virus and provide financial relief. Meantime, against the backdrop of riots and racial tension, Democrats made the most of advancing their progressive agenda.  Here are just some of the bills that will do Californians more harm than good:

AB 979 Diversity in Corporate Boards

California will be the first state to require racial quotas on corporate boards if Newsom signs this bill into law.  AB 979 mandates that at least one person from an “underrepresented community” is on the board of companies headquartered in California.  This bill, along with Prop. 16 which would bring back racial preferences, is part of the war being waged against meritocracy in so many of America’s institutions.  As I’ve written in Right by the Bay, a system of meritocracy is the only way a melting pot state like California can operate, succeed, and prosper.

SB 852 Health Care: Prescription Drugs

In another first, California will be the first state to get into the pharmaceutical business by negotiating with manufacturers to sell its own label of generic drugs.  This move is supposed to increase competition and reduce prices.  But PRI senior fellow Wayne Winegarden points out that 95 percent of prescriptions for generic drugs cost $25 or less, so there’s not much room for generic drug prices to fall further: “If Newsom’s new drugmaker is going to undercut existing generic prices, it will have to sell its wares at loss-inducing prices. These losses will be compounded by the additional costs the state will incur monitoring its new drug retailing entity.” Any reduction in drug prices will ultimately be subsidized by California taxpayers.

SB 1383 Unlawful Employment Practice: Family Leave

SB 1383 forces very small businesses to hold open a job for up to three months for employees who become new parents or who want to care for a sick family member.  I’ve covered this bill in more detail here.  Requiring small business owners to guarantee jobs will raise their costs and increase their exposure to lawsuits.  One would think that with so many businesses forced by the state to shutter their doors because of the pandemic, lawmakers would give mom and pop business owners a break.

AB 3121 Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans

AB 3121 will create a nine-member task force to look into ways to pay reparations to African Americans despite the fact that California was a free state.  Assemblyman Kevin Kiley’s (R-Rocklin) office said that that these issues are better handled at the federal level.  We would go further and agree with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who believes that it would be hard to figure out who to compensate: “We’ve had waves of immigrants as well come to the country and experience dramatic discrimination of one kind or another so no, I don’t think reparations are a good idea.” Americans have fought a civil war, passed landmark civil rights legislation, and the courts have capably dealt with discrimination.  America’s not perfect, but reparations could cause even more division in this country.

SB 793 Flavored Tobacco Products

This bill, which was already signed into law by Gov. Newsom, would ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products, mostly vaping products that help smokers break the deadly habit.  Keeping these products out of the hands of children makes absolute sense, but education and enforcement is the better way to achieve it.  As Steve Greenhut argues, this bill targets safer products and boosts the market share of the truly dangerous ones. “It’s far better for public health if a smoker relies on lower-risk products than higher-risk ones. That would seem obvious anywhere except the California Legislature.”

AB 1876 Extending Tax Credits to Illegal Immigrants

AB 1876 would allow illegal immigrants who file taxes to receive California’s tax refund for low-income residents. Previously, only taxpayers with a Social Security number could claim the California Earned Income Tax Credit. This bill further blurs the distinction between those who are here legally and those who aren’t and invites more illegal immigrants to settle in the state.  When Newsom laments that there is no money left in the piggy bank to provide pandemic relief for Californians, it’s priorities like these that send Californians fleeing to states with more sensible policies.

Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific research Institute.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

From the Government, “Do As We Say, Not As We Do” File

Government elected officials are proud and often boastful when it comes to making laws that tell the rest of us how to live but legislators many times don’t have to follow the same mandates they require of others. This week, California witnessed the latest entries in the “Do as we say, not as we do” file. 

Under the Capitol Dome, Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks was told the only way she could vote on the legislature’s last work day was to attend the closing legislative session. Wicks is a new mom and the only way she could attend was to bring her tiny infant along. In that same Assembly chamber where Wicks was voting, members were passing SB 1383 and sending it along to the governor. The bill requires small businesses to offer employees mandatory family leave so that the workers can take care of family matters, like caring for a newborn baby, for instance. 

Photo courtesy shawncalhoun, flickr

In San Francisco, where small business owners of hair salons and barbershops have been suffering through the pandemic lockdown, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was getting her hair done inside a salon even though San Francisco officials had not yet permitted indoor salons to open. While the congresswoman didn’t participate in setting the rules for hair salons, her good friends in the city and state, including Governor Gavin Newsom, laid out the guidelines for the rest of us, but which, apparently, the Speaker does not have to adhere. 

The Assembly rules allowed special voting procedures to its members because of concerns about the coronavirus. However, new mothers got no break from the Assembly and Wicks was not allowed to vote remotely or by proxy so she had to come to work, even though the legislators were subsequently setting the rules on how small businesses must operate giving people in Wicks’ position time off. 

The California Chamber of Commerce considers SB 1383 a job killer bill. On the CalChamber Job Killers website the bill is described this way: “Significantly burdens small employers by requiring small employers with only five employees to provide eligible employees with 12 weeks of mandatory family leave, which can be taken in increments of 1-2 hours, and threatens these small employers with costly litigation if they make any mistake in implementing this leave.” 

Maybe if the state legislature was considered a small business, it would have saved Buffy Wicks’ daughter a late-night trip to the capitol. But, then government in California is a big business and getting bigger all the time. 

For the record, Pelosi says she was “setup” by the salon owner and the Assembly Speaker, Anthony Rendon, issued an apology to Asseblymember Wicks. 

Judge that as you may, but lawmakers granting themselves privileges common citizens don’t enjoy or setting up different rules for themselves is not a new thing. One example dragged out into the headlines from time to time is the secretive DMV office in Sacramento open to current and retired members of the legislature and congress, legislative staffers and other government employees. I think the most troubling thing about who can enjoy this office’s services is that former members of the legislature and congress are still welcome there. 

Foolish me, I thought in being elected they were performing a public service and when finished with their time in office they became ordinary citizens again. 

It’s good to be the lawmakers when you can make regulations for others to live by yet at the same time create separate sets of rules just for you and your colleagues.

Joel Fox is editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.

Behind the ‘Wild West’ of School Reopenings

An academic year in which public education will intersect with public health has created back-to-school shopping lists unlike any other for California’s schools as they attempt to transition toward in-person instruction once they have the state’s blessing.

Bakersfield’s Panama-Buena Vista Union School District plans to hire a manager to handle contact tracing for a system of 19,000 students and 4,000 employees. 

Anaheim Union High School District spent more than $500,000 this summer on additional band instruments so students won’t have to share clarinets, saxophones and flutes to reduce risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Among the few California schools to physically reopen, Yreka Union High School District near the Oregon border is spending about 10% more than it would in any given year to hire more maintenance staff to support exhaustive cleaning efforts.

While an overwhelming majority of students began the year in distance learning, schools are preparing for that moment, sourcing personal protective equipment for teachers and kids in a competitive market, figuring out how they will trace coronavirus cases and test employees, and wondering just how far their dollars will stretch this year.

The laundry list of safety measures schools are spending on is due to new state public-health requirements they will have to abide by for in-person learning, and mounting pressures to bring students back to campuses to help stop widespread learning loss and revive a sputtering state economy.

Doing that will require safety precautions to help prevent coronavirus outbreaks and give parents, students, teachers and staff enough confidence to return in person. The exact costs related to health and safety measures depend on how much of the year schools will offer in-person instruction. That amount of time is in turn tied to local health conditions and, school officials say, whether they will have enough money in their budgets to sustain it. 

This summer, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Office of Emergency Services procured a 60-day supply of protective equipment for the state’s 1,037 school districts, anticipating that campuses were going to physically reopen to begin the new term. Order forms of the $53 million shipment obtained through a public-records request partially illustrate the scale and cost attached to reopening schools for the state’s 6.1 million K-12 students:

  • $633,457.10 for more than 204,000 N95 respirators for school nurses
  • $2,732,978.56 for 55,912 no-touch thermometers 
  • $6,729,690.24 for 154,068 gallons of hand sanitizer
  • $14,142,785.63 for almost 7.2 million cloth face coverings for elementary students

The state and FEMA have helped with masks. In some counties, such as Kern, hospitals and businesses have chipped in with donations for personal protective equipment, or PPE. But high demand for supplies have driven up costs and attracted sketchy vendors looking to make money off some districts in urgent need of supplies. 

School leaders have called on the federal government to help with the extraordinary costs of doing distance learning and physically reopening schools they say could threaten efforts to bring students back on campuses.

In San Diego Unified, superintendent Cindy Marten said a precarious budget situation will affect how quickly and to what extent the state’s second-largest school district will be able to offer in-person instruction this year. To date, the district has spent $11 million on personal protective equipment.

“When the funding’s not there, we will have to stop (reopening),” Marten said Thursday, calling on Congress to pass a financial relief package for schools. “When you reopen and you can’t put the appropriate nursing and counseling and distancing in place and physical changes that need to happen, you slow it down or you don’t do it as safely.” …

Click here to read the full article from CalMatters.org

California’s Property-Tax Holy War

California’s Proposition 13, the successful 1978 initiative that limited property-tax increases, has long been considered the third rail of the state’s politics. Former governor Jerry Brown, coasting to victory in the 2014 gubernatorial election, called the constitutional amendment “a sacred doctrine that should never be questioned.” But now a coalition of public-sector unions, school districts, progressive advocacy groups, and Democratic politicians are betting that they can overturn at least half of Prop. 13, in the process enacting a huge tax increase on state businesses during a steep recession. Theirs promises to be a hard-fought battle, pitting rich unions against well-financed business groups—a contest that will prove decisive for California’s future. If the union-led effort succeeds, it will show that the state has made a pivotal, if not permanent, move to the left, and the rest of Prop. 13 will likely be the progressive movement’s next target.

Prop. 13 limited the amount that commercial and residential properties could be taxed in California to 1 percent of value. Crucially, the constitutional amendment also restricted reassessments of value to when a property changes hands, or when construction enhances the value of a home or commercial property. Several trends encouraged public support for the proposition, including the rapid growth of California government, skyrocketing local taxes, and a series of state supreme court decisions that redistributed property taxes in some wealthy districts to poorer areas. Watching property assessments soar during the inflationary 1970s, older homeowners strongly supported the initiative.

Though Prop. 13 has been a boon for some owners, especially those who have retained their properties for a long time, it hasn’t restrained the overall growth of taxes in the Golden State, which ranks 11th in total tax burden on individuals, in part because of its steeply progressive income tax—the highest rate in the nation. The Tax Foundation also rates California as the third-worst business climate among states because of its combined tax burden—including its corporate, sales, and personal income taxes. When you consider the state’s heavy-handed regulations, too, the business outlook already looks glum. According to a survey by Chief Executive, CEOs rate California the nation’s worst business environment.

Yet businesses are the target of this new ballot initiative, too, which would create so-called split rolls in California, with commercial properties getting assessed based on market value, while residences would continue to be protected from increases until owners sell them. Advocates note that businesses tend to hold on to their properties longer than most homeowners, giving some a huge tax break because they’re paying taxes based on sometimes decades-old assessments. Supporters also frame this in terms of fairness. At one rally, they carried signs that read, “Taxing the Wealthy Keeps the Economy Healthy.” The problem: the current initiative isn’t about reforming the state’s taxes by raising some money in exchange for tax relief elsewhere. Instead, the new initiative would amount to an estimated $12 billion tax hike on businesses that own properties.

Supporters conceived of the initiative before the Covid-19 lockdowns, but they’re not backing off, though nearly 5 million Californians filed for unemployment claims in the first two months of the crisis. Passing the initiative “was critical a few months ago,” Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf said. “Now, it is a matter of life and death for many California families.”

Business groups, already worried about outmigration of firms from California to less expensive places, say that the state would lose one of its last selling points in retaining firms. “From the point of view of attracting and retaining businesses and jobs, the power of Prop. 13 was in allowing California to tell a business [that] . . . [w]ith California, you’re safe” from reassessments, former state director of finance Tom Campbell wrote earlier this year. If the initiative passes, some of the biggest losers would be tourist businesses like Disneyland, which have already seen revenues plummet because of the shutdowns. Meantime, taxpayer groups worry that the latest assault on Prop. 13 indicates that homeowners are the next target. “If the business community loses its Prop. 13 protection,” says Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, a leading supporter of Prop. 13, “we’re next on the menu.”

The battle promises to be costly. Advocates of the initiative have already raised nearly $20 million, led by a $6 million contribution by the California Teachers Association and $3.5 million from the SEIU’s state council. So far, opponents of the repeal effort have mustered $3 million in donations, including $1.5 million from Howard Jarvis Taxpayers. Polls taken before the crisis showed the repeal initiative enjoying about an eight-point advantage, but the margin narrowed as the economy crashed. The real sense of how the initiative will perform won’t become clear until more fund-raising dollars pour into electioneering.

If Prop. 13 is sacred doctrine in California, this November’s election amounts to nothing less than a crusade—for both sides.

Steven Malanga is the senior editor of City Journal, the George M. Yeager Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and the author of Shakedown: The Continuing Conspiracy Against the American Taxpayer.

This article was originally published by City Journal Online.

The Power of Big Tech is Greater Than Ever

Earlier this month Twitter engaged in what has become all to common among the online communications giants, they banned conservative content from their platform. This time, their targets were conservative humorists.

Two of the banned accounts, Titania McGrath and the Babylon Bee, offer some of the most hilarious satire to be found anywhere. And as with any great satire, sometimes at first glance, the uninitiated will not even realize its a joke.

After a few days, Twitter reinstated both of these accounts, but another target of the ban, the satirist Jarvis DuPont, remains inaccessible. DuPont’s musings can still be found on Spectator USA, but because the focus of his ridicule was trans ideology – which constitutes the uttermost pinnacle of intersectional sanctity – he shall never be seen on Twitter again.

It is difficult to overstate the global power of these companies. Not quite two years ago, in an article entitled (all too accurately) “How Big Tech Will Swing the Midterms, Then Take Over the World,” a financial snapshot of the seven biggest high tech and social media companies was included. That graphic is reproduced below:

These are companies of almost unimaginable financial power. Twitter, the smallest kid on the block, by far, in terms of their market value, back in late 2018 was nonetheless sitting on nearly six billion dollars in cash. That’s cold hard cash, sitting in their checking account.

Together, these seven companies, which collectively exercise almost absolute control over what information reaches the vast majority of Americans, had $386 billion in cash back in late 2018, and had a combined market value of 4.4 trillion. For those who haven’t thought this through, a trillion is equal to one thousand billion, or one million million. And that was then.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the shut down of small businesses across America, with many of them never to come back. It also empowered the further consolidation of the American economy in the hands of multi-national corporations. But among those behemoths, few have done as well as big tech. With outdoor activities sharply reduced and shops closed, screen shopping and screen entertainment fills the void. The total market value of these seven companies is at an all time high, all of them have nearly doubled since October 2018; combined they are now worth $7.6 trillion, up 71 percent from less than two years ago.

As for their cash position, these seven companies now have just shy of a half-trillion dollars to deploy, anywhere, anytime. Twitter, still the small fry among these titans, now has nearly $8 billion in cash.

Companies this big have the power of nation states. Of the five companies on earth that have market values of $1.0 trillion or more, four of them are among these big tech companies. The only other company worth over $1.0 trillion is Aramco, the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia. In comparison to national GDP, the market value of these seven big tech companies, $7.6 trillion, puts them in third place, behind the United States and China. Even when making the more apt comparison of the combined sales of these seven companies, $1.0 trillion, to national GDP, they come in at #17 in the world, right behind Indonesia ($1.1 trillion) and ahead of the Netherlands ($0.9 trillion).

Financial Power is Only Part of Big Tech’s Power

It’s important to describe just how wealthy a handful of companies, controlled by a literally a few dozen people living on America’s West Coast, because it’s even greater than one might casually assume. These are companies that are financially powerful enough to buy small nations. They are powerful enough to invest in almost any market sector on earth and dominate it. They are powerful enough to absorb or crush any emerging competitor, any time, and they do. But that’s only half the story.

What Big Tech does with their money, and their technology, is far more significant than the mere fact of their insanely immense wealth. For all practical purposes, these companies exercise monopolistic control over how we access information and communicate. In the earlier article on Big Tech, how these companies accomplish this is covered in some detail. They are rewriting history, redefining language, arbitrating international borders and manipulating how we perceive physical geography. They are managing what information we are exposed to, or not, as well as controlling the underlying messages in news reports. And of course, they are using this power to influence elections.

To describe the grip Big Tech wields on how we communicate and access information, however, is still to only reveal a fraction of their power. A troubling video released on August 15 by online reporter and journalist Millie Weaver called “Shadowgate” alleges that government directed and funded private contractors are using radical new technologies to manipulate public opinion and retool law enforcement. Weaver’s video only lasted a few days on Facebook and YouTube, but can still be found on BitChute. As an aside, it is perhaps futile, yet pertinent, to ask exactly how YouTube justified the Shadowgate video being “removed for violating YouTube’s policy on hate speech,” or, why Millie Weaver was arrested a few days before she released her video.

To discuss all of the allegations included in the Shadowgate video would go beyond the scope of this article. And the question of how interlinked the Big Tech giants are with these private contractors was not answered. Clearly the technologies being employed to microtarget individual American citizens with so-called “internet influence operations,” as well as the desire to see Donald Trump replaced by Joe Biden in January 2021, are shared by these contractors and Big Tech. But to what extent are they working together?

The whistleblowers interviewed in the Shadowgate video – who do not enjoy whistleblower protection because they worked for private contractors, not the government – explained how it is now possible, using existing online surveillance assets and AI programs, for private contractors to “get inside their minds, know what makes them angry, happy, get into their world, know everything about them, their fears, their friends, their secrets, their injuries, use their fears, their anxieties to control their behavior” – for every individual person in America.

Where mental manipulation fails, there is law enforcement. In this realm as well, Big Tech is ushering in a paradigm shifting revolution. In the Shadowgate video the people interviewed allege that the anti-racist “defund the police” movement, as well as the responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the provisions of the “Green New Deal,” are all being used to facilitate this paradigm shift.

As they put it, “AI and robotics for law enforcement are already here. There is an international push for autonomous law enforcement to remove the human factor. The objective is full integration of all data including the internet of things, autonomous patrol robots, autonomous drones, computer vision software, tracking and tracking systems, nanotech vaccines, contact tracing apps, predictive modeling for social distancing, and forecasting tools such as systems and methods for electronically monitoring everyone to determine potential risk.”

An ominous corollary to this is the medicalization of all three of the facilitating initiatives being pushed by Big Tech and the state establishment. Along with COVID-19, “systemic racism” and “climate change” are now being increasingly touted as medical emergencies. Housing and homelessness are now “public health issues.” And as the COVID-19 pandemic has made all too clear, medical emergencies supersede the Bill of Rights as well as property rights. These emergency declarations could begin the day Joe Biden takes office, and it’s awful hard not to conclude that is the reason that Big Tech and the state establishment are doing everything they can to make certain Joe Biden becomes the next president of the United States.

Against this backdrop, it is almost a sideshow that Big Tech is cancelling anyone and anything online that contradicts their preferred narrative and political agenda. Online censorship violates everything Americans have traditionally believed in. It is a fundamental threat to freedom of speech, a right that Americans used to take for granted. But it is nonetheless only a part of something much bigger. Big Tech is using its considerable power to restructure American society in what may well be a fatal erosion of all the freedoms Americans have taken for granted.

In that context, the fact that Twitter banned three conservative satirists, and then allowed two of them back (gee, thanks), is relatively insignificant. But it does indicate something more about where we’re headed, thanks to Big Tech and the establishment state. The culture that we’re being steered into has no sense of humor. No ability to laugh at itself. There are few signs of tyranny more obvious than the failure to appreciate a clever joke, especially one that mocks the dominant culture.

So go tell a trans joke, if you dare. But watch out. It may be your last public utterance.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

Bills on the Governor’s Desk – 2020 Session

Now that the 2020 California Legislative Session has adjourned, it is time to look at the forthcoming gubernatorial actions. Pursuant to Article IV, Section 10(b)(2), “Any bill passed by the Legislature before September 1 of the second calendar year of the biennium of the legislative session and in the possession of the Governor on or after September 1 that is not returned on or before September 30 of that year becomes a statute.” As a result, Governor Newsom has until midnight on September 30 to act on the measures sent to his Desk by the Legislature.

Historically, between 900 and 1,200 measures are sent each year to the Governor’s Desk. In his first year in office, Governor Newsom acted upon 1,042 bills. Historically, the veto rate is 12 – 15%. With the pandemic-induced reduction in legislators’ bill loads, we knew this year there would be fewer bills sent to the Governor’s Desk. So, how many bills are headed to Governor Newsom?

Back in June, I speculated that between 400 – 500 bills would make it to the Governor’s Desk at the end of this abbreviated legislative session, after the Legislature had reduced its bill load by 75%. Of course, there were bills left over from the 2019 Session that were added to this reduced figure.

The number of bills that Governor Newsom will act upon this year is 428. The Governor has already acted on 37 measures. Currently, 35 measures are pending before him and the Governor’s Office is awaiting just over 350 measures that are in the engrossing and enrolling processes. Of the total number of bills pending action, about 1/3 of them are Senate measures.

In terms of the 37 chaptered bills so far, Governor Newsom has signed all of them. There have been 24 ABs and 13 SBs signed so far. I’ll provide a final wrap-up of gubernatorial actions from the 2020 Session after September 30.

Chris Micheli is a Principal with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.

‘Public Information’ to Promote New Taxes, Paid for by Taxpayers

Did you know your taxes are being used to advocate for more taxes? Well, not exactly. It’s against the law for public agencies to engage in “advocacy.” The people running these agencies who want to raise your taxes may only spend public funds in order to “communicate” with you about their proposals. And so they “communicate” good and hard. And then you vote.

An example of this, and there are many, is the City of Fullerton.

To cope with a projected $7.9 million deficit, the Fullerton City Council has approved a 1.25 cent sales tax increase, which voters will either approve or reject this November. The city expects to raise $25 million per year through this tax. At first glance that appears to be overkill, but first glances can be deceptive.

For starters, nobody knows how far revenue will drop. The pandemic shutdown is entering its eighth month with no end in sight. And while tax revenue falls across the state, pension costs continue to rise. For Fullerton, this is documented in the CalPERS actuarial reports for the city’s miscellaneous and safety employees. These reports, the most recent available, were released in July 2019, well before COVID-19 burst the global investment bubble.

The reports show that Fullerton was already pouring $25 million into CalPERS in the current fiscal year, an amount projected to rise to over $33 million by 2025. And with 70 percent of that going into public safety pensions that were only 64 percent funded as of June 30, 2018, who knows how much those payments are going to rise.

The initial intention of the city council was to propose all of the funds raised by a sales tax increase would go to pay for new and upgraded infrastructure, but a special infrastructure tax would require a 2/3 approval by voters, and the city’s polling indicated that was an unlikely outcome.

Which brings us back to the topic of cities using taxpayers money to research voter sentiment, which they then use to tailor “public information campaigns” to “educate” voters on their new tax proposals.

When Do “Public Information Campaigns” Become Political Campaigns?

In his syndicated column entitled “Local tax hikes cleverly packaged,” two years ago, Dan Walters wrote “Local governments cannot, by law, directly finance campaigns to win voter approval of new taxes. However, local officials can – and quite often do – hire consulting firms to test voter sentiment in advance, design tax proposals to give them the best chance of winning approval, and design supposedly educational mailers and other materials that portray the taxes in positive terms.”

The difference should be obvious, but in practice it’s not. When you engage in a political campaign, you are explicitly supporting a particular candidate or ballot measure. When you are “communicating,” you are compelled to limit yourself to presenting objective facts and information to the public; you cannot take a stand for or against a candidate or ballot measure.

The problem arises because California’s cities and counties are so desperate to raise taxes and secure additional bond financing, their taxpayer-funded “communications” efforts vs. political campaigning is a distinction with almost no difference. After all, it is merely informative to tell voters that the city needs more money to hire more police and firefighters so octogenarian widows aren’t sexually assaulted in their burning houses. These sorts of messages are not political ads, they’re just “communications.”

And through that massive loophole pours countless millions of taxpayers money every election season, out of city or county coffers and into the hands of communications consultants.

Walking this fine line requires cities to make sure they communicate without advocating. But why on earth would a city council spend city funds to communicate information that would discourage voters from voting in favor of a tax increase that they have themselves approved for the ballot?

Fullerton, unsurprisingly, wants to “communicate” with voters about their proposed sales tax increase. To manage their communications, they have accepted a proposal from TBWBH Strategies, a “non-partisan strategy and communications consulting firm specializing in bond, tax and other public finance ballot measures supporting public programs, services and facilities.”

On the homepage of TBWBH’s website, note how they carefully they have worded the description of their primary services, which they characterize as “Revenue Measure Consulting for Public Agencies.” Notice that nowhere does this description actually say they engage in advocacy:

“TBWBH Props and Measures is a strategy and communications consulting firm specializing in developing revenue measures for the ballot and implementing informational communication strategies to meet your funding needs. Our work has generated billions in revenue for quality public services, programs, facilities and infrastructure in communities throughout California and the nation.”

If you scroll a bit further down TBWBH’s homepage, after a slide deck that depicts the many sorts of public agencies that TBWBH works with, there is a description of additional services they provide, characterized as “Winning Revenue Measure Campaigns.” The description reads:

“TBWBH Props and Measures also advises advocacy campaigns supporting revenue measures to develop and implement strategies that secure the votes needed to win. Even on tough supermajority revenue measures, we maintain a win rate of over 90%.”

All of this is perfectly legal. To engage in a bit of hyperbole, merely to make perfectly clear what’s really happening here, city councils hire firms like TBWBH to do “revenue measure consulting” that result in taxpayer funded “information communications strategies,” then the public sector unions who arguably control these city councils –  unions that need all that money to raise their pay and fund their pensions – also hire firms like TBWBH, where the advocacy side of the house wages “winning revenue measure campaigns.”

To keep up appearances, one would expect two firms to be hired. One by the city. A different one by the unions. But who knows? And why bother, if it’s all legal?

Do Public Agencies Ever Cross the Line into Advocacy?

The somewhat ambiguous criteria for what constitutes “advocacy” renders this an extremely difficult question to answer. But sometimes public agencies and their communications consultants cross a line obvious enough to earn them a slap on the wrist. But it doesn’t happen very often, and the consequences are minimal.

For example, on August 21 of this year, Los Angeles County settled a claim that it used tax funds to campaign for tax hikes. As reported by LAist, “In 2017, L.A. County spent nearly $1 million in public funds on a campaign to pass Measure H, a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax to fund new services for homeless people. It blanketed radio and TV airwaves, and ran print ads in newspapers in English and Spanish with the slogan ‘Real Hope, Lasting Change.’ Now, county taxpayers are on the hook for another $1.35 million to settle legal complaints about the campaign, based on state law which says governments may not spend taxpayer funds to advocate for a tax increase.”

The scope of this ruling is laughable. Measure H, which was a voter-approved 1/4 cent sales tax increase, will generate an estimated $355 million a year for ten years to fight homelessness. As an aside, that is more than enough money to cure homelessness in Los Angeles County if they’d restore laws and penalties to curb vagrancy, petty theft, and public intoxication, and build supervised tent shelters in inexpensive parts of the county. But instead, anything goes in woke Los Angeles, and corrupt developers are making billions, building “homeless supportive housing” at an average cost of $500,000 per unit. Measure H, like most homeless initiatives in woke locales across America, is a lucrative scam for developers and a magnet for more homeless. This is a failed model in a failing county.

To the point, however, a one-time $1.35 million settlement for violating campaign finance laws amounts to nothing, when the fruits of the illicit advocacy campaign total $355 million per year.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit leading to the settlement with Los Angeles County was the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Jon Coupal, HJTA president, was quoted in LAist saying that next time “We’re going to put bounties on these individuals who engage in this activity.” When asked to clarify what he meant by that, Coupal, in an email, said “we acknowledged that, despite the record fine imposed against LA County, some public entities might still calculate that such fines are worth the return on investment. For that reason, HJTA will, in the most egregious cases, pursue personal liability against the elected officials and public employees who authorize such illegal expenditures. Such a remedy has been recognized by the California Supreme Court as a legitimate penalty.”

Watch out, public agencies. The watch dogs are going to bite harder next time. And they are watching Fullerton very closely.

When reached for comment on the common practice of public agencies using taxpayer sourced funds to “communicate” to voters about tax measures they have proposed, Jon Fleischman, a political strategist with Fleischman Consulting Group and the publisher of the FlashReport, had this to say:

“This practice of spending taxpayer dollars to hire professional public relations firms to advocate for the passing of tax increases is pure corruption. There is an appropriate expectation that when measures are before the voters, those who support and oppose them will raise money and spend money to influence voters, and that those activities will be publicly reported. Here you have voters who do not support higher taxes having their own tax dollars used to influence the outcome of the vote, all while shielding this electioneering from public disclosure as campaign related expenditures.”

Steps to Prevent “Public Education” That Supports New Taxes

The California Policy Center issued a policy brief in 2017 that included sample language for a local ordinance that would make it much harder for public officials to engage in “education” campaigns relating to new tax and bond proposals. The operative paragraphs from that sample ordinance are as follows:

Article 1. This city/county will not use public money – either internally, through its own staff and treasury, or externally, through the hiring or use of outside vendors – to engage in public education; public opinion polling or studies; or communications intended or may seem to be intended to determine the outcome of political campaigns.

Article 2. This city/county will fully disclose and make available – online and in public meetings and in public places – any documents, including contracts, communications, or proposals with vendors and/or staff which touch on public education; public opinion polling or studies; or communications which might seem to a reasonable person designed to determine the outcome of political campaigns.

Article 3. Every city/county official – elected, appointed or in any way employed with this city – is duty-bound to declare publicly a violation of this resolution.

Article 4. This city/county will never use force – including lawsuits – to derail an attempt to disclose the potential violation of this resolution.

The next few years are likely going to be more financially challenging for California’s cities and counties than the last few years. Higher taxes burden private citizens that are already harmed by the economic slowdown. Rather than raising taxes, local elected officials, and the public sector unions that influence them so much, need to work to make government more efficient. It can be done.

This article originally appeared on the website California Globe.

Recall Newsom Campaign at a Crossroads

With three months left to collect signatures, one of the largest and most organized grassroots efforts in the history of California politics is at a crossroads.

The Recall Newsom campaign has mobilized a bipartisan coalition involving volunteers in every California county, with momentum that is still building despite being almost completely ignored by the media, major donors, politicians, and political organizations. Those political organizations would include the CAGOP despite the fact that CAGOP tailors a significant percentage, perhaps even a majority, of its mass email messages to disparaging California’s hapless sitting governor.

This dismissal of California’s disenfranchised grassroots by their supposed professional champions not only signifies excessive caution and unfortunate hypocrisy, it is a practical blunder. A concerted and unified recall effort, backed by establishment political forces, would yield tangible political benefits. It would finally offer conservatives a cause that makes a compelling case to independents and disaffected Democrats. It would lend momentum to the campaigns of CAGOP candidates who endorse the recall, harnessing for their benefit the power of the recall volunteers.

Most significantly, a recall effort that was backed by the conservative establishment would be a courageous shot heard around the world. It would serve notice to anyone, anywhere, who has written California off as an ungovernable cesspool of corruption and chaos. People are fighting back, and they mean business.

What the political experts that consider a gubernatorial recall effort futile must understand is that Gavin Newsom’s failures are bigger than Gavin Newsom. If you successfully destroy the credibility of Gavin Newsom, you destroy the credibility of California’s Democratic party.

Newsom is the figurehead that represents a ruling class that has destroyed the aspirations of ordinary Californians. This ruling class incorporates leftist billionaires who are indifferent to California’s high cost-of-living. It includes public sector unions who have “negotiated” outrageous pay and pension packages which serve to exempt their members from the worst effects of California’s un-affordability.

California’s ruling class also includes radical environmentalists who, more than any other special interest, have tied California’s economy up in knots, making it nearly impossible to build new and affordable suburbs on open land, making energy and water both scarce and prohibitively expensive, and crippling with excessive regulations California’s manufacturers, oil and gas producers, timber companies, and countless other concerns that do actual productive work.

It’s time for California’s conservative establishment to stop playing only defense, or when they do go onto offense, only wage incremental battles. “We can take back an assembly district!” “We have to put all our resources into stopping the ‘split roll’ initiative!” Well, yes. And no. Of course these battles have to be fought. Meanwhile, however, there is no overall strategy or message. No unifying theme. No simple but profound rallying cry. No ecumenical passion that reaches out to every voter in California, regardless of their ideology or background. In short, it’s all tactical, which in these times of epic transformations and tensions, nobody cares about.

Getting rid of Gavin Newsom offers that strategic battle. Not just because he’s Gavin Newsom, a pompadoured white scion of incredible wealth and privilege, who nonetheless mouths “anti-racist,” “anti-sexist,” “anti-transphobic,” etc., etc., etc., identity politics bullshit that has been a useful distraction for Democrats for decades. No. Getting rid of Gavin Newsom sends a message that conservatives are serious about political realignment. Not in twenty years. Not in twenty months.

Now.

If the Gavin Newsom recall effort were backed by serious money and if this grassroots volunteer army of unprecedented size were assisted by experienced professionals, well, to paraphrase J.R.R. Tolkien, “even in Sammath Naur the very heart of his realm, the Power in Barad-dûr was shaken, and the Tower trembled from its foundations to its proud and bitter crown.

Imagine the consternation that might spread among Democrats from Sacramento to Minneapolis if real money, serious professionals, mega donors and national conservative media were to recognize and support this Recall Gavin campaign. Imagine how the nation would react to a determined recall effort that takes to task the entire legacy of California’s democrats, holding their leader accountable.

Let’s take a visual excursion into what this campaign might include:

Picture television commercials and internet videos, depicting California’s ruined cities, graphically examining these lawless cesspools of crime and drugs and feces, while blaming Gavin Newsom and his democratic party.

Imagine prime time spots, depicting California’s homeless, numbering 150,000 or more, occupying neighborhoods and city centers, the vast majority of them either substance abusers, criminals, or psychopaths, if not all three.

Imagine an aggressive media campaign to expose the corruption of the homeless advocates, who have become mere shills for subsidized developers that make their money by building “homeless housing” at a cost of between a half-million and a million dollars per unit on some of the most expensive real estate in the world, ruining these neighborhoods forever. Imagine exposing these corrupt boondoggles that cost billions, but only help a small fraction of the people in need.

Picture the videos of raging forest infernos, caused by environmentalist “experts” who conned the public and manipulated the politicians, using lobbyists and litigators to prevent forest managers from doing underbrush removal and controlled burns. Imagine getting out the truth, that these extremists and their opportunistic allies destroyed most of California’s timber industry, and tied up rational efforts to clear out the accumulating tinder in litigation and endless cycles of permit applications that wasted precious time and deterred countless efforts.

The list goes on.

Low income Californians sweltering in brownouts, because safe nuclear and hydroelectric power is being decommissioned, and development of California’s abundant clean natural gas reserves is completely off the table.

Failed public schools that are cramming transgender ideology down the throats of 3rd graders, instead of teaching them multiplication tables.

Millions of Californians denied their livelihoods because of ill conceived, misanthropic laws that force businesses small and large to convert their independent contractors into employees, even in situations where that makes no practical or moral sense.

It doesn’t take a genius to think up all the ways California’s democrats have betrayed and oppressed ordinary Californians. It just takes the courage to say it.

Spouting Black Lives Matter slogans or parroting the latest Sierra Club press releases on “climate change” may be the currency of today’s democrats, but it takes no courage and even less thought. For that matter, fighting only incremental battles for reform requires only incremental courage, and even less vision.

What California needs is for conservatives with resources and influence to seize this moment, during this critical election cycle, to capitalize on the opportunity that brave volunteers have given them. They need to hop onto this bandwagon, and make Gavin Newsom the face of everything wrong with the Democratic party. They need to take this chance to expose Newsom and his party for what they are: an elitist clique of rhetoric spewing incompetents, backed up by a coopted lying media, and funded by some of the most conniving oligarchs in the history of the world.

The Recall Gavin campaign is at a crossroads right now, but there is still time. All the pieces are in place. The hardest work has already been done.

Who will stand behind this recall? Who will give this army of volunteers the legitimacy it deserves in their battle against a failed governor and a failed party? Who will do this knowing that in return, this army shall remain intact for the next battle, and the one after that?

The Recall Gavin campaign offers millions of disenfranchised voters a voice at last. It offers conservative leaders a chance to decapitate the enemy leadership, instead of fighting a war of attrition that they’ll never win. It is a springboard from which, with stupefying rapidity, not only can the Democratic syndicate finally be rejected and broken, but policies of prosperity and freedom can be offered and accepted by voters across this great and trendsetting state.

Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. The California Policy Center is an educational non-profit focused on public policies that aim to improve California’s democracy and economy. He is also a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness.

This article was originally published by the California Globe.

One-party Rule in California is Backfiring

According to U.S. Census Bureau projections, California will lose at least one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2020 Census.

This is because the total number of representatives is fixed at 435 and allocated to population. This zero-sum game means that states with decreasing or static population will lose, and states with growing population will win. Since statehood in 1850, California has consistently gained representation in Congress because it was the land of boundless opportunity and promise. Now, not so much.

So why are Californians leaving the formerly Golden State for states such as Texas, which is projected to pick up three house seats?

The reasons are many and complex: Cost of living, crime, homelessness, crumbling infrastructure, burdensome regulations and high taxes. Add to that gross mismanagement of the pandemic response, failure to manage our forests leading to catastrophic fires and green policies that caused a shortage of electricity and rolling blackouts.

To read the entire column, please click here.