Movement Grows to Recall Progressive District Attorneys

According to the advocacy group “Fair and Just Prosecution,” the goal of progressive criminal justice reform is to create “a justice system grounded in fairness, equity, compassion, and fiscal responsibility.” Starting around 2016, this movement picked up momentum across the U.S., primarily by funding candidates in County District Attorney elections. There are now dozens of cities and counties with elected district attorneys that are enforcing massive shifts in prosecutorial conduct. Reforms were needed. But so far, they have been a disaster.

While the most visible source of funding for these district attorney candidates is the notorious George Soros, the movement is much bigger than one billionaire. It taps a core belief of progressives, that America’s criminal justice system is punitive and disproportionately targets nonwhite and low income communities. It also taps into a sentiment shared by progressives and libertarians, that “victimless” crimes, primarily drug related, should not be crimes at all.

It would be a mistake to assume that no legitimate motivations inform these progressive district attorneys and their donors. Along with the careerism, hatred for American institutions, desire to wreak havoc on our society, and even well-intentioned but hideously misapplied desire for social justice, there are problems that need to be fixed and ideas that ought to be tried. But so far, in every city and county where progressive district attorneys have taken office, crime is rising, with entire neighborhoods awash in filth, chaos, and lawlessness.

Places where progressive district attorneys are now elected and in office include the major cities of St. Louis, Chicago, Orlando, Philadelphia, and Austinas well as Columbus, Ohio, Aurora, Colorado, and Michigan’s Oakland County, a suburb of Detroit. But California, naturally, is where the progressive prosecutors have achieved the most reach.

Four major counties in California now have progressive prosecutors, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The San Francisco District Attorney, Chesa Boudin, has a resume that suggests radical “reforms” are in his DNA. This headline, posted by NBC News when he was elected in December 2019, says it all: “Parents guilty of murder and raised by radicals, Chesa Boudin is San Francisco’s next district attorney.”

Boudin has lived up to his stereotypes, to the point where even San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed, who would ordinarily be herself considered radical, has become disillusioned. Quoting from an article published by the San Francisco Chronicle in early 2021, “Breed said – without naming anyone – that the criminal justice system could have prevented the death by holding McAlister accountable for his crimes.”

Breed was referring to Troy McAlister, who “allegedly ran a stoplight in San Francisco’s SoMA neighborhood in a stolen car, striking and killing two pedestrians. Police say McAlister had a gun, and methamphetamine and alcohol in his system. McAlister had a lengthy rap sheet dating back years and was released from prison after completing a sentence for robbery in April. Since then, he had been arrested several times, including as recently as December 20, according to the S.F. Chronicle, but his arrests were referred to his parole officer, and he was not charged.”

This is “restorative justice” at work in America’s cities. Mayor Breed went on to say “the criminal justice system in our city has failed.”

If San Francisco has acquired infamy in recent years for ungovernable, crime ridden neighborhoods, a homeless invasion, thousands of heroin addicts, and an app – cleverly named “Snapcrap” – that tracks the incidences of human feces on city sidewalks, its counterpart in Southern California boasts all these same dismal attributes, but on a much larger scale. Los Angeles County hosts the largest unified trial court system in America, and their newly elected district attorney, George Gascon, is working from the same progressive playbook.

As reported in Politico, “Within weeks of taking office, Gascón instructed prosecutors to stop seeking the death penalty and trying juveniles as adults. He ordered a halt to most cash bail requests and banned prosecutors from appearing at parole hearings. Most controversially, he barred prosecutors from seeking various sentencing enhancements.”

What on earth does Gascon think will be the consequences of these moves? Even before progressive district attorneys were elected in some of California’s biggest counties, it was almost impossible to effectively police the state. The turning point in California’s progressive assault on law enforcement was the passage of Prop. 47 in November 2014. Supported by nearly all Democratic politicians, a smattering of libertarians, the ACLU, and several unions including AFSCME and SEIU California, this ballot initiative was misleadingly marketed as the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.”

Ostensibly to empty the jails of expensively housed “nonviolent” offenders, unintended consequences were felt immediately. Five years later, the negative consequences of Prop. 47 continue to compound and intensify. Prop. 47 freed tens of thousands of felons from state prisons and county jails back into communities. It reduced to the penalty for possession of most illegal drugs including heroin and methamphetamine to a misdemeanor, and it also reduced to misdemeanor any crime where the value of property stolen doesn’t exceed $950 – even for multiple offenses.

George Gascon, with plenty of help from the hapless Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, now presides over a county that plays host to the largest homeless population in America, over 60,000 people. These permanent homeless encampments, an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe, are a haven for criminal activity. And small wonder. Vagrancy, petty theft, and hard drug use are decriminalized, and now Gascon’s office is preventing effective prosecution of more serious crimes. Crime rates are soaring in Los Angeles County just as they are everywhere that progressive district attorneys have been elected. But resistance is forming.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, several of Gascon’s “reforms” have been blocked by a L.A. County judge. In particular, the judge ruled that Gascon cannot stop prosecutors from using sentencing enhancements. This lawsuit was brought forward by the union representing L.A. prosecutors, who argued that it was a violation of state law and, among other things, made it harder to keep gang members off the streets. Now police officers are joining the rebellion, led by L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

Perhaps inspired by the unprecedented success of the recall campaign against Gavin Newsom, a nearly all volunteer effort that collected over 2.0 million signatures to force California’s governor to fight for his political life in a special election later this year, earlier this month in Los Angeles, Villanueva’s Recall George Gascon committee filed a notice of intent to collect recall signatures. If the petition is approved for circulation by the L.A. County Clerk’s office, supporters will have 160 days to gather 590,000 signatures to get a George Gascon recall on the ballot.

In California these days, recalls are contagious. In San Francisco, the Recall Chesa Boudin campaign filed notice of intent to recall on February 8, and they were approved for circulation by the San Francisco Department of Elections on March 4. Petitioners have until August 11 to collect and submit 51,325 valid signatures.

Criminal justice reform can put an end to overreliance on often coerced plea bargains and punitive incarceration. But reform doesn’t have to condemn our cities to lawlessness. As balance is restored and the electorate becomes more aware of the issues, genuine progress can be made. The injustice of harsh sentencing has to be weighed against its overall value in deterring crime. The staggering expense of incarceration, or, for that matter, the staggering expense of homeless shelters in cities riddled with corruption, has to be confronted and corrected. Not every jail has to be a supermax. Not every homeless shelter has to cost $100,000 (or more) per bed. The liberty of individuals to consume drugs has to be balanced against the rights of the people who live on the streets they’ve taken over.

If George Soros and the progressive movement he represents have done one good thing, it’s that they’ve removed district attorney elections from the backwoods of political theater. These elections, which Soros and a handful of other major donors were able to quietly dominate for the last few years, picking off city after city, are no longer obscure. Candidates, and the philosophy they intend to bring to the office of district attorney, are finally getting the scrutiny they deserve.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

Is California Blowing It On Unemployment Reform?

If not for a persistent mail carrier, Lance Hastings might not have discovered all of the fake unemployment claims. 

Last September, the head of the California Manufacturers & Technology Association got the first jobless claim from a worker he’d never employed. Mistakes happen, he thought, and reported the letter sent to the group’s boarded-up former Sacramento office as suspected fraud. 

“They even used our old CEO’s name and address,” said Hastings, the association’s current CEO. “When we got that one, our spidey sense really got activated.”

But in recent months, as the mail carrier delivered more than a dozen other bogus letters with unfamiliar names and Social Security numbers, Hastings’ skepticism has given way to frustration — especially now that taxpayers like his organization will likely have to help pick up the tab for California’s $21 billion and counting in unemployment debt.

Now, he worries that higher unemployment taxes could make it harder for businesses in California’s already expensive manufacturing sector to recover from the shock of the year-long pandemic. “I think it’s unprincipled,” Hastings said. “These are just nails in the coffin that concern me greatly.” 

Hellish waits on jammed customer service lines and brazen fraud have dominated the headlines about California’s unemployment system in the age of COVID-19. On Friday, officials at the state’s Employment Development Department unveiled new online tools to track unemployment data after the backlog of unpaid claims again mushroomed to more than 1 million in recent weeks, including 152,000 claims awaiting action by the state and more than 900,000 cases in need of certification by the person filing the claim.

Amid the chaos, anotherbig problem has largely been overlooked: The state is out of unemployment money, and nobody is doing much about it. California has a history of going deep into the red to pay for jobless benefits during recessions, but the stakes are especially high this time as businesses hit hard by unprecedented pandemic shutdowns look to restart hiring. California’s unemployment rate fell in February to a pandemic-low 8.5% as employers added 141,000 jobs, but the rate is still twice as high as in February 2020.

The state’s unemployment trust fund financed by employer taxes ran out last spring, which economists attribute to an outdated tax system that has gone largely untouched for the last four decades. So far, California has borrowed $21.2 billion from the federal government to keep benefits flowing to the jobless. Employment Development Department officials expect the deficit to balloon to $48 billion by the end of the year. 

In response to a question from CalMatters about how the state plans to address that debt, department officials said Friday that the next forecast for the unemployment fund is due around late May. “Information will be further forthcoming as developments occur,” spokesperson Loree Levy said.

In the meantime, employers have been required to keep paying a 15% emergency surcharge on unemployment taxes due to the fund’s insolvency. Even before the coronavirus shut down much of the economy, California’s unemployment fund was the most unstable of any U.S. state, well behind financially repressed Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. 

The state’s descent during the pandemic to poster-child status for unemployment dysfunction could make this year a prime opportunity for reform. One option favored by economists at Stanford is to cut unemployment taxes for employers in lower-wage sectors while raising taxes on higher-paying businesses to reduce the state’s debt. 

But so far, lawmakers from both parties are proposing much more limited reforms: new oversight boards, a direct deposit payment option, better language access and stronger checks on inmates filing for benefits. Some measures call for the Employment Development Department to develop a new recession plan or to keep paying expanded benefits as the pandemic drags on, but they don’t address the underlying debt or tax system at the agency ultimately controlled by the governor.

The cumulative effect, political analysts say, is that unemployment is poised to lose out to competing priorities such as vaccines, adding to a long history of neglecting safety-net programs in a year further complicated by messy recall politics.

“If the governor and the legislative leadership wanted to make this a top priority, the timing could be perfect,” said Dan Schnur, a Republican campaign veteran and a professor at the University of Southern California and UC Berkeley. “This could end up being the single worst financial scandal in the history of California government. But the irony is it’s so big and so sprawling, it’s difficult for voters to understand.”

Who really pays for unemployment?

Unemployment is what Stanford economist Mark Duggan calls an “invisible tax.” While Social Security is run by the federal government and deducted directly from workers’ paychecks, each state oversees its own unemployment system funded by employer taxes. 

Despite California’s reputation for a progressive tax system, the state’s unemployment taxes hit businesses with lower-paid workers harder. That’s because businesses are taxed on only the first $7,000 a worker makes — the lowest amount allowed by federal law, and a figure that hasn’t been updated in 39 years, said Duggan, who studies unemployment at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. 

Each business then pays a payroll tax rate ranging from 1.5% to 6.2%, depending on how many of its workers have filed for unemployment benefits in past years. That often penalizes hotels, restaurants and other high-turnover industries slammed by the pandemic. Unemployment taxes max out at $434 per employee, per year, or up to about $4,340 for a 10-person company paying the highest rate, before any emergency fees. 

Since the state partially insures wages up to a much higher limit, $46,800 a year, the result is that businesses pay very similar unemployment taxes for a worker who makes $8,000 a year and another who earns $40,000. But the higher-paid worker gets $400 a week in state jobless benefits if laid off, compared to $80 for the lower-paid worker. 

While the costs of those benefits add up for the state, it’s often not enough for out-of-work Californians to pay for housing, foodand other necessities. That’s made extra federally funded unemployment payments during the pandemic — $600 a week last spring, $300 under more recent stimulus measures — a lifeline for many.

“It’s the worst. The most regressive. Appalling. I don’t know what adjective to use,” Duggan said of the state’s current unemployment financing system. “And it’s not some stupid little narrow program. As we just saw in the pandemic, this was the most important part of the social safety net.”

What happens when that safety net breaks down is all too clear for Lauren Taylor-Mayweather. The 41-year-old mother of four lost her job as a home health aide in the Inland Empire in January, and she’s still out $490 after reporting a string of fraudulent charges on her state-issued Bank of America unemployment debit card in February. 

All payments stopped for more than a month after her unemployment account was frozen, she said. Her husband was able to cover rent for the family, but they fell a month behind on their car payment, their auto insurance lapsed and groceries were sparse as she waited hours to plead her case to customer service workers.

“I was pretty much down to my last dollar,” Taylor-Mayweather said, and yet, “I’m being made the criminal.”

One silver lining of the past few months is that she’s been able to attend online classes for a bachelor’s degree in health care administration, giving her hope of moving up in her next job. But it’s fast-growing jobs including home health aides and other service industry positions that Duggan says would benefit most if California took on more ambitious unemployment reform.

He favors raising the $7,000-per-worker base on which employers are taxed to align with the $46,800 insurance limit. This would likely raise taxes on high-paying employers, but lower them for employers who hire more lower-wage workers. States including Utah, North Dakota and Washington have changed the rules and required employers to pay taxes on $36,000 in wages or more, and they’ve so far avoided unemployment debt during the pandemic. 

“That would, overnight, lower the cost of hiring part-time and low-wage workers, and it would act as a powerful stimulus,” Duggan said. “Yeah, it would raise a little bit the cost of hiring engineers and accountants. But it would rationalize it, because right now the accountants and the engineers are getting free insurance.”

Debt deja vu

This wouldn’t be the first time California policymakers have passed on overhauling unemployment during a crisis. After the Great Recession ended in 2009, it took until 2018 for the state to pay back billions borrowed from the federal government through business taxes and interest payments from the state general fund.

Duggan argues that such a drawn-out approach again risks creating a “a drag” on economic recovery after the COVID recession. Other policy researchers contend that the explosion of unemployment fraud in many states during the pandemic should also be a wake-up call to rethink who runs benefit programs, since most other countries administer similar programs at a national level.

“Are we long past due for moving this to a federal system?” asks Jody Heymann, a UCLA professor of health policy. “I don’t actually think it’s realistic that all 50 states will be good at preventing fraud. And if they are, why would you set up that much redundancy?”

Still, such prospects seem far removed from proposals favored by business groups including the Tax Foundation, which are pushing states to steer clear of tax hikes and “avoid penalizing hiring.” 

Gov. Gavin Newsom has said he won’t raise taxes this year, but the alternatives are limited. EDDofficials have stressed that upwards of 90% of fraud appears to have targeted federal emergency programs, so it’s unclear how much the state would get to keep of any money clawed back from fraudsters.

There’s also the possibility that the federal government could forgive some loans, though bailing out California and other insolvent states might not go over well in places that have kept their programs in order. California could also follow more conservative states and tighten eligibility or cut unemployment benefits for workers to save money. 

The most likely scenario politically may be doing very little, given the hyper-polarized climate surrounding the recall. After assembling and disbanding an unemployment “strike team” last year, Newsom and his surrogates have largely avoided the issue since installing new leadership at the Employment Development Department, often referring questions to labor and employment officials as he navigates the pandemic and other turmoil.

“Newsom has probably been hurt politically much more by one silly birthday dinner than by a multibillion-dollar employment benefit scandal,” Schnur said. “That’s probably because he’s kept himself at such a distance from it. The problem is that may have created a disincentive for him to engage more forcefully on a solution.”

For Taylor-Mayweather, it all seems like a matter of will, or lack thereof. She blames both the state and Bank of America for failing to make sure unemployment money was safe in the first place, overlooking details such as secure chips in debit cards for recipients.

“You knew we were vulnerable,” Taylor-Mayweather said. “We weren’t worth the extra step.”

Groundhog Days of California Taxes

The “Hundred Years War” was a series of conflicts for control over Western Europe and England during the middle ages, circa 1337 to 1453. The relentless hostilities against California taxpayers by progressive politicians may not have a 100-year history, but it sure feels like it.

Just last week, far-left legislators and their ideological allies proposed another increase in the income tax on high earners. Assembly Bill 1253 would impose tiered tax increases on residents with annual incomes over $1 million. If approved, the income tax rate for Californians making over $1 million would increase from 13.3% to 14.3%. Those who earn more would be hit with even higher increases. (Never mind that California already has the highest income tax rate in America and Californians are leaving the state in droves.)

There are two reasons why all this may sound familiar. First, it is identical to a proposal from the same progressive legislator — Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles — that was introduced last year. Fortunately, that bill died due to lack of support, not only from Republicans, but from both moderate Democrats and Gov. Gavin Newsom. Nonetheless, Santiago and his far-left organizations such as Courage California are trying again with, coincidentally he claims, the same bill with the same number: AB 1253.

The second reason this may seem like déjà vu is that just last week this column reported on a novel $22 billion “wealth tax” proposal that would tax as much as 1.5% of a person’s “household wealth” above a certain threshold. ACA 8 would be the first tax of its kind in America. The “justification” for the tax is less for the generation of needed revenue (California is already swimming in tax revenue) but to “equalize” wealth in a way that would do Lenin proud.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Are Illegal Aliens Receiving COVID-19 Relief Checks? Yes

During the debate over the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, Senator Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) claimed that “undocumented immigrants do not have Social Security numbers, and they do not qualify for stimulus relief checks, period.” He was wrong on both counts.

Millions of illegal immigrants do have Social Security numbers (SSNs), and they will receive billions of dollars in stimulus money. But leave the money aside for now and consider the more basic problem: The U.S. government has chosen to issue SSNs to millions of people who are not even supposed to be in the country. It’s a clear indication that America is simply not serious about enforcing its immigration laws.

To be clear, the illegal immigrants given work authorization are not guest workers; they are not green-card holders (permanent immigrants); they are not tourists. They are illegal aliens who, under the current system, are still given work authorization and Social Security numbers, year after year after year. This allows them to receive cash payments such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the Additional Child Tax Credit, and COVID-19 relief checks. If none of this makes sense to you, then you are at least beginning to understand how our immigration system works.

So who are the illegal aliens who have Social Security numbers? They fall into a number of different categories outlined in a new Center for Immigration Studies report. They include about 650,000 recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and about 400,000 with Temporary Protected Status (TPS). DACA is the administrative amnesty President Obama created for adult illegal immigrants who arrived as minors. TPS is supposed to be a short-term program for people who cannot return (or be returned) to their home countries temporarily because of a natural disaster or civil strife. But, like much else in our immigration system, TPS has been so abused by immigration advocates, immigration lawyers, and successive administrations that the vast majority of people covered by the program have been here for at least a decade, and many have been in the program for two decades.

In addition to DACA and TPS, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued some 880,000 work permits to other illegal immigrants. Among the eligible categories are adjustment-of-status applicants, suspension of deportation, asylum, and applicants, as well as those given withholding of removal or deferred action (non-DACA) and parolees. Those who get a work permit receive an SSN along with it. …

Click here to read the full article from the National Review.

‘Mad rush’ For COVID-19 Vaccine is on for Californians Ages 50 to 64 as Expansion Nears

The countdown is on.

California on Thursday announced that all adults will become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine beginning April 15, spurring an immediate flurry of phone calls, appointment requests and people trying to secure their spots in line.

But the two-week window before the free-for-all begins marks a critical point in the state’s vaccine rollout — particularly for people between the ages of 50 and 64, who become eligible April 1. A patchwork of rules, uncertainty about supply levels and questions about capacity and accessibility remain even as they ready themselves for their turn.

“Two weeks is not enough time for the 50 to 64 rollout,” Burbank resident Jim Chadwick, 64, said Friday. “It’s going to be a mad rush on April 1.”

The California Department of Finance, which monitors population data, projects that there are nearly 1.9 million people in L.A. County between the ages of 50 and 64, and 7.2 million in the state. Currently, only about 23% of Californians in that age group have received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the state, compared with 37% of people 18 to 49, likely due to occupation or health status. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times.

California’s Tomorrowland Of Energy Won’t Be Arriving On Time

California’s mandate to transition to an all-renewables electricity portfolio has always seemed like a fantasy. A just-released report “charting” the path to 100% clean power does nothing but confirm those suspicions.

A joint summary released March 15 by the California Energy Commission, the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Air Resources Board “is the initial analysis called for in Senate Bill 100,” which became law in 2018 “and calls for these (renewable) resources to replace fossil fuels for generating electricity in the state.”

One of the items that stands out in the summary of the 179-page report is a graphic that shows that “solar and wind build rates need to nearly triple” while “battery storage build rates need to increase by nearly eightfold” if the state is to meet its goal. Ambitious, for sure, improbable, most certainly. Energy analyst Ronald Stein says attaining these targets is a “pipedream.”

“Regarding land for large wind and solar, whoa, Nelly! NIMBYs around the globe, from Germany to Australia, California, New York, and Massachusetts are speaking loudly, and acting, to put a halt to the invasion of noisy wind farms in their backyards,” he tells PRI. “Following numerous reports from Maryland to Canada to France on wind turbine noise, the NIMBYs are becoming energized.”

Both wind and solar farms are voracious consumers of land. They take 90 to 100 times more space to produce the same amount of energy a natural gas-fired plant requires. With nearly 200 gas plants across the state, each taking up on average 20 to 25 acres, another 4,000 to 5,000 acres – roughly six to eight square miles – will have to be dedicated to energy wind and solar production just to continue providing the same amount of electricity.

The joint report also says that “to reach the 2045 target, California will need to roughly triple its current electricity power capacity.” So simply replacing the 200 natural gas plants with wind and solar power is only the beginning of greater land use. Those six to eight square miles are simply a starting point to a significantly enlarged footprint. Yes, California is a vast state. But someone will notice, and someone – the NIMBYs and BANANAs – will try to block construction.

Increased battery storage capacity is another need that seems likely to go unmet. Stein says that according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “every battery energy storage system on planet earth combined is a pittance of what is needed to power a modern city. New York City could use every electrical grid size battery in existence, and would not have enough storage to keep the lights on in the Big Apple for one hour.” Is there good reason to believe the technology will develop fast enough for the politicians and bureaucrats who have made their demands?

Another unsettling point, which the public is supposed to believe is a highlight, assures us that the “modeling of the core scenario for achieving 100% clean electricity showed a 6% increase in total annual electricity system costs by 2045, compared to the estimated cost of achieving 60% renewable electricity by 2030.” A 6% increase is clearly better than a 60% explosion. But is this anything to be bragging about?

Electricity is already outrageously expensive in California. A little more than a year ago, says PRI senior fellow Wayne Winegarden, California’s electricity prices were 57% higher than the U.S. average. By December 2020, they were 66.3% higher, even though “the fixed costs of being a big state did not change between the years – California did not get bigger.”

“What is happening is the policies are driving up costs and decreasing maintenance budgets,” he added. And “the current costs are only a down payment of the full costs from the policies that are being discussed. The costs of electricity will increase further as regulations, such as the push toward 100% EVs, continue to inflate demand while other regulations continue to impose additional costs on generation.”

And of course, from the state authorities we get the now-worn-out claim that “transitioning to a carbon-free electric system will also create thousands of jobs such as manufacturing and installing wind turbines and solar panels and developing new clean energy technologies.”

But just because the claim has become hackneyed doesn’t mean it isn’t true. It is, in fact, quite correct, Winegarden wrote in his 2018 study “Legislating Energy Poverty.” Yet it is recklessly deceptive.

“When the government subsidizes any industry, such as renewable energy, these subsidies will create jobs in the industries lucky enough to receive the government largess, or in this case green jobs,” Winegarden explains. “But, this is only part of the story. A complete analysis recognizes that the tax dollars spent subsidizing a favored industry must come from somewhere. The total green jobs created are, by definition, offset by the lost jobs that could have been created had the resources not been diverted toward the favored industries.”

California’s drive toward all-renewables might have the appearance of a well-intentioned agenda that’s too ambitious for its own good. But the bugs in the system were known before the proposal was ever introduced in the Legislature. Policymakers need to learn they can’t will an energy paradise into existence by a simple majority vote and governor’s willing signature.

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.

California Wealth Tax Proposed in Constitutional Amendment

ACA 8 would authorize the Legislature to impose a tax upon all forms of personal property or wealth, tangible or intangible. 

On March 22, Assembly Members Alex Lee, Wendy Carrillo, Lorena Gonzalez, Miguel Santiago, Ash Kalra, Luz Rivas, and Mark Stone introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 8 to propose a wealth tax to be placed before the voters.

Officially, ACA 8 is a resolution to propose to the people of the State of California an amendment to the Constitution of the State, by amending Section 2 of, and adding Section 37 to, Article XIII thereof, and by amending Section 1 of Article XIII B.

ACA 8 would authorize the Legislature to impose a tax upon all forms of personal property or wealth, whether tangible or intangible, and would require any tax imposed to be administered and collected by the Franchise Tax Board and the Office of the Attorney General as provided in statute. 

ACA 8 would authorize the Legislature to classify any form of personal property or wealth for differential taxation or for exemption by a majority vote.

In addition, ACA 8 would require the Legislature to establish a task force on wealth tax administration. The task force would determine an adequate level of annual funding and staffing for the administration of a wealth tax imposed by the Legislature. The measure would establish two continuously appropriated funds in the State Treasury to cover, for the first two years of collection, the expenses of administration and collection of the wealth tax.

Finally, ACA 8 would remove the limitation on appropriations of the State and of local governments until such time as specified conditions are satisfied. 

As a constitutional amendment, ACA 8 would require a 2/3 vote of both houses of the Legislature, and no action by the Governor, in order to be placed on the statewide ballot.

ACA 8 has six “whereas” clauses that are similar to findings and declarations. 

As such, it declares that the State has long-term needs in education, health care, and infrastructure that are not being met by existing revenues. 

Wealth inequality among California residents has increased dramatically. California’s current tax system results in the very wealthiest Californians typically pay less because the existing income tax fails to adequately tax the investment income or wealth accumulations. 

Therefore, a tax on extreme wealth will restore fairness to the state’s tax system.

ACA 8 would amend Article XIII, Section 2 to provide that [new language in italics and removed language in strikeout]: “notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, the Legislature may provide for property taxation of all forms of tangible personal property, the taxation of all forms of personal property or wealth, whether tangible or intangible. Personal property or wealth that may be so taxed include, but are not limited to, shares of capital stock, evidences of indebtedness, and any legal or equitable interest therein not exempt under any other provision of this article. therein. The Legislature, two-thirds of the membership of each house concurring, Legislature may classify such personal property or wealth for differential taxation or for exemption. The tax on any interest in notes, debentures, shares of capital stock, bonds, solvent credits, deeds of trust, or mortgages shall not exceed four-tenths of one percent of full value, and the tax per dollar of full value shall not be higher on personal property than on real property in the same taxing jurisdiction.”

In addition, ACA 8 would add a new subdivision to Section 2 to provide that: “Any tax on personal property or wealth imposed under the authority of this section on or after the effective date of the measure adding this subdivision shall be administered and collected by the Franchise Tax Board and the office of the Attorney General as provided in statute.”

ACA 8 would also add Article XIII, Section 37 to provide a task force on wealth tax administration that would be established by the Legislature. This task force would be charged with determining an adequate level of annual funding and staffing for the administration and collection of a wealth tax. An adequate level of annual funding and staffing should additionally enable the Franchise Tax Board to hire and pay reasonable fees to any outside experts or outside counsel as appropriate and to help fully administer and collect the Wealth Tax.

The measure would establish in the State Treasury the Franchise Tax Board Wealth Tax Administration Fund. For each of the first two years for which the Wealth Tax is collected, $50 million or 1 percent of all projected revenues from the Wealth Tax, whichever is greater, would be deposited into the Franchise Tax Board Wealth Tax Administration Fund. During this time period, $25 million or ½ of 1% of all projected revenues from the Wealth Tax, whichever is greater, would be deposited into the California Department of Justice Wealth Tax Administration Fund.

ACA 8 would additionally amend Article XIII B, Section 1 to provide that the State’s appropriations limit, as well as for each local government, would be designated to not apply for any year, unless at least two out of three conditions have been satisfied. These possible conditions include spending per student, fraction of population without health insurance, and percentage of household whose housing costs are in excess of 50% of the household’s income.

The co-authors of the proposed Wealth Tax have described it as a 1% surcharge for amounts above $50 million, and 1.5% for amounts above $1 billion. 

They also claim there are 169 billionaires in California and so very few taxpayers will be impacted by the measure. They also estimate that the proposed Wealth Tax would generate over $22 billion annually, presumably based on a static economic model.

This article was originally published by the California Globe.

Newsom Recall Chief Blasts Carl DeMaio: ‘Helping Himself to Donations Without Permission’

Reform California chairman Carl DeMaio on Monday sent email calling for donations to a “Yes on Recall” campaign against Gov. Gavin Newsom, assuming 1.5 million valid signatures were collected.

“National donors will ask us how much we have raised from grassroots California supporters like you,” the note reads. “I need to show them an impressive number. Can you please contribute anything more today to the effort?”

Not impressed was Orrin Heatlie, lead proponent of the Newsom recall, which claims 2.1 million signatures.

“Carl is NOT working on our behalf and he has not contributed to the recall effort,” Heatlie told Times of San Diego on Wednesday. “It seems he [is] self-serving, helping himself to donations, without purpose or permission.”

The retired Yolo County sheriff’s sergeant asked via email: “How much has he raked in under the guise he is involved in the campaign?” …

Click here to read the full article from the Times of San Diego.

Newsom Picks Rob Bonta as California’s New Attorney General

Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Faced with a looming recall threat, Gov. Gavin Newsom nominated Assemblymember Rob Bonta today as California’s next attorney general, handing one of the state’s most powerful offices to a trusted political ally who will make history as the first Filipino American to hold the position. 

“This is an incredibly important office in the cause of, yes, racial justice, social justice, economic justice, environmental justice,” Newsom said, adding that Bonta “has been on the forefront” of those causes.

Bonta, 49, a Democrat from Alameda, developed a record as one of the Assembly’s most liberal members during his eight years in the Legislature and had backing from prominent civil rights advocates as he sought the post often called the state’s “top cop.” His selection, which requires confirmation by the Legislature, will likely play well with progressives who are hoping to see the attorney general take a more active role in holding police accountable for misconduct — something former Attorney General Xavier Becerra was reluctant to do. 

Becerra was confirmed last week as President Joe Biden’s health and human services secretary, handing Newsom the opportunity to fill what’s normally an elected office with his own pick. It’s the third such opportunity Newsom has had in recent months, as political dominoes fall following the 2020 election — a rapid run of top-flight appointments a California governor hasn’t enjoyed since the 1950s. 

In December, Newsom appointed Alex Padilla to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Vice President Kamala Harris, and Shirley Weber to fill Padilla’s prior role as secretary of state. With all three picks, Newsom diversified the highest ranks of California politics, choosing barrier-busting Democrats who make history as the first person of their ethnic group to hold the position. Padilla is the son of Mexican immigrants, Weber is the daughter of an Arkansas sharecropper and Bonta emigrated to California from the Philippines as a baby.  

Newsom drew attention to Bonta’s heritage by holding the press conference announcing his choice at the International Hotel in San Francisco, which was a residential hotel for Filipino and Chinese families and the site of a large protest amid evictions in the 1970s.

“Forty-five years ago, my mother Cynthia was one of those great activists who stood outside the International Hotel, linked arms and formed a circle to protect those who were inside from being evicted,” Bonta said, nearly choking back tears. “And now my mother, Cynthia, and my father, Warren… will see a governor nominate their son to be the first Filipino American attorney general.”

Newsom’s power to shape Democratic politics in the Golden State is an opportunity to build allies and unite Democrats as he works to beat back a likely recall election later this year. He faced pressure from numerous ethnic advocacy groups to pick an Asian American attorney general, both in recognition of California’s growing Asian American population and in response to a recent rise in hate crimes. 

Bonta spoke out against “the sting of hate and discrimination” and said that one of his top priorities will be protecting people from “the forces of hate” and holding perpetrators accountable. He blamed former President Donald Trump for attacks on Asian Americans because Trump described the coronavirus with terms such as “Kung flu” and “Chinese virus” — similar to rhetoric organizers of the recall campaign recently came under attack for using.  

Bonta has been a loyal lieutenant in Newsom’s early fight against the recall. He recently organized a group of Asian American Democrats to blast the campaign to oust Newsom from office, one of several events Democrats have held as they work to portray unity

The California GOP, which is backing the recall, dismissed Bonta as “soft on criminals” and a “loyal friend to unions” and called his nomination “another failed decision by the worst governor in California history.”

Selecting Bonta helps Newsom shore up support from his liberal base heading into the recall. Prominent civil rights advocates, including Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza and attorney/CNN personality Van Jones, endorsed his candidacy. Several progressive interest groups — including powerful labor unions, plaintiffs attorneys and criminal justice reform advocates — immediately praised his selection. 

But it could cause tensions in Newsom’s relationships with law enforcement. As a lawmaker, Bonta wrote bills friendly to the marijuana industry, gave more rights to immigrants in interactions with federal immigration agents and attempted to abolish cash bail. After Newsom called for an end to California’s use of private prisons in his 2019 inaugural speech, Bonta wrote it up as a bill that Newsom signed into law.

Under a new law signed last year, the new attorney general also will be tasked with investigating all deadly police shootings of unarmed civilians — one reason civil rights advocates pressured Newsom to appoint someone who will take a more active role in rooting out misconduct. 

Newsom said he had discussed the attorney general nomination with law enforcement leaders and that he believes Bonta will “keep an open mind” in working with them. Bonta said he respects police and will dialogue with their leaders, but also anticipated some “respectful disagreements.” He made clear he is committed to what he sees as urgent reforms. 

“Too many Californians have faced unfairness in the many broken parts of our criminal justice system,” Bonta said at today’s press conference. “And they deserve more compassion, more humanity and a second chance.”

Police groups responded with polite statements that masked any sense of rejection they might feel from Newsom picking a top law enforcement officer who is a critic of their profession. Eric R. Nunez, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, said in a statement, “We stand ready to collaborate and assist the new Attorney General and wish him shared success in safeguarding victims and keeping California safe.” 

The Peace Officers Research Association of California, a powerful lobbying group, said it looked forward to working with Bonta on “improved policies that will raise recruitment standards, increase transparency and place officers in the best possible position to serve Californians.” 

Bonta is a Yale-educated lawyer who previously worked as a deputy city attorney in San Francisco. His wife, Mialisa Bonta, serves on the Alameda school board and is the head of Oakland Promise, a group that helps children get into college. Ethics attorneys have questioned Bonta’s pattern of raising money for groups that employ his wife. A CalMatters investigation found that he helped his wife’s nonprofits raise more than $560,000, largely by soliciting donations from companies that lobby the Legislature. He also asked interest groups to donate to a foundation he created, which in turn loaned $25,000 to his wife’s employer. The arrangement is legal but controversial. 

Regulating charities is part of the attorney general’s portfolio of responsibilities, along with consumer protection, gambling and firearms regulation, internet privacy enforcement and criminal investigations. While California’s last attorney general made headlines for suing the Trump administration more than 100 times, Bonta is likely to keep the focus closer to home. 

Attorney general is widely seen as the second-most powerful office in state government, and has historically been a launching pad for higher office. Harris went from attorney general to U.S senator to the nation’s first female vice president, and Jerry Brown went from attorney general to his second stint as governor, cementing his position as California’s longest-serving governor. 

Bonta said that he plans to run for the office in 2022 — the same year Newsom will be up for re-election, if he survives the recall — and that he will be “moving from day one with the re-election in mind.” He almost treated the nomination process like a campaign, hiring Newsom’s former press secretary to help build visibility for his support. Other Democrats who angled for the position included Rep. Adam Schiff of Los Angeles and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. 

CalMatters reporter Ben Christopher contributed to this report.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.org

Will California’s Schools Ever Fully Reopen? There’s Plenty of Money

With a significant portion of the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package earmarked for K-12 public schools, concerns have arisen over potential misuse of those funds. As Fox News recently reported, “Multiple California school districts have discussed using state and federal COVID relief money to hand out bonuses for teachers and staff, with one district’s union even reportedly proposing the money be used for a trip to Hawaii.”

According to the article, Clovis Unified School District, located in Fresno County, proposed granting a $6,000 bonus per employee. San Juan Unified, located in Sacramento County, proposed paying teachers a one-time bonus equivalent to 1 percent of their annual salaries. And the union representing Dublin Unified, located in the San Francisco Bay Area, proposed its teachers receive a $2,500 bonus that could be used for, among other things, “an airplane trip to Hawaii.”

Subsequent investigation has a Dublin Unified union spokesperson emphatically insisting the Hawaii suggestion was just a joke. Fair enough, although a bit out of character. Teachers’ unions in general tend to be rather humorless when they are the targets of jest. In any case, California’s parents and taxpayers shouldn’t be distracted by anecdotal reports of abuse. These are relatively small dollars. The whole gargantuan system deserves withering review.

To get an impression of just how much federal stimulus money, overall, that California’s school districts are getting, EdSource has posted a database showing the amounts per district and per student. Quoting from the summary, “this latest bill will bring an estimated total funding of $26.4 billion to K-12 schools in California.” The $26.4 billion includes all three relief portions of federal legislation passed in less than a year to cope with the pandemic.

When it comes to estimating the total amount of money currently pouring into California’s K-12 system of education, federal COVID relief is just one piece of a much bigger pie. Additional supplemental funding comes in the form of recent state legislation, announced March 1, that will pile another $6.6 billion into district coffers to “cope with the harm from Covid-19 on students’ learning and mental health.”

Easily lost in all these supplemental numbers is the baseline funding for California’s K-12 public schools, which is presumably unaltered during the 2020-2021 school year because (1) while revenue is based on per pupil attendance, this year the districts (except for charter schools, of course) were permitted to use prior year attendance statistics, and (2) the state budget, to everyone’s surprise, came away with a surplus in the current fiscal year, making draconian cuts unnecessary.

So how much were California’s taxpayers shelling out, per K-12 public school enrollee, prior to the pandemic?

An analysis conducted by the California Policy Center in 2020 debunked the popular statistics that put the total somewhere between $12,000 and $18,000 per year, depending on the source. These commonly cited sources failed to include the state’s annual CalSTRS contribution, currently $2.8 billion and rising, nor did they include the annual cost to taxpayers to pay down currently outstanding school bonds, which adds at least another $15 billion each year.

Taking these and other factors into account, the analysis found the baseline cost of California’s K-12 public schools to be around $137.6 billion, or just over $20,000 per year per pupil. Adding the state and federal supplemental funds to that yields a total estimated K-12 spending in California today of $170 billion, or over $25,000 per pupil. What has that bought parents and students so far?

The “agreement for online learning” that was extended earlier this year between LAUSD, California’s biggest school district, and its union, offers a glimpse. The original agreement negotiated in August 2020 called for classes are to be conducted online, with each school day running from 9 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. As reported by EdSource at the time, “Now, teachers in the district will be required to work six hours daily: from 9 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. and for another 45 minutes at their discretion.”

The updated agreement, as reported in the Los Feliz Ledger, adds “an additional 20 to 30 minutes of instruction on Mondays for students in first- through 12th-grades. It also adds one hour per month — 15 minutes each Monday — for professional development or department meetings, and 30 additional minutes of office hours Tuesdays through Fridays for meetings with students and families.”

If you add this all up, it means LAUSD teachers are currently required to work roughly 7 hour days, less than what they had to work pre-pandemic. We may assume most of them are also relieved of a daily commute.

The average LAUSD teacher the average LAUSD teacher makes over $100K per year in pay and benefits, and this estimate is understated because it doesn’t take into account paying down their unfunded pension and retirement health care liabilities. They now earn this in exchange for working at most 7 days per week, for 180 days per year. The average full time worker puts in between 230-240 days of work per year.

Very few advocates for quality public education would question pay and benefits at this level for good teachers. And in any case, the issue of teacher compensation is peripheral to the main issue: What are these school districts doing with all this money?

Why is it that charter schools and private schools have remained mostly open for in-person instruction, and yet we hear no horror stories from any of them? Why is it that instead of exploring new ways to manage teachers and students in order to get them back to classrooms, we just get more stories of “heroic round-the-clock negotiations” with unions that claim to care about the children, while schools remain shut? Why is Newsom’s loudly proclaimed agreement for schools to “fully reopen by April 1st” far less than it sounds?

A scandalous trip-to-Hawaii rumor should not take anyone’s eyes off the real issue. Tens of billions of additional dollars are pouring into California’s system of K-12 public education. A comprehensive, blistering audit of where all that money goes is past due.

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