New Law to Prevent Fake News Will Cause Harm

Fake NewsRecently passed legislation in California that targets online bots purports to address the fake news problem and the undue influence of advertising. It accomplishes none of that. The legislation will, however, allow government officials to target ordinary behavior by companies, candidates and political organizations that is not conventionally considered “bot” activity.

The new law, which goes into effect in 2019, makes it illegal for anyone to use a bot to communicate with anyone in California online without disclosing that they are in fact using a bot. Though the law applies only to bots used to influence people’s purchases or votes, the law’s definition of “bot” is severely overbroad.

The law defines “bot” as “an automated online account where all or substantially all of the actions or posts of that account are not the result of a person.” Yet in our highly-automated world, this language can include innumerable activities that the legislation’s authors may not consider “bot” activity.

People who work in digital fields like social media, for instance, often use automated processes to complete simple, repetitive tasks that would otherwise take up valuable time. Many social media managers use a feature native to website platforms and media management tools that tweets new website posts automatically, as soon as they are posted on a company’s website. Organizations strapped for time and resources find this feature particularly helpful. If those posts are commercial or electoral in nature and do not state that they are bot-driven, it is possible that they would violate the law.

What about online store automated chats? These chats mimic the behaviors of customer support staff and exist to help guide users through purchases. Since customer service issues can often be solved without a single human interaction, these “bots” are far more cost-efficient than hiring additional employees. While many automated chat windows inform users they are not human so that users are not confused, some do not. Automated chats that do not disclose this information may violate California’s new law.

In the political realm, an increasing number of campaigns and committees have taken to texting supporters in much the same way they send emails. The goals of these texts vary from fundraising pushes to reminding people to vote, and the messages often include names like “Nancy Pelosi” or “Tom Cotton” to make them appear as though they originated from a big-named sender. While these texts are often approved by the person named, they are not written by the signed sender and their distribution is automated. Need a text identify itself as bot-sent under these circumstances? Under the new law, the answer is likely yes.

While all of these methods can be used nefariously, they are simply tools that can be used to achieve innocent ends. One can send an automated email to sell fraudulent goods or to sell a legitimate product. An automated campaign tweet can attempt to rally support or spread false news. Because the law as written casts such a wide net, it may be used to capture people who use bots for benign purposes.

Moreover, this law would not target the heart of the issues it purportedly addresses — fake news and fraudulent advertising. Fake news requires a human hand in the generation process because the stories are designed for shock value, often in a way that ties in current events, and thus may not be covered by the law. The concern with advertising bots relates to an incident where Russian bots tricked marketers into buying millions of dollars of video ads that never ended up acquiring real views. Yet it is unclear whether the law would substantially impede this sort of activity. In this instance, the bots did not interact with users but merely mimicked web surfers and gave the videos “views.” The law does not apply to bots that do not communicate with real people.

At best, the law will sit and collect dust. At worst, it will sweep many online stores, political committees and candidates into the justice system abyss. In practice, as with many vague laws, officials will likely apply them only to disfavored companies and groups.

Even if the law ends up requiring accounts that do spread fake news and false advertisements to be labeled as “bots,” the law will also apply to many legitimate publications and companies. This means that both legitimate and illicit automated systems will all have the “bot” label. And if everyone online is a bot, then nobody is a bot.

igital media manager and a fellow at the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington, D.C.

How to NOT Solve California’s Housing Crisis

house-constructionThere are obvious reasons the median home price in California is $544,900, whereas in the United States it is only $220,100. In California, demand exceeds supply. And supply is constrained because of unwarranted environmental laws such as SB 375 that have made it nearly impossible to build housing outside the “urban service boundary.” These laws have made the value of land inside existing urban areas artificially expensive. Very expensive. Other overreaching environmentalist laws such as CEQA have made it nearly impossible to build housing anywhere.

Then there are the government fees attendant to construction, along with the ubiquitous and lengthy permitting delays caused by myriad, indifferent bureaucracies with overlapping and often conflicting requirements. There is a separate fee and a separate permit seemingly for everything: planning, building, impact, schools, parks, transportation, capital improvement, housing, etc. Government fees per home in California often are well over $100,000; in the City of Fremont in 2017, they totaled nearly $160,000 on the $850,000 median value of a single family home.

This is a shakedown. It has caused a politically engineered housing shortage in California that enriches billionaire property developers that have the financial strength to withstand decades of delays and millions in fees, because they reap the extreme profits when they sell these homes at inflated prices. Also enriched are the public servants whose pay and pensions depend on all taxes – definitely including property taxes – and all fees being as stratospheric as humanly possible. Public employee pension funds also benefit from housing scarcity, as their real estate investment valuations soar into bubbleland.

When litigious environmentalists, insatiable public sector unions, and an elitist handful of left-wing oligarchs control a state, artificial scarcity is the consequence. Welcome to California.

REJECTED POLICY – REAL SOLUTIONS TO THE HOUSING CRISIS

To decisively solve California’s housing shortage, some of California’s more than 25,000 square miles of rangeland, currently occupied by cattle, would have to be approved for suburban development. California is only 5 percent urbanized, although if you listen to environmentalists, you might get the impression it only had 5 percent remaining open space. You could fit ten million people onto half acre lots in four person households and you would only use up 2,000 square miles – that’s only 1.1 percent of California’s land area. Why aren’t massive new housing developments spreading out along California’s 101, I-5 and 99 corridors?

Real solutions to California’s housing crisis would also require increasing the capacity of California’s water infrastructure and transportation infrastructure. In both cases, investment would be cheaper if this expansion was done on raw land. Real solutions to California’s housing crisis would mean rescinding the mandatory rooftop solar requirement on new home construction, and instead recommissioning and expanding the nuclear power complexes at Diablo Canyon and San Onofre, and embracing development of additional nuclear power and natural gas power plants. In a less confiscatory regulatory environment, the private sector could fund all of this while lowering costs to consumers.

Reforming environmental restrictions and unleashing private sector development of homes and infrastructure is the fastest, easiest way for home prices in California to return to near the national average. In turn, that would solve nearly every problem associated with a shortage of housing. California’s families would be able to afford to buy homes, or pay affordable rent. California’s employers, most definitely including government agencies, would be able to attract workers at prices that would not break their profits or their budgets, which would benefit the economy. And far fewer people would be rendered homeless.

APPROVED POLICY – COMPLETELY USELESS “SOLUTIONS” TO THE HOUSING CRISIS

As long as environmentalist litigators, public sector unions, and left-wing oligarchs run California, none of these real solutions will ever happen. What are they proposing instead?

To summarize, all politically viable housing solutions in California involve densification, i.e., cramming ten million more people into existing urban areas, and, predictably, more taxes, bonds, fees, subsidies and government programs.

Rent Control, Government Subsidized “Affordable Housing” and Government Funded Homeless Shelters

California is the epicenter of America’s “progressive” power structure. In California, in addition to controlling the public bureaucracy through their unions, progressive ideologues control the press, social media, search media, K-12 public education, academia, most corporations, the entertainment industry, and virtually all serious political campaign spending. As a result, California’s progressives can use ballot initiatives to con a brainwashed populace into approving their latest housing policy agenda. The common thread? Government control; government funding. For example, on the ballot this November are propositions to permit cities and counties to enact rent control, issue state bonds totaling $4 billion to build “affordable housing,” and use state tax revenues to build more government-run homeless shelters. It is possible all three of these measures will pass.

Already in progress is the implementation of California state laws that took effect Jan. 1 – AB 2299 and SB 1069 – which amend existing state laws governing “accessory dwelling units.” These new laws force California’s counties to streamline the process whereby homeowners can construct additional homes in their backyards. Does that sound good? Not so fast.

Doubling Suburban Population Densities ala Government Subsidized “Accessory Dwelling Units”

There’s a reason people work hard for decades to pay off their mortgages so they can own homes in spacious suburbs. It’s because they value the leafy, semi-rural atmosphere of an uncrowded suburban neighborhood. AB 2299 and SB 1069 will effectively double the housing density in these neighborhoods, violating the expectations of everyone living there who relied on the zoning rules that were in effect when they bought their homes.

If zoning laws in existing suburbs were relaxed at the same time as zoning restrictions were lifted on the urban periphery, the impact of these new rules might be mitigated. But every policy California’s elite and enlightened geniuses come up with is designed to maintain “urban containment.” And to add to the disruption these laws will inflict on quiet neighborhoods, California’s cities – starting with Los Angeles – are providing subsidies to homeowners to build these homes, then encouraging them to rent the properties to low income families wherein the government will pay the rent via Section 8 vouchers.

This is an expensive, utopian scheme that oozes with compassion but is fraught with problems. Doubling the density of suburbs is already problematic. But doubling the density of suburbs by subsidizing the settlement of people on government assistance into every backyard, invites social friction. It is forcible integration of people who, for whatever reason, require government assistance to support themselves, into communities of taxpayers, who, by and large, are working extra hard to pay the mortgages on overpriced homes in order to provide their children with safe neighborhoods.

As usual, when it comes to enlightening the public, neither the media, nor the urban planning experts in academia, ever offer much beyond pro-densification propaganda. A glowing New York Times article, entitled “A Novel Solution for the Homeless: House Them in Backyards,” raves about this entire scheme, already being tried in Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle. The article includes a quote from Vinit Mukhija, a professor of urban planning at UCLA, who says: “The value [of subsidized accessory dwelling units] goes beyond that, though, because it is finally somewhat of a departure of the purity of single-family housing in the region. It’s a good step to change what people here really consider a dogma of private housing.”

The “dogma of private housing.” That epitomizes California’s elitist hostility towards ordinary families owning detached homes with spacious yards.

The incentives created by such a project are perverse. California’s elite has made homes unaffordable. Then, to the people who sacrificed so much to buy these homes despite their punitively high prices, the government offers them subsidies and Section 8 payments, if they are willing subdivide their lots and turn over half their property to people supported by the government. Inevitably, many financially struggling homeowners will be forced to accept this cruel bargain if they want to keep their homes.

Finally, just like in 2008, there will eventually be another economic downturn, when many distressed homeowners will be forced to sell their properties. And when that happens, just like in 2008, investment banking speculators will move in and buy homes by the thousands. This next time, however, these institutional investors will be salivating at the prospect of collecting government subsidies so they can operate two rental units on a single piece of property.

Demolishing Homes to Build High Rises Near Transit Stations

Another way California’s elites – many of whom live in gated communities with homeowner covenants prohibiting nasty things like accessory dwelling units in backyards – propose to solve California’s housing crisis is to force demolition of single family dwellings in the vicinity of mass transit stations. They support this mass destruction of vintage neighborhoods in order to make room for high density apartments and condominiums up to five stories in height. While an attempt in 2018 to enact this draconian solution was beaten back, California’s coercive utopian lawmakers will bring it back in 2019. Some form of this law is likely to pass.

There’s nothing wrong with gradually increasing the population density in the core of large cities. That is a natural and organic process. But it is the job of legislators and local officials to moderate that process, protecting established neighborhoods. Instead, again, the policy consensus in California is to cram ten million new residents into existing urban areas.

Government Subsidized Homeless Shelters on some of the Most Expensive Real Estate on Earth

Perhaps the most misguided housing policies coming out of California concern the homeless. Despite years of bloviating by the compassionate elite, almost no good data is available on homeless populations, much less any good policies. Press coverage of the homeless centers on the family unit; small children, parents forced out of their home by high rents. These are gut wrenching stories. But accompanying the legitimate cases of families or individuals coping with undeserved hardship, there are the willfully indigent, along with criminals, drug dealers, sexual predators and perverts. Again, the City of Los Angeles offers a striking example of bad policy.

In Venice Beach, which is within Los Angeles city limits, along one of the most expensive, touristy stretches of coastline in the world, there are now permanent homeless encampments. To address the challenge, Los Angeles city officials are fast-tracking the permit process to build a homeless shelter on 3.2 acres of vacant city-owned property less than 500 feet from the beach. This property, nestled in the heart of Venice’s upscale residential and retail neighborhoods, if commercially developed, would be worth well over $200 million. Imagine what could be done with that much money if the goal was to truly help the homeless. And by the way, the proposed shelter will be a so-called “wet” shelter, meaning that drugs and alcohol will not be permitted inside the shelter, but intoxicated homeless individuals will be allowed inside. Go in, get a bed, go out, shoot up, come back in.

That a solution so scandalously inefficient could even be considered by the do-gooders running City Hall in Los Angeles offers additional insights into the minds of California’s progressive elite. Solving the homeless crisis isn’t their goal here. Rather the intent is to create additional government-owned properties, hire additional government bureaucrats, while preening in front of television cameras and pretending to solve a problem. Should the Venice Beach property be developed as currently proposed, well connected construction contractors will rake in government funds, so eventually “up to 100” homeless people will find shelter. Meanwhile, thousands will remain outdoors.

California’s housing is unaffordable because of restrictive laws such as CEQAAB 32SB 375, and countless others at both the state and local level. At the same time, California’s political elites are are inviting in the world’s poor en masse to come and live here. An estimated 2.6 million illegal aliens currently live in California. But the rhetorically unassailable compassion expressed by these sanctuary policies does nothing to alleviate hardship in the nations where these refugees originate, because for every thousand who arrive, millions are left behind.

The result? While California’s visionary rulers engineer a shortage of housing supplies, their welcoming sanctuary policies engineer a burgeoning housing demand. This is the deeply flawed agenda they have implemented in California and are actively exporting to the rest of America.

The biggest lie of all is the compassionate overlay that informs every housing solution California’s elite promote. Because their solutions, however viable they may be politically, will not work. They defy basic economic sense. They create additional drain on public funds while doing nothing to alleviate the high prices that are caused by scarcity. They are sustained by an impossible assumption, that urban densification, and all the destruction that densification will bring, will in itself be sufficient to restore a supply and demand equilibrium for housing. And they reject the obvious solution, suburban expansion to complement higher densities in the urban cores, based on environmentalist objections that are overwrought. In practice, the solutions being implemented to resolve California’s housing crisis are not compassionate. They are cruel.

Eventually, enough Californians are going to realize they’ve been conned. They will recognize that government subsidized densification is financially unsustainable and ruinous to their way of life. They will support politicians who are willing to stand up to environmentalist litigators, government unions, and the left-wing oligarchy that profits from scarcity. Hopefully that will happen before it’s too late.

A Major Reason to Protect the Initiative Process

VotingAt the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA) annual conference last Friday a member of the audience, after listening to a discussion of the initiatives on the ballot and the initiative process in general, asked the panel why we even have the initiative process. As a member of that panel I offered an answer different from my fellow panelists— because California is becoming a one-party state.

The audience member’s question is a fair one. When one hears about measures sponsored by special interests, the millions of dollars it takes to qualifying and promote a proposition or the money raised to oppose some measures (a record setting $100-million plus to oppose the dialysis measure, Proposition 8), the concerns of ballot-box budgeting and laws created that don’t mesh with other laws on the books, while initiatives can only be changed by another vote of the people, you can understand why a question asking the need for  the initiative process is asked.

Panelists responded to the question in various ways about energizing the electorate; having voters participating in political decisions.

I raised the issue that reflects modern day political California that demands protection of the initiative process: California is a one-party state.

The majority party, which soon could once again control the legislature with a supermajority two-thirds makeup and perhaps hold that margin for some time, is under the influence of an aggressive, progressive wing and special interests that benefit from legislative decisions. While the voters who elect this legislature may choose Democrats over a tarnished Republican Party, they don’t necessarily concur with the hard line agenda that is put forth. That’s why the initiative is a must as a possible check if the legislature goes too far or doesn’t address areas of voters’ concerns.

The controlling powers would prefer not to have competition from the initiative process. You can see that in legislation advanced to attempt to change rules associated with the initiative to give the majority more control over the process or even to make it harder to pass initiatives.

A couple of years ago, legislation passed to assure that all initiatives would appear on the November ballot. The political reason was because larger voter turnouts favored the majority party.

The last couple of years, bills reached Governor Brown’s desk to change the way professional signature gatherers are paid. Instead of paying them per signature, the bill demanded that paid signature gatherers receive a flat fee. The politics behind it was to take some of the incentive away from signature gatherers and to make it tougher to qualify measures.

Governor Brown vetoed both bills saying changing the rules would make it tougher to qualify a measure and in turn would allow only well-healed interests from qualifying initiatives.

What would the next governor do if and when that bill comes back?

(There has even been a desire to prohibit payment for initiative signature gathering but courts have stopped that move.)

The initiative process was created as a check on the legislature, which was controlled by outside interest at the beginning by the twentieth century. To a large degree matters have not changed. The initiative process must be protected as a check on the legislators and the interests that influence them.

ditor and co-publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.

The Education Blob Continues To Fail America’s Students

Charter schoolIt was former United Nation’s Ambassador and U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who famously said “everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts.” That quote came to mind in the wake of American College Testing (ACT) releasing their latest batch of test scores revealing American high school seniors readiness for college.

It was not a pretty sight.

ACT reported that only 60 percent of high schoolers met collegiate success benchmarks in English, 46 percent in reading, 40 percent in math and 38 percent in science. Every category – yes every category – showed a decline from the previous year. Our schools are going backward and taking our students with them.

Moynihan’s quote comes to mind because the American education establishment – I like to call it the Blob – tries to obscure continuously falling and failing test scores with a dust storm of opinions from “experts.” ACT doesn’t deal in opinions of any size, shape or form. They deal in facts, and in this case the adjectives “cold” and “hard” are exceptionally appropriate.

The cold hard facts are that only 36 percent of our seniors met “college ready” benchmarks in all four categories tested. That means almost two-thirds of our students are on the path to failure once they get to college.

The cold hard facts are that the establishment is dysfunctional for millions of America’s students, and is giving the worst education to those most in need, as Hispanic and African American students continue to lag behind their peers in every category tested. This is academic malpractice.

Moynihan was a fairly doctrinaire New York liberal for his times, but a thoughtful one never constrained by ideological straitjackets. He was an early and vocal supporter of school choice. The concept – which now applies to a number of opportunities states have created to expand options for students outside of their ZIP code – was a favorite of Moynihan’s. Moynihan passionately believed in giving parents the power to guide their kids’ education. He would be appalled that the ACT scores show that Hispanic and African-American students continue to lag behind their peers in every category tested.

All of America should be equally appalled. For 25 years now the Center for Education Reform (CER) has sounded the alarm about falling test scores and failing students. We believe, and statistics show, that we must transform education – not just tinker with systems and not just give parents more options to choose outside of their zoned schools. That is necessary but not sufficient. No,we must truly redesign the process and what we expect from educators, students and yes, the Blob. Education must become personalized to every child, every student. The vision for a 21st century education system, well articulated by iNACOL’s Susan Patrick, challenges us to use our tools & modern day technologies to help students achieve competency, not just finish a grade, before moving on. “Moving toward a competency-based education model requires fundamental shifts in the systems, structures and assumptions that the traditional model of education is rooted in. We need bold leadership to transform K-12 education systems and policy. We need to build collaborative and distributed leadership at all levels of the education system to lead this transformation,” says Patrick.

And that’s just the beginning. In the coming days CER will release its annual Parent Power Index (PPI), ranking the states on how much power they afford parents to drive their family’s education, and for the first time, taking a look at what states do to foster personalized learning, making schools student, not system centered. Such innovations in teaching and learning, along side the critical lever of expanded education opportunity so that no child is confined to a failing school because of their zip code, are critical to our nation’s future if we are to arrest the lagging education indicators that inhibit a productive future for tens of millions of Americans. As our nation moves toward yet another election, these issues should guide everyone’s decisions. Without informed and bold lawmakers at every level, we simply won’t change the status quo.

I think Daniel Moynihan would agree. These are not opinions. They are facts.

Jeanne Allen is the Founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform.

How to Read Your Property Tax Bill

property taxThanks to Proposition 13, property tax bills are less scary in California than they are in a lot of other states. Homeowners in Illinois and New Jersey, just to cite two examples, have been known to let out a blood-curdling scream when they open the tax collector’s envelope that would be right at home on the soundtrack of a Jamie Lee Curtis movie.

Proposition 13 limits increases in a property’s assessed value to 2 percent per year and provides property owners with a pretty good idea of what their tax bill will be before they open the envelope.

Still, there can be some surprises. Taxpayers should understand the various charges and check the tax bill to make sure they’re not being assessed for more than they’re legally obligated to pay. It’s a good idea to compare each year’s tax bill to the previous year’s bill.

For most California counties, the property tax bill will show three categories of charges. They are the General Tax Levy, Voted Indebtedness and Direct Assessments.

The General Tax Levy is what most people think of when talking about property taxes. It is based on the assessed value of land, improvements and fixtures. This charge usually makes up the largest part of the tax bill and it is the amount that is limited by Proposition 13.

The annual increase in the General Levy of Assessment should be no more than 2 percent, unless there have been improvements to the property, like adding a room to the house. However, if a property received a “reduction in value” reassessment under Proposition 8, the taxable value may go up more than 2 percent to reflect the recovery in the market value. But in no case will the taxable value be more than the initial Prop. 13 base year plus 2 percent annually from the date of purchase.

If homes like yours are selling for less than the valuation on your current bill, contact your county assessor and ask for an adjustment to reflect the actual market value.

The second category of charges is Voted Indebtedness. …

Click here to read the full article from the Los Angeles Daily News

Trump memo orders Central Valley water changes

RB DroughtThe Trump administration has launched a bold effort to up-end water policies in the Central Valley and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, calling for big changes that would favor farmers over endangered species in allocating water.

Helping craft the administration’s new approach: Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former lawyer and lobbyist for the Westlands Water District, which is the nation’s largest agricultural water district with 600,000 acres of farmland in Fresno and Kings counties.

As CalWatchdog reported in June 2017, the prospect of having Bernhardt overseeing the federal government’s California water policies was opposed by nearly all Democrats in Congress because of his history. Meanwhile, to GOP lawmakers from the Golden State, his nomination was seen as confirmation of Trump’s 2016 campaign promises to abandon the old status quo involving Central Valley agriculture.

The Oct. 19 memo signed by Trump reflected Bernhardt’s years of calling for lesser regulatory burdens, specifically including long-lived protections for endangered species. It underlined the determination of the Trump administration to make sure farmers got more water. The memo also ordered that major water projects receive faster environmental reviews.

Trump signed the memo before a campaign rally in Arizona while flanked by three California House members – Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, Jeff Denham of Turlock and Tom McClintock, who represents a wide swath of Central and Eastern California. All have denounced what they see as excessive federal deference to environmentalists – including by the George W. Bush administration, not just the Obama administration.

“This will move things along at a record clip, and you’ll have a lot of water,” Trump assured them.

But veterans of the water wars – including those who back Trump’s new policy – have warned farmers not to get their hopes up for the rapid changes the president predicted. More modest changes in policies by the last Bush administration were fought in both federal and state courts by well-funded environmental law firms. They won not just stays of federal orders but full victories from judges who agreed with their interpretation of Congress’ intent when it adopted far-reaching water laws last century.

Fight over economic impact of rules looms

Bernhardt’s remarks at a May 2017 Senate hearing point squarely to one coming fight with broad implications for all of the federal government. When asked whether the Interior Department would keep its commitment to “scientific integrity” in enforcing federal laws, Bernhardt said, “I will look at the science with all its significance and its warts. You look at that, you evaluate it and then you look at the legal decision you can make. In some instances the legal decision may allow you to consider other factors, such as jobs.”

The idea that governments can consider such economic factors when interpreting laws has been one of the favorite legal arguments of conservative and libertarian law professors since it was advanced in 1973 by Richard A. Posner, who went on to serve 36 years as a federal appellate judge and to emerge as one of the most important and provocative legal thinkers of the 20th century.

If there is any evidence this philosophy is leading to new Trump administration interpretations of federal laws, a strong legal challenge is certain – not just because of what it would mean for water policy but because it would give business interests a powerful new tool to challenge a wide range of laws that create economic burdens.

Posner’s most crucial, basic claim – that the “common law” that is the basis of the legal system holds efficiency as a value – is scoffed at by many legal academics. A Stanford law school analysis that was otherwise sympathetic to Posner’s theories says it is based on “ambiguous” precedents.

The fight over the Posner-Bernhardt view of the law is in some ways the reverse of normal fights over the extent of judicial authority. Democrats say the claim that “efficiency” is part of how laws should be interpreted was invented out of whole cloth, with no evidence it reflected the wishes of the nation’s founders.

This is the line of argument often made by conservative strict constructionists, who reject the idea that the Constitution and other long-standing laws are “living documents” subject to new interpretations because of changing circumstances.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

How California’s Gas Tax Compares With Other States

gas prices 2The lies by opponents of Proposition 6 — the measure to repeal the LATEST GAS AND DIESEL TAX INCREASES — are breathtaking. Many people believe opponents when they falsely claim that — if Prop 6 passes — there will be essentially no funding for roads and bridges.  No one — even proponents of Prop 6 — are adequately presenting the actual numbers. Especially the numbers compared to the other states.

Let me help:

In California, we now pay about 56 cents a gallon in state “gas pump” taxes — our state excise tax and sales tax. This figure is scheduled to rise dramatically (and automatically) in future years, but let’s put that fact aside for this comparison.

In addition, we pay the hidden CA “cap and trade” tax.  It’s estimated by the CA Legislative Analyst’s Office at 10 to 12 cents a gallon. Using 10 cents, that brings our total CA state gas taxes to 66 cents a gallon — easily the highest total gas tax in the nation.

Prop 6 will reduce that CA gas tax figure 12 cents a gallon (the recent tax increase amount).  That means that California will still be collecting about 54 cents a gallon — a decrease of 22%.  That reduction does NOT eliminate funding for roads and bridges.  Not hardly!

But here’s the thing that no one talks about:  Even AFTER Prop 6 is passed, California will STILL be collecting the SECOND HIGHEST TOTAL GAS TAXES IN THE NATION!  Only Pennsylvania will be higher.  Most states are much lower.
https://www.api.org/oil-and-natural-gas/consumer-information/motor-fuel-taxes/gasoline-tax

How can the other states build their roads and bridges with far less tax money than California?  In addition to being much more efficient in their spending, these states usually don’t divert their gas taxes for bike lanes (which INCREASE congestion), hiking trails, beautification projects, parks, mass transit (especially wildly expensive commuter rail) and other non-road expenditures favored by California politicians.

Here’s another surprise. Included in our gas price is funding for the infamous California HIGH SPEED RAIL — which is now to be largely paid for with cap and trade taxes. Don’t believe opponents when they claim you are not paying for HSR at the pump — you most certainly ARE.

And what about diesel?  Compared to the other states, our total CA diesel taxes are even higher than gasoline. We are now almost DOUBLE the national average diesel tax — NOT COUNTING the hidden CA cap and trade tax.

We all pay those diesel taxes in every tangible product we buy.  For businesses, transportation costs are a “pass through” expense that is paid by their customers in the form of higher prices.

In short — we do NOT have a California gas and diesel tax REVENUE problem.  Instead we have a HUGE California SPENDING PRIORITY problem.  State politicians have been holding our road system hostage — using it to raise our taxes over and over — mostly for other projects.

As the droll P.J. O’Rourke commented, Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”  It’s up to us voters to provide the adult supervision so sadly lacking in Sacramento.

Force politicians to do what we do — prioritize spending.  Use the “road tax” for roads!

This article was originally published by the Flash Report

Teachers’ Unions Appalled at Idea of Paying Teachers Like Rock Stars

TeacherIf you’re looking for a stellar example of teachers’ unions ongoing commitment to mediocrity or worse, then you need only look at their reaction to California GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox’s idea of paying top-notch teachers much higher salaries – perhaps even rivalling those earned by ballplayers and rock stars. The unions, of course, pan the idea. One union official told the Sacramento Bee that “education should not be a competitive endeavor.”

Cox seemed to suggest in a statement to the newspaper that he engaged in some hyperbole: “Of course our teachers will never approach the pay of a Beyonce or a Lebron, but quite frankly, our classroom teachers influence, inspire and change the arc of more lives than even these music and athletic superstars.” But his idea of instituting a form of merit pay makes a lot of sense. Despite the naysaying, every successful enterprise is, to some degree, competitive.

Merit pay is a simple concept. It allows school administrators to pay good, effective teachers more than mediocre or poor-performing teachers. It allows signing bonuses and performance-based rewards. The obvious corollary is that it also allows them to pay bad or incompetent teachers lower salaries. In a truly competitive educational model that goes beyond this simple idea, school officials could even – get this – demote, discipline or fire teachers who aren’t making the grade. That’s how it works in almost any private business, and even private schools.

In the current public-school system, however, pay is based on seniority. A school teacher who has been just occupying a chair for decades, must be paid better than a young go-getter. A teacher who is willing to ply his or her skills in a tough, low-performing urban school must be paid the same as a teacher on autopilot in a wealthy suburban district, where the challenges are less severe and the stakes not as high. In times of layoffs, that energetic tough student working a hard gig must be laid off first, thanks to something known as LIFO, or “Last In, First Out.”

In the current, union-controlled monopoly system school administrators are not free to recruit the best and brightest talent from other industries because, well, they can’t pay enough to lure them out of more lucrative fields. And anyone who wants to be a regular, full-time teacher in California’s public schools must go through the long, expensive and mind-numbing process of getting an education degree. (Did I mention that those who receive such degrees tend to come from the bottom rungs of the academic ladder, according to numerous studies?)

To make matters worse, it’s nearly impossible to fire public-school teachers provided they show up for the job. School districts have “rubber rooms,” where teachers deemed unfit for the classroom twiddle their thumbs and collect full pay and benefits while their cases are adjudicated for months and even years given all the union protections against firing. It can cost school districts hundreds of thousands of dollars to go through the firing process, so most don’t bother.

That leads to an annual, cynical process called the “dance of the lemons.” As Peter Schweizer explained for the Hoover Institution, “Often, as a way to save time and money, an administrator will cut a deal with the union in which he agrees to give a bad teacher a satisfactory rating in return for union help in transferring the teacher to another district. The problem teacher gets quietly passed along to someone else. Administrators call it ‘the dance of the lemons’ or ‘passing the trash.’” These cases usually involve teachers accused of some terrible action, but it’s functionally impossible to get rid of or pass along teachers who are merely incompetent. I recall when John Stossel showed a long flow chart of how to fire a teacher in New York City. The audience was stunned. Then Stossel, held up more pages of the chart. It’s crazy and the results are insane.

In 2012, nine California public-school students filed a lawsuit against California and the CTA arguing that the state’s system of teacher protections violates the state constitution’s promise of an “effective” education. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled on behalf of the students. He invalidated teacher tenure and other work rules because they assured that a percentage of “grossly ineffective” teachers would be left in the classroom, wreaking havoc on the future of many thousands of students, especially those in poor school districts.

In his decision, Treu noted that “an expert called by (California school administrators), testified that 1 – 3 percent of teachers in California are grossly ineffective. Given that the evidence showed roughly 275,000 active teachers in this state, the extrapolated number of grossly ineffective teachers ranges from 2,750 to 8,250.” That’s a lot of bad teachers, and a depressing number of students who suffer in their classrooms. But Treu’s decision was overturned on appeal, and the appeal was upheld by the California Supreme Court. But the facts are the facts, even if the court was unwilling to back a decision to shake up the state’s public-education system.

This is what happens when the educational system is not a “competitive endeavor,” but rather a union-controlled, government monopoly. It means that good teachers cannot be rewarded. Great teachers cannot easily be recruited. Grossly ineffective teachers cannot easily be removed. And mediocre ones have few incentives to improve. Imagine how this system would work in your particular profession or business. How well would it do if the worst are protected, the best are neglected and the so-so ones are rewarded?

In the news story, candidate Cox didn’t get into the details of the hiring/firing process, but his merit-pay idea should be widely applauded. Yet on its website, the California Teachers’ Association says that “merit pay is flawed in concept. Where it has been tried, it has proved to be a detriment rather than a stimulus to better education. CTA is open to consideration of alternative pay plans as determined by the local associations through the collective bargaining process.”

As a final note, the debate over merit pay reinforces the wisdom of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Janus decision, which declared that teachers and other public employees are not required to pay union dues even to support collective-bargaining purposes. Justice Samuel Alito, wrote for the majority that such bargaining often involved “fundamental questions of education policy,” so it’s antithetical to the First Amendment to compel people to support ideas to which they don’t agree.

“Should teacher pay be based on seniority, the better to retain experienced teachers?” Justice Alito asked. “Or should schools adopt merit-pay systems to encourage teachers to get the best results out of their students?” Public-school teachers no longer are forced to subsidize the opposition to merit pay and to reforms to the current tenure and seniority based system, but there’s still a long process ahead to move toward the idea that Cox touted.

Steven Greenhut is a contributing editor for the California Policy Center. He is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

This article was originally published by the CA Policy Center

Farm-Confinement Proposition Opposed by Farm Bureau and PETA

ChickensCalifornia voters’ support for farm animal rights was made clear in 2008 with the landslide victory of Proposition 2, which said animals could not be confined in a way that prevented them from turning around freely, lying down, standing up or fully extending their limbs. The measure won 63 percent of the vote and took on even greater significance when the state Legislature passed a law saying the limits on confinement applied to all food sold in California, not just the products of farms in the Golden State.

Now another measure, once again sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States, is on the California ballot. Proposition 12 would require that chickens have a minimum of 1 square foot of confinement space by 2020, with a mandate that all egg-laying hens be cage-free by 2022. It would also require 24 square feet for each breeding pig by 2022 and 43 square feet of space for each calf raised for veal by 2020.

Proposition 12 is expected to pass easily. Not only does it have broad support from the state Democratic Party, the California Labor Federation and a range of civic groups including the League of Women Voters, it’s also backed by some farm interests, including Central Valley Eggs, one of the state’s largest “factory farms.”

But the measure faces criticism on several fronts.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – which formally supports a vegan diet – opposes the measure as providing cover for continuing the human consumption of animals. “Humane labels make consumers feel good about their decisions but perpetuate cruelty to animals,” PETA’s Lindsay Dadko told Governing magazine.“ Cruelty is cruelty is cruelty, and it doesn’t matter what label you put on it.”

State egg production fell 34% after last farming prop

The California Farm Bureau, the state Republican Party and several business groups oppose Proposition 12 as imposing unique burdens on Golden State farms that hurt their ability to export eggs and meat to other states and nations.

According to a 2017 study by Purdue University agriculture researchers, Proposition 2 imposed a 9 percent premium on California egg prices. It is also associated with a drop of 34 percent in egg production – going from 5.3 billion eggs in 2007 to 3.5 billion in 2016.

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office concluded that Proposition 12 was likely to yield higher prices for eggs, pork and veal, mainly because of the cost of building or modifying confinement structures.

But a third faction opposes Proposition 12 on the grounds that it is actually a step back for chickens, at least until the cage-free rule takes effect in 2022. This is based on the idea that state regulators have botched their interpretation of Proposition 2. The Humane Farming Association and other groups say that egg-laying hens when stretching their wings take up at least 2 square feet, and that Proposition 12 – with its 1 square foot requirement – is much worse.

On Friday, during a KQED forum on Proposition 12, Bradley Miller, director of the Humane Farming Association, said, “We can do better. One square foot per hen is cruel. They should have more space than that.”

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Democratic California’s Cautionary Tale

Democrat DonkeyIt’s become fashionable among certain conservatives, libertarians, and assorted free-market types to claim that Republicans are no better than Democrats. Both parties, according to the disenchanted, have lost their way. Both parties are controlled by establishment cronies, who support big government of one sort or another.

But conservatives who are disillusioned with Republicans need to remember just how much is at stake if Democrats take over. To indulge in understatement, California offers a cautionary tale.

In the name of saving the planet, and helping the poor, Democrats win votes in California. Assisting these Democrats is the most powerful coalition of leftist oligarchs in the history of the world. But the planet is not better off and California’s poor get poorer. How can this be?

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

Since at least 2006 — the year Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican, totally capitulated to the Democratic establishment — Democrats have exercised absolute power in California. Their ongoing agenda, much of which has already been implemented, offers insight into just how different Democrats are from Republicans — even those watered down Republicans who struggle to earn votes from true conservatives.

California’s Democrats, in pursuit of environmentalist perfection, have legislated artificial scarcity of everything necessary to civilized life: land, housing, electricity, gasoline, water, transportation, and quality education — you name it. California has the most expensive homes, the highest utility prices, the worst roads, and failing schools. Behind the high-minded environmentalist rhetoric stand oligarchs who profit from scarcity; established corporations, public utilities, large landowners, and “green” entrepreneurs.

It’s no exaggeration to say California is a left-wing, Democrat-ruled oligarchy. If anyone thinks they aren’t poised to take over the rest of the United States, think again. California is merely the epicenter of an uncontained nationwide leftist oligarchy that now controls nearly all traditional media, online media, social media, academia, and the entertainment industry. It has also co-opted most major corporations and government bureaucracies, and draws additional support from powerful government unions as well as most private sector unions.

All of this elitist support is self-serving. All of it is hypocritical. All of it is deeply cynical, and utterly indifferent to working Americans.

California’s Proposition 10 offers an excellent example of how Democrats think. This deeply flawed state ballot initiative addresses the high cost of housing in California by authorizing cities and counties to impose rent control on all rental units, right down to the second homes that middle-class Californians may own in order to earn supplemental income. The negative consequences of a measure like Prop. 10 are obvious not only to anyone with a basic understanding of economics but also to anyone with plain common sense.

If Prop. 10 passes, what few incentives remain for investors and developers to build new housing in California would be further undermined. Who would want to invest in new apartment construction if the rental income from those apartments could be frozen by the whims of populist Democrats as they exert their influence on the local city councils? And what landlord would want to invest to maintain or upgrade their rental properties, if the rental income they can recover on their investment is frozen via rent control? And what renter will move into more appropriate housing as their life circumstances change, if moving means losing the favored low rent they currently enjoy?

Not one Republican supports California’s Prop. 10, but plenty of Democrats do, including the notorious U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, U.S. Senate candidate Kevin de León, and Los Angeles mayor and future presidential contender Eric Garcetti. And behind these Democrats, also endorsing Prop. 10, are California’s all powerful public sector unions, including the California Teachers Association, the California Nurses AssociationAFSCME California, and SEIU California. And, of course, the California Democratic Party.

Prop. 10 is an example of how Democrats are making California’s housing shortage worse instead of better, but it’s not the only one. Also appearing on California’s statewide ballot next month are Prop. 1, which would borrow $4 billion to build “affordable housing,” and, Prop. 2, which would use state tax revenues to build more government-run homeless shelters. It is possible, if not likely, that every one of these propositions will pass.

Scandalous Inefficiency, Unassailable “Compassion”

Democrat “solutions” to the housing crisis aren’t limited to the state ballot, however. In Venice Beach, California, along one of the most expensive, touristy stretches of coastline in the world, are now permanent homeless encampments. To address the challenge, Los Angeles city officials are proposing to build a homeless shelter on 3.2 acres of vacant city-owned property less than 500 feet from the beach. This property, nestled in the heart of Venice’s upscale residential and retail neighborhoods, if commercially developed, would be worth well over $200 million. Imagine what could be done with that much money.

That a solution so scandalously inefficient could even be considered by the Democrats running City Hall in Los Angeles offers additional insights into the Democrat mind. Solving the homeless crisis really isn’t their goal here. Rather the intent is to create additional government-owned properties, hire additional government bureaucrats, while pretending to solve a problem. Should the Venice Beach property be developed as currently proposed, well connected construction contractors will rake in government funds, so eventually a few hundred homeless people will find shelter. Meanwhile, tens of thousands will remain outdoors.

Democrats, and not Republicans, made California’s housing unaffordable by passing restrictive laws such as CEQAAB 32SB 375, and countless others at both the state and local level. At the same time, it is Democrats, and not Republicans, who are inviting in the world’s poor en masse to come and live there. An estimated 2.6 million illegal aliens currently live in California. But the rhetorically unassailable compassion exhibited by these Democrats does nothing to alleviate hardship in the nations where these refugees originate, because for every thousand who arrive, millions are left behind.

The result? While California’s Democrats, and not Republicans, engineer a shortage of housing supplies, their welcoming sanctuary policies engineer a burgeoning housing demand. This is the deeply flawed, misanthropic vision Democrats have for America. Democratic power is rooted in wishful thinking by the naïve, and by the savvy because of epic greed. Republicans, no matter how tepid their convictions may be, would never have done to California what these Democrats have done. And it’s not even close.

When conservatives and libertarians think about where to cast their vote, they should look west to California, and think very hard about whether or not they want to live in a nation ruled by Democrats.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.