Local Government COVID-19 Relief Funds Bonuses for Government Workers

Earlier this year, Congress enacted $350 billion in “state and local government aid” as part of the so-called American Rescue Plan.  This is in addition to receiving $150 billion in relief in the first federal Coronavirus Relief Fund enacted in March 2020, and which according to a recent estimate, state and local governments are racing to spend the final $10 billion before a December 31 deadline.

While state and local governments certainly had big emergency spending needs in the height of the pandemic, many questioned whether the $500 billion in federal cash being rained down on city halls and state capitals was being targeted to actual needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, as Jared Walczak from the nonpartisan Tax Foundation notes, states didn’t really lose that much tax revenue at all in 2020 due to the economy’s quick rebound.

“Preliminary data suggest that states closed out calendar year 2020 with only $1.7 billion less revenue than they generated in 2019 (a decline of less than 0.2 percent), not counting federal assistance, while municipal governments actually experienced substantial revenue growth due to rising property values,” he wrote in March.

We’ve even seen 12 states take advantage of robust tax revenues to offer tax relief to its citizens.  Not in California, of course.

Rather than return excess government money it doesn’t need due to the pandemic to its citizens, one California county is taking it a step further – using unspent COVID dollars to give bonuses to government workers.

According to the San Jose Spotlight, “Santa Clara County employees can likely expect a bonus in their paychecks come December” when earlier this month “the Board of Supervisors approved a request to pay more than $76 million to help each of the county’s 22,000 employees by Dec. 3.”

“Employees will receive $2,500 for their work during the pandemic, regardless of whether they were frontline workers,” the Spotlight reports, and “funding will come from the federal American Rescue Plan.”

During the hearing on the plan, Supervisor Otto Lee questioned the wisdom of spending COVID funds on what has been termed “hero pay.”

“I think for so many reasons that the amount that has been provided here . . . it’s very generous, but in some ways overly generous,” he said.

In an op-ed published in the Mercury News, San Jose City Councilman Matt Mahan called the plan “a misuse of public funds.”  He noted that instead of paying bonuses to government workers, the county could have used the $76 million to “buil(d) low-cost modular apartments for 506 people currently sleeping on the streets” or it could have “ended hunger in (Santa Clara County) for eight months, according to data from Feeding America.”

Santa Clara County’s example is just the tip of the iceberg for COVID relief money being spent inefficiently or fraudulently.

Consider the ongoing saga over fraudulent benefits paid out by the Employment Development Department during the pandemic.  The Department has estimated that at least $10.4 billion of the benefits it paid out between March and December 2020 was lost to fraud.  Just this week, the nonpartisan State Auditor’s office said the California Department of Education “needs to do a better job of monitoring how its $24-billion in federal COVID-19 money is being spent in schools.”

And unfortunately for taxpayers, Santa Clara County’s $76 million payout to government workers likely won’t be the last example we see of the generosity of taxpayers to help those in need being abused.

Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and the Sacramento office.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

Pleasant Hill CA In-N-Out Fined Over COVID Vaccine Rules

A second In-N-Out restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area faces a fight with health officials over COVID-19 vaccine rules.

The chain’s Pleasant Hill restaurant has been fined twice, for $250 and $500, for not checking the vaccination status of indoor diners, as required, Contra Costa County health officials told KPIX. The county imposed the second fine Tuesday.

In-N-Out earlier blasted San Francisco officials for ordering the chain’s only restaurant there to briefly close over the same rules, McClatchy News reported.

“We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government,” Arnie Wensinger, the chain’s chief legal and business officer, said in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

Newsom Declares Drought Emergency Across California

Gov. Gavin Newsom today declared a drought emergency for the entire state of California, as conservation efforts continue to fall far short of state targets.

Newsom also authorized California’s water regulators to ban wasteful water use, such as spraying down public sidewalks, and directed his Office of Emergency Services to fund drinking water as needed. But he stopped short of issuing any statewide conservation mandates. 

“As the western U.S. faces a potential third year of drought, it’s critical that Californians across the state redouble our efforts to save water in every way possible,” Newsom said in a statement. 

Today’s announcement extends drought emergencies, already declared in 50 counties, to the eight remaining counties where conditions had thus far not been deemed severe enough: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Imperial, San Francisco and Ventura. 

The emergency declarations are aimed at easing responses to the deepening drought — such as emergency bottled water purchases or construction to bolster water supplies — by reducing environmental and other regulations. Under the proclamation, local water suppliers must begin preparing for the possibility of a dry year ahead.  

“We think we’ll be able to manage through this year,” said David Pettijohn, director of water resources at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. “Next year is the issue. And we don’t know what the water year is going to look like. Nobody can predict the weather.”

But California’s water watchers say that without a conservation mandate, California is losing time, and water. “We know mandates are more effective than voluntary calls,” said Heather Cooley, director of research at the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank. “It takes time to ramp up, and because of the delay in asking Californians to save water this spring, we are further behind than we should be.” 

Conservation improving, but still short of goals 

New data released today by the State Water Resources Control Board reveals that Californians cut their water use at home by 5% in August compared to August 2020, an improvement over the reductions of less than 2% in July but still far short of the voluntary 15% cuts Newsom urged in July. 

The hard-hit North Coast, where the state’s first drought emergencies were declared in April, continued to show the biggest drops in household water use — with an 18.3% decrease compared to August of last year. Conservation numbers tapered off moving south, with the San Francisco Bay Area conserving nearly 10% more water than last August.  …

Click here to read the full article from CalMatters.org.

L.A. City Council Bans Homeless Encampments at 54 Spots

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a ban on camping at certain locations, in the first use of new laws that passed over the summer.

In a 12-2 vote, the council outlawed sitting, sleeping and lying at 54 locations in three of its districts. Amid contentious debate over the summer, the council enacted new rules regulating sitting, sleeping and storing property near fire hydrants, building entrances, driveways, libraries, parks, elementary schools and several other locations.

The council also asked that resources for outreach to homeless people in these locations be expanded and for city departments to draft new procedures to ensure people sleeping on the sidewalk aren’t forced to move without proper notice. Though the new procedures have been drafted, the city has yet to hire the staff to provide more outreach to accompany the new rules.

That worried several council members, who said their colleagues were rushing the process and should wait until there were more resources to help people. …

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

What Initiatives Might Be on the Nov. 2022 Ballot?

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

California voters are getting used to making state policy via the ballot initiative, due to having such a dysfunctional Legislature.

Each election, there are many initiatives on the state and local ballots. What are Californians looking at for the November 2022 ballot so far?

These are the hot, controversial, imperative, and frivolous initiatives currently collecting signatures, listed with the Attorney General’s ballot title (in all caps) and a partial summary:

Another plastic recycling initiative.

REQUIRES STATE REGULATIONS TO REDUCE PLASTIC WASTE, TAX PRODUCERS OF SINGLE-USE PLASTICS, AND FUND RECYCLING AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROGRAMS. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Requires CalRecycle to adopt regulations reducing plastic waste, including to: (1) require that single-use plastic packaging, containers, and utensils be reusable, recyclable, or compostable, and to reduce such waste by 25%, by 2030; (2) prohibit polystyrene container use by food vendors; and (3) tax producers of single-use plastic packaging, containers, or utensils by January 1, 2022, and allocate revenues for recycling and environmental programs, including local water supply protection.

Expands sports gambling in California on tribal lands.

AUTHORIZES NEW TYPES OF GAMBLING. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AND STATUTORY AMENDMENT. Allows federally recognized Native American tribes to operate roulette, dice games, and sports wagering on tribal lands, subject to compacts negotiated by the Governor and ratified by the Legislature. Beginning in 2022, allows on-site sports wagering at only privately operated horse-racing tracks in four specified counties (does not list which four counties).

Imposes 10% tax on sports-wagering profits at horse-racing tracks.

An initiative to limit local officials’ authority and response to public health emergencies. This is big.

LIMITS STATE AND LOCAL OFFICIALS’ AUTHORITY TO RESPOND TO PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCIES. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Prohibits state and local officials from issuing enforceable orders, regulations, or ordinances to address public health emergencies (resulting from epidemics, infectious disease outbreaks, and similar conditions), or otherwise taking any actions in response to health emergencies that directly affect the operation of private businesses or public facilities (including beaches and parks), or that limit the exercise of individual liberties. Continues to permit state and local officials to issue public health advisories or public service announcements during public health emergencies.

Another proposed mandate for K-12 public schools requires “Earth Sustainability training.” Hmmm.

EDUCATION. REQUIRES EARTH SUSTAINABILITY TRAINING IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Requires public school students and teachers to receive thirty hours of education, training, and hands-on learning relating to sustainability or the care of the Earth, every two years.

A bill passed by the California Legislature creates The California Abolition Act, which “seeks to abolish forced labor and involuntary servitude unconditionally in the state of California.”

PROHIBITS INVOLUNTARY SERVITUDE AS A PUNISHMENT FOR CRIME. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Amends California Constitution to prohibit involuntary servitude in all instances, by removing the current exception that allows involuntary servitude to punish crime. For example, requiring inmates to work without pay would not be permitted.

Another attempt to decriminalize a hallucinogen drug. This won’t end well.

DECRIMINALIZES PSILOCYBIN MUSHROOMS. INITIATIVE STATUTE. For individuals 21 and over, decriminalizes under state law the cultivation, manufacture, processing, distribution, transportation, possession, storage, consumption, and retail sale of psilocybin mushrooms, the hallucinogenic chemical compounds contained in them, and edible products and extracts derived from psilocybin mushrooms.

School choice initiative would provide vouchers to follow students.

REQUIRES STATE FUNDING OF RELIGIOUS AND OTHER PRIVATE SCHOOL EDUCATION. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT AND STATUTE. Requires state to provide yearly voucher payments ($14,000 initially, adjusted annually) into Education Savings Accounts for K-12 students attending religious and other private schools. Funds payments through General Fund and local property tax revenues currently allocated to public (including charter) schools.

Online Petition Option for signature gathering for initiatives, recall elections.

AUTHORIZES ELECTRONIC SIGNATURE GATHERING FOR INITIATIVE, REFERENDUM, AND RECALL PETITIONS. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Requires Secretary of State to develop a system that allows voters to view state and local initiative, referendum, and recall petitions on Secretary of State’s website and to sign them electronically directly on the website, or to download, print, and sign the printed petitions. Requires Secretary of State or local elections official to verify these signatures.

According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, “Within six months from this measure’s approval by voters, the Secretary of State would be required to develop a system that allows voters to view initiative, referendum, and recall petitions on a statewide internet website and do either of the following: (1) electronically sign the petition (with necessary identifying information) via that website or (2) download, print, and sign a petition document in the “portable document format” (known as PDF).”

Eliminates collective bargaining for public employees. This is big.

ELIMINATES COLLECTIVE BARGAINING FOR TEACHERS, POLICE OFFICERS, NURSES, FIREFIGHTERS, AND OTHER PUBLIC EMPLOYEES. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Eliminates collective bargaining between state/local governments and labor organizations (including unions) representing teachers, police officers, nurses, firefighters, and other public employees about wages, benefits, hours, labor disputes, or other work conditions. Requires the Governor-appointed State Personnel Board to establish wages and benefits for state employees.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office explains: “Prohibits Public Employers in California From Bargaining With Employee Organizations. The measure would prohibit the state or any of its political subdivisions from establishing a contract with or otherwise collectively bargaining with a public employee organization. The measure would apply to all state and local government entities in California. Effectively, the measure prohibits state and local governments from using collective bargaining to establish public employees’ compensation. The measure does not, however, prevent employees from organizing or joining unions or associations that represent employees during disciplinary hearings, engage in political speech, or otherwise advocate for employees.”

Another school choice initiative offering vouchers has requested ballot title and summary from the Attorney General.

“Education Savings Act of 2022” would create education savings accounts that follow the students to an accredited school or homeschool of their choice. Students would be able to opt into a K-12 savings account with $13,000 a year in state education funds to be used for tuition or other eligible education expenses.

Private schools in California currently education approximately 471,000 students at 3,050 private schools throughout the state.

The More Water Now initiative is huge. They have requested ballot title and summary from the Attorney General:

Specifically calls for two percent of the state’s general fund – about $3.5 billion per year – to be allocated to projects that increase California’s water supply.

“Water Infrastructure Funding Act” also permits up to half of those funds to be used to finance large water supply projects immediately. Tens of billions of dollars will become available. This two percent funding solution will continue until new completed projects add another five million acre feet per year of water supply to California’s farms and cities.”

An initiative “to allow families to keep the properties their parents worked so hard to acquire.”

Repeal the Death Tax Act,” which has requested ballot title and summary from the Attorney General, would reinstate Propositions 58 and 193. Parents would once again be able to transfer a home and a limited amount of other property to their children without triggering reassessment and a property tax increase.

An initiative to require voter ID verification in all future elections. This is big.

“California Election Integrity Initiative” has filed for ballot title and summary from the Attorney General to require voter ID verification in all future elections.

Numerous other initiatives are awaiting ballot title and summary. The Globe will update the list as they are finalized.

You can read all of the current initiatives gathering signatures, as well as the full summaries, at the California Attorney General’s website.

Katy Grimes, the Editor of the California Globe, is a long-time Investigative Journalist covering the California State Capitol, and the co-author of California’s War Against Donald Trump: Who Wins? Who Loses?

This article was originally published by the California Globe.

Opinion: John Eastman Isn’t Going Away Quietly

Dan Morain, former editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee, is the author of “Kamala’s Way: An American Life.”

John Eastman isn’t going away quietly.

Today, Eastman is notorious as the author of a legal memo asserting that Vice President Mike Pence could delay election results from seven states, potentially creating a pathway for President Donald Trump to “win” the 2020 election. But when I first met him, in 2010, he didn’t seem like a budding seditionist. Back then, the former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was running an uphill campaign to become California’s attorney general and came across as just your average eccentric law professor.

It was a mistake to write off Eastman then. And tempting as it is to dismiss him as a threat neutralized with Trump’s removal from office, it would be an even bigger error to write him off now.

Because Eastman, 61, has plans. Ever since Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s new book, “Peril,” surfaced his election memorandum, his legal reasoning has been widely criticized. But it isn’t stopping him from using the law to advance his agenda. Along with his former Chapman University law-school colleague Anthony Caso, Eastman has founded a new firm in Orange County called the Constitutional Counsel Group. (Eastman and the Chapman University law school, where he was once dean, parted ways after Jan. 6.) …

Click here to read the full article from the Washington Post.

The Untold Story of the Unspent Covid Dollars

Money

It was recently uncovered that back in July, Sen. Joe Manchin outlined his views on the $3.5 trillion social spending package in a memo to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.  In that document, Manchin specified that no funds should be distributed until after all the money from the $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill passed in March was all spent.

While it’s common knowledge that there’s still plenty of Covid money around, it was not clear just how much is still laying in coffers – until now. According to an analysis by the Associated Press, states and localities, who shared a total of $350 billion, have spent an embarrassingly miniscule amount.  State governments had spent just 2.5 percent of their initial allotment while large cities spent 8.5 percent. More than half of states and nearly two-thirds of the approximately 90 largest cities reported no spending at all.  And that’s just states and cities — the AP did not include counties in their study, which were too numerous.

Among the reasons government officials gave for not spending the funds is that the money arrived too late in their budget cycles, others confessed that they were still trying to figure out how to spend the previous millions they received for Covid relief.

In fact, there is still nearly $10 billion of unspent money left for state, local, territorial and tribal governments from the $150 billion CARES Act — the first relief package passed back in March 2020.  Officials are scrambling to spend that money now that the December 31, 2021 deadline is looming.

In California, the state has more than $350 million in unspent funds from that first tranche of aid, while Los Angeles County and the City of Los Angeles each have approximately $150 million to spend. Orange County has more than $47 million of unspent funds.

But if all this idle cash isn’t enough to think twice about more government spending, let’s not forget that we are still reeling from the outright waste and fraud committed against billions of taxpayer dollars.

California’s Employment Development Department admitted that at least $30 billion of employment funds were paid out to criminals.  Most recently, the Los Angeles Times reported that the California Housing and Community Development bungled federal relief funds meant to help the homeless. After receiving $316 million under the federal CARES Act to reduce the effect of COVID-19 on unhoused people, the department “did not take critical steps to ensure those funds promptly benefited that population,” the State Auditor Elaine Howle’s office wrote in a report.

Howle’s office warned last August of the potential mishandling of federal COVID-19 relief funds. A year later, in an interview with the Washington Examiner, she said it’s still an issue and some aspects have become more severe.

The final (we hope) Covid relief package signed by Biden stipulates that the funds should be designated by the end of 2024 and the money spent by the end of 2026.  If governments are spending Covid relief funds at the same rate they’ve been spending over the last 18 months, and if Schumer actually listens to Manchin, not one penny of the $3.5 trillion would be spent until 2027.

We don’t know what the state of America will be on the nation’s 251st birthday, but as Tennessee Ernie Ford laments in his famous song, the country will be “older and deeper in debt.”

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

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

Parents Protest California COVID Vaccine Mandate for Kids

More than a thousand people crowded the front steps of the California Capitol on Monday to protest Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to require all children to get the coronavirus vaccine to attend public and private schools.

Newsom’s mandate, announced earlier this month, made California the first state in the country to say it will require the COVID-19 vaccine for schoolchildren once the vaccines receive full federal approval.

California has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country — over 85% of people 12 and older have gotten at least one shot, and 72% are fully vaccinated. But as in other places, the state has a vocal minority skeptical of both the vaccine and the government’s assurances of its safety.

Many parents at the rally in Sacramento had pulled their children out of school to attend the rally, hoping the absences send a message to state officials. …

Click here to read the full article from US News.

Recent Legislative Session: A Mixed Bag For CA Taxpayers

This past weekend was the deadline for Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign or veto bills. Thankfully, many of the worst bills, like attempts to create a wealth tax and a perennial attempt to repeal one of the most important protections in Proposition 13 by lowering the existing two-thirds vote threshold for both local bonds and special taxes to 55 percent, failed to get out of the Legislature.

By the end of the session, only a handful of bills we opposed made it to the governor’s desk. Let’s review how taxpayers fared.

On the positive side, the governor signed Assembly Bill 398 which prevents the Department of Motor Vehicles from making a profit by selling personal information. By ensuring that the department cannot impose charges that exceed a service’s cost, AB 398 removed a dangerous opportunity for the department to trade valuable data to third party interests.

Senate Bill 219 authorizes the auditor or the tax collector to cancel any penalty, costs, or other charges associated with a missed property tax payment caused by the state shelter-in-place order if certain criteria are met. The Legislature has been particularly active in addressing the harm the COVID-19 lockdown had on renters, but the pandemic has also had a tremendous impact on homeowners as well. SB 219 provides important relief for homeowners.

On a similar note, Senate Bill 303 extended by two years the five-year time period under existing tax law in which to transfer a Prop. 13 base year value to a comparable property following a disaster.

Legislation which enhances government transparency and citizen participation also passed. SB 274 requires local agencies to make agendas and all the documents constituting the agenda packet available by email at the request of a member of the public. Previously, it was only required by mail.

We were also pleased to see the governor veto SB 660. All SB 660 would have done is drive up the cost of getting measures on the ballot. That favors wealthy and entrenched interests.

Now for the bad.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Supply Chain Woes Strand Sailors Off SoCal Coast

Abrorizki Geraldy Aulia, the son of a ship’s captain, is part of the new generation that moves more than 80% of the world’s raw materials, parts and merchandise on commercial cargo fleets. At 24, he has already traveled farther by ship than most people ever will.

It’s heady stuff. Strange then, that he should feel so absolutely powerless.

Maritime union protections say Aulia should sail no more than 11 months a year on a contract with an employer-paid flight home at the end, but the Indonesian native has worked 15 straight months without a break. In June 2020, he boarded a cargo ship months before any country started vaccinating against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aulia is a valuable piece of the engine that powers world commerce, but he is never allowed to leave his ship. Like hundreds of other sailors marooned in the massive floating traffic jam off the Southern California coast, he had long been unable to get vaccinated and so is restricted to ship.

Some 300,000 of these migrant merchant sailors have been stranded on vessels at sea or in ports around the world, according to the International Transport Workers’ Federation, a London-based trade union that is among the maritime agencies lobbying governments to address what’s been labeled the “crew-change crisis.” …

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