Ways in Which a Trump Victory Could Benefit California

donald-trump-2On Jan. 20, when Donald Trump takes his hand off the Bible and picks up the phone, he could cause a near-seismic upheaval in California just by changing some federal rules and implementing new policies.

Let me break the news to you gently: it might work out well.

The federal government continuously writes stacks of regulations that cause consumers to pay more for everything than they otherwise would. But because of the length of time between the writing and the paying, it can be hard to recognize the cause and effect.

For example, your bill from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is higher because of federal regulations interpreted by California regulators to prohibit the use of ocean water for cooling power generation plants on the coast. We’re paying billions of dollars to convert three coastal generating plants, a project that began in 2011 and is scheduled to continue for decades. If the new administration modified those regulations, Los Angeles residents could save a small fortune.

If you’ve noticed that food is a lot more expensive, consider that because of federal regulations, the water supply was cut off to California’s breadbasket, the once-prosperous agricultural goldmine of the Central Valley.

Members of Congress from the area have introduced legislation over and over again to adjust federal law to override those regulations. Most recently, the Western Water and American Food Security Act was attached to the bill that funds the Interior Department. But President Obama has threatened a veto, arguing that the regulations are necessary to protect species like the Delta smelt.

The regulations could easily be changed if the new administration chooses to make abundant food production a policy priority over the protection of the smelt.

Other federal regulations have led to arguably impossible targets for further reducing fine particles, like dust and soot, in the air. To meet these goals, state regulators have repeatedly tightened the requirements for new diesel engines, raising the cost of trucking and the price of everything that’s moved by truck. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has even enforced California’s rules on out-of-state trucking firms when state regulators lacked jurisdiction.

Similarly, federal regulations have caused the South Coast Air Quality Management District to write up a new list of proposed tax increases to raise up to $14 billion. The bureaucrats need the money for policies and plans that are required in order to avoid federal sanctions for missing air-quality targets. But under a new administration, there’s an opportunity to take the bureaucracy off auto-pilot and look carefully at what we’re doing to ourselves. Some regulations may no longer be reasonable or necessary, and the cost may not be justified.

Federal rules that discourage the use of coal have made electricity more expensive, raising the cost of living for everyone. The next president’s policies could lower your utility bills.

Policy changes from the new administration will save taxpayers money in other ways, too.

A 2011 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office said California paid $1.1 billion in 2009 to incarcerate criminals who were in the country illegally. The cost to Los Angeles County that year was $139 million.

President-elect Trump was criticized by California’s legislative leaders for his plan to immediately deport up to 3 million criminals who are in the country illegally. Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon wrote in a joint letter, “We will lead the resistance to any effort that would shred our social fabric or our Constitution.”

But what is the argument for not deporting convicted criminals who are in the country illegally? How does that shred the social fabric or the Constitution?

Maybe California politicians should start working now on how they’re going to explain to voters that they rejected federal funds that could have been used for education, transportation and health care because they wanted to protect criminals who are in the United States without legal authorization.

It’s long past time for California’s leaders to give some thought to the damage caused by policies that have gone unquestioned because their cost didn’t become clear until years later.

From housing to energy to transportation to health care to law enforcement to education, federal policies and regulations have consequences that are sometimes both unintended and disastrous. A new administration is an opportunity to take a fresh look at everything.

It might just work out well, even for California.

And here’s the punchline: By 2018, the state’s Democratic politicians will be taking credit for it.

Susan Shelley is a columnist for the Southern California News Group. Reach her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.

This piece was originally published by the L.A. Daily News

High-speed rail’s first route segment will end in an almond orchard

As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

The state’s plan to build an initial stretch of high-speed rail line, from San Jose to a map point in the midst of Central Valley farmland, came under renewed attack at an oversight hearing Monday.

Republicans on the House rail subcommittee had sought to hold the hearing in the Silicon Valley but ran into Democratic opposition, according to sources familiar with the matter. So the group convened around folding metal tables in a nondescript basement room in a San Francisco federal building.

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), chairman of the panel, chided the state for lacking a plan to complete the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco bullet train system.

“You could be stuck in a field somewhere between Shafter and Wasco … and … out of money,” Denham said.

The apparent absurdity of the abbreviated route was not lost on supporters. …

Click here to read the full story

On California Farms’ Water Issues, Congress Needs Food for Thought

Row crops growing in California.

When it comes to water and agriculture, California is upside-down.

That’s what historian Carey McWilliams wrote in his 1949 book, “California: The Great Exception.” Most of the water is in the northern part, and most of the best land for farming is further south.

But this “contrariness of nature” worked to humanity’s advantage in two ways, McWilliams wrote, because it stimulated inventiveness and technological achievement, and because “the long dry season is an enormous agricultural asset.”

That assumes you agree that abundant food production is a good thing, a view that in recent years has become unfashionable in places like Venezuela, Zimbabwe and San Francisco.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, described a stunning meeting he had with representatives of the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental activists in the summer of 2002 about the future of the San Joaquin Valley. “Their goal was to remove 1.3 million acres of farmland from production,” he said. “From Merced all the way down to Bakersfield, and on the entire west side of the Valley as well as part of the east side, productive agriculture would end, and the land would return to some ideal state of nature.”

That plan was moved forward when the Central Valley Project Improvement Act was passed by Congress in 1992. Under the law, 260 billion gallons of water on the Valley’s west side had to be diverted away from human uses and out to the environment.

Then a series of lawsuits under the Endangered Species Act secured protected status for smelt in 2008 and salmon in 2009, and that was enough to force the virtual shutdown of two major pumping stations that moved water to the Central Valley. Another lawsuit resulted in the San Joaquin River Settlement, later enacted by Congress at a cost of more than $1 billion to taxpayers, which diverted more water away from the Central Valley in an attempt to create salmon runs.

Farmers struggled to get by with groundwater, but in 2014, new California regulations limited that, too.

In 1949, McWilliams observed that if the Central Valley were a state, it would rank fifth in the nation for agricultural production. Today it has poverty and unemployment rates that would be right at home in the Great Depression.

And that’s why members of Congress from the region have repeatedly introduced legislation to adjust federal law in ways that would allow water to be restored to the Central Valley. The legislation passed the House several times only to die in the Senate.

Last year, Rep. David Valadao, R-Bakersfield, introduced it again, calling it the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015. President Obama immediately threatened a veto, but in May, Valadao attached the bill as an amendment to an energy bill already passed by the Senate, and the House passed it. …

Click here to read the full story from the Daily News.

Proposed Minimum Wage Hikes Hurt More Than Just Small Business

Minimum wage1Despite the heavy mudslinging and name-calling that never ceases to accompany an election year (this one clearly setting a new low standard), there’s one thing that Democrats, Republicans and persons of most every political persuasion are likely to agree upon: every red-blooded American deserves the right to and a fair shot at earning more money to realize their dreams.

Work hard, get paid, provide for one’s self and family – something our parents repeatedly hammered into our brains and a cornerstone of the red, white and blue capitalism that makes our country great. Every employee that has met minimum qualifications for a position deserves a reasonable “foot in the door” from day one – something that offers a temporary first plank from which to prove themselves to the employer, customers and workplace.

Now enter the Minimum Wage – a topic that is probably not foreign to you unless you’ve been hopelessly abandoned on the Red Planet a la Matt Damon. Labor unions are pushing the “Fight for $15” without first understanding the empirical data and repercussions of current minimum wage increases that have yet to fully manifest.

As with many government programs and activities that were created with the best intentions – think social security, welfare-to-work and state retirement systems – the minimum wage these days is spinning more out-of-control than The Donald in front of a microphone at an Iowa pep rally. Efforts to push, push, push for a higher minimum wage without seeing the existing ones take shape is making it impossible for small businesses and even many social programs to keep pace. And, at the end of the day, something – or more commonly, someone – will feel the negative fallout.

To put things into perspective, Californians have witnessed a 25 percent increase in the statewide minimum wage over the past two years – an increase from $8 to $9 in 2014, and another $1 increase, spiking it to $10 an hour, this past January.

Peering ahead and atop these already-dramatic increases, we’re witnessing other proposals and jurisdictions taking it even higher without knowing or seeing how the current increase in California will play out. Los Angeles and Santa Monica just hiked their local wage to $15, Long Beach to $13, Pasadena to $13.25 and Sacramento to $12.50. Add to that a legislative proposal to hike the minimum wage to $13 an hour and two measures aimed for the November ballot – one that would hike the wage to $15 over five years, and the second that would raise it to $15 over four years and add six days of mandated paid sick leave — and it leaves many asking “When is enough, enough?” as well as “Why the rush?”

Some in the Capitol and in many council chambers are heard uttering, “We can’t afford to wait – the time is now!” However, we must bear in mind that minimum wage hikes at any level that are too much, too fast, too soon will have negative consequences for many more than just small businesses in our communities.

Our policymakers need to take a careful look at other notable stakeholders that are very likely to be affected by a reckless, ill-conceived, rushed minimum wage increase policy:

In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS)/Persons with Disabilities

According to discussions with experts in the IHSS and disabilities community, a minimum wage hike will unquestionably be passed on to clients with disabilities because the resources simply aren’t there. There are over 300,000 IHSS workers in California, most of them unionized. This will be a higher cost to scores of private clients – yes, our most vulnerable patients – who are on a fixed income and they won’t be able to afford to sustain same level or duration of care. Counties, especially those in rural and disadvantaged regions, will tell you they simply won’t be able to absorb those costs. And keep in mind that many IHSS workers are family members of the clients and are likely to lose hours and in many cases health benefits because of this.

Many Californians with disabilities will be forced into institutions at a major cost to the state rather than keep them in their homes and having people care for them. To put a fine point on it, one person with special needs noted that their agency rate is about $200 a day for 24-hour in-home care, but for many it’s upwards of $350. He noted that a $5 an hour increase would be “a huge hit and for me and many disabled because that money simply isn’t there.”

Education

A representative from one Central Valley school district said a minimum wage increase of this magnitude would impact schools in two ways: (1) raising the wages of everyone who makes less than $15 currently; and (2) the compaction of the salary schedule that will create a ripple effect and force increases up the ladder and competition in the workforce. How can schools compete with others who are offering the same or more? While schools have received funding the past few years, that money isn’t appropriated in the future. By 2019, schools are expected revert to “cut-back mode.” What then? Unlike a small business, schools can’t raise prices on customers.

What are some examples of programs where reductions are likely?

  • Class size reductions
  • Hiring freezes such as grounds, maintenance, custodial staff, resulting in deterioration of facilities
  • Transportation cuts, resulting in decreased number of bus fleet runs and not enough drivers to transport students to events
  • Reduced technology dollars, resulting in network failures and computers and activities simply not there to meet the needs
  • Reduced work days
  • Reduced discretionary budgets for school sites – field trips, copy machines, etc – and other opportunities such as athletics or music.

Career Tech/Workforce Development Programs

According to a notable vocational education leader in California, these programs have already been decimated over the past thirty years, reducing the career prep they’ve been providing California students. Employers are facing untrained, undertrained workers with little or no job skills. Access to good programs is limited – with a minimum wage increase, this access will continue to decline. There will be fewer internships and work experience opportunities. The impact will be a further reduction or elimination in job readiness programs and opportunities for young workers, minority workers and low-skilled workers.

At the end of the day, school boards will face pressure on wage compression to drive wages higher. The boards can’t increase revenues so they must make cuts. The irony is that the very employees who get these raises will be among the first ones to be cut. It’s not just mom-and-pops singing the blues here.

Seniors

Seniors and retirees on fixed incomes are not likely to support any program to increase the minimum wage, as long as their own increase isn’t in the equation.

The federal government – in freezing any increase in social security – are stalling this direction, but maybe there will be a change one day.

Many seniors look for post-retirement jobs, but this would dry those up and edge seniors out of the market. And many others have made it clear that, on a fixed or limited income, they simply cannot afford a minimum wage increase in grocery stores and on the retail goods that sustain them. And remember, many of these individuals also will face higher costs with their in-home workers, making it impossible for them to keep them on their current schedules, thus lowering the quality and time of care.

We’ll all be there one day – why aren’t we thinking about this now before we all must face the grim realities of such pressures on the greying population?

Small Businesses – Our #1 Job Creators

Make no mistake – Main Street gets hit with such a hike, and when that happens, nobody wins. No matter how small and in which distressed neighborhood a small business may be, many politicians make the brash assertion that “You can foot the bill.” If someone has first-hand understanding running a California small business, they’ll tell you that’s simply not the case, especially with the thin operating margins most confront each day.

If unions truly cared about lifting the neediest out of poverty, they would fully embrace the “Total Earnings” concept, which allows employers to exempt from the minimum wage increase those employees already earning $20, $30, $40 or more, well north of the minimum wage in tips and commissions as total earnings/wages. This would actually allow employers to dedicate those scarce labor dollars to those employees who, as it was ruled this past week in the courts, are prohibited from sharing in tips – “heart of the house” employees such as prep cooks, line cooks and others. Why is labor pushing for such inequity – giving a wage increase to the highest-earning employees of a business while leaving those in the back, well,in the back and out to dry? Whose interest are they really looking out for?

The Governor was wise to recently criticize and warn against the two ballot measures that would increase the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour, noting that they would cost the state as much as $4 billion a year by 2021 and return the state budget to annual deficits. The nonpartisan legislative analyst has noted that the first ballot measure proposal would result in “an increase to state and local government spending totaling billions of dollars per year”, with an independent fiscal analysis pegging this annual increase as high as $1.7 billion. Just last week, the American Enterprise Institute revealed the raw numbers revealed through evidence from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from the $15 minimum wage increase approved for Seattle by its City Council, with the first increase to $11 an hour taking effect on April 1, 2015. The effect of an eventual 58% increase in labor costs does not look pretty. Since that first phase of the increase went into effect:

  • Seattle’s employment has fallen by more than 11,000
  • The number of unemployed workers has risen by nearly 5,000
  • The city’s jobless rate has increased by more than 1 percentage point

Our policymakers and voters need to heed the Governor’s advice, nonpartisan state numbers, and data that’s trickling in from other cities that are now grappling with grim reality of these hikes before moving forward in any way. Let’s allow the ink to dry, dust to settle and current minimum wage policy – notably our statewide increase – to first play out so we can see what the impacts truly are. Otherwise, instead of branding it a “fair wage” we’ll all see it for what it truly is: a “fare wage”, with every one of us taxpayers – seniors, schools, disabled and many others – paying down an outrageous bill and debt for generations to come.

resident of Kabateck Strategies, and former CA Executive Director of NFIB

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Kevin McCarthy: Bipartisan effort needed to deal with drought

The current drought in California is devastating. The order from the governor should not only alarm Californians, but the entire nation should take notice that the most productive agriculture state in the country has entered uncharted territory. We have experienced extreme drought conditions in years past but thanks to the most sophisticated water system in the country that captured and stored water during the wet years for use during the dry years, our communities and farmers survived.‎ Unfortunately, state officials have turned their back on this proven infrastructure system.

The order is the culmination of failed federal and state policies that have exacerbated the current drought into a man-made water crisis. Sacramento and Washington have chosen to put the well-being of fish above the well-being of people by refusing to capture millions of acre-feet of water during wet years for use during dry years.

These policies imposed on us now, and during wet seasons of the past, are leaving our families, businesses, communities, and state high and dry. These rules and regulations must be changed.

My House colleagues and I have acted aggressively to enact legislation that would have helped protect us from the current situation. In 2011, and again in early 2014, the House passed comprehensive water legislation to increase the amount of water we could capture and store. Unfortunately, the Obama and Brown Administrations and Senators Boxer and Feinstein opposed these proposals. As the drought continued to worsen, the House passed emergency drought legislation in December of 2014 to allow us to capture storm and rainwater from early season storms. That too was blocked by the Senate.

I’m from the Central Valley and we know that we cannot conserve or ration our way out of this drought. It is time for action, and House Republicans are developing another legislative proposal to help put California water policy back on the path to commonsense. Given the announcement, this time I hope Governor Brown, Senator Boxer, and Senator Feinstein will join my colleagues and me in this effort.

Kevin McCarthy is the Majority Leader, United States Congress

Originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily

Senator de Leon’s Green Vision Has Valley Seeing Red

Senator Kevin de Leon, the same Los Angeles State Senator who proclaimed that “no one lives out there in the tumbleweeds” when referring to the Central Valley, has proven that he still doesn’t understand the realities faced by hardworking people who live here.

His recent op-ed in the Fresno Bee pitching Senate Bill 350 was an unconvincing argument for an economy-stifling nightmare that might excite people living in San Francisco or Newport Beach but would actually be a burden to people living in the Central Valley. This irresponsible mandate includes plans to force cuts to gas and diesel use by 50 percent, as well as increase renewable energy 50 percent in the next 15 years. Many people in the Central Valley, like thousands of farm workers who Senator de León says he is trying to help, have no choice but to gas up and drive long distances to and from work. Any small improvements to the environment would be overshadowed by the strangulation of the oil and gas industry, not to mention the financial impacts on every driver in this state as the cost of filling up cars, trucks or tractors skyrockets.

Families who have chosen to make their living in the Central Valley don’t have the mass transit options like those in the Bay Area and the great majority certainly don’t have the extra cash to spend on a new hybrid or electric car. Had Senator de Leon bothered to concern himself with the differences between the Central Valley and L.A. or the Bay Area he would know that one-third of all electric vehicle owners in California live in just two counties: Los Angeles and Santa Clara. Less than one percent live in the Valley’s two most populated counties: Fresno and Kern, according to the California Air Resources Board. And almost 70 percent of these elusive, electric car owners make more than $100,000 a year – far more than Fresno County’s median annual income of $45,500.

Californians are struggling to afford the highest cost of living in the nation thanks to high taxes, regulations and a growing dependence on new fees like those collected from cap-and-trade. We must continue to be wary of plans intended to help save the environment that aren’t based in reality and don’t offer any markers for success. California’s families, farmers and business owners can’t afford to foot the bill for Senator de Leon’s extreme energy and environmental policies.

Originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily

Assemblyman Jim Patterson represents the 23rd District, which includes portions of Fresno and Tulare counties.

Drought Resulting in Water Rate Hikes Across CA

Faced with a drought that won’t quit, officials have taken new steps to add to Californians’ discomfort — a fresh round of rate hikes. Regulators in the San Francisco Bay Area have begun the march toward charging significantly more for water, pleading that limited rainfall this spring has left them with no choice.

As CBS San Francisco observed, the plans taking shape within three of the state’s largest water agencies reflect a cost crunch impacting the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the San Francisco and East Bay Municipal Utilities District.

The agencies have found themselves between a rock and a hard place this year, reluctant to put the squeeze on already restive residents, but strapped with mounting costs set to increase even further.

As Beau Goldie, CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, bluntly told the San Jose Mercury News, “We don’t want to raise water rates.” But Goldie and other district chiefs have targeted hikes of 30 percent or more because water conservation has slashed sales. As the Mercury News reported:

“Because they have sold less water, the agencies have lost tens millions of dollars in revenues. They also have had to spend more money on drought-related expenses such as buying extra water from outside the Bay Area to help meet demand, expanding public relations budgets to ask the public to use less water amid shortages, and offering rebates to homeowners who replace lawns with drought-tolerant plants or old, leaky appliances with water-efficient ones.”

Groundwater bank

Santa Clara Valley has been reduced to shelling out millions of dollars to pump in water from a so-called “groundwater bank” located in Kern County. EBMUD, falling back on the same strategy, has put its hopes in using its share of limited drought relief funds to bankroll imports of its own, spokeswoman Abby Figueroa told KTVU Fox Channel 2 News. “We will have to continue asking our customers to cut back their usage,” she added. “How much is still being determined.”

According to KTVU, EBMUD saw customers conserve last year at a rate 13 percent higher than two years ago. But this year, residents seemed close to maxing out their ability to cut back. So far, the savings rate has dropped to just 4 percent.

Still, the size of the dropoff had EMMUD contemplating an increase in its current voluntary conservation rate to 15 percent, ABC 7 reported. Voluntary conservation could even be replaced with mandatory conservation.

Spreading confusion

At the same time as the utilities have sorted through unattractive options, water management outside the San Francisco Bay has also been hit with confusion and frustration. Because of the complexity created by the Golden State’s separate state and federal water programs, Kern County will receive more water than communities and farms on the Eastern and Western sides of the San Joaquin Valley.

As the Fresno Bee reported, while the State Water Project has supplied Kern, the federal government’s Central Valley Project has kept water flowing to those in the East and West of the Valley — that is, when there is water.

Though similar in size and infrastructure, the federal and state projects’ differences have created “a complex and uncomfortable flashpoint in the Valley,” according to the Bee. It added:

“For one thing, the smaller state project has a somewhat lighter burden, because it does not have to provide more than 300,000 acre-feet of water for wildlife refuges as the CVP does.

“The subtle difference is a big deal in a drought, when there is so little water to go around. Other below-the-radar differences, such as water-delivery pecking order dating to the 1800s, are magnified in a drought. Those with historic rights get their water first.”

With challenges radiating outward from San Francisco Bay into the Central Valley, utilities chiefs along the Central Coast and in Southern California soon could have reason to fret.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Study: Valley among state’s ‘struggling, forsaken’

A new quality-of-life study of California finds that Central Valley counties either fit into a “struggling” 38% of the population or are among “The Forsaken Five Percent” with residents “bypassed by the digital economy.”

The new study released today is from the American Human Development Project, an initiative of the Social Science Research Council with financial support from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. Called “A Portrait of California,” the study explores “well-being and access to opportunity across the Golden State.

The report uses the American Human Development Index, a composite measure of health, education and standard of living, and uses a 0 to 10 scale. Topping out among the state’s five most populous metro areas, San Francisco’s HDI measure is 6.97, while Riverside-San Bernardino is at the bottom at 4.58.

Read More at the Business Journal