Endangering Democracy for Lawmakers’ Convenience

Gov. Gavin Newsom has proudly proclaimed that “California does democracy like nowhere else in the world.” But as he warned, we cannot take our democracy for granted. The pandemic has changed how we do business: segments of the private world now operate remotely without the need for face-to-face interactions. But in a democracy, the function of government requires greater public transparency and accountability for its very foundation.

Photo courtesy of DB’s travels, Flickr.

This year, a trio of bills in the legislature would take the wrong lesson from the pandemic and undermine these democratic values for the convenience of politicians – allowing public officials to engage in policymaking from private locations that are not identified, or accessible to the public, or even located within the state – without need or justification.

Our open meetings laws have been protecting democracy for decades. But even as early as 1855 California law recognized that “place is an essential ingredient” of lawmaking because the officers of government “ought to be found by the citizen who is in search of them.” Access to government officials is essential for the public as well as media representatives, whether the community is concerned about tax rates or fighting for our civil liberties. Throughout history, a key organizing tool for impacted communities has been to show up to public meetings to confront the public officials and to hold them accountable. Public access also ensures that we know who else is in the room when policy decisions are made.

During the pandemic, government bodies have been forced to strike a balance between legitimate public health concerns and the value of public meetings. We have seen some government bodies suffer as the challenges of remote participation resulted in breakdowns in the ordinary government processes. Public officials were not only secluded in private homes, but many also turned off their video cameras for an entire meeting, leaving their constituents and the media attempting to engage with an empty screen. In one notable example, a Board of Supervisors member routinely teleconferenced in from his estate in Montana, far removed from his constituents. This setup understandably fosters mistrust and suspicion about public servants and the bodies on which they serve. While it may be necessary in an emergency, it is no model for good government.

Click here to read the full article at San Gabriel Valley Tribune

Gas Tax Fight and Memories of 1978

With the state government of California sitting on a budget surplus that exceeds $50 billion, Sacramento politicians can’t bring themselves to return a few dollars to middle-class taxpayers.

While the cost of consumer goods and services is rising rapidly, due mostly to feckless government policies, it is the cost of gasoline that truly sticks in the craw of average Californians. Conservatives in the Legislature, mostly Republicans, have accused the Democrats of intentionally running out the clock on providing gas tax relief before an automatic increase goes into effect on May 1st.

That accusation is well-founded.

Nearly a year ago, Republicans in the state Senate pushed for a “gas tax holiday,” including a full suspension on state gas tax collection for the current fiscal year.

The suspension could have easily been backfilled by the state’s overflowing general fund, which would protect transportation funding.

Later, they offered amendments formally requesting the suspension of the state gas tax and postponing the pending increase.

In the Assembly, who can forget the Democrats’ ambush of Assembly Bill 1638 by Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, another gas tax suspension proposal?

Again, by refusing to even hear the bill the ruling political class is revealed as wholly disconnected to the concerns of average citizens.

That’s too bad because a one year suspension of the gas tax would have reduced the cost of fuel by 51.1 cents per gallon, providing instant tax relief.

It is also an elegantly simple solution that would have been easy for state bureaucrats to administer.

While the majority party in the legislature has slow-walked gas tax relief, Gov. Gavin Newsom at least put the issue on the table by introducing some gas price relief in his original January budget as well as his March State of the State speech.

But legislative leaders in both houses rejected his proposal, falsely claiming that transportation projects wouldn’t be fully funded.

Rather, they said they would prefer some sort of direct payments to taxpayers but weren’t clear on who would get the money.

Which brings us to today, exactly where we were a year ago except that now, both the price of gas as well as the gas tax are higher.

It is no surprise that a recent PPIC poll reveals that record percentages of voters believe they are overtaxed. What is surprising, however, is why a majority of our elected representatives in Sacramento are turning a blind eye to the problem and not taking any meaningful action.

If past is prologue, political foot-dragging on tax relief can be very dangerous.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

Just Say ‘No’ To No-Bid State Contracts

During the past two years, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration has paid billions of dollars in secretive no-bid contracts with little to no transparency. Now Newsom is deploying his same secretive approach to a growing number of other public contracts. All Californians, irrespective of party affiliation, should be deeply concerned.

Photo courtesy of DB’s travels, Flickr.

Especially troubling is the Newsom administration’s perverse penchant for no-bid contracts, many of which renew automatically. Since 2020, his administration entered into more than 8,000 no-bid contracts, many of which were valued at more than $25 million. By the end of 2020, the total amount was nearly $12 billion.

The latest example? Instead of simply suspending the state’s gas tax, Newsom wants to award a no-bid government contract to a yet-to-be-named third-party vendor to manage a process of providing rebates to Californians, a lot of busywork to distract drivers from the fact that he’s making them pay the state’s highest-in-the-nation gas taxes.

After the horrible mess the EDD made by distributing payment cards in 2020, one has to wonder, what could go wrong?

During the same period that cash and no-bid contracts were being handed out, behested payments on behalf of the governor surged. These are “donations” for charitable or governmental purposes that are specifically requested by elected officials, often from companies with business before the state. In 2020 alone, $227 million was “donated” at the “behest” of the governor, a huge spike compared to just $12.1 million in 2019. This even got the attention of the Los Angeles Times, which wrote that “many of the donors have other business before the governor, received no-bid government contracts over the last year or were seeking favorable appointments on important state boards,” which “creates the appearance of a pay-to-play system.”

Sub-par no-bid contracts risk the squandering of taxpayer dollars and renewing no-bid contracts without reviewing their merits not only wastes taxpayer money but is also a way of skirting California’s contracting process.

For example, in 2020, the Newsom administration awarded a $1.7 billion no-bid contract to the Valencia Branch Laboratory to process COVID-19 tests for the state. Less than a year later, we learned of shocking waste and fraud occurring in the lab. The truth came out thanks to selfless whistleblowers, one of whom is now being sued by the company operating the lab.

For months, Senate Republicans called for a full release of the state investigations on the lab. For months, the state stalled, ultimately complying only after the contract had already auto-renewed.

Because of this fiasco and the larger problem of no-bid contracts, one of the co-authors of this column, Sen. Scott Wilk, introduced three bills – which the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association supports – to bring accountability to the process: SB 947, SB 1271, and SB 1367.

SB 947 would empower employees of state government contracts to blow the whistle on fraud, waste or abuse by granting them whistleblower protections already afforded to state workers. SB 1271 would require no-bid contracts of $25 million or more to be subject to oversight of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee prior to renewal or extension of the contract. SB 1367 would prohibit a state agency from awarding a contract to entities that have provided behested payments on the governor’s behalf in the preceding 12 months.

Click here to read the full article at the Press Enterprise

Sacramento Democrats Kill Gas Tax Relief, Transparency

As a participant in capital politics for more than 30 years, I’ve observed many abuses of power. Corruption, pettiness, gross narcissism, and dirty tricks have all increased in recent years both in terms of frequency and shock value. The latest incident, and honestly one of the more disturbing I have seen, occurred in the Assembly Transportation Committee last week.

Californians are reeling at the pump as our gas prices are the highest in the nation. The working poor and middle class are begging the Legislature for relief, which is why Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin, introduced AB 1638. The bill would simply suspend the gas tax for six months.

Democrats are loath to return money to those who earned it, which is why they planned to ambush Kiley’s proposal. But their plan, much like Putin’s ill-advised invasion of Ukraine, backfired badly.

Although the bill hadn’t appeared on the agenda for the day’s hearing, Kiley was told it would be heard in committee on just a couple of hours’ notice. When he arrived, he noticed an Assembly parliamentarian was in the room, strong evidence that some procedural scheme was being cooked up.

Following the legislative formalities, the first member of the committee to speak on the bill was Alex Lee, D-San Jose. After railing on the oil companies, he immediately moved to strike all the contents of Kiley’s bill and replace it with a new tax on gas suppliers. Revenue from that tax would supposedly be sent out to people in the form of a rebate. So, in a matter of minutes, Kiley’s gas tax cut had somehow turned into a gas tax increase.

Click here to read the full article at the Redlands Daily Facts

California’s New Death Tax Is A Year Old

Anniversaries and birthdays are usually thought of as celebratory events, but on February 16th, California marked an unhappy milestone.

It started in November 2020, when voters narrowly passed Proposition 19. While the initiative contained some positive elements, it also repealed an important taxpayer protection from the California Constitution that taxpayers have relied on for nearly 35 years.

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

Specifically, on February 16, 2021, Prop. 19 went into effect, resurrecting a Death Tax on property that voters had eliminated back in 1986. Today, one year later, thousands of families have personally encountered the unwelcome and cruel return of the Death Tax.

Here is how the Death Tax works. It is triggered on the date of the passing of the last surviving parent or grandparent. Their home or small business is reassessed to current market value and then their children or grandchildren are hit with the Death Tax — a massive increase in the annual property tax bill.Top

Not only has the Death Tax has upended the estate plans of parents and grandparents, their children and grandchildren are just now learning of the devastating effects of Prop. 19. Even those who wish to move into an inherited home are not protected from higher taxes. In one recent call to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, a grieving child told us about the home his parents purchased in Alameda County many years ago in an area that has become quite desirable. His mother passed last year, and the one-year deadline is fast approaching for his decision on whether he will move in or not. His new tax bill will be $16,000 per year if he moves in and $26,000 if he doesn’t. He said he doesn’t know if he can afford to keep his family home, either way. His only hope is if the Repeal the Death Tax initiative gets on the November ballot and passes.

The Death Tax threatens to gradually wipe out the availability and security of housing for renters. The passing of mom-and-pop landlords triggers the reassessment of buildings to current market value. That could mean the sale of the property by the owner’s children if they are unable to afford their new tax bill. For the tenants, the outcome is likely to be a rent increase or eviction.

As we reflect on the one-year anniversary of the Death Tax, it is clear that Californians are in need of the restoration of the taxpayer protections that have been lost. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association understands the consequences of unaffordable property taxes, which is why we have introduced the Repeal the Death Tax Act for the November 2022 ballot. This measure would restore the Constitutional taxpayer protections that would allow for the inter-generational transfer of properties without triggering reassessment and massive tax bills.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

California Is The Mad Scientist Of Bad Policy

If these United States are 50 laboratories of democracy, then California is the mad scientist of far-left policies. That was evident last week as some of the session’s most controversial bills tried to clear the Assembly and continue through the legislative process.

From a bill to impose “sector-wide minimum standards” for wages, hours and working conditions at fast-food chains (that unfortunately passed the Assembly and now heads to the Senate) to forcing owners of rent-controlled apartment buildings to stay in that business for at least five years — even if they were losing money (that fortunately failed to garner enough support), the Legislature’s radicalism was on full display. But those measure were small potatoes compared to Assembly Bill 1400, which would have required the state to provide health care coverage for residents, after abolishing all private health insurance and Medicare.

Fortunately, AB 1400 also failed to get enough support in the Assembly to move on, but we’re likely to see it again. The state’s Democratic Party has added single-payer health care to its platform, and the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party has vowed not to endorse any candidate that opposes single-payer health care.

That’s why it’s important to make clear why such a proposal should never be considered again. First, the taxes necessary to implement such a program would be astronomical. The author of AB 1400 proposed raising taxes by $163 billion dollars a year, but the actual cost could be upwards of $391 billion per year, according to the staff report from the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Click here to read the full article at the Press Enterprise

Newsom’s Vacillation On Vaccinations, Phase 2

Is California — and its politicians — ready for VAX War II?

More pointedly, is Gov. Gavin Newsom ready?

Three years ago, the Capitol was wracked by one of the most heated conflicts in its history — legislation to make it more difficult for parents to exempt their children from mandatory vaccinations if they attended public schools. A bill sought to close a loophole that allowed doctors to approve exemptions without specifying reasons, leading to doctor-shopping by anti-vaccination parents.

Hundreds of opponents besieged the Capitol, claiming that the legislation would violate parental rights and require vaccines that could trigger autism or other adverse reactions. The measure’s author, Sacramento Sen. Richard Pan, and other backers were accosted and threatened and on the final night of the legislative session, someone in the Senate gallery threw a cup of what authorities said “appeared to be blood” onto the Senate floor.

Eventually, the bill passed and was signed by Newsom in his first year as governor, but he engaged in some bizarre political theater before finally acceding.

As the bill was moving through the Legislature, Newsom suddenly demanded a number of changes that weakened its provisions. “I’m a parent,” Newsom said at one point. “I don’t want someone that the governor of California appointed to make a decision for my family.”

After two weeks of private negotiations, he finally accepted a revised version, telling a reporter, “All those amendments, if they’re made, stamp of approval.”

Two-plus months later, however, Newsom did another 180-degree pivot, demanding more changes. Eventually, a final compromise was reached, but Newsom had violated one of the Capitol’s unwritten rules of conduct: once you make a deal, you don’t renege. It drove a wedge between the new governor and lawmakers that affected other issues.

The possibility of renewing superheated vaccination warfare arose this week when Pan, a physician, introduced legislation to close what he regards as a huge loophole in Newsom’s promise to have all school children vaccinated against COVID-19 when vaccines are available for youngsters.

“We have to be willing to take a stand,” Pan said. “We need to be able to respond to this pandemic and future pandemics, but there is this asymmetrical warfare going on right now, and we’re seeing the anti-vaccine movement trafficking in misinformation, threats, and violence.”

Once again, Newsom’s position is uncertain.

When he announced the school vaccination mandate in October, Newsom boasted that California was the first state to impose such a requirement

“The state already requires that students are vaccinated against viruses that cause measles, mumps, and rubella (so) there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do the same for COVID-19,” Newsom said. “Today’s measure, just like our first-in-the-nation school masking and staff vaccination requirements, is about protecting our children and school staff, and keeping them in the classroom.”

That would seem to be a strong endorsement of mandatory vaccinations. However, Newsom subsequently watered it down, at least verbally, by repeatedly reminding parents that they could opt out under state law’s “personal belief” exemption. Pan’s new bill would eliminate that exemption, leaving only precise medical conditions as a way to avoid vaccination.

Newsom’s new fence-straddling is not going unnoticed.

“He’s trying to be comforting and non-confrontational, but it sends a message that if you don’t want to get the vaccine, don’t get it,” Catherine Flores Martin, executive director of the California Immunization Coalition, told CaliforniaHealthline. “Gov. Newsom struggles with this — he’s trying to have it both ways.”

Yes he is.

This article was originally published on CalMatters

The Fight To Limit Taxation Continues

Regular readers of this column undoubtedly know what Proposition 13 is, but they may not know it does more than set property taxes at 1% of the home’s market value with a 2% cap on annual increases. It also imposed certain vote requirements for other kinds of taxes, including a requirement that local special taxes receive a two-thirds vote of the electorate and a state tax increase proposed by the California Legislature receive a two-thirds vote of each house.

Photo courtesy of Wendy McCormac, Flickr

Government hates these constraints on taking other people’s money, so they constantly try to find ways around them — and they have. In the early 80’s, they hit upon “benefit assessment districts,” which historically had been used legitimately to fund capital improvements that directly benefited property. But over time, bureaucrats began imposing assessments for general municipal services rendering them indistinguishable from property taxes. The sole reason for this transformation was to avoid Prop. 13’s voter approval requirements.

That’s why the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association put Proposition 218 on the ballot in 1996. It gave the people the right to vote on all local taxes and required taxpayer (or ratepayer) approval of assessments and property related fees. But just like when you squeeze a water balloon too hard, it tends to pop out somewhere else, so it is with government avoiding clear voter intent. That’s why state business associations and HJTA are supporting the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act initiative to close some new loopholes recent court rulings have opened in Props. 13 and 218.

While the initiative is still waiting for a circulating title and summary from the attorney general, the fiscal analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office was released last week and it’s instructive in explaining the tangled web of taxes our government weaves.

Click here to read the full article at the San Gabriel Tribune

Can Taxpayers Be Grateful This Thanksgiving?

As inflation takes a bigger bite out of your turkey than you do, it may be hard to find reasons to be grateful. But the truth is we still have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Here’s a few reasons why.

In the Legislature, success is often measured not in how many pro-taxpayer bills are passed but by how many anti-taxpayer bills are stopped. And, in that regard, this past year was better than expected.

A bill that would create a California Universal Basic Income and proposed to pay for it either through a value-added tax, raising corporate taxes or implementing a tax on services died in committee. Another bill that would have created a wealth tax failed to receive a hearing before deadline. An attempt to raise the already highest in the nation income tax rate for Californians making over $1 million to as high as 16.8%, was held in its first committee. A bill to create a single-payer healthcare system, and double the state budget in the process, was tabled.

In all, eleven bills HJTA opposed failed to make it out of the legislature. Five bills we supported were signed by the governor. One bill we opposed was vetoed by the governor. Five bills we supported failed to get out of the legislature. Eleven bills we opposed were signed by the governor and one bill we supported was vetoed by the governor.

HJTA went 17 for 34 this legislative session. We batted .500. Not bad for a taxpayer group in California. For that, we should be grateful.

Click here to read the entire article at the Press Telegram

Parents Taking on the Leviathan

17th-century theorist Thomas Hobbes argued that members of any distinct society must subject themselves to an absolute sovereign as the only way to preserve their own lives and security. His book, “Leviathan,” reflected the political world view of the age. Proving him wrong was a small group of Puritans who established a tiny colony near what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The term Leviathan as used today in political discourse simply means a large, oppressive government or force, much like the Old Testament monster from which it derives its name. And even though the United States is based on the anti-Hobbesian theory of consent of the governed, there remain large forces that demand submission from citizens.

One of those large forces is the education establishment found both at the state and federal level. Large bureaucracies backed by powerful labor organizations have a vice-like grip on how our children are taught and what they are taught.

But things may be changing. The election earlier this month, more than anything, demonstrated that parents are angrily rejecting the education Leviathan. Republican Glenn Youngkin artfully deflected Terry McAuliffe’s claim that he was a Trump clone. And most pundits believe the deciding factor in the race was McAuliffe’s gaffe saying parents shouldn’t have a say in what their kids are taught. McAuliffe’s terminal case of political tone-deafness is replicated here in California, where the California Teachers Association and its affiliated local branches are increasingly viewed negatively by voters across the political spectrum.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, the head of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, Cecily Myart-Cruz, claimed that there is “no such thing as learning loss” for students who were forced into remote learning during the pandemic, saying the children learned “survival” and “the difference between a riot and a protest.”

The arrogance revealed by Myart-Cruz might explain why the Los Angeles Unified School District has seen its steepest enrollment decline in 20 years, dropping by more than 27,000 students. Disaffected parents are discovering that, while escaping the Leviathan isn’t easy and sometimes requires sacrifice, the benefits to their children are worth the cost. Charter schools, private schools and homeschooling options have exploded throughout the state.

Click here to read the full article at Daily Bulletin