The relentless battle for legislative transparency

transparencyFor decades, it has been nearly impossible for ordinary citizens to pierce the veil of legislative secrecy in our state capital.

Of course, California is not unique — legislative bodies have sought to conceal their activity for millennia. This is inherent in the differences between rulers and subjects. But we all know too well that mischief feeds on secrecy. The Roman poet Virgil wrote more than 2,000 years ago, “Evil is nourished and grows by concealment.”

In California, the citizens have tried repeatedly to force legislative activity into the sunlight. So last year, to counter the common practice in the Legislature of introducing new bills and passing them within hours, often in the dead of night, voters approved Proposition 54. That important reform requires legislation be in print and available for public review for at least three days prior to final passage.

Passed as a constitutional amendment, Proposition 54 is not stated in discretionary language — its provisions are mandatory. And complying with its terms hardly places an onerous burden on lawmakers. Honestly crafted legislation should easily withstand a few days of public scrutiny.

The state Senate has complied with the will of the people, and even if some of the legislation this body has passed, like the gas tax increase, is repellent to many Californians, senators cannot be accused of keeping their lawmaking a secret.

The Assembly, on the other hand, has arrogantly continued business as usual by approving around 100 bills without the required time for members of the public to examine laws that they will be expected to obey. Assembly leaders say that the people cannot use the initiative process to mandate their conduct, making the lower house the poster child for the view that California government has become a militant special interest, more concerned with its own welfare and longevity, than that of the citizens it claims to serve.

In their pursuit of perks, pay and power, Assembly members are thumbing their collective noses at voters who, by approving Proposition 54, demanded greater transparency in the lawmaking process.

The initiative process in California dates back to 1911 and was a counter blow against the Legislature, most of whose members were beholden to the Southern Pacific Railroad. This form of direct democracy was intended to allow voters to become the lawmakers of last resort when their representatives proved to be indolent, incompetent or corrupt. The state’s most famous initiative, Proposition 13, came about when the Legislature proved to be both lazy and incapable of dealing with a property tax crisis that was forcing thousands of Californians from their homes.

Today, many state representatives are beholden to public employee unions and other special interests. Measures like Proposition 54 are valuable to prod lawmakers to behave in the best interests of all Californians, not just the Sacramento insiders.

If lawmakers continue to refuse to comply with Proposition 54’s reasonable, voter-approved mandate for transparency in their official conduct, there can be no doubt that resolution of this benchmark issue and the Assembly’s misconduct will end up before the courts.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. www.hjta.org

This piece was originally published by the Orange County Register.

Large Loophole to Government Transparency Overturned by California Court

transparencySACRAMENTO – Earlier this month, the California Supreme Court unanimously overturned an appeals court decision that had provided a large loophole in the state’s public-records act.

The case, City of San Jose v. Superior Court of Santa Clara County, revolves around one question: “Are writings concerning the conduct of public business beyond (the California Public Records Act’s) reach merely because they were sent or received using a nongovernmental account?”

The superior court ruled that records concerning the public’s business should be turned over to the public upon request; the appeals court, however, found that agencies do not have “an affirmative duty to produce messages stored on personal electronic devices and accounts that are inaccessible to the agency,” or to even search for them.

The case goes back to 2009, when a local citizen, Ted Smith, sought records regarding the activities of the city of San Jose’s redevelopment agency, its executive director and some elected officials including the mayor and two City Council members, as the court explained. The city produced the requested documents from official phone numbers and email accounts – but would not provide information stored on the officials’ personal accounts.

The city offered a simplistic defense. Messages created on personal accounts are not public records because they are not within the control of the city. If the city had prevailed, the ramifications would be immense. Elected officials and governmental staff working for California’s numerous government agencies could legally shield sensitive information from the public merely by conducting such business on their personal email account or cellphone.

The appeals court exempted “huge swaths” of information based on where the information was located, not based on content, explained Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers’ Association, which filed an amicus brief in the case. “If the Supreme Court had not decided (this way), it would have eviscerated the California Public Records Act,” he added.

A Los Angeles Times editorial captured the likely effect had the appeals-court decision stood: “As soon as a public official realizes that his constituents have no right to look at anything he says on his personal cellphone or laptop, he’ll simply do all of his sensitive or secret communications on those devices. With a flick of the wrist, public officials will exempt themselves from accountability.”

The state high court recognized the new reality of email and other electronic communications, even though the state Constitution and the public-records act were crafted in a time before such communications were envisioned. “It requires recognition,” the Supreme Court found, “that, in today’s environment, not all employment-related activity occurs during a conventional workday, or in an employer-maintained workplace.”

The appeals court was concerned about the problems inherent in capturing and turning over records that were out of an agency’s control. But the state high court, while not mandating any particular policy in dealing with such matters, offered some possible scenarios in dealing with a public records request.

For instance, as a Lexology article explains, an agency could require employees to search their own emails for relevant records or develop a policy requiring “all emails involving agency business, sent by an employee through a private account, to be copied to the employee’s agency email account.” The main point is the court upheld the idea that the public has a right to access a public record, even if the details of obtaining it are up for debate.

In fact, the court explained that because the city did not try to search for any particular documents in its employees’ personal accounts, “the legality of a specific kind of search is not before us.” But it found that agencies are obliged to at least try to locate and disclose any such public documents on private servers “with reasonable effort.”

The decision, however, does not change the complex balancing act that exists between public access and privacy rights. Some documents are protected from public exposure, but the court’s ruling finds that the location of those documents – on a public or private server – has nothing to do with whether or not those documents are legitimate public records.

The high court quoted from the state’s public records act, which defines a public record as “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics.” Not everything produced by a public employee is public, of course, and it might take hair-splitting to determine where to draw the line.

Here, the court used an example to illustrate the point: An employee’s email to a spouse complaining that “my coworker is an idiot,” is unlikely to be considered public, whereas “an email to a superior reporting the coworker’s mismanagement of an agency project might well be.” The court agreed that public employees do not “forfeit all rights to privacy.” But the city of San Jose claimed an exemption for all communications from personal accounts, which was an open invitation for employees to evade the clear intent of open-records laws.

The high court was not persuaded by the city’s argument that the Legislature required public access only to records “accessible to the agency as a whole.” Many genuinely public documents, it explained, are stored in “filing cabinets and ledgers” that would not be accessible to all of an agency’s employees.

The question, of course, is whether the document was produced by employees who are conducting business on behalf of the agency. It’s not a matter of where the document is stored that determines whether the public should have access to it. If, for instance, an agency contracted with a consultant to produce a report, then the agency – and therefore the public – has a right to that document even if the consultant is retaining that document, according to the court.

The recent presidential election reinforces the significance of these distinctions. “Our concerns are not fanciful,” the newspaper association’s brief explained. “For example, former Secretary of State and … presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton turned over 50,000 pages of government-related emails that she had kept on a private account, although federal regulations, since 2009, have required that all emails be preserved as part of an agency’s record-keeping system.” Many other states consider public records on private servers to be accessible to the public.

While local and state government agencies still need to come up with policies that detail exactly how such records must be maintained and disclosed, the court resolved the fundamental principle: A public document is a public document, even if it was created and stored in a private email account.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at [email protected]

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Legislature Tries to Dodge Prop. 54 Transparency Requirements

TransparencyThe voters speak, the legislature interprets — and sometimes the translation is not faithful to the original meaning. We saw that last week with resolutions and rules changes that seem to fly in the face of the newly passed Proposition 54 demanding a waiting period before any measure is passed and last session with Senate Bill 1107, which ignores the clear language contained in 1988’s Proposition 73. Now there is a lawsuit on the senate bill charging the new law is out of bounds and a violation of Prop. 73. Perhaps a legal challenge will follow on the Proposition 54 issue.

SB1107 set up public financing of campaigns claiming that the bill was furthering the purposes of the political reform initiative, Proposition 73, passed by voters nearly thirty years ago. One major problem with the reasoning — Prop. 73 banned public financing. How can you further the purposes of a law when a bill takes the law in the exact opposite direction?

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association teamed with former state senator and judge, Quentin Kopp, a co-author of Proposition 73, to file suit against SB1107. In a release, HJTA president Jon Coupal said, “California voters decided to prohibit taxpayer dollars from being used as political slush funds.  If politicians want to change that, they have to take the issue back to the voters.”

I signed the ballot argument on behalf of Proposition 73. At the time SB1107 was being considered I wrote in this space that the bill was a back door way to avoid the voters wishes on public financing. Only a vote of the people can change the dictates of Prop. 73.

I expect the courts to see the law the same way. That could lead to a test on the newly passed Proposition 54.

Prop. 54 requires that bills be in print for three days before a final vote can be taken. The idea is that due deliberation occur before legislators pass judgment. Yet, when the legislature was sworn in last week, resolutions were immediately passed calling on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and calling on the president-elect not to seek deportation of undocumented immigrants. In addition, the legislature set a rule that a bill passed in its original house did not have to submit to the three day rule under a theory that the bill would come back to that house with amendments from the second house.

The legislative majority made a rhetorical defense of their action on the resolutions justifying the procedure by declaring that Prop 54 only covered bills not resolutions or constitutional amendments.

One wonders if the voters made that distinction when voting on the ballot measure.

The proponent of Proposition 54, Charles Munger Jr., told Capitol Public Radio, “It is unfortunate that they would choose to pass their own rules and a resolution without giving their members and the public 72 hours to think about it.”

Perhaps Munger will go to court or wait to see how the Jarvis/Kopp lawsuit plays out.

One odd feature dealing with these two measures is that the Common Cause organization supported both Proposition 54 and SB1107. In fact, Common Cause sent out an email fundraising appeal preparing for a legal defense on SB1107. So here they support the legislature’s interpretation of the law. Will they be so willing to take the same course on Proposition 54?

The goal of the lawsuit is simple: When it comes to the initiative process the people’s verdict is final unless the voters themselves choose to change it.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Concealed Transparency: Legislature Tries to Fool the Public Again

TransparencyYou might have heard some news lately about legislative transparency, referring to efforts to subject what goes on in the California Legislature to meaningful public scrutiny. One headline actually read “California Senate Approves Measure Requiring More Transparency.” While an average citizen might rejoice at this news, they should be cognizant of what Paul Harvey used to characterize as “the rest of the story.”

Fact is, the California Legislature has absolutely no interest in exposing to public scrutiny how it does business. Indeed, the only reason lawmakers have introduced Senate Constitutional Amendment 14 is to try to force the proponents of a much stronger ballot measure to the bargaining table in an effort to dilute the impact of this genuine reform. It is our hope that the proponents of the real transparency measure, the California Legislature Transparency Act, decline the invitation.

On the surface, lawmakers’ SCA 14 doesn’t look too bad. It would require that bills be publicly available for 72 hours before they can be taken up for a vote and that visual recordings of all legislative proceedings be posted online. These are reforms that Californians have wanted for a long time.

So what has spurred the Legislature to pursue this needed reform? Have they suddenly turned a new leaf and actually desire to disclose to Californians what has, up to now, been transacted in secrecy and obfuscation? Hardly. They are looking down the gun barrel of a proposed initiative which gathered more than a million signatures and is on the verge of qualifying for the November ballot. Sponsored and financed by wealthy reformer Charles Munger, Jr., its requirement that bills be in print for 72 hours is airtight while the Legislature’s proposal has so many holes it resembles Swiss cheese.

We’ve seen the drill before. Citizens will clamor for reform but be rebuffed repeatedly by the Legislature. Then, someone puts a proposition on the ballot to achieve the desired results. Only then, does the Legislature find religion and admit there’s a problem.

Recall 1978. With homeowners angry, frustrated and scared of being taxed out of their homes, Howard Jarvis proposes real property tax reform in the form of Proposition 13. At first, the Legislature derides the effort and can’t fathom the notion that voters actually would support it. That is, until they start hearing from their constituents and seeing the polls. Only then did the California Legislature hurriedly place a very weak alternative (designated as Proposition 8) on the ballot. But voters would have none of it. By a 66 percent margin they effectively told the Legislature thanks, but no thanks.

We strongly suspect that a similar message will be sent to the Legislature in the event that two competing transparency measures appear on the ballot this November.

This piece was originally published by Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Transparency Ballot Measure Crosses Vital Threshold

CA-legislatureA ballot measure aimed at increasing legislative transparency crossed a vital threshold on Thursday and appears poised to be on November’s ballot.

The initiative is a constitutional amendment requiring the Legislature to make available online the final version of a bill at least 72 hours prior to a vote on either the Assembly or Senate floor.

The measure would also require all open legislative meetings to be recorded, with the videos posted online with 24 hours. It also allows individuals to record and share their own videos of open meetings.

“Voters are making it clear that they are fed up with special interest legislation being passed in the middle of the night, without time for input or careful consideration of how new laws impact them,” Sam Blakeslee, a former state senator and one of the measure’s proponents, said in a statement on Thursday. “We look forward to seeing these common sense reforms become a reality when all Californians have the opportunity to vote for this measure at the polls this November.”

The measure is backed by Republican donor Charles T. Munger Jr. and is supported by right-leaning groups like the California Chamber of Commerce, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the National Federation of Independent Business and the left-leaning California Common Cause.

The most outspoken and public opponent of the measure is Democratic political strategist Steven Maviglio, who argues it’s just another “tool” for special interests to unravel legislative deals at the last second.

Maviglio points to the 2008 budget agreement, the 1959 Fair Housing Act, the 2006 climate change bill (AB32) and the 2014 water bond were all tough votes taken without 72 hours notice. This measure, he argues, would subject iffy legislators to attacks from special interest groups.

“Let’s not give special interests any more tools to prevent lawmakers from doing the right thing, whether it be unnecessary delays in enacting legislation or ways to demonize the Legislature,” wrote in The Sacramento Bee.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Practical Reforms to “Right-Size” Government Unions

Rolling back the power of government unions in a state like California is almost impossible. Their power has been unchallenged for so long that they now virtually control the state Legislature, and their grip on local politicians extends to nearly every city, county, school district and special district.

Unions2But there have been reforms in some places, and they can serve as examples for municipalities throughout the state. Several Orange County cities have tried transparency ordinances of variable effectiveness. San Jose has restricted the use of binding arbitration. Voters in San Jose and San Diego have both passed pension reform measures. Cities scattered throughout California have grappled with unions over project labor agreements and prevailing wage laws. And in the courts, reformers have won the first round in the Vergara case, which challenges union work rules governing teacher dismissals, layoff preferences and tenure requirements.

Against the remorseless advance of the government union agenda, these and other measures are decidedly incremental. They are often overwhelmed by deceptive union measures that carry the reform label but are actually reactionary shams, designed to turn back the clock. Or they are challenged in court by an avalanche of suits and counter-suits designed to eviscerate reforms that voters overwhelmingly supported.

The game is rigged, but the nonpartisan hunger for quality public education and civic financial health is universal. Sooner or later, the will of the people will always prevail. Here then is a partial list of public sector union reforms that have been tried, or should be tried, in every city and county in California:

(1)  “Right-to-Work” for all government workers:

This would forbid government unions from getting a government employee fired simply because they didn’t want to join a union. Right-to-work is especially compelling in government organizations, where altruistic individuals who want to become public servants may not wish to financially support the political agenda of their union. Because government unions negotiate over work rules that determine how we manage our public institutions, virtually all union activity is inherently political. Right-to-work in government organizations therefore not only forces unions to be more accountable to their members, but is based on an employee’s constitutional right to free speech.

(2)  “Worker’s Choice” for all government workers:

This law takes right-to-work a step further, and should be implemented in tandem with right-to-work. One objection that unions make to right-to-work laws is that it allows those workers who did not join the union to become “free riders” who enjoy the alleged benefits of union representation but don’t pay any dues. “Worker’s Choice” allows workers under a collective bargaining agreement to opt-out and represent themselves individually in their wage and benefit negotiations with their employer. Something that professionals throughout the private sector do as a matter of course.

(3)  Union Recertification:

This would require government unions to regularly hold a “recertification” election, preferably once every year. The election would require secret ballots and participation by a quorum (usually a majority) of employees in the collective bargaining unit. Most government employees in California started working long after the unions took over. They should be able to decide if they want a union to continue to represent them. Recertification, like right-to-work and worker’s choice, is a practice that would ensure greater accountability by unions, because if they lose the annual election, they would be decertified and could not represent those workers until regaining their approval in an election to be held at least a year later.

(4)  Reduced Scope of Collective Bargaining:

This reform is recommended in order to provide elected officials the latitude to equitably balance the interests of taxpayers and government workers. It gives them the latitude to cope effectively with budget deficits caused by economic downturns that have already affected private sector workers. Limiting negotiations on compensation to current benefits, for example, would mean that elected officials retain the authority to modify pension benefit formulas. Not only budget issues but work rule issues could be restricted under this reform. For example, “last-in-first-out” layoff rules which favor seniority over merit could be scrapped.

(5)  Pension Reform:

The most likely way to implement effective pension reform – which, ironically, is the only way to rescue the defined benefit plan for government workers – is to revise the California constitution via a state ballot initiative. Such a reform, at the least, would give elected officials or voters the right to reduce pension benefit accruals earned by active employees for future work. It would require active employees to pay 50% of their normal contribution, calculated at a rate of return permissable under ERISA statutes, i.e., a truly “risk-free” rate of return. It would impose stricter curbs on spiking and double dipping that would be harder to circumvent in court. And it would provide tools to be implemented to ensure system solvency in a financial state of emergency, such as suspension of COLAs for retirees (retroactively if necessary), retroactive reduction in pension benefit annual accruals for active workers, raising of the pension-eligible retirement age, and a ceiling on benefits.

(6)  “Paycheck Protection”:

This would require unions to obtain permission, preferably annually, before deducting the political portion of their dues from worker paychecks. California’s government workers currently assert their right to not pay the political portion of their dues – notwithstanding the argument that ALL dues paid to a government union are used for essentially political purposes – via a cumbersome “opt-out” process. This reform would change that to an annual “opt-in” process, making it much easier for government workers to avoid having to support the political agenda of their unions.

(7)  “Dues Checkoff”:

Under this reform, government payroll departments would no longer be required (or allowed) to withhold union dues from government employee paychecks and turn that money automatically over to the union. Instead unions would be required to bill and collect dues without relying on payroll withholding, just like other membership organizations. This is particularly justified in the case of government unions, under the assumption that the government should not be acting as a collection agent for a private organization.

(8)  Clarification of “Public Employee”:

This is an interesting reform that can be interpreted in two ways. On one hand, by broadening the description to include government contractors, then in conjunction with other reforms, appropriate regulations restricting inappropriate union activity can be extended, for example, not only to home health care workers, but to construction contractors whose unions negotiate for project labor agreements and prevailing wage agreements. On the other hand, narrowing the description of what constitutes a public employee can counter the aggressive expansion of government unions in states such as California where there are virtually no checks on government union power. Either way, the principle governing the application of this reform would be that unions that operate in the public sector should be subject to more restrictions than those unions that operate in the private sector.

(9)  Transparency in Negotiations:

Lost on most voters is the fact that government unions epitomize the so-called abuses of the elite establishment. Powerful corporate and financial interests make deals with government unions in an Alliance of The Big. More regulations drive out innovative commercial competition at the same time as they expand unionized government. Transparency in negotiations, obviously, means that unions have to disclose their wage and benefit demands for public review. But it means much more than that. Disclosure of their financial and operating reports, their membership dues, their internal leadership election processes. And more than anything, a spotlight on how government unions collude with the most powerful and corrupt among the private sector elites they claim they are protecting us from.

(10)  Ban on Political Activity:

Public employee unions, if they should exist at all, should not be permitted to use their resources to conduct any sort of political lobbying or campaigning. There is an inherent conflict between the agenda of unionized government and the public interest. Government unions, by definition, want to increase their membership and want to increase the pay and benefits of their membership. That causes more government to trump good government. It causes more spending to trump efficient spending. At its root, it means that failure of government programs constitutes success for government unions, because their solution is inevitably to call for more government spending. Political activity by government union should be illegal.

Perhaps the most important point to be made in the context of these ten recommendations is that they are utterly nonpartisan. Unions in the public sector bear little relation to unions in the private sector, for reasons that are well documented: They don’t operate in agencies that have to make a profit, which limits how much private sector unions can ask for from their employers. They elect their own bosses through massive campaign spending, something unheard of in the private sector unions whose management is determined by shareholders. And they run the government, which allows them to make common cause with the most powerful and corrupt among the private sector elites. What part of this is partisan?

Californians of all political persuasions are going to eventually have to face the reality that government unions are the reason our schools are failing students and parents, and the reason we can’t balance our budgets and control our debt. These reforms are all ways to begin to reduce the power of government unions, which will be a giant step towards making California’s state and local governments truly accountable to the interests of all workers – not just government workers.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

New Data Shows Obama Least Transparent President Ever

Sunshine Transparency CartoonPresident Barack Obama promised at the outset of his White House tenure that his would be the “most transparent administration in history,” but new data made public Friday suggests it has been the least transparent.

Federal officials said they couldn’t find any records for more than one in six, or nearly 130,000, Freedom of Information Act requests, setting a new record low, The Associated Press reported Friday.

“It seems like they’re doing the minimal amount of work they need to do,” Vice News investigative journalist Jason Leopold told AP. “I just don’t believe them. I really question the integrity of their search.”

Leopold sat on a panel of journalists who shared FOIA horror stories with lawmakers in June and said reporters often need to sue agencies before getting any records.

AP similarly reported instances where the government released tens of thousands of records following a lawsuit, after previously telling FOIA requesters they couldn’t find any documents. The Department of State, for example, told Gawker they couldn’t find any correspondence between Hillary Clinton aide Phillipe Reines and journalists, but found 90,000 records after a lawsuit.

Leopold also recently reported the Department of Justice previously lobbied heavily against FOIA reform moving through Congress.

The Obama administration answered more record requests and reduced its backlog, Department of Justice spokeswoman Beverly Lumpkin told AP. Additionally, the administration completed a 769,903 requests – a 19 percent increase over 2014 and a new record, AP reported.

Also, 77 percent of requests were either redacted or denied. That includes those where the requester refused to pay for records or when the government said they couldn’t find documents or that a request was either unreasonable or improper.

But the White House reported 93 percent, in fact, were released in full or in part, since they don’t include such caveats in their calculations.

Meanwhile, the inability to pay isn’t necessarily a requester’s stinginess. The Department of Defense said one FOIA request would cost $660 million  – the price of an Australian island – the Center for Public Integrity recently reported.

Additionally, more than half of the federal agencies took longer to answer last year’s requests than in 2014.

“It’s incredibly unfortunate when someone waits months, or perhaps years, to get a response to their request – only to be told that the agency can’t find anything,” Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press attorney Adam Marshall told AP.

AP reviewed all 2015 requests to 100 federal agencies.

“It was impossible to know whether more requests last year involved non-existent files or whether federal workers were searching less than diligently before giving up to consider a case closed,” AP reported.

Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

LAPD awarded $1M by U.S. Department of Justice to buy body cameras

A reported by the L.A. Daily News:

The Los Angeles Police Department was awarded $1 million by the U.S. Department of Justice Monday for the purchase of body cameras, despite a complaint by the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union that the department’s policies on the use and release of the footage hinders transparency.

The LAPD was one of 73 agencies across the country to be awarded a total of $19.3 million in funding for the purchase of cameras. Pasadena was awarded $250,000.

Los Angeles officials had asked the federal government for funding to purchase 700 cameras. The city ultimately wants to purchase 7,000 cameras to outfit all of its field officers. The department already has about 860 cameras purchased through private donations. Distribution of those cameras began this month at three LAPD stations. …

Click here to read the full story

CA Legislature’s Latest Orwellian Practice

A few years ago I wrote a column on the Orwellian practice of politicians who deceive voters by perverting the English language.  For example, the benign sounding terms “investment,”  “new revenue,” “budget solution,” and “fair share,” are all euphemisms for “higher taxes.”

A horrible bill dealing with California’s controversial high speed rail projects just cleared the Legislature.  It compels us to reexamine the lexicon politicians use to create a very clear impression in the mind of the listener that what is being said is benevolent and true, when, in fact, it is not.

This week’s featured terms are “government transparency,” which to normal people means “open and honest,” and “government oversight,” the plain meaning of which is “watchful and responsible supervision.”  To political insiders, however, the meaning of both these terms is “bury it.”Lawmakers have approved Senate Bill 76 that includes language that cuts the currently mandated twice-annual reports from the California High-Speed Rail Authority to once every two years, meaning that time between reports will be four times as long.

Let’s keep in mind that those responsible for the bullet train, which to date is little more than a fantasy, have repeatedly broken faith with the public.

Voters who approved a $10 billion dollar bond to kick start the estimated $30 billion project were told that most of the costs would be picked up by the federal government and private sector investment, and trips between Los Angeles and San Francisco would take about two hours and forty minutes with tickets costing less than $50.  Today’s plan looks nothing like what voters were promised.  The trip times and ticket prices have nearly doubled, Congress is looking to pull the plug and the private sector has shown no inclination to provide funding to help cover what  has become a total cost of at least $68 billion.   No wonder surveys show that most Californians now oppose what has become the most expensive public works project in the history of our nation.

Now, the Legislature — perhaps out of embarrassment over the shortcomings of their pet train program — is agreeing to allow what appears to be a rogue agency to issue reports less often.

Californians cannot be blamed if they feel like they are being poorly served by public officials, who are, in essence, telling them “Move along, there is nothing to see here.”  Most employers — and the public is the employer of record — want to look closely at the conduct of employees who appear to be incompetent and possibly dishonest.  They want more oversight not less.

To add insult to injury, apparently High-Speed Rail officials are underestimating the public’s intelligence.  Commenting on the reduced reporting requirement, spokeswoman Lisa-Marie Alley told the Associated Press, “It’s not about being less transparent, it’s actually about being more efficient in our transparency.”

Perhaps we should add the term “government efficiency” to our list of words used by the political class to mislead the public.

Originally published by HTJA.org

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

NRA President Calls for Holder’s Resignation

From Front Porch Politics:

National Rifle Association President David Keene told The Daily Caller on Thursday that he and the NRA think Attorney General Eric Holder should resign immediately. Keene joins 34 members of Congress calling for Holder’s immediate resignation.

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre had made a call for the nation’s top law enforcement official to step down over Fast and Furious as far back as April of this year. Keene told TheDC all the new evidence that continues coming shows Holder committed “perjury” before the House Judiciary Committee on May 3 and that the American people no longer trust him at attorney general.

(Read Full Article)