Penalty Assessment Fees Report

Investigating the relationship between stressed public finances and rising misdemeanor fines and penalties

By Reiss Becker, David Vasquez, Zane Zovak



California Policy Center analysts have documented the state’s collapsing public finances over the past few decades – not just the rising level of public debt, but the subsequent effects of crumbling infrastructure, slashed government services, and rising taxes. 

More recently we’ve noted the transformation of law-enforcement into state debt-collectors seeking a source of revenue for cash-strapped state and county governments. 

This is more significant than the unethical incentivizes quota systems encourage as they motivate police to issue a greater number of traffic tickets. What we’ve identified is more troubling: throughout California, local officials as well as legislators in Sacramento have been continuously  expanding the number of programs funded through traffic tickets with little public accountability or knowledge. 

As the table below illustrates, between 1980 (when the state allowed itself to add penalties to fines) and 2000, just two penalty assessments were added to traffic tickets. But in the first 10 years of the 2000s, eight penalty assessments were added. That rapid expansion tracks with the tsunami of pension hikes granted between 1999 and 2002. As California’s government unions continue to boost the costs associated with state and local employee pay and benefits, penalty assessments will likely become the default method of funding for various programs.


 (source: California State Auditor Report 2017-126)


Though only the state and county governments may apply these fees, cities are getting into the act in a new and innovative way. The city of Huntington Beach, for instance, has made skateboarding a crime and has crafted new laws to prohibit “drinking in public” – even where “public” is the front yard of one’s home. Last year the city created a new role for an assistant city attorney. His sole job: to speed collections of these fines and to prosecute those who fail to pay.

“A significant number of misdemeanors go unprosecuted,” City Attorney Michael Gates explained, adding that deploying his new prosecutor will “add a lot of teeth to our laws. There will be a whole class of crimes that will now be prosecuted where the (county) DA may not have gotten to them. We will prosecute every one of them until conviction.”

This problem is everywhere in California. In Amador, a county in the Sierra Nevada Mountains just east of Sacramento, the superior court notes that its practice is to hit misdemeanor violators with a surcharge it calls a “penalty assessment” – an additional $26 “for every $10 of the base fine amount or portion thereof as set forth by the California State Legislature.” (If you doubt its authority to do so, the Amador court helpfully directs citizens to Penal Code 1464 and Government Codes 76000, 70372, 76104.6, 76104.7 and 76000.5.)

State lawmakers have their hands out, too. The state’s surcharges on local misdemeanors are remarkable for their randomness. There’s money for the DNA Identification Fund and the State General Fund. The state also gets money for its “Penalty Fund,” a “State Court Facilities Fund” and money for “Building/Maintenance for Courts.” Some of the penalty money pays for court security and a big chunk goes to court automation and general city funds. There’s even money for the Department of Motor Vehicles. The Amador court shows you how, through the magic of the state legislature, your $25 jaywalking ticket becomes a $193 fine. (A sample traffic citation is shown below at the end of the section).

The Orange County Superior Court follows the same formula, but adds bonus penalties for lawbreakers. In addition to the state menu, Orange County adds fees to fund Emergency Medical Air Transport, Emergency Medical Services, and a fee “to fund Night Court operations.” That, Orange County says, is how a $35 speeding ticket becomes a $238 fine.

We believe these fines will lead to increasing mistrust of government in general and of law-enforcement in particular; we are certain they have allowed government officials to largely ignore the real problem in California’s local governments: the high and always-rising cost of government employee pay and benefits, particular public-safety employees.

That problem began with the rise of government unions in the late 1970s. But it accelerated with the passage of SB 400 in 1999: the state law that drove the cost of post-employment benefits for public safety employees up 50%.

Driven by demands to fund these unsustainable benefits, state and local governments are now operating on an entirely new legal principal – the principal that government can, and without limitation, take citizens’ property (in the form of fines) or liberty (by jailing those who will not or cannot pay) for even misdemeanors and traffic citations. 

This dramatic expansion of government power pits the public against the police tasked with protecting them. It immiserates the already vulnerable. It undermines the economy, and by extension all California communities. It is a bipartisan problem: conservatives are as likely as liberal public officials to mask this cash and power grab as evidence they are tough on crime and to raise government revenue without raising taxes.

The U.S. Department of Justice found that a similar public-finance strategy contributed to the rioting and strained relations with law enforcement that followed the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson on August 9, 2014. Rarely has it been so obvious that our own government has, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, “erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.”

But in the past few years, we’ve also seen reasons for optimism. Raising misdemeanor fines and fees doesn’t necessarily translate into additional revenue because, as the old saying goes, you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip: where the poor are concerned, boosting the costs of a misdemeanor violations simply means adding additional debt to the ticketed party. Uncollected fines were key in prompting former-Gov. Jerry Brown to ban the suspension of driver’s licenses as a punitive measure. More recently, SB 144, or the Families of Fees Act, seeks to eliminate many of these egregious fines. 

But there’s work to be done at the local level, too. To local elected officials interested in rolling back these unconscionable fines, CPC has drafted a model ordinance and resolution to spread public awareness of penalty assessments and to bolster support for reform at the city and county level. 


(source: LCCR 2015 report: Not Just a Ferguson Problem)




Using the police to raise revenue for state and local government generates multiple problems throughout our communities:

Distorts the role of the police and undermines public confidence 

Using penalties as a revenue source establishes the police force as a revenue-generating agency rather than as a peacekeeping force and creates an unhealthy relationship between officers and citizens. This phenomenon helped fuel tensions in Ferguson, Missouri – frustration that contributed to the death of Michael Brown – offering a grave warning to California of what consequences may arise out of this unethical practice. 

Questionable relationship between fees and violations

As is shown in the chart below, only four of the 17 penalty assessments are directly related to the crime; the remaining 13 fees are imposed as funding mechanisms rather than punishments for the crime and the cost they impose on society. Currently, a small fee is added to traffic infractions to support the Fish and Game Preservation Fund – helping fund a worthwhile department but with no connection to any of the misdemeanors committed. The DNA Identification Fund might reasonably expect reimbursement when a DNA test is conducted, but as it currently stands, it is added to all traffic tickets regardless of whether a DNA test was carried out. 


(source: California State Auditor Report 2017-126)


Even our courts are incentivized to support these fees

As they currently exist, courts have a perverse incentive to maximize the total amount that can be charged for a fine or penalty assessment. The court that processes the violations for all traffic infractions also determines the civil assessment fee, a fee that goes directly into their court’s budget. The civil assessment fee is charged when violators fail to pay on time and is supposed to be calculated in relation to the individual’s ability to pay. Under state law, the court can charge as much as $300 for the civil assessment fee; because the fee returns directly to the courts, it’s inarguable that courts are incentivized to maximize fees.

Debtor’s Prison

A 2018 Federal Reserve survey found that 44% of Americans would struggle to cover a $400 emergency. These fines have left millions of California taxpayers trapped in an endless spiral of debt. Inability to pay promptly has led to additional late fees (typically labelled the “civil assessment fee”), trapping people in court dates, missed work, and additional childcare expenses. 

They are an unreliable source of public funding

Many of the government programs funded through penalty assessments depend heavily on those assessments. But revenue from traffic violations is highly variable. Multiple studies highlight the year-to-year rise and fall of penalty revenue, with some years jurisdictions showing a fluctuation of more than 40% in sequential years. 




Most penalty assessments are dictated by state lawmakers in Sacramento. But local officials in cities and counties can act directly to limit penalties. 

Our model county ordinance (Appendix I) stipulates that the county will not levy optional penalty assessments for night court and the Maddy Emergency Medical Services Fund. Additionally, it calls for an end to penalty assessments for programs and funds unrelated to the infraction committed. 

Cities aren’t able to block state or county penalty assessment collections – that’s the province of state and county officials. But our model resolution for cities (Appendix II) allows local governments to express their opposition to penalty assessments. In bigger numbers, cities and counties may encourage state lawmakers to make necessary reforms to the system. 




If you can’t do the time . . . .

Some self-described conservatives have claimed that our concern for misdemeanor violators is misplaced – even on multiple occasions offering the old adage that “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” We note that there’s a more important adage, the one embodied in our Constitution’s 8th Amendment: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The government’s responsibility for maintaining the peace is not an unlimited grant of power.

Funded programs provide valuable services

The biggest objection to our proposal comes from county, city and other local officials who observe that these fees support important government programs. We recognize that often these programs provide a valuable service to the community. But programs with real value should easily count upon voluntary public support rather than coercion. In fact, public officials opposed to raising taxes – or even afraid of raising the possibility of raising taxes – rely on these assessments to appear tough on crime while avoiding the controversy around tax hikes. 

Moving away from penalty assessments and shifting the funding to a more public source allows for debate on the merits of these programs. Additionally, it ensures the burden of these programs is shared by all of the community that enjoys the benefits rather than disproportionately falling on traffic violators. 

Ultimately, we would like to see the elimination of penalty assessments but recognize that the transition will require time to find suitable alternatives for funding.

Rigid payment methods

Recognizing the growing debt from uncollected penalty fees (shown in table below), we propose that courts make more of an effort to consider and publicize alternative methods for payment of legitimate fines.


(source: LAO 2016 report – Improving California’s Criminal Fine and Fee System)



Fairness in Fines Ordinance

WHEREAS § 42006(a) of the state vehicle code gives the right of the county to levy fines and penalties regarding night court in addition to the base fine excluding vehicle infractions.

WHEREAS § 76000.5(a) of the state penal code gives the right of the county board of supervisors to levy and additional two dollars for every ten dollars of the base fine for vehicle infractions.

WHEREAS the use of a base fine is to discourage illegal behavior and to seek justice. Such purpose of the base fine is not to provide necessary funding to government administrative agencies. 

WHEREAS the judicial council has levied extraneous fines beyond the purview of justice. 

WHEREAS administrative agencies have become dependent on the levying of such extraneous fines. 


Fairness in Fines Ordinance Requirements: A Moratorium On Present and Future Miscellaneous Charges and Fees on County, City and Municipality Citations

Purpose: The elimination of the use of regressive fees and assessments that disproportionately harm citizens as a means to raise revenue for government programs that should be funded through allocations from the municipality’s general fund. 

  1. Pursuant of this ordinance, the County of Merced shall adopt a fairness in fines practice beginning no later than eight weeks after passing this ordinance. 
    1. Beginning on that date, the county in question shall prohibit levying all penalties, fees, surcharges, and penalty assessments that are not directly and clearly related to the cost of enforcing the traffic violation. Current fines beyond those directly and clearly related to enforcement of the specific violation should no longer be applied to criminal and public offenses, including any and all violations of the vehicle code. 
    2. Any and all penalty assessment fees previously applicable but considered miscellaneous outside of the base penalty amount are hereby void. By eliminating additional fees, this ordinance will ensure the fine will serve as a penalty for the violation rather than a source of revenue to fund government operations. 
      1. 1.2.1.An extension period of 12 weeks may be requested before such additional fines are voided to allow the county board of supervisors sufficient time to identify alternative measures for any and all programs that will face a funding shortfall as a consequence of the prohibition of these penalties. The total time from the date of passage miscellaneous fees are void will not exceed 20 weeks. 
    3. Definitions: 
      1. 1.3.1.Base fine – A monetary sanction imposed in criminal cases as set forth in state law. The maximum base fine varies from violation to violation. 
      2. 1.3.2.Penalty or Surcharge – An amount added to the base fine and imposed as part of the monetary punishment for a crime. 
      3. 1.3.3.Fee or Assessment – An amount added to the base fine that is imposed for cost recovery purposes such as covering the cost for court operations in processing a case. Fees are intended to be used for specific purposes.  
    4. The following fees or charges should be considered exempt from this ordinance: 
      1. 1.4.1.Base fine – A monetary sanction imposed in criminal cases as set forth in state law. The maximum base fine varies from violation to violation. 
      2. 1.4.2.Penalty or Surcharge – An amount added to the base fine and imposed as part of the monetary punishment for a crime. 



Fairness in Fines Resolution

Whereas penalty assessments are being used as revenue collection strategy for counties and the state establishing the police force as a revenue collection agency rather than a peacekeeping force and creating an unhealthy dynamic between officer and citizen;

Whereas penalties are an ineffective revenue collection strategy because many citizens simply cannot afford the financial burden resulting in over $10 billion in unpaid debt;

Whereas civil assessment fees are supposed to be based on an individual’s ability to pay and offer alternatives such as community service for indigent citizens to repay their debt; and  

Whereas penalty assessments are frequently used to fund various state and county programs that often have little to no relationship to the violation; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, that the City of Torrance:

  1. urges the California State Legislature to amend §1464 of the State Penal Code to eliminate the state’s requirement for counties and cities to levy additional penalty assessments on violators of various traffic infractions; 
  2. encourages agencies receiving funds from penalty assessments to seek alternative sources of revenue to support their programs and eliminate reliance on highly unreliable penalty assessment funds;
  3. recommends redirecting civil assessment fee funds so that the courts aren’t directly receiving benefits from the cases they rule putting revenue incentives at odds with the requirement to consider a violator’s financial circumstances when assessing the civil assessment fee; and 
  4. advises state and counties to stop using revenue from penalty assessments to fund programs that aren’t clearly and directly related to the offense committed.

The perilous state of Santa Ana schools

Class conflict: Santa Ana schools are spending more and more on fewer students. (U.S. Air Force file photo)

School officials in California’s sixth-largest school district are working overtime to promote a massive $1.2 billion bond tentatively scheduled for a districtwide vote in November. Yet behind their chatter about improving Santa Ana Unified facilities is a stark fact: Student enrollment there has been falling steadily for over 15 years. And declining enrollment means declining revenue from federal, state and local sources – about $10,000 per student. But at the same time, district spending, particularly on teacher salaries and benefits, has been rising. Where those two trends intersect – falling revenue, rising costs– is crisis.

Just last summer, the crisis claimed its first victims when the district declared it would have to lay off 287 teachers. The same teacher’s union that had pushed for the pay increases that precipitated the crisis helpfully provided district officials with the hit list – all of it based on one metric only: the last hired were the first fired.

But the crisis didn’t begin in 2017. An SAUSD demographer’s 2016 report illustrates a steady decline in SAUSD enrollment starting in 2003. That year, total student enrollment was 60,973. By 2012, enrollment had fallen to 53,493. This equates to an approximately 12% drop in enrollment and a $75 million loss in revenue. Long-range projections through this school year predict that the decline will continue.

As recently as June 26th — school trustees backed by the powerful teaches union approved regular annual salary increases. In addition to this most recent salary increase, teacher salaries were also raised from 2013-2015.

Losing cash, union-backed trustees ordered district staff to find a solution. Facilities maintenance was delayed. Major renovations were impossible. And so they settled on the November bond.

A bond is basically an IOU — the district’s promise that it will repay Wall Street lenders interest on a multi-million-dollar loan. District officials first pegged the amount of the loan at $479 million – enough, they said, to repair damage created by time and mismanagement. But in the past few weeks the amount of the bond has fluctuated from $518 million back down to $232 million. Neither figure includes interest payments on the loan, which will more than double its cost.

Santa Ana Unified hasn’t even finished paying off two existing loans, from 1999 and 2008. They should be paid off by 2040. By that time, last month’s graduates will be about 40 years old, some with children of their own attending Santa Ana schools that will boast well-paid adults, falling test scores, failing infrastructure – and perhaps still laboring beneath hundreds of millions of dollars in repayments on the Great Bond of 2018.

Kelly McGee is a Rhodes College graduate and a journalism intern at California Policy Center.



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Permanent Water Rationing is Coming to California

Have you experienced water faucets that spray tiny jets of water onto your hands? You know, those eight tiny jets of water, each about 1.0 millimeter in diameter, that are emitted with so much pressure that the paltry quantity of water bounces off your skin before you can get it wet enough to apply soap, and makes rinsing the soap off nearly impossible? You can find these water faucets in airports and other public places, where they constitute a minor annoyance. But wait. Thanks to California’s state legislature, they’re on their way into your home.

You’ll just love your personal space filled up with these expensive gadgets. For example, these faucets will probably require voice-activation, turn off after ten seconds, and send a report to your utility in order to help you manage your usage patterns. Smart faucets. Smart washers. Smart dish washers. Smart shower heads and smart toilets – all coming your way, thanks to the California State Legislature and their partners, the scarcity profiteers of Silicon Valley.

You’ll love how all these water-sipping, next-generation durable goods can go “down,” get hacked, don’t work very well, and require annual warranty payments. You’ll also love purchasing bargain basement annual software upgrades, but only affordable, barely, if you join their green team club for life special VIP program. You’ll love how the control panel on your washer will look like the bridge of a starship, and can only be operated after you’ve mastered the virtual version of a two-inch thick instruction manual.

California’s ruling coalition of government employee unions, extreme environmentalists, and high-tech billionaires are at it again, this time with a water conservation bill, AB 1668, that is going to impose a mandatory limit of 55 gallons per person per day on indoor water consumption. Bring on the gadgets.

To put the impact of this bill into perspective, consider what it would cost to retrofit a household to reduce indoor water consumption:


The biggest cost on this table is the cost for a tankless water heater or a hot water circulation system, necessary if we don’t want to waste water while waiting for it to get hot. Because there’s no good solution to that problem, this is a significant source of water waste that is blithely ignored by water conservation activists. It’s reasonable to expect people in a developed, wealthy nation like America to wait until they have warm water before washing their hands, shaving, hand washing dishes, or showering. And there is no way a person is going to bring their indoor water usage down to 55 gallons a day without either performing all these tasks with cold water, or by installing a system to deliver instant hot water.

But if every Californian did their best to comply with AB 1668, could they reduce their water usage to 55 gallons per day? The next table shows how much they could save, using USGS data. Please note the USGS data is for America, not for California, where decades of conservation incentives have already yielded tremendous reductions in use. Per capita indoor water use in California isn’t anywhere near 139 gallons per day. More on that later.


Apart from water efficient toilets which save water and don’t require lifestyle changes, there’s not much here that isn’t expensive and inconvenient. Notwithstanding the fact that Silicon Valley moguls are salivating over the prospects of subsequent mandates that will require all these retrofit appliances to be “smart,” they aren’t going to make life better. Low flow shower heads require longer duration showers, especially if you have to rinse shampoo out of long hair. Consumer reports offer mixed reviews on low water consumption dishwashers and washing machines. Some of us like to wash our dishes by hand – in many cases because it’s less time consuming. And who wants to pull wet clothes out of side loading washers? As for waiting for hot water to make it to faucets, there’s no inexpensive and effective solution.

Enforcing the 55 gallon indoor limit will also be costly not only for California’s residents, but for every water utility in the state. After all, to regulate indoor water consumption, you have to measure indoor water consumption separately from outdoor water consumption. And, of course, residential outdoor water consumption is also in AB 1668’s cross hairs. To accomplish this, AB 1668 calls for dedicated outdoor water meters, separate from indoor water meters, and it calls for water utilities to prepare a water “budget” for each customer parcel based on the size of the parcel and other factors such as the local climate.


Since AB 1668 proposes to effectively ration residential water consumption, at staggering expense, it’s worthwhile to explore the cost and benefit of this policy. If we assume that five million of California’s 12.5 million households still have legacy appliances, just the retrofit would cost these unlucky homeowners $37.5 billion. But it doesn’t end there, because the water utilities would have to install indoor/outdoor meters on around 10 million households (some households are in multi-family dwellings with no yard or a shared yard). Assuming the cost to install these meters and conduct site visits to assign individual outdoor “water budgets” at $1,000 per household means another $10 billion will have to be spent – i.e., implementing AB 1668 will cost $47 billion.

But how much water would actually be saved, for $47 billion? According to the most authoritative study available on current indoor water consumption, the average Californians uses 62 gallons per day. (ref. California Water Plan Update 2013 Chapter 3, page 12, 1st paragraph “Indoor Residential.”) This means that if California’s 40 million residents got their indoor water use down to 50 gallons per day from 62 gallons per day, it would save 537 thousand acre feet per year (0.54 million acre feet). This is a minute fraction, less than 1%, of California’s total water diversions for environmental, agricultural, and urban uses.

AB 1668 is not about saving water. It’s about control. It’s about power and profit for special interests. Otherwise we could just expand sewage treatment plants, which we should do anyway. How can you waste indoor water if it can go down the drain, to be treated and pumped right back up the hill for reuse?

Let’s keep this in perspective by imagining best case scenarios whereby indoor and outdoor residential water use is dramatically reduced. If Calfornia’s 40 million residents reduced their household water consumption by another 20%, it would only save 0.74 million acre feet per year. An impossible 40% reduction? Savings of 1.5 million acre feet per year. For one-tenth the cost, the proposed “off-stream” Sites Reservoir could easily capture over 2.0 million acre feet each year in storm runoff. Just one good storm dumps ten times that much water onto California’s watersheds.


So what could Californians do instead with $47 billion? We’ve looked at this before. Limiting ourselves to water infrastructure, here’s a list:


First of all, market-based incentives can eliminate water scarcity at almost no cost. For example: Allow farmers to sell their water allotments at market rates without losing their vested rights. Or permit utilities to engage in mild price hikes that encourage people to use less water, instead of resorting to punitive tiered pricing or rationing. These alternatives, to some extent, have already been tried. They work. But if you accept the premise that increasing the absolute supply of water in California is desirable – here are the capital costs for water infrastructure that would create water abundance in California for decades to come.

  • Desalinate 1.0 million acre feet of seawater  –  $15 billion.
  • Reclaim and reuse 2.0 million acre feet of sewage  –  $10 billion.
  • Build the Sites Reservoir for off-stream storage of 2.0 million acre feet of run-off  –  4.4 billion.
  • Build the Temperance Flat Reservoir for 1.3 million acre feet of storage  –  3.3 billion.
  • Aquifer recharge to store runoff – there isn’t even a good study exploring this option at a statewide level.

As can be seen, all of these water infrastructure projects could be built for $32.7 billion. They could be financed via infrastructure bonds, increased rates to consumers, redirection of funds currently being squandered on high-speed rail, or even redirection of proceeds from carbon emission auctions.

What California’s ruling junta prefers, however, is to create a surveillance state defined by expensive scarcity. In the 1950s and 1960s, California’s legislature approved and implemented what remains the finest system of inter-basin water transfers in the world. But today, after over 30 years of neglect, at the same time as California’s population has doubled, California’s water infrastructure is crumbling at a time when it should be expanded. The reasons for this are plain enough. Special interests have replaced the public interest.


Instead of building water infrastructure to increase supplies of water, public employee unions want to see tax revenues pour into their pockets and into the pension funds. High-tech billionaires want contracts to build “smart” appliances and monitoring systems to enforce water rationing. Extreme environmentalists, and the trial lawyers who get incredibly wealthy representing their organizations, want more legal bases upon which to file lucrative lawsuits. Sadly, major corporate agribusinesses often acquiesce to this abuse of residents because they’ve decided that a bigger slice of a smaller pie is all they can hope for from this legislature.

Until Californians realize there will be no end to these encroachments on their freedom and prosperity until they resist, California’s ruling junta will prevail. California will be a harder and harder place to live. If ordinary Californians value their freedom, they will form a coalition with farmers, energy companies, civil engineering firms, and construction unions to demand water abundance. They may rediscover the vision and leadership that built a water infrastructure that is still one of the wonders of the modern world.


Assembly Bill 1668, “Water management planning” Text (Source: California Legislative Information)

Residential Water Use in California:

Water Saving Potential of water-efficient appliances (Source: USGS)

California Water Plan Update 2013 Chapter 3 – Urban Water Use Efficiency

Cost to purchase and install various water-saving appliances:

Cost (including installation) for a tankless water heater

Cost (including installation) for a water efficient dishwasher

Cost (including installation) for a water efficient clothes washer

Cost (including installation) for a low flow toilet

Total precipitation in California during wet, average, and dry years:

California Water Supply and Demand: Technical Report
Stockholm Environment Institute
Table 2: Baseline Annual Values by Water Year Type and Climate-Scenario (MAF)

California water use by sector:

California Water Today
Public Policy Institute of California
Table 2.2, Average annual water use by sector, 1998–2005

California urban water use by sector:

California Dept. of Water Resources
2010 Urban Water Management Plan Data – Tables
Download spreadsheet “DOST Tables 3, 4, 5, 6, 7a, 7b, & 7c: Water Deliveries – Actual and Projected, 2005-2035”

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How Public Sector Unions Exploit Identity Politics

As the ethnic composition of America changes from mostly white to a kaleidoscope of color within a generation, there is no better way to fracture society than to teach everyone to resent everyone else. Nurturing tribal resentment is a winning strategy for government unions, because a swollen, authoritarian, unionized government becomes the referee. Government union power increases every time another “person of color” becomes convinced that only government redistribution and racial quotas can mitigate their persecution at the hands of a racist white “patriarchy.”

When society fractures, when we face increasing unrest and poverty, government unions win. It is inherently in the interests of government unions for society to fail. If public education fails, hire more teachers and education bureaucrats. If crime goes up, hire more police and build more prisons. If immigrants fail to assimilate, hire more multilingual bureaucrats and social workers. If poverty increases, hire more welfare administrators.

If you don’t think this strategy can work, come to California, America’s most multi-ethnic state, and a place where government unions wield absolute power. Their wholly owned subsidiary, the Democratic party in California, has spent the last 20+ years perfecting the art of convincing the electorate that Republicans are racists. The strategy has been devastatingly effective, especially with people of color.

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, among California’s “likely voters,” slightly more Whites remain registered as Republicans, 39%, than Democrats, 38%. Among Latinos the registered Democrats, 62%, far outnumber Republicans, 17%, and among Blacks the disparity is even greater, 82% Democrat vs. 6% Republican. Among Asians, where the disparity is less, the Democrats still have a nearly two-to-one advantage, 45% to 24%.

All of this racial perseverating comes at tragic cost. Among the fifty states, California has the highest taxes, the highest state and local government debt, the most welfare recipients, the most people living in poverty, and the highest cost-of-living. The roads and bridges are crumbling, and the water and energy infrastructure hasn’t been significantly upgraded in 30 years. But purveyors of identity politics have a strategy that earns votes, so why engage in actual governance? It’s all about race, stupid. Hire more bureaucrats.

The worst consequence of choosing identity politics over actual governance is the slow but relentless destruction of California’s once great system of public education. There has been negligible improvement in educational achievement for members of California’s disadvantaged, despite decades of political control by public sector union funded Democrats who pander incessantly to the voter’s lowest common denominator of resentment, race. Rather than admit that failures of culture, community, and public education are the real reasons some ethnic groups underachieve, the Democrats that run Sacramento attribute every disparity in outcome among races to the pervasiveness of racism. Their solution? Quotas.

Here is an interesting comparison to prove that quotas are being used to discriminate against California’s “privileged” youth. All data is for 2017. The first column shows what percentage of students taking the SAT, by ethnicity, achieved a score at or above the minimum to be considered “college ready.” The second column shows the ethnic breakdown of college age students in California. Column three uses a factor calculated from columns one and two, for each ethnicity, the percent of college ready students is multiplied by that ethnicity’s percent of the total pool of college age Californians. Each factor is then divided by the sum of all four factors, to calculate a crude but significant indicator of what percentage of 2017 college admissions would be offered to students of each ethnicity, if admissions were based on merit as expressed by SAT scores. Column four shows the actual admissions to California’s UC System in 2017 by ethnicity.

California’s UC System – 2017 Admissions – Actual vs. SAT Based

There are a few obvious takeaways from the above chart. Most salient is the fact that white applicants, if SAT scores were the sole basis for admission, are clear victims of discrimination. After all, if based on their college readiness as assessed by their SAT performance combined with their percentage of the population, they should have earned 43% of the admissions to the UC System, why did they only represent 23% of the incoming freshmen in 2017? But there are other disparities that point to an even bigger problem.

Why, for example, do actual Asian admissions, 34%, exceed the merit based admissions percentage, 21%, as indicated based on their percentage of the college age population and the percentage of them achieving the SAT benchmark? Why, for that matter, are the actual Latino admissions, 33%, slightly less than the amount they would theoretically earn, 35%, based that same criteria? The answer in both cases is the same, and can be best summarized in this quote taken from a report released earlier this year by the Brookings Institution:

“Race gaps on the SATs are especially pronounced at the tails of the distribution. In a perfectly equal distribution, the racial breakdown of scores at every point in the distribution would mirror the composition of test-takers as whole i.e. 51 percent white, 21 percent Latino, 14 percent black, and 14 percent Asian. But in fact, among top scorers—those scoring between a 750 and 800—60 percent are Asian and 33 percent are white, compared to 5 percent Latino and 2 percent black. Meanwhile, among those scoring between 300 and 350, 37 percent are Latino, 35 percent are black, 21 percent are white, and 6 percent are Asian.”

What this means in plain English is that in the UC System, where supposedly only the most elite high school graduates are granted admission, you will find the distribution of the higher SAT scores by ethnicity skewed even more in favor of Asian and White students than you find when evaluating how many students merely achieve the “benchmark” SAT score. This is why Asian admissions, which are arguably the only UC admissions in 2017 that were based truly on merit, skew higher than you would otherwise expect. That is also the reason that Latino admissions skew somewhat lower. And it also indicates that White applicants are discriminated against even more than shown on the table.

Such is the landscape of California’s public system of higher education, considered among the best in the world.

To further investigate this evidence, I talked someone who spent over a decade serving on the Board of Regents at the University of California. They did not mince words. Here are a few of the things they had to say:

– SAT scores have become less important because the university has gone to “holistic admissions” instead of SAT based admissions – the SAT is also watered down with a subjective 3rd “essay” section. The subjectivity of the admissions criteria makes it harder to prove discrimination.

– For years now, the UC System has diversified the faculty by taking more professors to fill positions in African American and Latino studies and shielded itself from discrimination because they can say the person hired had strength in the discipline they needed to fill.

– Ethnic studies departments are academically weak and don’t provide graduates with anything they can use. Most ethnic studies departments are growing because people are being hired and enrolled in order to fulfill de facto diversity quotas both for faculty and students. The alternative would be to destroy the integrity of the hard sciences with unqualified faculty and students.

– After the passage of Prop. 209, the admission of Asians rose to about 35% because you could not suppress their achievement without admitting you’re breaking the law. Latino and Black admissions track at 29% and 6%, respectively, more consistent with their percentage within California’s population. To accommodate the Asian over-enrollment and the Black and Latino quotas, qualified White applicants are the victims – Whites represented less than 25% of admissions to the UC system last year.

– California’s legislature is controlled by the Latino Caucus, which makes sure that 25% Latino admissions are maintained. Whites don’t go out and protest and make noise because that is politically incorrect and the media doesn’t report the data anyway.

Readers are invited to challenge the accuracy of any of the above statements, made by an informed observer. And what is the result of all this mediocrity that hides behind diversity, this discrimination that hides behind achieving quota-driven equality of outcome? A fracturing of society into identity groups, each of them, whether via propaganda or via reality, encouraged to harbor resentment towards every other group.

If one were to identify which of California’s public sector unions is the most guilty of fomenting racial disharmony, it would certainly be the ones representing K-12 public school teachers and the ones representing college faculty. Their outlook, which is reflected in their policies, their curricula, and only somewhat camouflaged on their websites, is to blame the academic achievement gap on anything but their own poor performance as the most influential determinant of educational policy in California. Blame the rich. Blame capitalism. Blame Western Civilization. Blame “white privilege.” Blame racist Republicans. But don’t look in the mirror.

A rising trope among these neo-racialist purveyors of separatist identity politics is that white people should engage in “allyship,” which to them means for well behaved white people to do whatever they’re told by the high priests of the disadvantaged, no matter how disingenuous or ridiculous. But a true ally would provide tough, genuine love, and tell the truth. Which is if you want to achieve in America, the most inclusive and tolerant nation in the history of the world, you have to work hard, stay sober, stay out of jail, keep your families intact, be thrifty, and hit the books.

That truth would unify and enrich this nation. And a unified and prosperous nation would mean less government, less government employees, and weaker public employee unions. We can’t have that now, can we?


Race and voting in California: Public Policy Institute of California

Class of 2017 SAT Results, College Board

California Demographics by Age and Ethnicity – University of California

Percentage of 2017 UC Admissions by Ethnicity – EdSource

Race gaps in SAT scores highlight inequality and hinder upward mobility – Brookings Institution

Even With Affirmative Action, Blacks and Hispanics Are More Underrepresented at Top Colleges Than 35 Years Ago – New York Times

Are We All Unconscious Racists? – City Journal

How Can Local Officials Prepare for the Upcoming Janus vs AFSCME Ruling?

“A public employer shall provide all public employees an orientation and shall permit the exclusive representative, if applicable, to participate.”
– Excerpt from California State Assembly Bill AB 52, December 2016

In plain English, AB 52 requires every local government agency in California to bring union representatives into contact with every new hire, to “allow workers the opportunity to hear from their union about their contractual rights and benefits.” What’s this all about?

As explained by Adam Ashton, writing for the Sacramento Bee, “New California government workers will hear from union representatives almost as soon as they start their jobs under a state budget provision bolstering labor groups as they prepare for court decisions that may cut into their membership and revenue.”

Ashton is referring to the case set to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court early next year, Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. A ruling is expected by mid-year. It is possible, if not likely, that the ruling will change the rules governing public sector union membership. In pro-union states like California, public sector workers are required to pay “agency fees,” which constitute the vast majority of union revenue, even if they laboriously opt-out of paying that portion of union dues that are used explicitly for political campaigning and lobbying.

Needless to say, this law is designed to allow union representatives to get to newly hired public employees as soon as they walk in the door, in order to convince them to join the union and pay those dues. But can anyone argue against union membership?

The short answer is no. To deter such shenanigans, SB 285, thoughtfully introduced by Senator Atkins (D-San Diego), adds the following section to the Government Code: “A public employer shall not deter or discourage public employees from becoming or remaining members of an employee organization.” Governor Brown signed this legislation on October 9th. So much for equal time.

So what can local elected officials do, those among them who actually want to do their part to attenuate the torrent of taxpayer funded dues pouring into the coffers of public employee unions in California? Can they provide the contact information for public employees to outside groups who may be able to provide equal time?

Once again, the answer is no. To deter access even to the agency emails of public employees, a new law bans public agencies from releasing the personal email addresses of government workers, creating a new exemption in the California Public Records Act. Those email addresses could be used by union reformers to provide the facts to public employees. How this all became law provides another example of just how powerful public sector unions are in Sacramento.

In order to quickly get the primary provision of AB 52 enacted, which allows union representatives into new public employee orientations, along with a provision to deny public access to public employee emails, both were added at the last minute to the California Legislature’s 2017-2018 budget trailer bill, AB 119. The union access to new employee orientations is Article 1. The denial of email access is Article 2.

So how are the unions preparing for the Janus ruling? By (1) making sure the union operatives get to new employees as soon as they begin working, (2) by preventing agency employers from saying anything to deter new employees from joining the unions, and (3) by preventing anyone else from getting the official agency emails for new employees in order to inform them of their rights to not join a union. That’s a lot.

So what can you do, if union reformers control a majority on your agency board or city council, and you in a position to try to oppose these unions?

First, examine the legal opinions surrounding the wording of SB 285, “A public employer shall not deter or discourage public employees from becoming or remaining members of an employee organization.” The words “deter” and “discourage” do not in any way preclude providing facts. Consider this preliminary opinion posted on the website of the union-controlled Public Employee Relations Board:

“One major concern I have is that the terms “deter” and “discourage” are not defined. What if an employee comes to an employer with questions about what it means to be a member of the union, and the employer provides truthful responses. For example, assume that the employer confirms that being a member will mean paying dues. What if that has the effect of deterring or discouraging the employee from joining the union?”

It is possible for employers to present facts regarding union membership without violating the new law. Find out what disclosures remain permissible, and make sure new employees get the information.

Another step that can be taken, although probably not by local elected officials, is to challenge the new law that exempts public agency emails from public information act requests. And apart from accessing their work emails, there are other ways that outside groups can communicate with public employees to make sure they are aware of their rights.

California’s public employee unions collect and spend over $1.0 billion per year. If the Janus vs AFSCME ruling takes away the ability of government unions to compel payment of agency fees, and imposes annual opt-in requirements for both agency fees and political dues, these unions will collect less money. How much less will depend on courage and innovative thinking on the part of reformers who want to rescue California from unionized government.


Get a state job and meet your labor rep: How state budget protects California unions, Sacramento Bee, June 21, 2017

AB 52, Public employees: orientation and informational programs: exclusive representatives, California Legislature

Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Supreme Court of the United States Blog

SB 285, Atkins. Public employers: union organizing, California Legislature

2017-2018 budget trailer bill, AB 119, California Legislature

California Public Records Act, Office of the Attorney General

Fact Sheet – AB 52 (Cooper) & SB 285 (Atkins), California Labor Federation

Legislative Bulletin – California School Employees Association

SB 285: Public Employers Cannot Discourage Union Membership, Public Employee Relations Board

Public employee unions wield hefty Atkins stick [SB 285], San Diego Reader

What if California’s Government Never Unionized?

Does Berkeley’s Teachers Union Support Free Speech to Suppress Free Speech?

Questions for Someone Who Supports Superior Benefits for Government Workers

California Agricultural Labor Board Has New Chairman – Union Control Remains Absolute

Analysis of 2001 Bush Executive Order Allowing Federal Funds for Project Labor Agreements

Environmentalism Provides Moral Cover for New Taxes to Fund Pensions