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A Catalog of California’s Anti-Janus Legislation

No state in America is as firmly in the grip of public sector unions as California. For nearly twenty years, union controlled Democrats have exercised nearly absolute power in the State Legislature. Over the past few years, as they have slipped in and out of having a two-thirds majority, and often with the help of a few Republican legislators, they have been able to pass legislation at will, sometimes within days.

Government union power in California derives from their ability to automatically collect over $1.0 billion per year in dues from payroll departments of state and local agencies, combined with their ability to compel well over 1.0 million state and local government employees working within any of their over 6,000 bargaining units to pay these union dues.

While it is legally possible for these government employees to opt out of formal union membership and only pay so-called “agency fees,” the process to opt-out is deliberately rendered tedious and intimidating, and in any case agency fees usually are around 80% of the total dues.

The Janus vs. AFSCME case threatens public sector union power in California and dozens of other states, because, depending on the ruling, it may permit public employees to opt-out of paying any dues at all, including agency fees. But if unions made it difficult and intimidating for government employees to opt-out of paying the full union dues, i.e., if they made it difficult for these employees to get a 20% discount, imagine how difficult they’re going to make it for employees to get a 100% discount.

What the unions can do in Sacramento changes every day. But insofar as a Janus ruling could come down from the US Supreme Court any day, it is appropriate to delve into a bit of wonkiness, and list every recently enacted and pending law, backed by unions, that California’s legislature is compliantly handing down in order to thwart the intent of the Janus plaintiffs.

CALIFORNIA’S ENACTED ANTI-JANUS LEGISLATION

AB-83 Collective bargaining: Judicial Council – enacted

This bill permits unionization of Judicial Council staff, something previously off-limits. Here’s what they do, quoted from their website: “The Judicial Council is the policymaking body of the California courts, the largest court system in the nation. Under the leadership of the Chief Justice and in accordance with the California Constitution, the council is responsible for ensuring the consistent, independent, impartial, and accessible administration of justice. Judicial Council staff implements the council’s policies (italics added).” Unionized judicial council staff – what could possibly go wrong?

SB-201 Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act: employees – enacted

This bill permits students who have jobs at the schools they attend to unionize. This will, of course, allow the unions to collect their cut from yet another category of public payroll, but it will also offer them another avenue to indoctrinate students, since they aren’t already getting enough indoctrination from our public schools and universities.

SB-285 Public employers: union organizing – enacted

This goes straight at the heart of Janus. Layering on top of existing federal law but making it even more explicit and restrictive, this bill would prohibit a public employer from deterring or discouraging public employees from becoming or remaining members of an employee organization. Employers are already forced to be extremely careful how they communicate the pros and cons of unionization, but now they’ll be even more hamstrung, while the unions have full access to employees to argue and advocate their position. Worse, this bill would grant the Public Employment Relations Board jurisdiction over alleged violations of its provisions instead of the courts. This board, PERB for short (see footnotes; “PERB Board”), is stacked with labor activists and is very unlikely to ever rule in favor of a public employer vs. a union.

SB-550 Public school employment: meeting and negotiating: legal actions: settlement offer: attorney’s fees – enacted

In this law, from now on, if a union makes an offer to settle a dispute alleging an employer’s failure to provide wages, benefits, or working conditions, and if the employer does not accept the offer and fails to obtain a more favorable judgment, the employer must pay the union’s attorney’s fees and expenses incurred after the offer was made. Note this “loser pays” provision only applies to the employer, not the union. This legislation puts tremendous pressure on agencies to agree to union demands in order to avoid court, especially those smaller agencies, cities and counties that don’t have deep pockets like the unions.

CALIFORNIA’S PENDING ANTI-JANUS LEGISLATION

AB-1937 Public employment: payroll deductions – passed Assembly

This bill appears to be designed to prevent local jurisdictions from enacting measures that might expedite an individual employee’s decision to stop paying union dues. Reading through the introductory text of the bill, here is a key excerpt: “…the bill would authorize employee organizations and bona fide associations to request payroll deductions and would require public employers to honor these requests. The bill would authorize public employers to make rules and regulations for the administration of specified payroll deductions, subject to meeting and conferring with the applicable employee organizations.” Notice that it is the union, not the employee, who will notify the employer to start dues deductions, and notice that any rules the employer may wish to apply to the administration of union dues deductions has to be cleared (meet and confer) with the union.

AB-2017 Public employers: employee organizations – passed Assembly

Similar to SB 285, This bill broadens the definition of employer to “those employers of excluded supervisory employees and judicial council employees.” It then “prohibits a public employer from deterring or discouraging prospective public employees, as defined, from becoming or remaining members of an employee organization.” The operative words are discourage and deter, which can be quite broadly interpreted. For example, even an employer stating that an employee does not have to join a union might “deter” them from doing so. The intent of this bill is to deter employers from saying anything to employees about unionization, with no such restrictions on the unions.

AB-2049 Classified school and community college employees: payroll deductions for employee organization dues – passed Assembly

Similar to AB 1937, but even more explicit, “this bill would authorize school districts and community colleges to rely on labor unions when determining whether a request to discontinue payroll deductions for union dues is in conformity with the requirements established in the initial payroll deduction authorization.” The intent is to make it harder to get out of paying union dues by adding layers of union bureaucracy to the process.

Concurrent with ensuring the union, and not the agency, has the final say in suspending dues withholding, the unions are revising these “initial payroll deduction authorizations.”

Take a look at this photo of a union contract (below). Note how it states “this authorization shall renew annually, irrespective of my membership status,” and “a revocation must be mailed… postmarked between 75 days and 45 days before such annual renewal date.” There are at least two gotchas here. First, automatic renewal of payroll deductions “irrespective of membership status” means that someone wanting to stop paying union dues has to opt out every year. Second, if they neglect to opt-out, via mail within the exact window of time and in advance of the automatic renewal, they will have to pay dues for another year.

No wonder the unions want themselves, and not the agency, to have the ability to say whether dues will stop being withheld. In any city or county with local elected officials willing to stand up to their unions (admittedly a rare occasion), ordinances could be passed allowing an employee to simply inform their payroll department that they don’t want to pay union dues. That will be impossible under these laws.

The Hotel California Contract – You Can Check In, But Checking Out…

AB-2886 Public Employee Relations Board: Orange County Transportation Authority: San Joaquin Regional Transit District – passed Assembly

Because the above named agencies were not previously required to resolve labor disputes using the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), this bill changes that so they will have to use PERB. By moving the dispute resolution process out of the courts and instead putting them under the jurisdiction of PERB, the unions improve the probability of winning these disputes.

AB-3034 Public transit employer-employee relations: San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District – passed Assembly

This bill, similar in concept to AB 83 and SB 201, allows the unions to collect their cut from yet another category of public payroll, in this case BART supervisors, by allowing them to unionize.

SUMMARY OF ANTI-JANUS LEGISLATION

So in response to Janus, California’s unions representing public servants are doing the following:

1 – Expanding the pool of public employees eligible to join unions – AB 83, SB 201, and AB 3034

2 – Making it difficult, if not impossible, for employers to discuss the pros and cons of unionization with employees – SB 285 and AB-2017

3 – Precluding local governments from unilaterally honoring employee requests to stop paying union dues – AB 1937 and AB-2049

4 – Making employers pay union legal fees if they lose in litigation but not making unions pay employer costs if the unions lose – SB 550

5 – Moving the venue for dispute resolution from the courts to PERB, which is stacked with pro-union board members – SB 285 and AB 2886

This catalog of countermeasures to Janus is undoubtedly incomplete. A few enacted in 2017 have probably slipped under our radar, and there will be many more crafted in the coming months and years, especially if there is a strong ruling in favor of the plaintiff. But California’s unions have been doing this for years. Whether it’s charter schools, “release time,” transparency in government, charter cities, public education reform, budget and tax issues, project labor agreements, or pension reform, the agenda of the union always comes first in Sacramento.

When it comes to protecting the government union agenda in California, pro-union legislation is fast and furious, belying the more common political reality of gridlock.

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FOOTNOTES

California’s Public Employment Relations Board – 2018, at least 3-2 stacked for unions 

The three:

  • Arthur A. Krantzrepresented unions, employees and nonprofits in litigation, arbitration and administrative cases, and he worked on law reform, organizing, negotiation, and strategic campaigns to effect social change. Krantz did this work as an associate and partner at Leonard Carder, LLP.” San Francisco based Leonard Carder, LLP‘s home page states: “As one of the oldest and most renowned law firms representing labor unions and employees, Leonard Carder’s focus is to provide top-flight legal representation to the labor movement.”
  • Priscilla Winslow‘s “career in public sector labor law spans over 30 years, during which time she served for 15 years as Assistant Chief Counsel for the California Teachers Association where she litigated and advised on a variety of labor, education, and constitutional law issues.”
  • Eric Banks “served in multiple positions at the Service Employees International Union, Local 221 from 2001 to 2013, including Advisor to the President, President, and Director of Government and Community Relations.”

The other two:

  • Erich Shiners: “Prior to his service on the Board, Erich Shiners represented and advised public agency employers in labor and employment matters, including many cases before PERB. Most recently he was Senior Counsel at Liebert Cassidy Whitmore.” Liebert Cassidy Whitmore represents itself as California’s preeminent public management employment law firm with over 80 attorneys in five offices.
  • Mark C. Gregersen‘s “career in public sector labor relations spans over 35 years. Prior to his appointment to the California Public Employment Relations Board, he has served as director of labor and work force strategy for the City of Sacramento and director of human resources for a number of California cities and counties.”

REFERENCES

Funding the Post-Janus Fight Against Government Unions, May 2018

Janus vs AFSCME Ruling Imminent – What will Change?, May 2018

A Post-Janus Agenda for California’s Public Sector Unions, February 2018

After Janus, Will Union Grassroots Members Assert their Political Voice?, December 2017

How Can Local Officials Prepare for the Upcoming Janus vs AFSCME Ruling?, October 2017

 

 

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:

COST TO RETROFIT A HOME TO REDUCE 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.

PER CAPITA POTENTIAL WATER SAVINGS USING WATER EFFICIENCY APPLIANCES

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.

THE COST/BENEFIT OF RESIDENTIAL WATER RATIONING

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.

TOTAL ANNUAL WATER SUPPLY AND USAGE IN CALIFORNIA

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

WAYS TO CREATE WATER ABUNDANCE IN CALIFORNIA

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.

THE SCARCITY PROFITEERS

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.

REFERENCES

Assembly Bill 1668, “Water management planning” Text (Source: California Legislative Information)
https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billCompareClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180AB1668

Residential Water Use in California:

Water Saving Potential of water-efficient appliances (Source: USGS)
https://water.usgs.gov/edu/activity-percapita.php

California Water Plan Update 2013 Chapter 3 – Urban Water Use Efficiency
http://www.water.ca.gov/calendar/materials/vol3_urbanwue_apr_release_16033.pdf

Cost to purchase and install various water-saving appliances:

Cost (including installation) for a tankless water heater
https://www.bankrate.com/personal-finance/cost-of-tankless-water-heater/

Cost (including installation) for a water efficient dishwasher
https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2015/04/dishwashers-that-save-water-energy-and-money/index.htm

Cost (including installation) for a water efficient clothes washer
ps://www.homeadvisor.com/cost/kitchens/install-an-appliance/

Cost (including installation) for a low flow toilet
https://www.remodelingexpense.com/costs/cost-of-low-flow-toilets/

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)
http://sei-us.org/Publications_PDF/SEI-WesternWater-CWSD-0211.pdf

California water use by sector:

California Water Today
Public Policy Institute of California
Table 2.2, Average annual water use by sector, 1998–2005
http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_211EHChapter2R.pdf

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”
http://www.water.ca.gov/urbanwatermanagement/2010_Urban_Water_Management_Plan_Data.cfm

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Government Created Energy Blackouts Coming to a City Near You

Most countries around the world think that it’s a good thing to have cheap energy. But in California, we have plenty of cheap energy available, just not the political will to access it.

California depends on natural gas-driven turbines and hydroelectric generators to provide just 38 percent of its oil needs. The state imports 12 percent of its oil from Alaska, and another 50 percent from foreign nations, relying heavily on Canada.

So why are California’s utilities warning of potential rolling blackouts again?

It’s political. And it’s corrupt.

Highest Electricity Rates = Less Power in CA

California’s natural gas shale formation is one of the largest in the world. And, California has been a pioneer in renewable energy, albeit still unreliable and unproven. Yet warnings are already coming that Californians may have rolling blackouts this summer. While California sits on one of the largest known deposits of recoverable oil and gas, production is falling steadily, as the state ignores its vast onshore and offshore deposits, which are fully accessible through conventional and hydraulic fracturing technologies.

This is one reason California electricity costs more than twice the national median –  thanks to a government-created shortage.

Another reason is that the California Public Utilities Commission, the state’s energy “regulator,” has an historic dubious relationship with Wall Street, making promises to keep the profits higher of the state’s publicly held utilities, than utility profits elsewhere. Those profits come out of ratepayers’ pockets. “You’re ego is writing checks you’re body can’t cash,” the famous quote from the movie Top Gun says.

$5 Billion Cover-Up at San Onofre

Another of the problem areas is the California Public Utilities Commission $5 billion cover up and scandal over the 2012 closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, due to the failure of the steam generators. San Diego attorneys Mike Aguirre and Mia Severson exposed the attempt to make the public pay big for utility and regulatory executives’ mistakes at the failed San Onofre nuclear power plant.

20160613-CPC-GrimesSan Onofre could have operated for additional decades
if it weren’t for corruption and mismanagement.

Southern California Edison executives purchased new steam generators from Mitsubishi, but were warned that they were bigger and run hotter, and could fail. SCE executives purchased and installed the generators anyway, knowing of a flaw in the generator design, according to records. Built to last 40 years, the generators at San Onofre failed after 2 years. And, the generators’ cost had not yet been included in rates. So SCE was faced with broken generators they could not charge ratepayers for.

then-PUC President Michael Peevey, and executives of Southern California Edison colluded in secret to saddle ratepayers with $3.3 billion of the $5 billion shutdown cost. The $5 billion recovery settlement was negotiated in secret in Poland, away from prying eyes and open records laws in California.

Blackouts coming…

The state is awash in ultra cheap natural gas, yet in California, our corrupt government finds a way to create an energy shortage, and charge rate payers the highest rates in the country.

“State officials warn that Southern California could face as many as 14 days of scheduled blackouts this summer because of depleted reserves of natural gas caused by the massive leak in Aliso Canyon,” the Los Angeles Times warned in April. The LA Times neglected to mention that California ratepayers do have options, but its politicians have no will. The state sits on one of the largest known deposits of recoverable oil and gas — the Monterey Shale, a 1,700 square mile oil-bearing shale formation primarily in the San Joaquin Valley, which contains an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil. The Times article quoted Bill Powers, of Powers Engineering in San Diego, who said the utility’s pipeline system has not exceeded its capacity of 3.8 billion cubic feet per day during summer in the last 10 years, thus the concern of blackouts is without merit. “It is crying wolf for state agencies to be implying blackouts from a lack of gas, especially from a lack of gas in the summer time,” Powers said.

The Monterey Shale formation is estimated to be several times bigger than the Bakken Shale formation, currently delivering a record economic boom to North Dakota. But even as the fourth-largest oil producing state in the country, oil and gas production has been steadily declining here. Instead, California lawmakers turned their attention to wind and solar, and other types of alternative energy. The state has been only focused on implementing the Renewable Portfolio Standard, passed in 2011, which requires the state to be using 33 percent renewable energy by 2020.

A University of Southern California study, “Powering California: The Monterey Shale & California’s Economic Future,” looked at the development of the vast energy resource beneath the San Joaquin Valley known as the Monterey Shale. It found that hydraulic fracturing could create 512,000 to 2.8 million new jobs, personal income growth of $40.6 billion to $222.3 billion, additional local and state government revenues from $4.5 billion to $24.6 billion, and an increase in state GDP by 2.6 percent to 14.3 percent on a per-person basis.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

California politicians have gloated over being the first state to enact such aggressive green energy and greenhouse gas busting policy, but have yet to produce any proof that these oppressive and business-killing laws have had any “green” results.

All while they ignore that natural gas is clean, less expensive to extract, natural and abundant. It wasn’t that long ago that natural gas used to be the left’s preferred alternative to all other “dirty fuels.” But as the oil and gas industry found better, more affordable ways to access natural gas, it fell out of favor with emotional, whimsical environmentalists.

The last California Governor blamed for rolling energy blackouts was recalled by voters… hold that thought.

Katy Grimes is senior correspondent for The Flash Report, and a contributor to the Canada Free Press and Legal Insurrection. She is a senior media fellow with the Energy & Environmental Legal Institute, and she serves as president of the Sacramento Taxpayers Association.

High Costs of Pro-Union Agreements & Policies Negates Transportation Tax

According to my father, in the 1950s and ’60s, California had the best transportation agency in the entire world. But all that changed with the election of a new, anti-growth, small-is-beautiful governor by the name of Jerry Brown.

Now, fast forward 40 years. Governor Brown, version 2.0, proposes a budget that assumes a big increase in transportation taxes and fees. The California Legislature shouldn’t just say no, it should say hell no.

Where to start? First, let’s take judicial notice of the fact that California is already a high tax state with the highest income tax rate and the highest state sales tax in America. But more relevant for the issue at hand, we also have the highest fuel costs in the nation. This is because of both the 4th highest excise tax on fuel and the fact that refineries are burdened with additional costs to comply with California’s environmental regulations.

 

Despite analysis findings that Caltrans is overstaffed by 3,500 employees,  the California State Auditor & Senator John Moorlach conclude that the agency is both incompetent and inefficient in the maintenance of California’s roads and highways.

 

The high cost to drive in California might be understandable if we were getting value for our tax dollars. But we aren’t. A big problem is that Caltrans is dysfunctional, plain and simple. It has never fully recovered from the days when the agency was effectively destroyed by Gianturco. A report by the California State Auditor just a couple of months ago concluded that a primary responsibility of Caltrans – maintenance of our highways – is not being executed in a manner that is even close to being efficient or competent. Senator John Moorlach, the only CPA currently serving in the California legislature, reacted saying that “This audit reinforces the fact that our bad roads are not a result of a lack of funding. They’re a result of a lack of competence at Caltrans.” Moreover, a report by the Legislative Analyst concluded that Caltrans is overstaffed by 3,500 employees costing California taxpayers over a half billion dollars a year. All this compels the obvious question: Why, for goodness sake, do we want to give these people even more money?

Another unneeded and costly practice consists of project labor agreements for transportation construction projects. These pro-union policies shut out otherwise competent companies from bidding on projects resulting in California taxpayers shelling out as high as 25% more than they should for building highways and bridges.

Finally, California’s environmental requirements are legendary for their inefficiency while also doing little for the environment. Exhibit A in this foolishness is Governor Brown’s incomprehensible pursuit of the ill-fated high speed rail project. Not only has the project failed to live up to any of the promises made to voters, it is currently being kept alive only by virtue of the state’s diversion of “cap and trade” funds which are supposed to be expended on projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But in the Kafkaesque world of California transportation policies, the LAO has concluded that the construction of the HSR project actually produces a net increase in emissions, at least for the foreseeable future.

No one disputes the dire need for improvements in California’s transportation infrastructure. But imposing draconian taxes and higher registration fees that serve only to punish the middle class while wasting billions on projects that don’t help getting Californians get to work or school cannot and should not be tolerated. Legislators who present themselves to voters as fiscally responsible need to understand that a vote for higher transportation taxes will engender a very angry response from their constituents.

About the Author: 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.

Government Union's New Taxes on Working Californians Stopped in Legislature – For Now

It’s been a long year in the Capitol for those of us who advocate against higher taxes, crushing regulations and wasteful government spending. The good news is that California taxpayers have prevailed in virtually all the major tax fights this year. The bad news is that, because the legislature convenes for two-year sessions, this is only halftime. On January 4, 2016 – less than 4 months from now – the same cast of characters will reconvene and we will have to fight many of the same battles yet again. Still, it is helpful to assess how homeowners and working Californians fared in the legislative process this year.

For Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, there is no higher priority than defending Proposition 13 against attacks. As a constitutional amendment, Prop 13 cannot be amended by the Legislature directly. But that doesn’t mean the politicians can’t inflict harm. Indeed, with a two-thirds vote of each house, the California Legislature can place proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. And if an anti-Prop 13 measure is sufficiently enticing or deceptive, voters might unwittingly take away some of their own rights as taxpayers.

This past year, there were three such proposals. Two were efforts to lower the two-thirds vote requirement at the local level as a condition for higher taxes. This is an important part of Prop 13 because the higher vote threshold was put in place to prevent local governments from taking away the benefits of Prop 13’s reduced property tax burden by simply imposing new or higher levels of other local taxes. The third attack on Prop 13 was an effort to take away the provision that limits annual increases in the taxable value of property to two percent. Although not affecting all property owners, this dangerous bill was simply “Step 1” for the complete repeal of Prop 13.

As noted above, the good news is that all three proposals were vigorously opposed by HJTA and each was stopped. But the bad news is that these proposals to repeal or weaken Prop 13 will be back come January.

Over and above our Prop 13 victories, taxpayers also stopped a myriad of other taxes including one proposal that would have slammed every California family that relies on their car for work, errands or pleasure. That proposal would have imposed big increases in the gas tax, the cost of getting a license and the annual vehicle registration fee. Stopping that awful tax hike was a very high priority for the more than 200,000 members of HJTA.

An equally dreadful proposal to extend the sales tax to services – a bill which would slam taxpayers with over $100 billion in higher consumer costs every year – was also derailed, at least for now.

Wars are not fought alone and taxpayers should be very grateful to those legislators who stood on the right side. Because taxes imposed by the Legislature require a two-thirds vote, our allies had the votes to stop the attacks even though a large majority in both the Assembly and Senate never met a tax they didn’t like.

A huge vote of thanks is due to the Republicans and their leaders who stood united against the assault. But we should also note that several moderate Democrats withstood the withering criticism of their colleagues and the left-leaning media to actually represent the interests of their taxpaying constituents. That sort of courage is a rare thing in politics.

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.

Is California's Union-Controlled Legislature Waking up to Pension Problem?

Is it possible that the California Legislature is finally coming to grips with the public employee pension crisis? We certainly hope so.

For years, our political leadership has behaved more like ostriches with their heads buried in the sand regarding the many billions of dollars of “unfunded liabilities” in California’s pension funds. Unlike most retirement plans in the private sector, government workers get “defined benefit” plans that guarantee fixed payments to retirees, no matter how well the underlying investments have performed.

A good sign is that Assembly leaders now say they will take on the massive shortfall in the State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) that provides retirement, disability and survivor benefits for California’s 868,493 teachers and their families. Speaker John Perez says he wants to find a way to begin paying down the $80 billion unfunded liability for teacher pensions and the Assembly will hold a hearing on the issue this month.

While CalPERS, the other major public employee pension system, is in a weak position, CalSTRS is close to falling into the abyss. However, neither of the systems is likely to ever go over the edge because taxpayers are obligated to maintain their solvency, no matter the cost. This means the sooner the unfunded liability is addressed, the less long-term cost to taxpayers.

Unfortunately, until now, Sacramento’s approach to these unfunded liabilities is probably why the phrase “kicking the can down the road” was coined. Even Governor Brown, who has espoused government frugality and responsibility — while increasing state spending — ignored the unfunded pension systems in his proposed state budget.

In fairness to Brown, two years ago, he proposed a fairly decent pension reform package. But by the time the Legislature got through with the governor’s plan, all that remained was some modest changes to address the worst of pension abuses including a few to prevent “pension spiking.”

Like alcoholics attending their first AA meeting, Speaker Perez and his colleagues deserve credit for taking the first step by acknowledging the problem and making a commitment to address it. Of course the Speaker may have been nudged along after seeing poll results, including one by PPIC that shows that over 80 percent of adults believe that the money spent on pensions is a problem for state and local government budgets. The poll further reveals that more than 70 percent would favor a change from a defined benefit — a guaranteed monthly payout at retirement — to a defined contribution system, similar to a 401(k) plan.

Perez suggests that it may be necessary to hike payments into the pension plan made by the state, school districts and individual teachers. While much of the costs would ultimately fall back on taxpayers — even if teachers pay more, they will, no doubt, be seeking even higher pay raises in compensation — the idea of shared sacrifice to solve a problem is a reasonable place to start the debate. And if pension reform were added to the mix, perhaps a win-win result can be obtained for both taxpayers, who will have a smaller long-term bill, and teachers, who would benefit from a more secure retirement system.

Taxpayers will be watching closely with the hope that we can soon applaud both the Speaker and his colleagues for substantive results, because if this problem is not tackled in earnest now, Californians and future generations of Californians will be facing very destructive consequences.

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.