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FlashReport Weblog on California Politics

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Edward Ring

California’s Emerging Good Government Coalition

The 2014 mid-term elections will be remembered for many things – pioneering use of information technology to comprehensively profile and micro-target voters, escalating use of polarizing rhetoric, historically low levels of voter turnout, and historic records in total spending. In California, in spite of all this money and technology – or perhaps because of it – the political landscape is probably not going to change very much this time around. But appearances can be deceiving. While Democrats will still control California’s state legislature and nearly all of California’s large cities and urban counties, new fault lines are forming within California’s electorate that defy conventional definitions of Republican and Democrat, or conservative and liberal.

Because as it is,California’s schools are failing, businesses and middle-income residents are fleeing, and the cost of living is the highest in America.Three powerful groups benefit from and perpetuate this arrangement with their money and their votes: Wealthy individuals and crony capitalists, unionized public sector workers, and low-income residents who have become entirely dependent on government… Read More

Edward Ring

California’s $12.3 Billion in Proposed School Bonds: Borrowing vs. Reform

“As the result of California Courts refusing to uphold the language of the High Speed Rail bonds, the opponents of any bond proposal, at either the state or local level, need only point to High-Speed Rail to remind voters that promises in a voter approved bond proposal are meaningless and unenforceable.” – Jon Coupal, October 26, 2014,HJTA California Commentary

If that isn’t plain enough – here’s a restatement: California’s politicians can ask voters to approve bonds, announcing the funds will be used for a specific purpose, then they can turn around and do anything they want with the money. And while there’s been a lot of coverage and debate over big statewide bond votes, the real money is in the countlesslocalbond issues that collectively now encumber California’s taxpayers with well over$250 billion in debt.

Over the past few weeks we’ve tried to point out that… Read More

Edward Ring

The Misleading Arguments of Those Who Fight Against Pension Reform

Weakening pensions is a choice, not an imperative. The crisis is political, not actuarial. – Susan Greenbaum,guest editorial, Al Jazeera America, October 20, 2014

With this thesis highlighted, Greenbaum, a retired professor of anthropology at the University of South Florida, has just published a guest editorial that provides in one place a useful example of the distortions, demonizing and inversions of logic used by those who fight against pension reform. To understand why public employees, and their union leadership, remain sincere in their delusions regarding pensions, Greenbaum’s missive may serve as Exhibit A. Because she has joined a chorus that is funded not only by the billions that are spent by public employee unions on political and educational propaganda each year, but also funded by elements of those same Wall Street financial interests they routinely deride.

Let’s examine some of these misleading arguments and tactics, in no particular order:

(1) Identify key reformers, demonize them, then accuse anyoneRead More

Edward Ring

The Challenge Libertarians Face to Win American Hearts

In California, the root cause of government waste, failed programs, high taxes, debt and deficits, regulatory abuse, civil rights abuse, and even corporate cronyism is public sector unions. Their agenda is intrinsically in conflict with the public at large because any government program, any government regulation, any tax and any new debt, benefits them regardless of the cost or benefit to society.

In California, public sector unions collect and spend over $1.0 billion per year in dues. Their combined political spending and lobbying easily exceeds a half-billion per two-year election cycle. They are by far the most powerful special interest in California. Businesses embrace cronyism because they have no choice. The unions rule. Businesses either make a deal with the unions who run the state and local agencies, so they can get a subsidy or favorable regulation, or they can fight an irresistible machine.

If you accept this premise, powerful allies are hard to find.

When searching for help in the cause of public sector union reform, one staunch and rising group are those individuals and organizations who characterize themselves as “free market.” Nearly all… Read More

Edward Ring

City of Stanton Proposes Higher Taxes Instead of Cutting Pay and Benefits

On November 4th, voters in Stanton, California, will be asked to vote on a 1.0% sales tax increase, which if approved will raise their sales tax to 9.0% – the highest in Orange County. Nestled in the heart of Orange County, tiny Stanton, a city of barely three square miles in size with a population in 2012 of 38,915 residents, is an unlikely candidate for the spotlight, when California’s local ballots are about to be inundated with over140 local tax increasesaffecting many cities and counties that are ten times bigger. ButStanton is ground zero in a battle over how to manage municipal budget deficits, because if their voters approve this tax increase, cities throughout Orange County will follow suit.

We’re not talking small potatoes here. Stanton currently only retains 1.0% (one-eighth) of the 8.0% sales tax they currently collect. According to Stanton’sConsolidated Annual Financial Reportfor the fiscal… Read More

Mark Bucher

2013 CalPERS Payouts Online at Transparent California

CalPERS financial struggles are draining state taxpayers. The ever-increasing contribution rates it demands from state and local governments have already bankrupted several cities. Even for more financially stable agencies, increased CalPERS contributions have crowded out other spending priorities or tax relief.

While discussions about unfunded liabilities and projected rates of return are necessary and important, the average member of the public is too busy to dive into the details.

That’s why the recent release ofCalPERS’ 2013 base payouts, including retiree names, onTransparentCalifornia.comis so important.

For the first time, average Californians can quickly and easily seehow much CalPERS paid out to retirees in 2013. The names and payouts are availablehere.

Even a casual glance at the data, shows the root cause of CalPERS’ financial struggles: It’s paying tens of thousands… Read More

Edward Ring

Palo Alto’s Proposed New Pension Tax – Oops, Hotel Tax

Fungible – definition – “able to replace or be replaced by another identical item; mutually interchangeable.”

On November 4th, Palo Alto voters will be asked to approve Measure B, with only a simple majority required for passage. According to a summarycompiled by theCalifornia Taxpayers Association, “2014 Local Elections,” Measure B “increases the city hotel/motel tax by 2% and extends the tax to apply to online bookings, to fund general city services.”

According to an article in the Silicon Valley Business Journal entitled “Palo Alto 2% hotel tax hike headed for November ballot,”“About $4.6 million would be generated annually through a combination of the potential tax increase and funds generated by several new hotels slated to open in the city.”

Analysis ofraw datadownloaded from the California State Controller’s website, and available for review… Read More

Edward Ring

California’s 2014 Local Tax Proposals – The Costly Alternative to Pension Reform

On November 4th, along everything else on the ballot, California’s voters will be asked to approve local tax measures. A list compiled by theCalifornia Taxpayers Association, “2014 Local Elections,” shows that across California’s cities and counties, local tax increases proposed include the following:

– Tax increases requiring only a majority vote: 5 business taxes, 11 hotel taxes, 9 marijuana taxes, 2 “property transfer” taxes, 1 vehicle tax, 1 property “anti-speculation” tax in San Francisco, at least 10 “utility users taxes,” 38 proposals to either increase sales taxes or extend sales tax increases that were set to expire, and a soda tax.

– Tax increases requiring a 2/3rd vote: 1 “miscellaneous” tax, 11 sales taxes, and 39 proposals to either increase parcel taxes or extend parcel tax increases that were set to expire, and 1 soda tax.

We don’t know why the soda tax in Alameda only requires a majority vote, while the soda tax in San Francisco requires a 2/3rds… Read More

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