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FlashReport Weblog on California Politics

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Edward Ring

Investing in Infrastructure to Lower the Cost of Living

California’s civil infrastructure was once the envy of the nation. During the 1950’s and 1960’s the state wisely invested in transportation, water and power infrastructure, delivering capacity well in excess of the needs of the state’s population at the time. Even today, the scale of California’s network of aqueducts and pumping stations to transfer water from north to south, east to west, is one of the largest in the world, and California’s vast network of interstate freeways has few rivals.

Moreover, Californians in that era had planned to continue to expand these infrastructure assets to accommodate a growing population, but that all came to a halt in the 1970’s. During the 1970’s not only were the plans for additional water storage and distribution assets abandoned, but state-owned right-of-ways and land acquisitions both for water and transportation were sold to private interests. California now has a population of 40 million people living in a state with civil infrastructure designed to accommodate 20 million people.

The new political alternative to infrastructure development is conservation. By zoning ultra-high density infill in urban… Read More

Edward Ring

The Unsustainability Lobby

“The creation of the mortgage bond market, a decade earlier, had extended Wall Street into a place it had never before been: the debts of ordinary Americans.” – Jared Vennett (played by Ryan Gosling), The Big Short (2015)

Along with anothersuperblyauthentic movie Margin Call(2011), The Big Shortprovides a vivid look into the rigged, Darwinian, ruthlessly exploitative circus popularly known as “Wall Street.” For decades, ever since the greatdepression, this industry slumbered along, sedatelyproviding financial services to Americans. As always, it alsowas a venue for legalized gambling, but the number of players were limited, the winnings were relatively meager, and the opportunities for corrupt manipulations had not yet been multiplied by new trading technologies. Back then, the seedier aspects of Wall Street were overshadowed by the many vitalservices the industry provided. All of that changed starting around 1980.

In 1985, the financial sector earned less than 16% of… Read More

Edward Ring

How the Tax System Favors Government Workers and Punishes Independent Contractors

The 2016 tax filing deadline is now just one month away. Which makes it timely to point out how unfair our tax system is to middle class workers who want to prepare for their retirements. It is also timely to explain how there is a completely different set of retirement rules, far more favorable, that apply to unionized government workers.

If you are a member of the emerging “gig economy,” or a sole proprietor running a small business, or an independent contractor, and if you are reasonably successful, then you paying nearly 50% of every extra dollar you earn in taxes. The following table showsthe marginal tax burden for independent contractors who earned more than $81.5K and less than $118.5K in 2015:

Marginal Tax Rate for Independent Contractors (for 2015 earnings > $81.5K and < $118.5K)

The challenges posed… Read More

Edward Ring

Public Unions ARE the Political “Establishment”

The success of anti-establishment presidential candidates are a powerful reminder that mainstream politicians are not managing America’s political economy or cultural evolution in a way that satisfies most of the electorate. That’s no surprise – it’s a toughjob these days, with few historical precedents to offer guidance.

Earlier this week an essay published in theAsia Times,A Millennial conundrum: Communism and youth,” offered a concise set of reasons why so many millennials are supporting democraticsocialist candidate Bernie Sanders.The author, Chan Akya, didn’t chastise these youth for their selfish naivete, causedby receiving too many participation trophies during their sheltered childhoods. Instead he gave the following reasons:

“(1) Sharing economy: Technology has propelled sharing into new markets, from cars and vacation homes after opening up personal space on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For people with itinerant lifestyles driven by mobility in jobs, such a sharing economy may end up shaking theRead More

Edward Ring

The Future of Unions in the Post-Scalia Era

“The ‘Scalia Dividend’ Is a Rare Opportunity for Unions.” – Shaun Richman, In These Times, February 16, 2016

The implications of Antonin Scalia’s sudden and tragic death have already been painstakingly explored by anyone involved in union reform. There’s not much to add.But what members of the labor movement have to say about this new reality may be worth a look. And despite the title of the above-notedarticleby Shaun Richman,for the pro-labor publicationIn These Times,most pro-labor pundits are not optimistic about the future of the labor movement. Richman writes:

“Labor’s crisis predated Friedrichs and will live on after it. The ‘Right to Work’ agenda, and the gutting of public sector collective bargaining laws, will continue to be pressed at the state level. And if the general financial commitment and philosophical approach to new union organizing remains the same, union density will surely continue to decline.”

In the pro-labor publication Workday Minnesota, in a… Read More

Edward Ring

California Initiative Would Require Legislators to Wear Logos of Donors

If youarebemused by the success of populist candidates for President, if you think national politics in America is at risk of becoming a circus spectacle, get ready. Because that circus is coming to California. Southern California businessman John Cox is collecting signatures for aballot initiativethat will require state politicians to wear the logos of their top ten campaign contributors.

If voters approve this measure, every time a state senator or member of the assembly votes on the floor or in a committee, they will have to wear these logos on their jackets. As the text of the initiative puts it, “the disclosureshall be printed clearly and legibly, be conspicuous and in a type sizesufficient that it can be read by a member of the public observing any public session of theLegislature or a Committee thereof.”

Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. But then again, isn’t Cox’s initiative just making explicit what everybody’s known for a very long time? As Cox puts it, “unions and corporations have too much power and it’s time we stand up and fight. The ‘California is Not For Sale… Read More

Edward Ring

California’s Pension Contribution Shortfall At Least $15 Billion per Year

“Pension-change advocates failed to find funding for a measure during the depths of the 2008 recession and the havoc it wreaked on government budgets, so they won’t pass (a measure) when the economy is doing well.” – Steve Maviglio, political consultant and union coalition spokesperson,Sacramento Bee, January 18, 2016

It’s hard to argue with Mr. Maviglio’s logic. If the economy is healthy and the stock market is roaring, fixing the long-term financial challenges facing California’s state/local government employee pensions systems will not be a top political priority. But that doesn’t mean those challenges have gone away.

One of the biggest problems pension reformers face is communicating just how serious the problem is getting, and one of the biggest reasons for that is the lack of good financial information about California’s government worker pension systems.

The California State Controller used to release a “Public Retirement Systems Annual Report,” that consolidated all of California’s 80 independent… Read More

Edward Ring

In Search of a Legitimate Labor Movement

Sarah has worked for a major grocery store chain for the past 25 years. Adjusting for inflation, she makes less now than she did over a decade ago, especially since her hours were cut in order for her employer to avoid being required to offer her health insurance. Even more difficult, she is “on call” most of the week, without a reliable schedule, which makes it impossible for her to take on a 2nd part time job to help make ends meet. Including benefits, Sarah is lucky to make $30,000 per year. Now in her early fifties, she will need to work for as long as there is strength left in her body to do the job.

George works for a fire department serving an affluent suburb on the California coast. Taking into account the vacation time he earns as a 25 year veteran, he works less than two 24 hour shifts per week before qualifying for overtime. Since five day weekends are overkill, he often works one or two extra shifts a week,doubling his pay. When he goes on calls, 98% of the time they are medical emergencies, not fires. Including moderate amounts of overtime and the employer’s payments for his benefits, George makes about $250,000 per year. Now in his early fifties, he… Read More

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