How Will Business Approach Road Taxes in Special Session?

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

Governor Jerry Brown called special sessions to find permanent revenue sources to fund transportation infrastructure and Medi-Cal. The issue of keeping up with deteriorating roads has been a special concern to the business community and Brown is counting on business help to support a revenue solution for the roads. But is business willing to use its influence with Republican legislators to pass a transportation tax or fee increase of some kind?

Consensus in Sacramento is that the roads are in bad shape and revenue is needed to attack the problem. In announcing the special session, Brown noted that annual available excise fuel revenues for roads are billions short of the revenue needed. Deferred road maintenance requires billions more.

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How To Fix Our Roads Without New Taxes

Assemblymembers Kristin Olsen and Katcho Achadjian
California State Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, 12th District. California State Assembly Member Katcho Achadjian, 35th District.

Californians are tired of government not keeping up with its fundamental duty to keep our roads in good repair. There are over 30 million registered vehicles in our state, and about 400,000 miles of road. Almost any California driver could tell you – our roads and the gridlock, traffic, and potholes that come with them are unacceptable for the Golden State.  To improve our quality of life as well as our economy, we must improve our roadways and develop a reliable transportation network across the State.

California currently has $59 billion in deferred road maintenance on state highways. Add to that billions of dollars in needed repairs on local roads up and down the State, and we have a very serious unmet need, totaling hundreds of billions of dollars. Despite this, the recently-enacted 2015-16 State Budget ignored the need to invest in our roads and get people out of gridlock. It didn’t increase spending for transportation infrastructure by one penny, despite a record amount of new spending on other projects.

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We the Legislature

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

In a 5-4 decision preserving Arizona’s redistricting commission (and presumably California’s by extension), the U.S. Supreme Court had a direct and useful reminder for Californians: when we cast ballots on ballot initiatives, we’re acting as the state legislature.

Specifically, the court found that while the U.S. Constitution requires the State Legislatures to handle redistricting, the people are acting as the legislature when they vote on referenda or initiatives. “Our precedent teaches that redistricting is a legislative function, to be performed in accordance with the State’s prescriptions for lawmaking, which may in­clude the referendum and the Governor’s veto. The exer­cise of the initiative, we acknowledge, was not at issue in our prior decisions. But as developed below, we see no constitutional barrier to a State’s empowerment of its people by embracing that form of lawmaking,” Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the majority opinion.

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‘LA Is Not Designed To Work’

Jack Humphreville
LA Watchdog writer for CityWatch, President of the DWP Advocacy Committee, Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, and Publisher of the Recycler

The City of Los Angeles is a sprawling enterprise with 32,000 employees and an annual budget of $8.6 billion. But according to Rick Cole, the City’s former Deputy Mayor for Budget and Innovation, LA is not designed to work.

Our City’s operations are relatively simple compared to Los Angeles County and other large cities such as New York and Chicago.  City Hall is not responsible for education, healthcare and hospitals, social services and welfare, and criminal justice and jails, all open ended services that are burdened by rivers of red ink, adverse court decisions, and controversial political and social issues that do not have simple solutions.

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It’s Today’s News: Pensions, Pensions, Pensions

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

Reading Friday’s news, I couldn’t help think of the union official who, sitting on a Capitol Weekly panel with me after the last General Election, said in response to my bringing up concerns on the pension issue: “That’s yesterday’s news.” Actually it is today’s news over and over and over again. In fact, there were three separate issues of pension alarms reported Friday.

  • The agreement to keep tuition unchanged at the University of California worked out by Gov. Jerry Brown and UC President Janet Napolitano included movement toward a plan to relieve crushing pension obligations on the UC budget. As the Sacramento Bee reported, while details remain to be worked out, the plan “will introduce a pension tier with a dramatically lower compensation cap, and could shift new hires from a guaranteed benefit to a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan.”
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Retention Elections for US Supreme Court Justices? No!

Scott Lay
Higher education Lobbyist and Publisher of The Nooner

Following the SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage, presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz is calling on retention elections for Supreme Court justices. I’m pretty certain that Cruz knows that it has zero chance of approval be 2/3 of the states, making it an easy bullet point to add to the platform.

Cruz knows a bit about the Supreme Court, having served as a clerk to William Renhquist, and having argued nine cases before the Court while attorney general of the Lone State state. And, hailing from Texas, he’s quite familiar with judicial elections–judges from county judge to the Texas Supreme Court run. However, unlike California where judges must stand for “retention” elections, Texas judges are elected in partisan elections.

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Attempts to Change Proposition 13 are Misguided

George Runner
Member of the California State Board of Equalization, District 1

There’s been no shortage of attempts in recent years in the State Legislature to overhaul Proposition 13—California’s landmark initiative protecting homeowners and small business owners from out of control property taxes.

Multiple bills have taken aim at the proposition, but the most popular among these bills pushes the so-called “split roll” property tax, which would eliminate Prop. 13 protections for job creators but leave them in place for homeowners. This split roll idea is especially favored by lawmakers who are eager to bring more money into state coffers.

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For a New Legislative Model Look to Texas

Jon Coupal
President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Would-be reformers have filed an initiative that, if adopted by voters, would make the California Legislature one of the largest – if not the largest – legislative bodies in the world. The Neighborhood Legislature Reform Act (NLRA) would require one Senator for every 10,000 Californians and one Assembly representative for every 5,000. This would mean that the Senate would increase from 40 to 3,850 members while the Assembly would balloon from 80 members to 7,700.

The stated goal of this proposal is to reduce the influence of special interests, make our system more democratic and provide greater access to legislative representatives.

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Supreme Court Affirms Power of Initiative in Redistricting Case

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

The people can serve as legislators. In a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court declared that an initiative by the voters to create a commission in Arizona to draw congressional districts was constitutional. California established a similar commission in 2008 when voters passed Proposition 11 and added congressional redistricting to the commission’s duties with Prop 20 in 2010.

The case affirms that voters have legislative authority through the initiative process, a powerful boost for initiative lawmaking. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the only Californian on the court, who himself was involved in a California initiative when he practiced law in California, joined the majority.

The case arose when Arizona legislators challenged the right of voters to set the parameters for congressional elections. The U.S. Constitution specifically cites that legislatures are to set the rules of election. 

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Are We Finally Off the Hook for Prop 8?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Celebrate that marriage equality is a 50-state reality. (OK, 49 – it wouldn’t be a major advance in American civil rights if Mississippi weren’t engaged in defiance).

Run a victory lap if you like (take the baton from Gavin Newsom, since he must be getting tired with all his victory laps).

Get hitched while you’re at it. (Think of the economic spike this year from all those rich celebrities who can finally get married after saying for years they couldn’t until every one could).

But if you’re an average Californian who wasn’t deeply involved in the legal and political fights on the subject, you probably shouldn’t pat yourself on the back over the legalization of same-sex marriage. We didn’t have anything to do with it.

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