Property Taxpayers in Center of School Bond Debate

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

Property taxpayers are in the eye of a brewing storm whipped up by the contrasting efforts to pass a statewide school construction bond initiative and the Brown Administration’s insistence that future school construction bonds be funded locally. Depending on which way this wind blows, local residential and business property taxpayers could be hit with a higher property tax burden.

There is also the danger than business properties, including small businesses, could be singled out for even higher taxes if local bonds rely on parcel taxes for repayment.

A $9 billion state school bond already has qualified for the ballot. Builders, building trades, business organizations, school districts and a bi-partisan array of elected officials support it. State school bonds are paid off by the General Fund and this is why the governor’s office objects. In his concern to protect the General Fund, Governor Brown wants local school districts to raise local taxes to pay for school construction bonds.

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How to Get Votes in New Hampshire—A Personal Story

Steven Maviglio
Principal of Forza Communications, a Sacramento-based public affairs/campaign firm

Thirty years ago, when I was campaigning for a seat in the 400-member New Hampshire House (yes, 400 members), I spent my weekends at the Sanbornton Town Landfill engaging voters. Since my Lakes Region town with its 2900 residents had no street garbage collection, it was the one place that everyone in town showed up in their Ford 150’s on Saturday mornings. What better place to politic, particularly when my campaign budget totaled $300?

To this day, I’m convinced my master strategy of political dump diving is what got me elected, the first member of my political party to represent the town in 100+ years. But don’t tell my Mom. She insists that her haranguing voters as they entered the white clapboard Town Hall that was built in 1834 was the key to my electoral success.

I like to tell this story because, in a way, it’s what the New Hampshire primary is all about, even three decades later.

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Death to the PUC!

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)

I’m not sure the state’s Public Utilities Commission deserves to die. But I’m glad the death penalty has finally been put on the table.

That’s the real import of a proposal from three legislators to ask voters to strip the PUC of its constitutional authority and allow the legislature to redistribute its power to other state agencies.

This is unlikely to happen, at least soon. A constitutional amendment will need a two-thirds vote; Gov. Brown’s support isn’t needed to get it on the ballot, but his support would probably be required to get such a measure to pass, given the money that would be spent against it.

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Minimum Wage Divides Experts

Reporter, CalWatchDog

Voters will likely decide on the November ballot whether or not to raise California’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, even though experts are still divided on the issue.

There will be plenty of anecdotes in between now and November about the fruit picker or dish washer whose wages would rise 50 percent if the minimum wage were to jump from $10 to $15 per hour. But experts say that’s not the only factor to consider.

Experts agree that increased wages will increase prices, as employers are forced to compensate for increased labor costs. This means minimum-wage workers will lose some of their new-found earnings to inflation.

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Big Money Expected To Influence Citizen Lawmakers

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

Hundreds of millions of dollars spent on legislative lobbying efforts made headlines this week but the total amount will likely pale next to what is expected to be spent this year on that other form of California lawmaking—the initiative process.

Coverage of the lobbying reports disclosed that $312.7 million was spent on lobbying the legislature in 2015, a double-digit increase from just two years earlier.

But according to initiative guru, Rick Claussen, of the consulting firm Redwood Pacific, which specializes in initiative campaigns, a crowded November ballot could produce spending of nearly half-a-billion dollars.

Claussen offered some best guess rounded figures that could be spent for and against a number of the high profile initiatives headed for the ballot.

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How to Know Your City Isn’t Super

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)

A riddle: how do you know your city isn’t super?

Answer: If it’s hosting the Super Bowl.

Does that seem harsh? Well, I’m sorry. So let me put this another way.

Congratulations, Santa Clara, California! You’ve just joined a club that includes such notable municipalities as East Rutherford, New Jersey; Pontiac, Michigan; Miami Gardens, Florida; Arlington, Texas; and Glendale, Arizona.

What do those cities have in common? Three things. First, they are all smaller cities on the edge of bigger cities. Second, they invested big in pro sports in the hopes of boosting their economies and raising their profiles. Third, none has demonstrated much benefit from a big investment in pro sports.

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Volunteers Needed to Test Mileage Fee System for Road Funding

Lucy Dunn
President and CEO of the Orange County Business Council

I served this past year as chair of the California Transportation Commission, which is responsible for allocating funds for highway construction, passenger rail and transit improvements, active transportation such as walking and biking and a host of other mobility projects.

A variety of financial indicators last month showed that the excise tax portion of the gas tax, which funds the State Transportation Improvement Program, was likely to remain flat or decline in the immediate future. Last week, CTC announced its decision to “deprogram” three-quarters of a billion dollars in projects. Affected projects in Orange County may include improvements to I-5, I-405 and CA-57, hundreds more throughout the state.

Following this decision, CTC urged the Legislature to make funding and maintaining safe and effective infrastructure a top priority, in addition to reforms in system management by Caltrans. Otherwise, even more project cuts will come. Gov. Jerry Brown, state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, and Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, have three separate revenue and reform proposals for consideration. Republican leaders have significant reform proposals as well. Last year, after decades of delay, a divided Congress finally came together on a plan for federal transportation funding and reforms. If Congress could do it, so can the state Legislature.

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Attorney General Reins In Shady Bond Practices

Jon Coupal
President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

It’s not often that taxpayers get good news, especially in tax-happy California. Even more surprising is when the good news is an official opinion from the state’s Attorney General, someone not normally associated with friendly treatment to taxpayers.

Last November, this column noted that local governments, especially school districts, were prone to engage in questionable campaign activity to secure an unfair advantage in bond elections. Although it is illegal for officials to use public resources (including public funds) to urge a vote for or against a political issue, consultants frequently advise tax proponents to wage one sided “informational” campaigns. This includes sending out material stating all the good things a bond or tax measure will do, but usually they stop just short of violating the law by telling people how to vote. (Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has had multiple successes in obtaining court injunctions against school districts that cross the line into advocacy, but by the time the court rules, the political damage has already been done.) And to top it all off, the “consultants” compensated with taxpayer dollars are frequently given financial incentives if they win.

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California Here They Come, Maybe. Really.

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe & Doug Jeffe
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Communication, Sol Price School of Public Policy and Doug Jeffe, Communications and Public Affairs Strategist

The GOP came to blows in the Iowa Caucus—the top three finishers were “the blowtorch,” “the blowhard” and “the blow-dried.”  Senator Ted Cruz, entrepreneur Donald Trump and Senator Marco Rubio set the stage for a three-way contest that could actually stretch into the June California Presidential Primary.

While Cruz and Trump were expected to dominate the field in Iowa, Senator Marco Rubio scored surprisingly well—finishing a close third.  Perhaps that was attributable to the “Goldilocks effect;” many voters apparently found Trump “too hot,” Cruz “too cold” and Rubio “just right.” Is that a one-off phenomenon? 

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California Needs to Embrace the Apocalypse

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)

Is California being governed by apocalyptic French philosophy?

Oui. But it’s not the end of the world.

Indeed, apocalyptic French philosophy may finally provide clarity for those of us long puzzled by that great California mystery: What is the meaning of Jerry Brown?

In recent years, our governor’s statements have taken an end-of-days turn, Jerry channeling Jeremiah. The governor has warned of nuclear holocaust, wildfires consuming the entire state, the demise of Silicon Valley if his water plans aren’t adopted, and the apocalypse if we don’t curb carbon emissions. Last month, the governor went to Palo Alto for the latest of unveiling of the Doomsday Clock, a timekeeper for the annihilation of mankind. (It’s just three minutes to midnight, humans.)

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