Keeping Our Government in the Open

Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen
California Assemblymember, 12th District

On many levels, the advent of the Internet fundamentally transformed our society, giving us access to information literally at our fingertips.

Without question, it offers a lot of good. But it also exposes our personal information in ways that decades ago would have been unimaginable. Little did we know that what we would have to worry about would be our own government spying on us as we surf the net.

Like many Californians, I have been troubled by revelations over the last year of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) activities online. With a recent report now alleging that the NSA posed as Facebook in order to contaminate computers with malware, it is just one more misstep eroding confidence in our government.

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Is the Department of Insurance Hiding the Ball on its Millions in Payments to Consumer Watchdog?

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

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and ConsumerWatchdog.org have a cozy relationship. In addition to receiving questionable no-bid government contracts from the Insurance Department that raised concerns among ethics experts, ConsumerWatchdog.org is the sole recipient of funds under Jones’ tenure of the department’s “intervenor fees,” pocketing $779,822 in fees in 2012 alone. In 2011, it also was the only collector of $849,194 of these fees, which ultimately are paid for by consumers.

So it was no surprise that legislators began questioning how ConsumerWatchdog – which snuck this special interest provision into a ballot measure it authored – has come to have corner the market for collecting the revenue from this program (it alone has raked in more than $5.6 million since 2008).  In 2012, then-State Senator Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) called for legislative hearings on the matter, noting: “The Department should broaden its outreach to all Californians that have a legitimate interest in their insurance rates. We must get the facts about why more consumers are being excluded from the process.”

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Garcetti’s Precarious Budget

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

In the most honest and straight forward budget presentation in the last ten years, Mayor Eric Garcetti presented his “Back to Basics” budget at a Monday morning press conference at City Hall. This $5.1 billion General Fund budget is $250 million greater than last year’s Adopted Budget, representing a 5% increase.

Garcetti’s budget focuses on four key areas: public safety; a prosperous city where the City’s bureaucracy is service oriented and not an impediment to business; an environmentally sustainable city that has better streets, sidewalks, and other amenities; and a well-run City government that is focused on customer service and results, not process.

The General Fund budget includes increases for the Police and Fire Departments of almost $40 million, the repair of more streets and sidewalks, improved code enforcement by Building and Safety, and a number of other important initiatives, including better management information and budgeting systems.

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America’s New Brainpower Cities

Joel Kotkin
Editor of NewGeography.com and Presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University

Brainpower rankings usually identify the usual suspects: college towns like Boston, Washington, D.C.,  and the San Francisco Bay area. And to be sure, these places generally have the highest per capita education levels. However, it’s worthwhile to look at the metro areas that are gaining college graduates most rapidly; this is an indicator of momentum that is likely to carry over into the future.

To determine where college graduates are settling, demographer Wendell Cox analyzed the change in the number of holders of bachelor’s degrees and above between 2007 and 2012 in the 51 metropolitan statistical areas with over a million people (all saw gains). For the most part, the fastest-growing brain hubs are in the South and Intermountain West (which excludes the states on the Pacific Coast). Some of these places are usually not associated with the highest levels of academic achievement, and for the most, they still lag the national average in college graduation rates.

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On Tax Day, Taxpayer Advocates and their Adversaries are Thinking Ahead

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

On Tax Day 2014, California is creeping toward a point that the issue of taxation may once again be selected as the main concern for the state’s voters. That might seem an irrational statement when you consider that in the most recent Public Policy Institute poll, taxes as a concern were ranked sixth behind, in order, jobs and the economy, water/drought, education, immigration and health care. In fact, only four percent of those surveyed picked taxes, the budget and deficits as their top concern.

However, there are signs that the tax issue is going to get more attention.

The annual Tax Foundation report on state-local tax burden has California in fourth place among the states. The percentage of tax burden as a share of state income is 11.4 percent. But the Tax Foundation’s numbers were calculated on 2011 figures. That was before California raised it sales and income taxes in 2012 to the highest in the nation.

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Will California Revive and Expand Redevelopment?

William R. Maurer
Attorney, Institute for Justice

Before its demise in 2011, California’s redevelopment system did little to create jobs or improve education. It did succeed, however, in turning California into one of the worst states in the nation for eminent domain abuse, while severely undermining the state’s fiscal stability.

A new initiative, the “California Jobs and Education Development Initiative,” or JEDI, Act, proposes to revive and expand this system. As a new report just released by the Institute for Justice finds, reviving redevelopment in this manner would achieve the same results, only worse.

California began experimenting with redevelopment in 1945 and over time this law became a vehicle for widespread abuse and corruption. It allowed local governments to create redevelopment agencies that could issue bonds without voter approval and use eminent domain to seize perfectly fine homes and businesses to give to private, wealthy developers.

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A Conservative’s View: Republican Troubles

Steve Frank
Publisher of California Political News and Views

On Friday I received a big proud email from a guy named Pete Peterson, a Republican running for California Secretary of State.  He announced the Field Poll showed him far ahead of the Democrats in this race.  He was at 30%.On Saturday the Field Poll came out on the State Controller race.  The controversial Fresno Mayor, Ashley Swearengen, was way ahead of her Democrat opponents—she was at 28%.What was not noted by Field is that Republican voter registration in California is just below 30%.

In others words, Peterson and Swearengen were both receiving GOP votes.  That is a good thing.

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Don’t Make Big-City Mayors Regional Rulers

Joel Kotkin
Editor of NewGeography.com and Presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University

Given the quality of leadership in Washington, it’s not surprising that many pundits are shifting focus to locally based solutions to pressing problems. This increasingly includes many progressives, who historically have embraced an ever-more expansive federal government.

In many ways, this constitutes an extraordinarily positive development. Political decentralization is built into the very framework of American democracy, as Alexis de Tocqueville, among others, recognized. If Paris dominated France and London dominated England, in America, he noted, “intelligence and power is dispersed abroad.”

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Job Killer Scorecard

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

The California Chamber of Commerce issued its annual list of job killer bills as the organization hopes to keep up a remarkable record of success in defeating bills harmful to jobs and the economy. Given a reputation that the state is a bad place to do business – a reputation that California legislators and the governor say they are fighting — the Chamber stands in a strong position.

Since the Chamber began identifying job killer bills in 1997, less than 8-percent of the designated job killer bills have become law. Of 604 job killers, 44 became law. A record the Chamber administration and lobbying team are proud of.

Of those 44 bills that became law over that time, Governor Gray Davis signed 32 of them. The Chamber did well under Republican governors Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, both of whom vetoed all the job killer bills that came before them a couple of times.

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Peterson Leads in Sec of State Race, but Best Chance for Reps May be Elsewhere

Scott Lay
Higher education Lobbyist and Publisher of The Nooner

SECRETARY OF STATE RACE (Field Poll – likely voters)

Pete Peterson (R): 30%
Alex Padilla (D): 17%
David Curtis (G): 5%
Dan Schnur (NPP): 4%
Derek Cressman (D): 3%
Other: < 0.5%
Undecided: 41%

In the polling before Leland Yee dropped out, he was receiving 8% support. Pete Peterson picked up 3% without Yee and Padilla’s support increased 7%. Curtis and Green each picked up 1%.

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