Don’t Damage the Initiative Process Out of Anger

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

From the contemptible (“Sodomite Suppression Act”) to the retaliatory to make a point (“Intolerant Jackass Act”) to the corny (“The President of California Act”), California’s initiative process seemed to have gone off the deep end recently prompting some legislators to propose initiative reform measures. Let’s not react in haste.

Most initiatives don’t qualify for the ballot, many don’t even bother getting one petition signature. Many times the filings are all about gaining attention for the proponent. But a swift reaction to highly publicized measures that are going nowhere can result in damage to the important role the initiative process has to play in this state.

There are times that the legislature doesn’t act when it should. With the initiative process, the people can take action. The initiative process came about because special interests (read: the railroads) at the beginning of the twentieth century controlled the legislature. Reforms to the legislative process itself would not come from the legislature, which would lose power because of certain reforms. A recent example is creating a redistricting commission to take the re-drawing of legislative districts out of the hands of the self-interested elected officials.

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Stop the Federal Water Wasters

Harold Johnson
Attorney, Pacific Legal Foundation

If you came across somebody gasping with thirst, you wouldn’t give him one of those prank drinking cups that would trickle water down his shirt.

By the same token, in drought-parched California, we can’t afford to have federal environmental bureaucrats drilling holes in our dams.

Yet that’s what they’ve been doing, figuratively, by imposing Endangered Species Act regulations that have sent vast quantities of water straight out to sea.

Over the past six years, the federal game plan for protecting smelt and salmon in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has involved robbing our cities, towns, and farms of water.  Regulators have intentionally captured less water in Northern California dams, and they’ve powered down the pumps that transport water to the Central Valley and Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego Counties.

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Getting the People’s Business Done — In Memory of Bill Campbell

Jerry Haleva
Founder of Sergeant Major Associates, a governmental consulting firm and Former Senior Aide to Sen. Bill Campbell

California lost one of its great statesmen last Sunday, when veteran lawmaker, Senator Bill Campbell, passed away at the age of 79. Famous for his legendary humor as well as his legislative accomplishments, Bill served in the California Assembly and Senate for nearly four decades. Prior to his retirement in 1998, he served as President of the California Manufacturer’s and Technology Association. As respected as he was well liked, Bill’s ability to achieve bipartisan solutions resulted in many landmark public policy achievements. As the founder of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Emergency Services, he authored nationally recognized improvements to the State’s Disaster Response and Preparedness programs. His leadership in that arena led to the naming of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services building in his honor by Governor Pete Wilson in 1992. 

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Let’s Toast China’s President, California’s Savior

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)

Dear President Xi Jinping,

This is a thank you note from California.

Thank you, first off, for sustaining our neighborhoods through these last difficult years. Thank you for keeping wealthy Chinese so nervous about your purges of political opponents—I’m sorry, I mean your anti-corruption campaigns—that they are buying up real estate all over California. More than half of all U.S. home purchases by Chinese buyers are in the Golden State, and two-thirds of your country’s millionaires have emigrated or plan to do so, according to a Chinese magazine  In the San Gabriel Valley, where I live, Chinese arrivals have provided the housing market with much of its ballast and our communities with a disproportionate share of their new energy. (I’m told it’s possible that you yourself own real estate here, under some other name.)

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Housing: How the California Dream Became a Nightmare

Wendell Cox
Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris

Important attention has been drawn to the shameful condition of middle income housing affordability in California. The state that had earlier earned its own “California Dream” label now limits the dream of homeownership principally to people either fortunate enough to have purchased their homes years ago and to the more affluent. Many middle income residents may have to face the choice of renting permanently or moving away.

However, finally, an important organ of the state has now called attention to the housing affordability problem. The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) has published “California’s High Housing Costs: Causes and Consequences,” which provides a compelling overview of how California’s housing costs have risen to be by far the most unaffordable in the nation. It also sets out the serious consequences.

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Prop 30 Plus

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)

Reading and listening to (and hearing some background talk) about what sort of tax plan the state’s leaders might offer voters next year, two things are clear to me.

The first is that we will see an extension of at least the income tax rates that were part of Prop 30. The second is that we will see one other tax hike that is packaged as a tax reform to accompany the extension.

Call this “Prop 30 Plus.”

The Prop 30 extension will drop the sales tax while keeping the tax on high-income Californians. It’s likely that Prop 30 rates won’t be made permanent—they’ll just be extended for several more years. This shouldn’t be a hard sell politically. Somebody else gets taxed, and Prop 30 remains a popular idea (It’s easy for politicians to tell voters they did the right thing).

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Eliminate the State Income Tax

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

During a discussion at the 2015 Cal Tax Annual Members meeting, I called for a meaningful public discourse on tax reform ideas that makes life easier for taxpayers. I suggested replacing California’s income tax with a sales tax on services.

If you want real tax reform, we ought to look at eliminating the state’s personal and corporate income tax. One less tax agency would make California a far more attractive place for jobs, retirees and investment.

If California eliminated income tax more companies would base themselves in California. Also, more residents would stay in the state upon retirement, leading to more revenue for the State of California.

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The Special Election and the Top-Two Primary

Eric McGhee
Research Fellow, Public Policy Institute of California

Two Democrats are heading into a runoff in a big political fight for a seat in the state senate, representing the wealthy bedroom communities of the far eastern Bay Area. The contenders are Susan Bonilla, a Concord assemblymember, and Steve Glazer, the mayor of Orinda. The race was held under the rules of California’s new top-two primary, but the role of this new system in producing the outcome is more complicated than it might seem.

Four Democrats and one Republican were on the ballot for this 7th Senate District seat, which became vacant when Democrat Mark DeSaulnier successfully ran for the U.S. House of Representatives. The race boiled down to a pitched battle between the three best-known Democrats: Joan Buchannan, a former Alamo assemblymember; Bonilla; and Glazer. The fourth Democrat received far less attention and the lone Republican actually withdrew from the race and endorsed Glazer (though her name remained on the ballot). At the time of this writing, Glazer has finished first with 33 percent, followed by Bonilla with 25 percent, and Buchannan with 23.

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Analysis: Which Proposed Bills Help, Hinder, Small Businesses

John Seiler
John Seiler, an editorial writer with The Orange County Register for 19 years, is a reporter and analyst for

Among the approximately 2,000 bills considered in the California Legislature this year, many affect small businesses. Here’s the analysis of four by the National Federation of Independent Business California:

Assembly Bill 23 and Senate Bill 5, the Affordable Gas Tax for Families Act. The bills are sponsored, respectively, by Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno; and state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford. The NFIB/CA supports the bills, which in its analysis would:

  • Exempt certain categories of persons or entities, such as transportation fuels, from inclusion in the state’s cap-and-trade program.
  • Will remove transportation fuels from the cap-and-trade program and eliminate the gas tax.
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CalChamber’s Campaign to Stop “Job Killer” Bills a Success as CA Gains Jobs

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

While surveys of business executives still rank California as one of the worst places to do business, the record on job creation has been bright in the Golden State over the last year. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that California led the nation over a twelve-month period ending January 31 creating 498,000 jobs. Part of the credit for this success goes to the California Chamber of Commerce’s effort to rally against bills that would hinder job creation and hurt the economy.

The annual effort is called the “job killers” campaign. It is worth considering how the positive job creation news would have fared without the CalChamber’s annual job killer campaign. Over the past four years, the Chamber has marked 129 bills as job killers. Only 8 of these measures have been signed into law. If many of the defeated bills passed would California’s job creation number be so strong?

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