Black Bart Award Nominee – On the Dark Side

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

In our introduction of the Black Bart Award we note that it could go to someone or something that performed a heroic act OR performed a dastardly deed. My suggested nominees fall to the Dark Side of California’s political world this year.

In light of the negative publicity generated by three state senators being accused of crimes, the institution of the state senate was shaken to its core. Senator Ron Calderon stood accused of accepting bribes to put forth a bill for a moneyed interest who turned out to be an FBI agent. Senator Rod Wright was convicted of committing fraud by living someplace other than his district. But, none of the revelations was more spectacular than the arrest of Senator Leland Yee accused of accepting bribes and playing middleman in a gunrunning operation.

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How I Fear the 2016 Taxapalooza Will Go

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)

Here’s my hope for the coming 2016 Taxapalooza of various tax-hiking initiatives: The debate will create a healthy discussion and convince various initiative sponsors, the legislature and the governor to come together and advance a tax reform that preserves our progressive tax structure, lowers some rates for competitiveness, taxes our service-based economy more fairly, and produces at least $20 billion a year in new revenues. The reform goes so well that everyone decides to rationalize the budget process and write a new constitution in 2017.

Here’s my fear: we get a warmed-over extension of Prop 30 that doesn’t make the state more competitive or make taxes saner or produce more revenues that we need to reverse decades of disinvestment.

I’m pretty sure my fears will be realized. Indeed, there’s a pattern to the even-numbered years of Brown’s governorship that likely could be repeated in 2016.

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Stockton and Detroit Exit Bankruptcy Leaving Pension Systems As-Is

Lance Christensen and Victor Nava
Lance Christensen is Director of the Pension Reform Project at the Reason Foundation, and Victor Nava is a Policy Analyst at the Reason Foundation.

The landscape for public employee pensions shifted in 2014 as federal judges gave credence to the idea that pension benefits may be cut in bankruptcy. This challenges the long held idea that pension benefits are impervious to cuts and most observers are wondering just how significant this shift will be going forward.

This fall, city leaders watched as federal judges approved debt-cutting bankruptcy plans in Stockton and Detroit, ending two of the largest municipal bankruptcy cases in U.S. history. Many speculated both cities could do more to ease their fiscal problems by making significant cuts and structural changes to public pensions. However, both judges demurred and moved forward with plans that eased a portion of the cities’ financial obligations, but largely protected pensions. The failure to significantly address public pension debt and make structural changes to the pension systems in both Stockton and Detroit does not bode well for the economic future of either city post-bankruptcy. It also presents an interesting conundrum for other cities in dire fiscal distress that bear significant pension costs and unfunded liabilities. Are more cities to follow the path to pension cuts in bankruptcy?

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A New Outbreak of Prop. 65 Lawsuit Abuse Underscores Need for Reform

Tom Scott
Executive Director, California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse

CALA has documented the lawsuit abuse related to Proposition 65 for quite some time. Despite minimal reform (like Assemblyman Gatto’s AB 227 passed last year) the lawsuits have continued. With the state considering new regulations related to warnings that could actually bring more lawsuits, I thought it might be helpful to show one example of just how out-of-control Prop. 65 lawsuit abuse is getting, even though few in the news media are paying attention.

A little background: if your business is in violation of Proposition 65 (i.e., you don’t have a bland, useless warning sign about the presence of chemicals at your business) you can be sued for $2,500 per day either by the Attorney General, the District Attorney or a City Attorney. However, a private citizen can also bring a case against a business, which increases the likelihood of a business without a sign being sued.

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Stu Spencer: Independent Expenditure Committees are Destroying the Political Process

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

Stu Spencer knows a thing or two about political campaigns. His firm, Spencer-Roberts, managed 400 campaigns over the years and he successfully managed Ronald Reagan’s quest for governor of California and president of the United States. Spencer believes that, “Independent committees are destroying the process.”

Since Independent Expenditure committees can’t communicate with the candidate the IE often sends out messages that not only may not match the candidate’s ideas but Spencer says, IE committees often make arguments that don’t reflect the concerns of the voters in the district because the consultants behind the committees are not familiar with the districts.

There is no accountability for the political messages furnished by the IE, he argues. If some political charge made in the name of the candidate is off base or plain wrong the candidate can deny any knowledge of the effort.

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Black Bart Award Nominee — Jerry Brown is Riding High

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)

Yes, there were many other candidates for the 2014 Black Bart award. John Chiang won a new office and improved his chances in future Democratic contests. Peter Lee helped Covered California advance (and got a lot of good press along the way). The state’s many water agencies and districts convinced Californians to take water conservation seriously. Darrell Steinberg and John Perez and Bill Lockyer completed solid turns in office.

And I will never forget the voice and sight of Richard Martinez, whose son was among those killed in the Santa Barbara shootings earlier this year, thundering against such violence and those who frustrate sensible gun control. Martinez’s subsequent work on the subject has been thoughtfully strategic. I hope we continue to hear more from him.

But after much thought, I couldn’t deny this year’s Black Bart award to Jerry Brown.

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Faster, Faster, Smarter, Smarter: The Internet Job Placement Sites Speed Into 2015

Michael Bernick
Former California Employment Development Department Director & Milken Institute Fellow

The world of the internet job placement sites continues to grow rapidly in 2014. With so many job placement sites, which is the right one for a job seeker in California to use?

matthendricksonTo get perspective we might turn to Matt Hendrickson, CEO of Ascendify (www.ascendify.com), and one of California’s leading internet entrepreneurs in job placement.

In 1992, Matt launched ResumeMaker, aimed at helping individuals to develop resumes online. ResumeMaker grew to millions in annual sales and was a #1 best seller for over 15 years. In 2011, Matt launched Ascendify to help companies attract and select talent.

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California Business Needs To Go Small Or Go Home

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

Here’s the bitter reality for business in much of California: there’s no cavalry riding to rescue you from the state’s regulatory and tax vise. The voters in California have spoken, and with a definitive, distinctive twist, turned against any suggestion of reform and confirmed the continued domination of the state by public employee unions, environmental activists and their crony capitalist allies.

You are on your own, Southern California businesses, and can count on very little help, and, likely, much mischief, from Sacramento and various lower orders of government. To find a way out of stubbornly high unemployment and anemic income growth, the Southland will need to find a novel way to restart its economic engine based almost entirely on its grass-roots business, its creative savvy and entrepreneurial culture.

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F&H Daily’s Sixth Annual Black Bart Award Week

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

For the past five years frequent contributors to this page Joe Mathews, John Wildermuth and I have nominated candidates for Californian of the Year in the world of politics. We name the final selection the winner of the Black Bart Award.

There are no specific criteria to follow in making the selection. Each author will explain his reason for selecting a nominee. Perhaps, the nominee took one courageous act, or committed a dastardly deed that had great repercussions, or performed heroically in difficult circumstances. The nominee may be a person, or more than one, or even an institution or an issue that had great impact on California politics and policy over the year.

For those who do not know, Black Bart (real name: Charles Bolles) was known as a gentleman outlaw from California’s frontier days. While robbing 26 California stagecoaches from 1875 to 1883, he never shot a gun (although he was shot in the course of a robbery), never cussed, and was polite to his victims. Another thing: he believed himself a bit of an artist leaving poetry at the scene of some of his holdups, signing at least one poem: Black Bart the po8.

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Can We Raise Taxes Without More Ballot Box Budgeting?

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)

There’s already a ton of talk about which tax-raising initiatives might end up on the 2016 ballot.

I’m sympathetic to tax increases — by themselves. The state needs more money. And taxes on things that we want to reduce use of – cigarettes, alcohol, horse-race news coverage (I’m only half-joking about that last – feel free to give it a try, Barry Fadem) – are good policy. California is overdue for a big hike in the tobacco tax.

The problem is that tax initiatives are rarely just about taxes. They often are combined with provisions that specify where the money is spent. And since California’s initiative process is so inflexible, that effectively locks in spending decisions. And California already has way too many spending decisions locked in (Prop 2 being the latest culprit).

Why do tax initiatives do this? For 2 big reasons. The first is pay-to-play. Initiative campaigns cost a lot of money, and to get people to give that money, initiative sponsors often have to promise people spending in categories they want. That’s in part why Prop 29, a tobacco tax, lost two years ago – it was larded up with special provisions and moneys for the various health and disease groups that funded it. Such pay-to-play behavior is more than shameful – it ought to be illegal. But in initiative politics, it’s standard practice.

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