Dunn and Done: Treasurer Street’s Dead End

Lucy Dunn
President and CEO of the Orange County Business Council

Orange County doesn’t seem to have the best of luck when it comes to electing good treasurers. According to OC historian (and former OCBC CEO) Stan Oftelie, two of the county’s earliest treasurers, William B. Wall of Tustin, and Josiah C. Joplin of Trabuco Canyon, were Southern Democrats and Confederate soldiers. Joplin, who fought at Gettysburg for the Old South, was elected seven times despite political charges that his son, John Booth Joplin, was named after John Wilkes Booth, President Lincoln’s assassin. Joplin denied the charges.

In the 1950s, Treasurer Henry Gardner, a conservative Republican, was criticized by the Orange County Grand Jury for spending most of his work day at a Santa Ana cocktail lounge rather than investing county tax dollars. The Grand Jury said Gardner worked about 15 minutes a day, signed a few papers, then was busy getting soused by 10 a.m.

And who doesn’t know the story behind disgraced OC Treasurer-Tax Collector Bob Citron, Democrat,ending in the notorious 1994 county bankruptcy? Citron pled guilty to six felony counts and three special enhancements. Charges also included filing a false and misleading financial summary to participants purchasing securities in the Orange County Treasury Investment Pool. His successor, Republican John Moorlach, was elected saying, “Chicken Little was right. The sky IS falling!”

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Et Tu, D.A?

Lucy Dunn
President and CEO of the Orange County Business Council

Toyota–the world’s largest automaker–has its troubles now, no doubt. Over six million cars recalled, product liability issues, injured drivers, and a reputation badly beaten. Add to that, Congressional, federal grand jury and National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration investigations and at least 89 class-action law suits. Clearly, this is a top employer under siege as it is recalling millions of vehicles and trying to make corrections.

It’s odd to me that one of those 89+ law suits comes from Orange County District Attorney, Tony Rackauckas, on behalf of the County “to protect the public and consumers.” What specifically is unique about OC cases that requires our DA to use this public office to pursue a civil case? Is it PR? Aren’t there enough lawsuits filed by those directly affected?

Mr. Rackauckas says the lawsuit was motivated by questioning if Toyota “puts profits over people.” Interesting choice of words for a DA who seeks monetary damages from a company through a contingency fee agreement with a private law firm. Is this to fill his own diminished department coffers in a very tough economy? Determining whether or not Toyota “used deceptive business practices” should not be the responsibility of a county, nor the DA, nor is it good public policy in the trend by government agencies to use private contingency fee lawyers to go after business. And please share with us, Mr. D.A: exactly what is your financial arrangement with the private law firm you hired to go after Toyota?

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Dunn and Done: Squirrel!

Lucy Dunn
President and CEO of the Orange County Business Council

Have you seen Disney’s animated movie, UP? It’s a great story about Carl, a 78 year old retired salesman who ties balloons to his house and flies away with Russell, an 8 year old stowaway, and his faithful dog, Dug. It’s a wonderful story, very touching.

The dog, however, really caught my attention. Dug has a special collar that allows him to speak! He helps Carl and Russell on his adventures throughout the film, but does have one tragic flaw: Dug gets distracted by squirrels. He may be on the most important mission of his life, but when he sees a squirrel out of the corner of his eye, his attention is completely diverted and—“SQUIRREL!”—he says. Off he runs to chase it.

Doesn’t this remind you of some of our state leaders? The mission is jobs creation–private sector jobs creation–pure and simple. It’s about getting folks employed who can pay taxes, and businesses that hire, grow and pay taxes, that will help Sacramento get its house in order. How can a state leader help create jobs? In one of three ways: reduce taxes and fees; reduce the glut of regulations business faces every day; and reduce opportunities for frivolous lawsuits.

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All I Want For Christmas…

Lucy Dunn
President and CEO of the Orange County Business Council

‘Twas the night before Christmas when all through the county
Not much was stirring, due to lack of a bounty.
Our stockings are hung by the chimney with care
Hoping soon our state will know fiscal repair.

No visions of sugar plums dance in our heads,
But more practical gifts we ask from Santa instead:

1. Jobs
And by that, I mean an inviting business environment that encourages businesses to locate and grow here. Thriving businesses pay taxes that fill the state’s coffers. Thriving businesses hire people, resulting in less demand for expensive unfunded government social programs. Let’s make the whole state an enterprise zone and offer tax credits to businesses hiring the unemployed. Let’s streamline the permit process for getting a manufacturing plant up and running. How about a short-term moratorium on any new law that would add even one cent more to the cost of doing business here?

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Dunn and Done: This is Sick

Lucy Dunn
President and CEO of the Orange County Business Council

They aren’t doctors, they don’t even play them on TV, yet our esteemed leaders in Washington have taken out their prescription pads to fix what they think ails us. What it really sounds like is Herbert Hoover’s old campaign chestnut, “a chicken in every pot” – in other words, quality healthcare for everyone that won’t cost us a penny.

To be sure, some of what is proposed will help some of the uninsured as well as some of the underinsured who face chronic health problems. But is the cure worse than the disease? Based on what is currently proposed, we get very little real-time reform at the cost of both our economic future and as the leading country in innovative and life-saving medical technology and pharmaceutical breakthroughs.

If the purpose is to lower costs and increase competitiveness in the health insurance market, a provision should be included to allow for the purchase of health insurance over state lines. And no cost reform can be obtained without significant tort reform. A federal health care plan should limit frivolous lawsuits against health care providers to prevent fraud and free up our legal system. Shouldn’t we start with some of the basics before we launch into a massive new bureaucracy with 110 new federal panels and commissions?

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Will California’s Assembly Say “No Thank You” to Federal Education Dollars?

Lucy Dunn
President and CEO of the Orange County Business Council

The deadline for states to apply for federal “Race to the Top” (RTTT) education funding is fast approaching and while other states have their applications ready to go, the California Assembly has not yet passed the measures needed to make sure California is even able to apply for the much-needed money.

Every child has a right to a quality public education. Today, school officials across California are wondering, not about quality education, but about whether they will even be able to keep schools open due to Sacramento’s chronic fiscal crises, deferred education payments and huge cuts (over half a billion dollars lost in Orange County alone). Luckily for California, the Obama administration has offered federal funding opportunities, but with strings attached. In order to qualify for these funds, California must agree to allow the use of specified accountability and measurement tools and develop new reform strategies with a focus on achieving higher academic standards.

California must move to increase skilled teachers and promise to turn around struggling schools. The California Senate has agreed to these rules, stepped up to the challenge and passed SBX5 1 to meet eligibility requirements for RTTT federal funding. The Governor has expressed support for this bill as well. The legislation would make California schools eligible for a share of the $4.3 billion in federal funding allocated for education.

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Economic Incentives, Jobs — They’re EZ!

Lucy Dunn
President and CEO of the Orange County Business Council

It’s all about jobs. How many times do we have to say it? A lot, I guess. Business wants to hire, to thrive, but we get pummeled every day from neighboring states to move to lower tax, less onerous regulatory locales. In fact–true story–even OCBC was solicited by Henderson, Nevada’s economic development team to “move” to Nevada!

I know–it was an unsolicited email, but that’s how crazy things are for California business.

There’s one economic incentive this state does have: enterprise zones or EZ. EZ is a designated area where businesses earn tax credits by hiring certain qualified, unemployed workers, buying equipment and growing in an economically depressed area. Great idea. And Santa Ana is Orange County’s success story, retaining businesses, hiring unemployed and attracting new enterprises. Anaheim also qualifies for an EZ, but the state currently caps the number allowed and there were 15 applications for only 4 spots, out of 42 total.

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What a Difference a Day Makes

Lucy Dunn
President and CEO of the Orange County Business Council

In the movie “Groundhog Day,” the lead character relives the same day over and over until he finally gets it right. When he realizes that the day has finally changed he says, “Something is… different.” “Good or bad?” he is asked. “Anything different is good.”

Today California has graduated from its endless loop of just discussing our water problem to actually taking action to solve our water problem. Today is different, today is good. Today marks a historical day for California as the State Legislature and the Governor came to resolution on a critically needed comprehensive water package – they are all to be applauded and congratulated for their hard work and efforts.

Is it a perfect package? No, but very little in this life is perfect and while we can quibble over certain aspects of certain bills, we do know that a comprehensive, balanced water solution was the only way a deal would get done. Not just because California’s environmental resources are at risk – but its very economic foundation as well.

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Water vs. Football

Lucy Dunn
President and CEO of the Orange County Business Council

The press reported recently that an L.A. businessman wants to build a 75,000 seat football stadium in the City of Industry. Now that local objections to the project have been settled, the state legislature plans to waive environmental and planning rules for the new structure, arguing that the stadium is a job-creating machine. A bill granting that waiver, which bends the rules every other builder must comply with, passed the state Assembly earlier this month and now awaits approval from the Senate.

I don’t get it. How can the state legislature even propose to “bend the rules” to complete a stadium for a mere Sunday afternoon sporting event but they can’t “bend the rules” to get water to one half of the state’s population?

No government in the history of civilized society has turned off a water supply for its people until now. Because of a protected fish, water pumps have been turned off, drying food-producing fields, killing jobs in Central California, and threatening water supply for all of Southern California. Water rates are skyrocketing and mandatory conservation, even water rationing, is the order of the day.

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Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink!

Lucy Dunn
President and CEO of the Orange County Business Council

It’s clear that the state’s water infrastructure is broken –we haven’t made needed improvements to the state’s water project in 50 years; we’ve seen the largest court-ordered water restrictions in state history this year; and, after two straight years of below-average rainfall, Governor Schwarzenegger proclaimed a statewide drought last week.  

Thank goodness!

California must fix its ailing water supply system.  Southern California’s major water source is the convergence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, known as the Delta in Northern California.  And most Southern Californian’s don’t know how critical it is, let alone where it’s located!  Yet, failure to restore and protect the Delta severely jeopardizes our state’s economy, environment, tourism, recreation and tens of thousands of jobs and the future of our quality of life in this state.

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