Three Years Later and Nothing Has Changed

Patrick Dorinson
Host of The Cowboy Libertarian Radio Talk Show in Sacramento

Three years ago, just before the special election of 2005, I wrote the following article for the Capitol Weekly, Sacramento’s excellent newspaper of California politics and government. Think of it as our version of Washington’s Roll Call.

Not much has changed since I wrote this piece. If anything, things have gotten worse.

When will the people of California wake up from their political slumber and take back their government?

Thomas Jefferson once said, “If once the people become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress, Assemblies, judges and Governors shall all become wolves”.

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The Pork Express

Jon Coupal
President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Note: This post was co-authored with Tom Schatz, President of Citizens Against Government Waste

For six years in a row, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and
the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation (HJTF) have published the
California Piglet Book to spotlight waste, fraud and abuse of
taxpayers’ dollars. Modeled after the Pig Book, an annual analysis
of Federal spending conducted by CAGW, we have found the state
Piglet an excellent method of embarrassing California officials into
better performance and a higher respect for the public’s money.

In a target rich environment, this year we have chosen to focus our
attention on the misuse of public transportation dollars.

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Blowing Up the Budget

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

It may not be quite “blowing up the boxes,” but "blowing up the budget” will send a similar message. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected to corral the budget beast. His announcement yesterday that he plans to veto the Rube Goldberg-style budget plan sent to him by the legislature is a righteous stand against California’s out-of-control budget process.

In December 2003, buoyed by the power of the recall election, the newly minted governor had the power to fix the problem he was elected to address—California’s unbalanced and spending-addicted budget. However, as a new governor, he chose not to use his mandate to force the necessary budget changes upon the legislature.

A second attempt to deal with California’s spending problem was to follow through with a campaign promise to scrub the entire budget and recommend changes in the way California did business – the so-called “blow up the boxes” approach. The California Performance Review, created to achieve this goal, was eventually buried under mounds of dirt thrown by interests who benefited from the status quo.

Now, five years after the historic recall, the budget beast still roams freely. Schwarzenegger’s declaration that he will veto the budget puts him on the path of tracking the beast and perhaps throwing a fence around it before he leaves office. If Schwarzenegger accomplishes ending the annual budget fiasco and attains true budget reform, his governorship will be seen as a success for achieving his major goal.

In the end, I suspect the legislature will override his veto. Will Schwarzenegger then lose his momentum by backing down from rejecting all the bills he promised to veto if his budget veto is overridden? He will have to fulfill his promise, even in the face of many of those bills passing in an override vote, if he is to maintain a strong position to force budget change in the next legislative session.

Continuing the budget standoff will be difficult for those who rely on the state budget, and no one wants to see their pain continue. But this problem should be dealt with now, instead of setting up an even more difficult scenario next year.

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Information Super-“Seaway?”

Michele Steel
Orange County Supervisor (2nd District) and Former California State Board of Equalization Member

Technology’s rapid innovation cycles force internet users to constantly upgrade their IT systems. Could this constant battle against technological obsolescence be so pervasive as to include even our internet metaphors?

Google has announced plans to store their supercomputers that power the internet on barges up to seven miles offshore. Ahoy! The information superhighway has set sail.

As The Times explains, “The “water-based data centres” would use wave energy to power and cool their computers, reducing Google’s costs. Their offshore status would also mean the company would no longer have to pay property taxes on its data centres, which are sited across the world, including in Britain.”

Obviously, these sea-based storage systems remain in the theoretical stage. There remain big, unsolved issues like how to keep the barges safe from hurricanes and terrorists. However, the mere possibility of offshore data-barges underscores the importance of public policymakers staying technologically up-to-date.

California must constantly upgrade our laws, especially tax laws, to keep pace with these new developments. It’s true that the internet has reduced some traditional sources of tax revenue while increasing other tax revenue. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that since 1981 California’s sales tax base has declined by 10 percent. At the same time, capital gains taxes from hi-tech company stock sales helped close deficits in the early 2000’s.

New iTaxes and interpretations of state-business nexus may seem like great short-term solutions to boost revenue. (California recently considered both ideas in the past legislative session.) Legislators need to remember that no industry or region is protected from the free-market’s invisible hand. If California exacts too many regulatory and tax demands on hi-tech businesses, they might just pack their bags and set sail. Likely? No, but ask the steel workers in Pennsylvania and GM employees in Michigan whether the Silicon Valley could someday become the Silicon Sea.

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At fault, Metrolink fires its messenger.

Public Affairs Consultant specializing in Issue Advocacy and Strategic Communications

Within 48 hours of the fatal Metrolink crash Friday afternoon in Chatsworth, the transit agency’s board of directors dumped its top spokesperson, Denise Tyrrel, over a dispute on how information was shared with the media.

That’s a shame because I found her candor and visibly emotional distress over the tragedy refreshingly human while she quickly provided information that was painfully obvious—a Metrolink engineer screwed up.

Like many other Angelenos, I spent several hours over the weekend looking for news updates on the Metrolink crash in Chatsworth. Unlike other fatal accidents that occur in Los Angeles regularly, this crash seemed different to me, and with Denise Tyrrel, I felt the pain she was experiencing and a sense of guilt that a colleague at her agency had not done his job. Her honesty and human emotions moved me and I am sure thousands of other Angelinos whose hearts went out to the victims’ families.

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Wait Til’ Next Year — Again

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

When word of a budget deal first came out, we were told the budget would be balanced with no borrowing. What we were not told was that meant no borrowing from the usual sources–transportation funds or local governments. But I guess borrowing from the taxpayers is different.

By increasing withholding by 10% and requiring quarterly filers to increase payments and paying back any overage later, the state is essentially borrowing from taxpayers. And, it’s an interest free loan at that. When provisions were put in to protect local government from the state vultures, laws required that borrowed money would have to be returned with interest.

Then there are the items in the budget deal which stipulate that millionaires who see an income windfall will be required to make more of their tax payments sooner and businesses will be restricted from writing off losses for two years while recouping those revenue losses in future years.

All this on a day the stock market fell 500 points and Wall Street is in turmoil. I don’t think there will be too many windfall profits to hit up very soon. And, businesses probably will be suffering big losses and still have to come up with the money for taxes.

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Quo Vadis California?

Patrick Dorinson
Host of The Cowboy Libertarian Radio Talk Show in Sacramento

It appears as of this writing that we now have a budget agreement. Pardon me if I don’t cheer this development, but I am in no mood to cheer because it is a cruel joke on the people of this great state.

What has happened to California over the last 50 years? I sure don’t recognize it.

I am a native Californian. I was born in San Francisco in 1952 and reared in Marin County when it was a Republican County. I always tell people that I am old enough to remember when the only place you could get a latte or cappuccino in those days was at an Italian restaurant in San Francisco’s North Beach. Now you can get one every street corner. To this day I can’t seem to understand why anyone would pay $5 for a cup of coffee with some hot milk added, but that is a story for another day.

Fifty years ago in 1958, the New York Giants left the Polo Grounds of New York bound for the West Coast where they would become the San Francisco Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers left Ebbets Field arriving in Southern California where they would become the Los Angeles Dodgers. They had been bitter rivals in New York and in the years since they have moved here, the rivalry has been handed down from generation to generation to where no matter where they are in the standings a Giants-Dodgers series is still a blood feud.

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I Qualify for Vice-President, Too

Lisa Gritzner
President, Cerrell Associates

After watching Sarah Palin artfully evade Charlie Gibson’s questions last week (despite him showing the proper amount of McCain Campaign-required deference, might I add), I was depressed and wondering what our country was coming to…was this really the best we could do? Is this really how I want my gender to be represented? Is this history in the making or just history repeating itself like the fall of Rome?

Then it hit me this morning…instead of feeling remorse, its time for me to step up and do something! The more I thought about it, the more I realized…I am just as qualified, if not MORE qualified to be Vice President, as Sarah Palin. So here it is my official announcement of my candidacy for Vice President – or at least throwing my hat into the ring for a cool cabinet position…

And since I’m all about transparency in my campaign, I thought I would throw out a few of my qualifications and positions on the issues:

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California’s Banks: Strong, Safe and Secure

President of the California Bankers Association

This summer there has been an endless flow of news stories across the state that may have given many Californians the mistaken impression that we are in the midst of a financial meltdown, centered on the faltering health of our banks. Headlines following an infrequent bank failure in California this summer asked readers, is your bank next? Is your money safe? While California’s economy is under-performing in part due to fall-out related to failures from the sub-prime mortgage lending situation, the banking industry in California remains strong, safe and secure. In fact, capital levels at California banks are at or near all-time highs, with double the amount of capital today as compared to the last significant economic downturn in the early 1990’s.

First and foremost, customers’ deposits at traditional banking institutions are protected by Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insurance, up to $100,000 with additional protection for joint accounts and $250,000 on individual retirement accounts. The FDIC has more than $50 billion in assets available to protect depositors, and in the 75-year history of the FDIC, not one cent of customer money in an FDIC-insured bank account has been lost.

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The Coming Initiative Wars Over Budget Reform

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Legislature leaders came together on a budget deal over the weekend, but reportedly few major reforms in the budget process will be part of the deal.

Get ready for the coming initiative wars over budget reform. I believe frustrated political interests as well as members of the legislature will ask the people to reform the way the system works on the 2010 ballot.

Even if a 2009 special election is called to put forth some constitutional changes created by the legislature and included in the budget deal, big changes on the budget front will probably find their way onto the 2010 ballot by initiative.

Senate President Pro Tem to be Darrell Steinberg has already said he will not go through this type of stalled budget mess again, indicating an initiative is on the horizon to lower the two-thirds vote to pass the budget. Whether there will be included in a budget reform measure, or in a separate measure, a proposal to lower the two-thirds vote requirement to raise taxes is also a possibility.

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