California’s Emerging Good Government Coalition

Ed Ring
Executive Director, California Public Policy Center

The 2014 mid-term elections will be remembered for many things – pioneering use of information technology to comprehensively profile and micro-target voters, escalating use of polarizing rhetoric, historically low levels of voter turnout, and historic records in total spending. In California, in spite of all this money and technology – or perhaps because of it – the political landscape is probably not going to change very much this time around. But appearances can be deceiving. While Democrats will still control California’s state legislature and nearly all of California’s large cities and urban counties, new fault lines are forming within California’s electorate that defy conventional definitions of Republican and Democrat, or conservative and liberal.

Because as it is, California’s schools are failing, businesses and middle-income residents are fleeing, and the cost of living is the highest in America. Three powerful groups benefit from and perpetuate this arrangement with their money and their votes:  Wealthy individuals and crony capitalists, unionized public sector workers, and low-income residents who have become entirely dependent on government and are susceptible to their rhetoric. The terms of this alliance are financially unsustainable and even now, they harm low income residents more than they help them. It will crack as soon as a viable opposition coalesces. And that is happening.

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L.A. Pensions: Pay Now or Pay Much More Later

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

As part of Mayor Garcetti’s agenda for fiscal responsibility, the Board of Administration of the Los Angeles Employees Retirement System (“LACERS”) took the long term view when it approved lowering the investment rate assumption to 7.5% from 7.75%, overcoming the objections of the self-serving Coalition of LA City Unions.  This action will require our cash strapped City, facing a budget deficit of $165 million next year, to pony up an additional $50 million to this seriously underfunded pension plan.

LACERS is one of the City’s two pension plans, serving 24,000 civilian employees and providing benefits to 18,000 retirees and their beneficiaries.  Unfortunately, this pension plan is underfunded by $5.4 billion (less than 70% funded) as its assets of $11.9 billion do not cover its obligations of $17.3 billion to current and future retirees.  This deficit would increase to at least $8.5 billion (less than 60% funded) if a more realistic investment rate assumption was used.

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California’s U.S. Senate Seats in Spotlight

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

Chatter around political circles last week frequently focused on California politicians who were not even on Tuesday’s ballot. Would U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer, 74 tomorrow, and Dianne Feinstein, 81, run for re-election? The speculation was enhanced after the USC Dornsife College/Los Angeles Times poll released over the weekend showed that a majority of Californians would like to see new candidates run for those senatorial chairs.

Mind you, the question did not mention the senators by name – only if it would be a good idea to replace senators who served 22 years in that one office. Sixty percent of the voters said it would be a good idea if new candidates were elected.

California made history in 1992 electing two women to the U.S. Senate. The satirical musical group Capitol Steps celebrated the event at the time with one of their spoof songs applying recognized tunes to new lyrics, in this case using a Beach Boys’ classic when they sang about the senate: “I wish they all could be California girls.”

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Goodbye, Supermajorities

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)

I’m not a Democrat, but I once had high hopes for the legislative Democratic supermajorities. California’s governance system is so supermajority mad – we added a new one by Prop 47 in this election – that legislative supermajorities offered the promise of action on taxes, spending and constitutional revision that the state has needed for decades. Surely, Democrats would use this power.

As we know from watching the last two years, they didn’t. Instead, the Democrats preached caution and largely locked deeper into the system the budget austerity that the broken governance system and the Great Recession wrought. Did they restructure the tax system to increase revenues and improve competitiveness? No? Did they remove restraints on democratic decision-making and budgeting? No. Did they pass constitutional changes or pursue a broader constitutional convention or revision commission? No.

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California’s Southern Discomfort

Fox&Hounds Contributor

We know this was a harsh recession, followed by, at best, a tepid recovery for the vast majority of Americans. But some people and some regions have surged somewhat ahead, while others have stagnated or worse.

Greater Los Angeles fails to make the grade. In per capita growth of gross domestic product since 2010, according to analyst Aaron Renn, our region ranks a very mediocre 38th out of 52 metro areas, with a measly 1.5 percent, well below the national average of 3.8 percent. It places behind up-and-comers among the Texas cities, Oklahoma City and some tech-oriented clusters – Silicon Valley ranked second, after Houston. These places have growth rates roughly twice those of the Southland.

When we wanted to drill down to the more local level, and analyze what is happening by county, we needed to go to the Census Bureau, as opposed to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, where we could glean what is happening in our communities. Our analysis is based on those figures, and neither of us hopes the Southern California region continues to stagnate or decline.

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Confessions of a Poll Worker

Heidi Siegmund Cuda
Former Investigative Producer for Fox 11 News in Los Angeles and the Creator and Host of the Economic Series, "Saving the California Dream." She is currently directing a film on the nation's public pension crisis.

In a rabid fit of misguided pat-tree-uh-tism, I signed up to be a volunteer poll worker.

I was tasked with the Casa de Cadillac beat on Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. They were hard up for warm bodies, and I committed to the cause.

A $25 stipend was offered to volunteers who showed up for a two-hour training class, and I made my way to the Van Nuys Senior Center on the designated day. The instructors crammed so much detailed information about the convoluted set up, I thought my head was going to explode. A kindly veteran, who recognized my zombie glaze, said, “You never get it all the first time.”

“I didn’t realize it was going to be a 14-hour day,” I said.

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Higher Ed Tuition Hikes for What Purpose?

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

Yesterday, on a post-election panel presented by Capitol Weekly, I raised the issue of potential tax increases being contemplated by public unions and other groups in the next election and said that one of the reasons more revenue was sought was to cover pension obligations.

A union representative on the panel scoffed that pensions were “yesterday’s news.”

Actually, pensions were that day’s news if you read accounts about the University of California’s request that tuition be raised by 5-percent a year for a five year period.

The chief reason for the tuition increase appears to be retirement costs.

According to the Sacramento Bee, UC Chief Financial Officer Nathan Brostrom cited retirement costs in explaining the need for tuition hikes. This is how the Bee put it: “Brostrom emphasized that UC feels it is not getting what was promised to the university with the Proposition 30 tax hikes, which increased revenues by 8 percent, and that it could avoid raising tuition if the state helped fund its retiree costs.” (My emphasis.)

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Covering California’s Least Amazing Race

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)

In the end, Neel Kashkari lacked the courage to do the one thing that might have made him a household name, and thus competitive in the race for California governor:

Get infected with Ebola.

Media coverage of elections matters in California, in part because we ask our voters to make dozens of decisions in candidate contests and ballot measures. But this year’s state election coverage has been so meager in quantity and so half-hearted in quality that that one wonders why journalists bothered. On television and online, election news was eclipsed by scary-bad coverage of Ebola, which as of this writing had infected not a single Californian and had killed fewer U.S. residents than Kim Kardashian has married. Yet CBS 2’s “Ebola in America” graphic now appears in my nightmares. Yes, yes, I can hear your protests, my fellow media types. Times are tough in the business, we need to give audiences what they want, and complaints about media coverage are as tired and dull as, well, this year’s California elections coverage. Yes, I understand that the races weren’t close and the public wasn’t engaged and that only 40 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government. But, my friends, please: is it just Kashkari’s fault that 70 percent of Californians have no idea who the Republican candidate for governor was?

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The Demographics That Sank The Democrats In The Midterm Elections

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

Over the past five years, the Democratic Party has tried to add class warfare to its pre-existing focus on racial and gender grievances, and environmental angst. Shortly after his re-election in 2012, President Obama claimed to have “one mandate . . . to help middle-class families and families that are working hard to try to get into the middle class.”

Yet despite the economic recovery, it is precisely these voters, particularly the white middle and working classes, who, for now, have deserted the Democrats for the GOP, the assumed party of plutocracy. The key in the 2014 mid-term elections was concern about the economy; early exit polls Tuesday night showed that seven in 10 voters viewed the economy negatively, and this did not help the Democratic cause.

“The Democrats have committed political malpractice,” says Morley Winograd, a longtime party activist and a former top aide to Vice President Al Gore during the Clinton years. “They have not discussed the economy and have no real program. They are offering the middle class nothing.”

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Jobs Are Lost As CEQA Goes Off The Rails

William Allen and Hasan Ikhrata
William Allen is President and CEO of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. Hasan Ikhrata is Executive Director of the Southern California Association of Governments.

The California Environmental Quality Act was established to protect the environment and ensure that development does the same. So how is it that a project to build hundreds of “green” public transit rail cars in Palmdale was killed by a CEQA lawsuit that has nothing to do with the environment?

The time is long past due to reform CEQA to preserve the law’s original intent, while stamping out these types of abuses that eliminate jobs our region desperately needs.

Kinkisharyo International LLC is set to build hundreds of environmentally friendly rail cars for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but it recently pulled the plug on the $50 million, 400,000-square-foot permanent manufacturing facility planned for the city of Palmdale that would have employed more than 250 manufacturing workers in this economically depressed area.

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