Debt, Rainy Day Fund, Education Funding Should Be State’s Budget Priorities

Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez
Assembly Budget Committee Vice Chair Melissa Melendez, District 67

Today, Governor Brown will release his budget proposal for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The release of the Governor’s budget officially kicks off the budget debate at the State Capitol. As the new vice chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, I look forward to representing Assembly Republicans throughout the budget process as we work toward a balanced budget that protects taxpayers.

Our budget priorities this year are your priorities — protecting classroom dollars, keeping higher education affordable, and safeguarding public safety funding.

There will be areas where we agree with the Governor on his budget proposal, and areas where we disagree.

We agree with his focus on tackling the state’s long-term liabilities. This is especially important as the State Controller’s office has estimated that state retiree healthcare obligations have grown to nearly $72 billion this year – a $7 billion increase over last year.

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Plenty of Dem & Rep Names for Boxer Seat; What About an Independent?

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

The floodgates of conjecture opened wide with the announcement by U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer that she would not seek re-election in 2016. Potential senatorial candidates from the Democratic and Republican Parties made it into news reports.

But with California now working under the top two primary system an independent candidate could also challenge to get one of the top two positions in a primary race.

Is it possible for a registered independent candidate to succeed?

“No question about it,” said Dan Schnur, Executive Director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. Schnur ran a well-chronicled campaign as an independent for Secretary of State in the June election finishing fourth. He said the greatest obstacles for an independent candidate are voting habits of the electorate and familiarity with the candidate.

Schnur believes an independent candidate with name recognition, great resources, and significant news coverage of a high profile race, such as the U.S. Senate, could succeed.

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The U.S. Supreme Court is One Decision Away from Curtailing Union Power in California

Larry Sand
President of the California Teachers Empowerment Network

Last year marked a legal turning point for California’s teachers’ unions and public employee unions across the nation. First, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled in June that some of the teachers’ work rules—including tenure, seniority, and dismissal laws—violated the state and federal constitutions. That same month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in Harris v. Quinn, holding that home healthcare workers could not be forced to pay agency shop fees to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Treu’s ruling in Vergara v. California inflicted a flesh wound on the teachers’ unions, but Harris sent them reeling. The only way that the Supreme Court’s five-to-four decision could have been worse for the unions is if the justices had decided to broaden it to cover all public employees, not just a subset of them. Instead, Justice Samuel Alito drew a distinction between the home workers and “full-fledged” public employees, who currently must pay dues as delineated in the court’s 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision. Nevertheless, Alito’s opinion left the door open for a more expansive court ruling later. He noted that Abood (which holds that the state may force public-sector workers to pay union dues while carving out an exception for the funds that unions spend on political activity) is questionable on several grounds, and went so far as to suggest that collective bargaining issues are inherently political in the public sector. Alito explained, “In the private sector, the line is easier to see. Collective bargaining concerns the union’s dealings with the employer; political advocacy and lobbying are directed at the government. But in the public sector, both collective bargaining and political advocacy and lobbying are directed at the government.” Taking Alito’s reasoning to its logical next step, paying fees to a public-employee union would become voluntary in the 26 states, including California, where it’s now compulsory.

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Why is LA’s City Council Ignoring the Recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission?

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

Nine months ago, on April 9, 2014, all twelve members of the LA 2020 Commission endorsed a series of actionable recommendations designed to “enhance transparency and accountability in City Hall, put the City on a path of fiscal stability, and renew job creation in Los Angeles.”

These measures were also viewed as an excellent starting point by Maria Elena Durazo, the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and Gary Toebben, the President of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

Yet, despite this widespread support from organized labor, the business community, and the political establishment, why has City Council President Herb Wesson failed to even consider these common sense recommendations? 

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California Energy Policy: Why Doing It Right Is More Important Than Doing It First

Rob Lapsley
President, California Business Roundtable

It has been eight years since the enactment of Assembly Bill 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. AB 32, which mandated a statewide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to 1990 levels by 2020, which heralded California as the game-changer in international climate change. Since then, regulators have worked hard to design and enact an extensive collection of programs, mandates and strategies to meet the requirements of the new law which layer on top of all the other environmental regulations already in place.

When AB 32 was first put into place, the Governor and Legislature were well aware that if California were to go it alone, it would cover less than the 1% of global emissions generated. It was intentionally designed as a model program with the working realization that if it was to be successful, other states and nations would have to join California’s lead. To date, there has been limited action from other nations and states, due to an unwillingness to confront the actual climate change threat or the potential impact on their economies through increased electricity and fuel costs.  

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Why Not Let People Vote For Whomever They Want?

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)

What would it take to reverse the trend of voter turnout? The real answers to that question – partisan local elections, a reversal of the top two disaster (and the resulting voter confusion, expensive campaign nastiness, and party weakness), elections on weekends, loosening all the constitutional rules that take issues off the table – are considered politically unrealistic. In part because reformers supported reforms that discourage voting, and being a reformer means never having to say you were wrong.

Since this is California, you’ve probably got to start with a small step. So here it is: Restore to voters the power to vote for whomever they choose.

Didn’t know that that power had been taken away from you? It was – back in 2012 when a law, designed to implement top two, abolished write-in voting on the November ballot for partisan offices (president being the exception). The change didn’t get much attention at the time, but it eliminated one more reason for people to vote. There never were a lot of write-ins, but we’re told that every vote counts. And every vote counts more when so few people are voting.

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Net Neutrality = Regulate My Competitor

Eric Lindberg and Carlos Solórzano-Cuadra
Eric Lindberg is Secretary-Treasurer Local 9423 and Next Generation Lead Activist for Communications Workers of America. Carlos Solórzano-Cuadra is CEO of the Hispanic Chambers of Commerce of San Francisco.

In a major development in the ongoing debate over net neutrality, President Obama announced his support for a strict regulatory regime to govern the Internet. The President framed the discussion around a good-faith need to protect innovators and entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, he has fallen for a cynical ploy that some Silicon Valley companies and advocacy groups are using to push an extreme regulatory agenda for the Internet.

Unfortunately, the innovative companies we take for granted to enrich our lives are not always the altruistic companies we think they are especially when it comes to exerting influence in Washington.

Take for example Netflix, who has transformed from a DVD mail order business to a dominant leader in streaming video. They have mastered the ability to provide almost any digital programming directly to smartphones, tablets, and TVs. What Netflix is not yet known for is the age-old practice many companies have come to rely on, known as “regulate my competitor,” or what economists call “rent-seeking”.

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Millennials and Pensions – Do They Know Public Pension Systems Need Reform?

Lance Christensen
Lance Christensen is Director of the Pension Reform Project at the Reason Foundation.

After the midterm election results there has been a lot of talk about the young people who didn’t turn out to vote. There are around 8 million millennials, people ages 18-to-35, in California. And the conventional wisdom has been that since they helped elect President Obama twice, they’ll continue to help elect Democrats. But what about all that debt piling up on their backs?

The non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office predicts $340 billion in debt, deferred payments, pension costs and other liabilities will be on California’s balance sheets for years to come. Gov. Jerry Brown’s latest budget dedicates just over $10 billion to pay down this debt, barely making a dent in the problem.

The largest pension system in the state, the California Public Employee Retirement System has not reported their actuarial values of assets and liabilities for 2013 yet, but out of its four defined benefit plans, it has an unfunded liability of about $60.6 billion. In 2013, CalPERS only contributed 87.7 percent of their annual required contributions, not even making a full payment.

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Bullet Train: Show Us the Money

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

Funding for the high-speed rail is still the big issue even though groundbreaking for the project occurred. California taxpayers are paying a share thanks to a bond passed six years ago and a decision by the legislature to funnel a portion of the cap-and-trade money to the rail project. But where’s the rest of the money coming from?

It wasn’t exactly the Golden Spike ceremony but the media event to herald the beginning of the high speed rail construction went off with some similarities to the event that joined the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory in 1869.

In Fresno yesterday, dignitaries signed the first section of rail for the project, led by California Governor Jerry Brown. In Utah nearly a century-and-a-half ago, former California Governor Leland Stanford drove in the rail line’s last spike that was engraved with the names of the railroad’s officers and directors.

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Legislature Should Resolve to be More Transparent in 2015

Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen
California Assemblymember, 12th District

With the New Year upon us, we traditionally make resolutions to better ourselves. In keeping with that spirit, the State Legislature can make one simple resolution for 2015 – give legislators and the public enough time to review the bills that will be voted on.

Every day, legislators are faced with policy proposals that will impact the future and the household budgets for all Californians. And yet, we are too often provided mere moments to review hundreds of pages of legislation before casting a vote.

Last Session, the Legislature’s majority party had to do an embarrassing about-face to eliminate an insidious budget-related provision that they approved a few days earlier. The original measure, Assembly Bill 76, suspended key provisions of the California Public Records Act. It would have made it more difficult for the public to compel local governments to provide data and documents.

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