Consumer spending is down, but what’s really to blame?

Charles Crumpley
Editor and Publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal

A new report last week said that consumer spending was down again. It said consumers are skittish about the economy and inflation. Although I’m just one consumer, I know my spending is down. But it’s not because of the economy. I’m fed up with retail clerks.

For one thing, they’re an endangered species. You can count more condors in the sky than clerks on the floor at Macy’s. And when you do find one, it’s obvious they’re on the sales floor by mistake because they’re clearly not there to help you. The last time I asked a clerk at Home Depot to look for something in the back because it wasn’t on the sales floor, he snickered, “Sure, dude,” and sauntered off, never to be seen again.

How long would it take a manager to tell all incoming clerks they must smile at customers, ask if they can help, say “thank you”? Would it take a minute to give that little speech? Thirty seconds even? I mean, we went to the moon and everything. You’d think a little speech like that could be told to all clerks before the end of the decade.

Honestly, I’m curious. Retail managers, please tell me, why can’t you hire a few more clerks and give them that little “be helpful” speech? What am I missing here? If enough explain, I’ll include some of the responses in a future column.

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11 Reasons to Vote Yes on Prop. 11

Writer and Political Commentator

The most important initiative on November’s ballot is Proposition
11. In simple terms, Prop 11 will take redistricting out of the
hands of the legislature and create a 14 person (5 Democrats, 5
Republicans and 4 others) independent committee. Every 10 years the
California State Legislature goes into a dark room, redraws the
legislative districts to virtually guarantee the status quo (just
about the only time the two parties can agree on anything), and
effectively prevents real reform in Sacramento for another 10 years.

Let me give you 11 excellent reasons to support Prop 11 this November
and end the current incumbent protection program.

1. Last month’s Field poll shows that only 27% of Californians think
our legislature is doing a good job. Yet, 99% of our state
legislators are reelected. Either we are stupid, or the system is
rigged. Personally, I would rather think we’re not stupid.

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NewsFlash: Field poll finds voters are kindly

Loren Kaye
President of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education

The most notorious workplace benefits bill of the year, AB 2716, will be considered by a key Senate committee today, and on behalf of supporters, the Field Research Corporation has released a doozy of a poll. By a three-to-one margin, voters support a state law to guarantee that workers receive a minimum number of sick days from their employer. Also, three-quarters of voters “are concerned” about the millions of estimated workers without paid sick days. Moreover, the same 75% – 25% margin finds voters believe paid sick day laws will significantly increase the cost of doing business and the costs will be passed on to customers.

So voters are basically a sympathetic bunch, and when asked they acknowledge that new benefits aren’t free. But the poll doesn’t ask what would be the only useful question: given a choice between a compassionate benefit and certain job losses or pay cuts, which is a higher priority?

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The Veto Strategy

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

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said he will not sign any bill that comes his way until a budget is passed.

He made this statement at a press conference in which he called for consequences for legislators who do not complete their responsibility of passing a budget on time. He had another plan for the legislators’ failure — cut their pay if no budget is in place and don’t make it up with back pay once the budget is passed.

The second idea is wishful thinking. The former, he has the power to do. If he applies his veto pen to all measures that come to his desk before a budget is signed, many legislators will be disappointed. And, probably only a handful of bills, if that, will be able to muster the two-thirds vote to override the veto.

This veto plan is a good one. Not only because the governor can put pressure on the legislature to pass the budget, but because it may focus attention on the myriad of new laws we face in California every year.

Last year the legislature passed 964 bills. The governor vetoed 214, a bit less than a quarter of the total but he signed 750 into law.

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Outsource the budget process already!

Public Affairs Consultant specializing in Issue Advocacy and Strategic Communications

Once again, it’s August and state lawmakers haven’t adopted a new budget yet. It’s time to talk about outsourcing.

Like many of the redistricting reforms floated over the years, I propose that, if the budget has not been adopted by the July 1 constitutional deadline, a panel of financial experts be appointed by the CA Supreme Court to draft the state’s spending plan for the next fiscal year and let the voters text their votes in like millions do on “American Idol” until a majority have approved the budget. (OK, maybe not text messaging).

Although there is plenty of blame to go around (including we voters who have committed the sins of ballot box budgeting), I am not pointing fingers at anybody. Term limits are not the culprit as budget approval deadlines were regularly missed before Prop. 140 passed. I don’t blame anyone in particular either.

Instead, I think that the process to enact budgets as well as the partisan grandstanding makes it impossible to adopt reasonable spending plans that pay at least some attention to future years. Based on my experience working for the Legislature in a previous life, I don’t think most legislators have carefully reviewed the budgets before they vote on them. Overdue budgets tend to be voted on within hours of the Big 5 reaching a compromise so that lawmakers can either get on with their family vacations or move back to the end of the legislative session.

Furthermore, unlike municipalities having their budget negotiations in public, state budget talks are conducted in private. Except for leaks from a few staff members close to the negotiations, none of us really know what exactly they are talking about and what kind of horse trading is going on.

I’d like to see more discussion in Sacramento about whether the budget negotiations should be outsourced. At a minimum, the Big 5 should seriously consider bringing in either federal mediators or marriage counselors to help them resolve their differences. In fact, I’ll pay for the counseling if I get to watch.

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Olympic-Size Opportunity

Charles Crumpley
Editor and Publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal

Will Los Angeles be a beneficiary of the Olympic Games?

Even though the games, which open next week, will be in distant China, they could result in residual and real benefits for Los Angeles.

How so? Well, consider what Peter Ueberroth said last week: While Chinese officials see the games as a way to show off the country to the rest of the world, they don’t quite realize that the games will bring the world into China, exposing their population to a wave of foreign influences and attitudes. That wave will wipe away fears and prejudices, and embolden the Chinese to look overseas to study, do business or just travel.

What the Chinese officials don’t know yet is that once you open up a closed country, it’s hard to snap it shut again.

For that reason, Ueberroth said the upcoming Olympics will be the most significant international event ever.

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Schwarzenegger Move No Surprise

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

Those of you who were surprised when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger floated the idea of a temporary sales tax increase as part of a budget solution, raise your hands.

As I thought, not many. It was hard not to see this proposal coming. The governor suggested a temporary sales tax solution as a back-up to his lottery lease plan months ago. As I wrote at the time, he dipped into former Governor George Deukmejian’s playbook in which Duke proposed a temporary sales tax be triggered by a certain time if the hole in the state budget hadn’t closed.

In budget negotiations, the governor apparently floated a package of a firm spending limit and structural budget reform along with the temporary sales tax, which he moved from back-up status to be part of the end game. In Arnold Schwarzenegger’s post-partisan world, he is the only one who would make this call.

And he may be the only one with an official say in the matter who likes this plan.

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The Product Police, Part Two

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

When I was a boy, my folks owned a farm in Upper Lake in Lake County where we raised walnuts. It was managed by an aunt and uncle and I used to love going to visit. Every fall, we would go as a family to help with the harvest. The one thing I used to hate about it was drinking the water at my Aunt Betty’s house. It tasted horrible and there were always stains in the bathtub and the sink that looked like rust.

I remember asking my mother why the water tasted so bad and why there were those stains. It was the first time I ever heard the term hard water.

Hard water is water with a high mineral content. The United States Geological Survey states that 89.3% of homes in America of have some degree of hard water and some of the hardest water in the country is right here in California, including the counties of Los Angeles, Riverside, Ventura, and San Diego.

Hard water is hard on your clothes, hard on your appliances, takes more energy to run them and leaves a scum called scaling, which is the left over mineral deposits after the water has dried up. It can clog pipes, ruin water heaters, coat the insides of tea and coffee pots, and decrease the life of toilet flushing units. It can also leave salt residue in your hair after shampooing leaving it coarser and harder to manage.

Sounds like we need to do something! Why is the legislature not doing something about this environmental disaster?

Well, the Legislature is doing something about it. But as they always seem to do, they want to take away the only thing we have to combat the ill effects—water softeners. They want to ban them.

Not only do they want to ban them, they want to give largely unelected local water agency bureaucrats the ability to develop a “finding”, which is a government word for “excuse”, that will allow them to enter your home and remove your water softener.

That is what AB 2270 would do if it is passed and signed by the Governor. Where Assemblymen Mike Feuer and John Laird came up with this one I haven’t the foggiest idea. Suffice it to say, it yet another example of a solution desperately looking for a problem.

And how will you be compensated for removing your water softener?

Will they compensate you for your water softener? Don’t be silly. You have violated the law and the Wrench and Faucet Division of the Product Police don’t have to compensate you for anything.

Will the State of California compensate you for having to replace pipes, get new washers and dishwashers and buy new clothes after the mineral rich hard water has destroyed them? There you go being silly again. The government is doing this for your own good although they never tell you what that good is!

And what will the state do to compensate all those Hollywood stars that will be forced to deal with frizzy unruly hair caused by hard water? Maybe they will be given a waiver by the Shampoo Division of the Product Police.

Water softeners have been used effectively for years — so why now, all of the sudden, do they want to ban them?

And if it is such a dramatic problem with regards to our water supply, why isn’t it being discussed as part of the larger discussion on the future of California’s water supply?

Assemblyman Feuer comes from Los Angeles County, which has some of the hardest water in the nation. Wait until he tells them he is going to take their water softeners. I would love to see the reaction of his constituents. Cue the tar and feathers.

Finally, who is going to enforce this ban? Will there be special plumbers assigned to local police forces to go in and forcibly remove your property?

If this wasn’t so serious it would just be one of those “only in California” moments. But it is serious and it should be rejected by the Legislature and the Governor forthwith.

And if it is so dad burned important, its impacts need to be studied far more than it has been and as I said before it should be a small part of the larger issue of water.

Let’s not try to “solve” an alleged problem while at the same time creating new ones.

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Schwarzenegger move not a pay cut, and Chiang’s computers add but don’t subtract

Loren Kaye
President of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education

The state employees are marching. The editorial boards are wringing their collective hands. The Controller is standing firm. But guess what — Governor Schwarzenegger’s executive order on state spending issued last Thursday does not cut anybody’s pay.

Typical of the reporting is a story in yesterday’s Sacramento Bee which says, inaccurately, that the Governor instituted “a temporary pay cut.”

If anyone took the time to actually read the executive order, one would discover that it merely orders the Director of the Departments of Finance and Personnel Administration to
“work with the State Controller to develop and implement the necessary mechanisms, including but not limited to pay letters and computer programs, to comply with the California Supreme Court’s White v. Davis opinion to pay federal minimum wage to those nonexempt FLSA employees who did not work any overtime.”

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Maybe Chiang should switch to Mac?

Chandra Sharma
Political Communications, Redistricting and New Media Strategist

State Controller John Chiang, who last week announced his intent to ignore the Governor’s Executive Order reducing the salaries of state employees to the federal minimum wage during the budget impasse, issued a new statement this morning — he claims that even if he wanted to comply with the Governor’s order, the ‘antiquated’ computer system used by the state to manage and issue payroll would not allow it.

I don’t ever recall reading about the payroll system causing a 6-9 month delay in processing wage and salary increases for the state’s workforce — maybe the delay only occurs in one direction?

Nonetheless, I do understand how such a change could be so complex. Sure, updating 200,000 database records is considered a fairly straightforward function in the technology world and likely requires so little processing power that your average Blackberry, iPhone or graphing calculator could accomplish the task within the requisite timeframe, but we must be careful not to expect too much all at once.

Here’s a suggestion for the Controller – maybe it’s time to switch?

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