California’s Mullet Budget

It’s all hoopla in Sacramento today as Jerry Brown and the Legislative leaders sign the 2013-2014 California state budget into law. Jerry calls the balanced budget a sign that things are rosy in California again.

I say rose is just another shade of red.

The budget keeps the state employee pension gravy train intact, along with its $500 billion dollar hit on future generations. It doesn’t do nearly enough to address our debt, which is now pegged at $100,000 per California household. And it keeps the multi-billion-dollar boondoggle known as California High Speed Rail on track.

But wait, it gets even worse than that.

mulletThe guy with the best line about this dangerously expensive sham of a budget is Republican Assemblyman Jeff Gorell of Camarillo who called it “the mullet budget” – Conservative in front, very liberal in back.

He pointed to how the budget defers the restart of several expensive social welfare programs that were cut during the recession until the 11th month of the fiscal year. If those very expensive, very ongoing programs were implemented at the start of the budget year, or even  half way through the budget year, the budget would not be balanced. So … conservative up front, liberal in the back. Brilliant!

Of course, the next California budget will have to start with the assumption those programs will be in effect for all 12 months, so a new trick will be needed to balance the books. Maybe a new tax on millionaires ….

For more on what’s wrong with the budget Brown and the Democrat super-majority are pretending to be so happy about, read this post by Katy Grimes at CalWatchdog.

 

Crazifornia’s #1 Review

I just checked Amazon to read the new reviews of Crazifornia – there were two more since the last time I checked, both 5-star – but I noticed that one review was found to be helpful by 15 of the 15 people who checked a “Was this review helpful? Yes/No” box.

bookwormIt’s titled, “Witty writing and compelling facts make for a fascinating and enjoyable read,” and it gave Crazifornia five stars. It was written by “Bookworm,” an anonymous Bay Area blogger who’s been a blogging buddy of mine for many years. She was one of the first people in the country to read Crazifornia, and here’s what she wrote about it on Amazon:

Laer is a wonderful writer with straightforward, prose, a witty sense of humor that doesn’t overwhelm the narrative, and a commanding mastery of facts about California’s politics, business, education, and public policy. In theory, I should have galloped through Crazifornia in three hours. In fact, it took me three days to read.

Why did I have a problem with this fascinating book? Because, when I started I did not know how deep the Crazifornia rot ran in the state, nor was I aware quite how infectious the insanity is when it comes to the rest of America. To keep up with the deluge of evidence proving that California is indeed crazy, I repeatedly stopped reading so that I could scratch out little notes to myself: “California’s all-powerful bureaucrats are an army of Leftist Rube Goldberg’s with guns.” “This is a perfect example of voter credulity and bureaucratic overreach.” “California takes a legislatively created energy crisis and makes it worse with more legislation.” The scariest note I wrote was also the shortest: “As California goes, so goes the nation.”

Because California had long been blessed with enormous natural resources and a vital, growing population, it had the wealth to keep the impractical Progressive dream going for decades. It could abs0rb the enormous financial and human losses from almost heroic bureaucratic ineptitude (Chapter 5); laws and regulations that suck the life out of both new and established businesses (Chapter 6); ridiculous educational experiments and an all-powerful teachers union that has little interest in student well-being and education (Chapter 7); environmentalism run amok (Chapter 8); and public sector unions and pensions that have managed to go wherever one ends up when “amok” is a distant memory (Chapter 9).

In lively, humorous prose, Laer tells spins out facts and anecdotes showing a state in thrall to unrealistic visions of an untainted pastoral past, guided by wild-eyed politicians; rigid,power-hungry bureaucrats; and scheming unions. Crazifornia essentially describes a dysfunctional state, one that can best be summed up as a banana republic governed, not by oligarchs, but by a toxic mix of environmental fascists, greedy unions, corrupt or ideology-driven legislators, and all-powerful bureaucrats. But before you get too angry at these jackals, perhaps you should reserve your wrath for the ones who truly deserve it: the California voters.

It’s probably too late to save California. Laer tries to inject some optimism at the end of each chapter and in the conclusion to his book he notes that voter patterns might finally be changing (although recent polling data makes me less optimistic). As cities go bankrupt, gas and food prices rise, businesses bail, and the California middle class becomes poor, some of the voters might finally be growing up. Whether they can reverse California’s downward trend remains questionable. Laer has some excellent suggestions for getting the political pendulum unstuck from its far Left position, but it will be ugly, and it will have to be carried out by people who have been subjected to one hundred years of California’s Progressive propaganda.

When you read Laer’s book (and I hope this review has convinced you to do so), you will see that it is a profound morality tale about what happens when America’s green, anti-capitalist Progressivism gains the upper hand in government. So remember, only you can prevent the Crazifornication of America.

Full disclosure: Bookworm was my source for the “From high to Lowell” section of Crazifornia’s chapter on education.

Murdering Democrats

Feinstein gun controlAs California’s senior senator leads the Congressional campaign to impose more gun controls and Sacramento’s Democrat-dominated legislature considers a bunch of new gun control measures, perhaps they would be interested in learning more about the political leanings of recent mass-murdering wackos. This information is from a letter to the editor forwarded to us by a friend:

  • Ft. Hood shooter: Registered Democrat
  • Columbine shooters: Too young to vote; both families were registered Democrats
  • Virginia Tech shooter: Wrote hate mail to Pres. Bush, registered Democrat
  • Colorado theater shooter: Registered Democrat, worked on Obama campaign, Occupy Wall Street participant
  • Connecticut school shooter: Registered Democrat, hated Christians

Hmmm.

(I have not documented the letter-writer’s claims independently. If you have information counter to this, please let me know.)

Small Respect for Small Business

Cagle - Fleeing California

Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) recently tried and failed to get the California Assembly to pass a resolution in support of small business. Democrats in the Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economic Development and the Economy killed the resolution on on orders from Assembly leader John Perez (D-Los Angeles) and replaced it with a new resolution.

The new resolution transformed the specific pro-small-business recommendations Allen had included in his resolution into platitudes that included no hint that state taxes, laws and regulations might actually hinder small businesses.  Undeterred, Allen offered an amendment which would have added this language:

California’s policymakers can act to relieve the uncertainty of doing business in this state by keeping taxes low, fair, stable and predictable, by reducing the regulatory and litigation costs of operating a business, by investing in public and private works that provide the backbone for economic growth, and by ensuring the availability of high-quality skilled employees.

What a good bunch of ideas! That’s why, as Katy Grimes reports at Fox & Hounds, “Democrats, led by Majority Floor Leader Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, killed Allen’s amendments in a hostile parliamentary move and vote.”

Heaven forbid that California should do anything to support small businesses – the employers of 52 percent of the state’s workforce.

 

Happy Birthday Prop 13!

Tax-Howard-JarvisHoward Jarvis’ Prop 13, one of California’s too-rare greatly beneficial ballot propositions, is 35 years old this week.

Millions have benefited from Prop 13 and the lower property taxes it brought, and just as importantly, California’s spendthrift state government had to learn a new way of doing things. Unfortunately, over time, the Democrat legislature learned far too well how to compensate for lower property tax revenues: Hiding taxes as fees, burdening us with billions of dollars in bond debt, and most recently, using the same proposition strategy to raise taxes.

If you’ve read Crazifornia - and I hope you have – you know that I like using a great story to turn history and policy into a vital, living thing. Today in Fox & Hounds, one of Howard Jarvis’ former staffers, James Lacy, creates such a profile of Howard Jarvis. Here’s a rather lengthy excerpt; I hope it encourages you to read the whole piece.

What is forgotten is that Jarvis was in most ways an ordinary man and very much a person of a time and place: Los Angeles of the 1970s. He could drop by our office because he was usually around. He lived not too far away, on Crescent Heights Boulevard, and had an office in Mid-Wilshire at the Apartment Association of Los Angeles.

And his story, whether you are a fan of Prop 13 or not, is a timely reminder that, if you have a powerful idea and a willingness to reach out to people, you don’t have to be a practiced politician like Jerry Brown or Pete Wilson, a Hollywood star like Ronald Reagan or Arnold Schwarzenegger, or even a cunning strategist like Richard Nixon to leave a legacy.

I went to work for Jarvis and was with him in 1978 as he convinced Californians to adopt Prop 13. I remember both the public Jarvis—a passionate man, with more than a little flair—and the private Jarvis, who lived a quiet and typical Los Angeles life. Indeed, the informality and open-mindedness of that time and place—a Los Angeles where you’d think nothing of starting a conversation with a stranger over a big idea, or dropping by an office without an appointment—helped make Prop 13 possible.

Howard was a penny pincher who wore cheap suits he bought on sale at the Zachary All discount store at 5467 Wilshire, not too far from his home. Howard’s wife, Estelle, once told me she didn’t want Howard in expensive suits, because when giving speeches he often set them on fire by absent-mindedly sticking his lit corn-cob pipe in one of the pockets. I can attest to this, because after I graduated from law school and became a full-time aide to Jarvis, I not only watched him do this once but also discovered that more than one of his business suits from Zachary All had those familiar burn marks at the pockets.

When he got excited, Howard would puff harder on his pipe, and this created a lot of excess “tobacco juice.” During one unfriendly interview with a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle, Howard got agitated and started puffing hard on the pipe. At one point, sitting behind his big, false desk with no drawers, Jarvis leaned forward and spit some of the excess tobacco juice into a waste can. The reporter, on the other side of the desk without benefit of a full view, filed a story noting that at one point in the interview Jarvis “opened his desk drawer and spit into it.”

Howard was a man of simple tastes. He used to tell me that his favorite meal was Estelle’s corn soup. While I was at Jarvis’ home one time I happened to observe the preparation of Howard’s favorite meal, which I was surprised to learn consisted of one can of Del Monte creamed corn mixed into a cup of whole milk, simmered to just below boiling and plopped into a bowl.

Doesn’t that give you a better feel for why Jarvis campaigned so passionately to downsize Sacramento’s piggy bank?

One Day, Three Outrages

Whenever I give a public talk about Crazifornia, I tell how hard it was to stop writing the book because every day California delivered some new display of liberal lunacy or governmental incompetence. I call it the current event writer’s perpetual motion machine.  Today was a particularly bountiful example, with three examples of a state bureaucracy that excels in running amok.

hazmatFirst, something I haven’t reported on before. It seems the Department of Toxic  Substances Control isn’t always as in control as we’d like. The Sacramento Bee reported today that DTSC has failed to bill polluters for clean-up work that cost the state $100 million. Another $45 million was billed to the polluting firms but hasn’t been collected.

The largest unbilled clean-up is the $9.4 million cleanup of contaminated property of the bankrupt Chemical & Pigment Co. in Bay Point in Contra Costa County. Others are as low as $3,000 – but it’s all our money and it’s inexcusable for the state to leave it uncollected.

The next two examples of bureaucracy run amok are all-to-frequent subjects of Crazifornia, Caltrans and the Oakland Bay Bridge and the California High Speed Rail Authority and its slow-moving, platinum-plated train to just about nowhere.

Bay BridgeAnother Sacramento Bee story today reported that Caltrans might miss its target of Labor Day for the reopening of the Oakland Bay Bridge. The big unknown has to do with massive steel bolts that are breaking. Those that can be removed need to be replaced – once they figure out why they’re breaking – and those that can’t be removed need to be retrofitted with steel “saddles.” How many bolts and how many saddles won’t be known until new test results are delivered in June. Based on past performance, we should expect bad news.

Meanwhile, a $270,000 study of what makes Caltrans tick so badly was announced. I don’t like expensive government studies, but really, can you even scratch the surface at Caltrans for a quarter million bucks?

Train to nowhereFinally, the San Jose Mercury News reported today that the  High Speed Rail Authority is also going to miss a previously ballyhooed Big Day – the July start of construction on the controversial Modesto-to-Bakersfield first leg of its train. (OK, I probably didn’t have to add “controversial.” What about this boondoggle isn’t controversial?)

Holding up the planned start are:

  • A lawsuit seeking to undo Proposition 1A, which initiated the high speed rail debacle-in-the-making. Led by former state senator Quinton Kopp, who was for a long time the chair of the High Speed Rail Authority, the lawsuit argues the Authority isn’t building the train that was promised to voters, that it costs more than promised, and that promised sources of funding aren’t there.
  • The Authority failed to seek a needed approval from the Federal Surface Transportation Board, a regulatory oversight of amateurish proportions that the Authority learned about only after opposition Republican lawmakers pointed it out to them.
  • 345 privately owned parcels of land must be purchased before construction can begin. No sales have closed yet.
  • And finally, a contract with construction firm Tutor Perini needs to be negotiated for the $985 million first leg. The selection of Tutor Perini is a scandal of its own since the firm was the least technically qualified bidder, has a history of cost over-runs and litigation, and is part-owned by Senator Diane Feinstein’s husband.

Just another day in paradise.

Anti-Carbon Crusaders Strike Again

Apple USALast December, Apple announced its next manufacturing facility – one that would build Macs – would be built in the U.S., not overseas. Many hoped a company facility in Elk Grove CA  would be the selected site. But that’s not to be, and California’s anti-carbon crusaders are to blame.

Apple announced last week that it will invest $100 million in a new facility – in Texas. The new plant will assemble Macs from components manufactured just about everywhere in the U.S. but California – Illinois, Florida, Kentucky and Michigan.

Why not California? Top among the many probable answers is energy costs, because it takes a lot of juice to build a Mac. Thanks to AB32, the ridiculously named Global Warming Solutions Act – energy costs in California are soaring as mandated increased reliance on expensive alternative energy sources are driving up power costs.

The smart-thinking editorial writers at the San Diego Union Tribune had this to say about Apple and AB32:

[Apple's decision] is primarily a result of AB 32, the landmark 2006 state law forcing a shift to cleaner but costlier forms of energy. After the law was passed, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and many green lawmakers and leaders predicted it would prompt the rest of the world to copy California, as had happened with many previous pioneering environmental policies.

That never came to pass. Instead, the big news on the energy front has been the revolution in fossil fuels, thanks to hydraulic fracturing and other improved energy-exploration tools. This has produced huge new supplies of natural gas in a half-dozen states, sending its price tumbling and prompting major European firms like BASF and Royal Dutch Shell to move manufacturing to the U.S. — something that would have seemed unthinkable a few years ago.

But such European firms have no interest in manufacturing in California. It is simply not cost-competitive with many other areas in the U.S. — a fact the Apple decision underscores.

So, as another $100 million leaves California and a raft of new jobs ends up in Texas, what do Californians think of all this? Chances are, they’re just fine with it because they’ve been well indoctrinated to be scared of global warming.

A just published Public Policy Institute survey (see page 20, here) tells us this:

A majority of Californians (57%) say global warming will pose a serious threat either to them or to their way of life in their lifetime; 39 percent say it will not. A decade ago, the perceived personal threat was much lower (45% yes, 50% no, July 2003). Adults nationwide are far less concerned: in a March Gallup poll, most said global warming will not pose a serious threat to their way of life (34% yes, 64% no).

frightened-woman-1960sHere’s how that majority of frightened Californians breaks down: 68% of Democrats are afraid global warming will pose a serious threat in their lifetime, but only 29% of Republicans are. Angelenos (66%) and San Franciscans (61%) are the most frightened, but majorities in the Inland Empire (52%) and Orange County (51%) are convinced warming will harm them. Only in the Central Valley do the frightened drop below 50%, at 49%.

This shows how effective the PEER Axis – Progressives, Environmentalists, Educators and Reporters – have been in establishing global warming as a threat in California. One can only hope people will wake up and call for change as they see their energy bills soar thanks to AB32′s green energy mandates, while realizing all that green energy hasn’t slowed down the PEER’s efforts to stir up greater global warming fears one iota.

Crazifornia on CalWatchdog

My article on the state’s inept replacing of the earthquake-damaged Oakland Bay Bridge was picked up by CalWatchdog, which is rapidly becoming one of the most trusted sources for conservatively focused news on California. The article presents “a brief summary and timeline of the slowly unfolding human disaster that followed the natural disaster.”

Still More Oakland Bay Bridge Cali-Incompetence

Oakland Bay BridgeIt’s been almost a quarter century – 23 years, seven months and four days, to be exact – since the Loma Prieta earthquake knocked out a section of the eastern span of the Oakland Bay Bridge, causing one of the earthquake’s 57 fatalities.

Despite the huge chunk of time that’s passed, California is still bungling along without a safe replacement bridge in place. Talk about Cali-Incompetence! Yes, the new span is supposed to be ready to open this Labor Day, Sept. 5, but whether does, and whether it’s safe remain to be seen. And the cost? The first bid came in at $1.4 billion, and we’re at $6.3 billion today … with some potentially very expensive fix-it work ahead.

Here’s a brief summary and timeline of the slowly unfolding human disaster that followed the natural disaster:

  • After the quake, Republican governor Pete Wilson proposed a concrete viaduct as a replacement, which could be built cheaply ($1 billion) and safely.
  • That idea was promptly shot down by haughty Bay Area leaders, who refused to accept something as pedestrian as a viaduct. (A viaduct is mundane – just several short spans tied together, getting from one side to the other without any showiness.)
  • For the next ten years, Bay Area politicians fought over an appropriate design, while the patched-together Oakland Bay Bridge remained vulnerable to the next big quake. So what if a few more people die in the name of great bridge architecture?
  • New Oakland Bay bridgeIt was decided the western portion of the eastern span (leaving Yerba Buena Island towards Oakland) would be a “signature structure” and the rest would be … a viaduct.  A design contest was held, Wikipedia tells us, that was judged by the Engineering and Design Advisory Panel (EDAP) of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. You might be shocked – Shocked! – to learn that many of the design finalists were proposals submitted by the very firms that employed EDAP members, and the ultimate winner was an EDAP member’s entry. “This posed a serious conflict of interest,” says Wikipedia. Indeed, especially since the selected design was more expensive than the alternatives.
  • The mayor of Oakland, one Jerry Brown, protested mightily because the signature structure was as far away from Oakland as it possibly could be. He said the design “speaks of mediocrity, not greatness.” As an Oakland native, I can say that mediocrity is actually a complimentary symbol for the town.
  • Gov. Gray Davis put an end to the squabbling and moved the selected design forward, signature span, viaduct and all.
  • When construction bids – well, there was only one bid, actually – were opened in September 2004 state officials were surprised to see it was $1.4 billion, about twice what the ace number-crunchers at Caltrans thought it would be.
  • Gray was gone and Arnold was in, and in December 2004 Gov. Schwarzenegger canceled the contract, saying it was too expensive. Instead, he wanted an all-viaduct design. Ghosts of Pete Wilson!
  • Signature span hawks fought back in a battle of conflicting cost estimates until, in November of 2005, a “compromise” was reached that returned the signature span. It’s not clear to me what the countering half of this compromise was, but the cost of the delay is clear enough: as much as $400 million. That’s a small price to pay for great bridge architecture, right?
  • Construction got underway, and a few months later, in April 2005, welds on the bridge were called into question.
  • Baby Bridge oopsieOn October 27, 2009, a crossbar and two tension rods collapsed, dumping 2.5 tons of debris onto the upper deck roadway during the evening commute. One car and a delivery truck were struck, but no one was killed. The bridge was closed to traffic in both directions for six days. (Photo credit: San Francisco Chronicle)
  • In November 2009, a cracked eyebar was discovered that would have closed the bridge had it not been under a temporary construction closure already.
  • As detailed in Crazifornia, in November 2011 Caltrans got caught covering up that one of its staffers had fabricated the results of tests on the integrity of Bay Bridge concrete pours, including pours of the structure supporting the massively heavy signature span tower. A report on what this means to the bridge’s integrity is due out in Spring 2013 – any day now.
  • In March 2013, three big bolts (3 to 19 feet in length) that connect portions of the bridge deck to concrete columns failed load tests. Subsequently, 30 of the 96 bolts failed the test. Some of these bolts cannot be removed because the bridge has been built around them.
  • And just this last Saturday, the Sacramento Bee reported that incompetent construction and bureaucratic ineptitude have led to rust forming on steel tendons that are critical to the bridge’s safe operation. First, Caltrans did a duct tape fix (Really, with actual duct tape, God bless ‘em!), then they attempted to minimize this problem, but metallurgists who know a lot more about how steel performs than Caltrans have declared the rust to be a very big deal.

So, what did we get for our quarter century of waiting and 450 percent cost overrun? A bridge with a design that satisfies no one, that may not have met the basic requirement that it be safe, and that certainly will have much higher ongoing maintenance and repair costs than it should have.

Welcome to Crazifornia, and thank you, Caltrans.

Jerry Brown’s Zombie Budget

Gov. Brown presentation of the annual May revise of the state budget this morning wasn’t the duck-and-shuffle we’ve grown used to, in which our gov du jour confesses that revenues weren’t nearly as good as “projected” (read: in our wildest dreams) when the budget was first released in January, then launches into a long list of proposed cuts.

PlagueZombiesNope, the Prop 30 tax increase and an improved California economy have the state economy up and walking again … if a bit zombie-like. Brown led the zombies with a dreary but true warning that the economy is still under threat, with lots of stuff at the federal level (sequestration key among them) trickling down to hurt the state.

There’s also plenty wrong in California, as it trudges along dead-eyed and scary with a burden of up to $1.1 trillion of combined state and local government debt, and an over-sized, over-paid, over-coddled and under-performing quarter million state employees. We’re also waiting to see if the recent tax hikes and California’s ongoing regulatory zealotry will increase the exodus of business owners and the wealthy from the state, taking their tax payments with them.

Dem Response: Polite Hostility

The Democrat super-majority knows it has to say it’s dedicated to not squandering the current cash flow, but look at their reactions and you see some between-the-lines and not so between-the-lines clues that they are cued up and ready to spend, baby, spend. All quotes are from the SacBee.

I agree we must aggressively pay down our state’s debt and set aside money for a reserve, but there’s a disappointing aspect to this proposal. It’s important that we also begin making up for some of the damage done to tens of thousands of Californians. – Sen. Pres. Pro Tem  Darryl Steinberg

Our economy is showing signs of recovery but our budget is sending us mixed signals. The modest surplus we now possess took a lot of sacrifice to obtain and we cannot squander it. With many Californians still out of work, this budget is not just about paying down debt and saving money for a rainy day. It is also about growing our economy and broadening opportunities for Californians to succeed through education and a better environment for small business. – Assembly Budget Committee chair Bob Blumenfield

The May Revise continues to shortchange the most vulnerable in our state–such as those who need health care, child care, access to justice, or essential support services to escape poverty. – Dem Assemblyman Robert Dickinson

Mr. Dickinson, have you not heard that California spends three times more per capita on social welfare programs than it should, based on national per capita averages? We need to shortchange many welfare recipients more, not pay them more.

California’s fundamentals are still wrong. We are too dependent on taxing the wealthy, we are a long way from getting control over burgeoning pension and benefit costs, far too much education funding is wasted on fulfilling unnecessary reporting mandates from Sacramento and paying under-performing teachers, and, as mentioned above, our social welfare programs need to be brought in line with other states’.

But at least the budget’s in the black for a change.