The Grinch that Stole CA’s Christmas

Dr. Seuss’s children’s story, “The Grinch That Stole Christmas,” applies to California in 2011.

Seuss’s story is about an unhappy cave-dwelling creature with an undersized heart that lives on Mt. Crumpit just north of Whoville — home of the “Whos.”  The Grinch becomes annoyed with the Christmas happiness he hears taking place in Whoville.  Eventually, the Grinch makes plans to take their Christmas presents and decorations from them. The Grinch becomes resolved to “prevent Christmas from coming.”

The Grinch succeeds in confiscating everyone’s presents.  Nevertheless, Christmas can’t be denied and arrives.

In Seuss’s story, those who celebrate Christmas soften the Grinch. His heart grows in size.  He eventually returns all the gifts and decorations. He joins the community of the “Whos.”

In the California version of Seuss’s tale, however, Gov. Jerry Brown and his fellow grinches in the state legislature set about to take presents from next year’s Christmas as well. This plan includes placing on the November 2012 ballot several initiatives to raise taxes to purportedly reduce the budget deficit.

Massive Waste

Consider the following budget items that presently take from everyone’s Christmas but add to the $20 billion state structural budget deficit:

1. The reported $6 billion in above-market power costs, according to the Division of Ratepayer Advocates of the California Public Utilities Commission.

2. The proposed elimination and changes to $3.3 billion in tax credits, deductions and exemptions, as recommended by the State Legislative Analyst’s Office.  The LAO “selected tax credits or exemptions for reductions or elimination because they are not achieving their stated purposes or are of lower priority.”

3.  The estimated $2.75 billion it would cost to pay interest on water bonds, including the proposed $11.1 billion new water bond for the November 2012 ballot. These existing and proposed new water bonds would be unnecessary if the 2 million acre feet of contracted water per year from the California Aqueduct was allowed by cities to flow to California’s farms and cities.

4. The estimated $2 billion in additional costs to issue lease-revenue bonds instead of general obligation bonds to build new court-ordered prisons. The use of lease-obligation bonds goes around the requirement for voter approval of debt underProposition 13.

5. The $527 million in overspending by community colleges, as reported by the State Controller in the Statement of General Fund Cash Receipts and Disbursements of Oct. 2011

6.  The roughly $300 million in interest on stem-cell research bonds per year for a total of about $1 billion over the three-year authorization under Proposition 71. Public funding of stem cell research is duplicative to funding by the private sector and the National Institutes of Health.

7.  The more than $1 billion in lost output, more than 6,000 lost jobs, $425 million in lost labor income and $49 million in lost taxes from the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency delaying the implementation of fracking — oil and gas extraction by fracturing rock formations — in California, according to a study by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation.

8.  The $62.5 million per year siphoned from electric utility bills and $24 million per year from natural gas bills via the Public Interest Energy Research surcharge that has accomplished nothing since 1996.

9. The $7.4 billion in potential cost savings in categorical or “earmarked” items in the K-12 Education Budget identified in the 2008 report, titled “Categorical Reform,” by the State Legislative Analyst.  Gov. Jerry Brown only cut 1 percent of the budget for categorical programs in 2010 and slightly increased the 2011-12 school budget by $2 million.

Taxes = More Bureaucracy

There are those who say the budget deficit can only be plugged by increasing taxes.  But in California more taxes have only gone to increase the size of bureaucracies and boost public pension benefits, thus fueling the deficit and the long-term debt.  Witness the tsunami of money from the Real Estate Bubble and the $50 billion from the Federal Stimulus funds spent in California to date.  Did any of it reduce the budget deficit or debt?

Neither Gov. Brown nor the legislature is about to let Californians have Christmas without stealing a few presents and Christmas tree decorations that do nothing to plug the state budget deficit.

That is how the “Whos” in Whoville got their name.  They kept asking, “Who stole Christmas?”  The answer is the same grinches that plan to steal next Christmas as well.

Merry Christmas anyway!

But watch out for an unhappy New Year.

(Wayne Lusvardi is a Political Commentator. This article was first posted  on CalWatchdog.)

Nicaragua: Don’t Cry For Me, Dan Ortega

What nightmarish character from the 1980s is legendary for saying, “I’m back!”?

I don’t mean Chucky. I mean Daniel Ortega, Marxist leader of Nicaragua.

If a trip down the Ortega highway feels like a nostalgic voyage, think again. Daniel Ortega has successfully reinstated himself as president of the western hemisphere’s second-poorest  country, thanks to a constitutionally illegitimate and comically corrupt national election.

For those of you too young to remember, and those of you who were old enough during the 1980s to be rocking out to Boy George and Culture Club, Ortega was a Cuba-trained guerilla leader who overthrew the corrupt Somoza regime in Nicaragua in 1979.

He nationalized (read:  stole) billions of dollars in private property, which he redistributed, in true Marxist fashion, to himself and his closest friends. His anti-American, anti-business stance drew the ire of the Reagan administration, which funded an opposition group, the Contras, to take him down.     He lost an internationally-observed election in 1990.

After years in the political wilderness, and two failed attempts to retake the presidency, Ortega cruised to an election victory, last month.  So enthusiastic were Nicaraguans for his return that he received as many as 500 votes in polling place after polling place that only had 400 voters. That campaign performance indicates that he is not just a man of the people, but a man of the people who doesn’t exist.

In recent years, Ortega was one of few world leaders, past or present, to express solidarity with Muammar Gaddafi. He has become allied with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. He also threatened to boot the Taiwanese out of Nicaragua, so that he could draw closer to the People’s Republic of China, but now apparently is seeking to create his own two-China policy, drawing benefits from both nations.

Mr. Ortega’s primary political benefactor, however, is his neighbor and fellow Marxist, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Chavez has been bankrolling Ortega to the tune of $500 billion a year so that Ortega can buy—wait for it—chickens, liquor, and wide screen TVs (for watching soccer matches) in order to buy voters.

Ortega apparently bought enough of the electorate, or perhaps he invested his money more wisely in buying off the poll watchers, because pretty much anyone paying attention to Nicaragua condemned his victory as a reprehensible fraud. On top of that, Nicaragua’s own constitution forbids individuals to run for more than two terms, a fact Ortega conveniently ignored.

Actually, the Supreme Court of Nicaragua, whose chief justice is a crony of Ortega’s, found nothing wrong with his pal ignoring his own constitution and running for office yet again.

What happens if Nicaragua, now a major trans-shipment point for cocaine distribution, remains in Ortega’s hands?

From the perspective of Nicaraguans, it means an end to civil rights, dissent, or political freedom. For the poor of that nation, it means victimization by yet another kleptocracy disguised as a leftist, populist movement.

For those of us in the United States who care something about free and fair elections, it’s a step backward and an insult to the memory of Ronald Reagan.

Ortega interpreted the 2007 economic collapse in the United States as God’s punishment for America’s militarist adventurism. Maybe he’ll take a weekend off from being president to spend a week at Occupy Oakland.

If you’ve been reading the papers lately, you know that both our military and economy are stretched fairly thin these days. So it’s unlikely that a latter-day Oliver North will be sending funds, legitimate or otherwise, from the United States to topple Ortega. After all, he stole his election fair and square.

The pity of it is that, in an era marked by the Arab Spring, and democracy sprouting across North Africa and the Middle East, a little of that legitimately populist fairy dust couldn’t be sprinkled on this once (and one hopes, future) ally of the United States.

(New York Times Bestselling Author Michael Levin runs, America’s leading provider of ghostwritten books.)

Nothing to Hide, Everything to Fear: The National Defense Authorization Act

One of the most haunting impressions of my Soviet childhood was stories my grandparents told about the Black Raven.  As a small boy I was terrified of this polished and poised creature of the night, usually sighted as it crouched to swoop upon an unsuspecting victim and carry him away, never to be seen again.

The Black Raven, however, was no avian figment of the human mind.  Rather, this secret-police sedan – named for the Russian symbol of death – was a very real fixture of life in the Soviet Union of 1930s.

Those who saw the Raven stop outside their building of communal flats contemplated last words to families as they waited tensely for the dreaded knock.  Its reverberations from another door brought a macabre sense of relief, lasting only until the Raven’s next appearance.  Such was the abject terror of living in the claws of despotism.  Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t tempered by that infamous platitude: “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

How very different from a life in America, secured from fear by the assurances of individual liberty.

But in the 17 years since I became an American we’ve been averting our gaze as these sacred assurances slowly waned.  With passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, we look away again as Congress exposes Americans to the specter of prison without charge or trial and smothers that basic right of free citizens to invoke the law against their government.

Predictably, proponents of dispensing with that antiquated and inconvenient notion of due process would have us believe that warnings of the tentacles of tyranny are so much flimflam.

They declare that they didn’t change existing law.  That would be satisfying, if not for the inconvenient fact that there is no existing law on military detention of Americans on American soil.  Rather, the past two Presidents have simply asserted that power as lurking in an undisclosed location within the Constitution.

The Constitutional duty of Congress was to restrict that toxic overreach.  Instead we codified it.  Never mind that our nation successfully meted out justice to traitors for over two centuries, without destroying our commitment to such principles of freedom as the trial by jury that define us as Americans.

Supporters go on to say that this law was written to apply only to terrorists.  That would likewise be comforting, except that it consigns to indefinite detention anyone whom the government simply suspects of “substantially supporting al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces.”

What does it mean to “substantially support”?  And who or what are “associated forces”?  And above all, are we to retain our freedom by submitting to the untested breadth of those words?

The famous writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who exposed the secret network of Soviet indefinite-detention camps, wrote of a similarly broad and vague law that ultimately enabled the gulags:

“One can find more epithets in praise of this article than [the great Russian authors] once assembled to praise … Mother Russia: great, powerful, abundant, highly ramified, multiform, wide sweeping, which summed up the world not so much through the exact terms of its sections as in their extended interpretation.

Who among us has not experienced its all-encompassing embrace? In all truth, there is no step, thought, action, or lack of action under the heavens which could not be punished by the heavy hand of this article.”

Perhaps there is an explanation for the acceptance these empty assurances have found.  After all, our nation is only familiar with the travesties of tyranny by reputation: from the words and suffering of others.

But Americans should know that, to eyes familiar with tyranny by experience, Congressional consent to these broad new powers marks a major milestone on the road to serfdom.  Before it’s too late, let us resolve to renew and reinvigorate our vigilance for freedom.

Until such time, we are left with a familiar refrain as the proponents’ last refuge: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

That too rings hollow.  In a nation that casts aside the shield of individual liberty for the fig leaf of faith in a benevolent government, citizens with nothing to hide have precisely everything to fear.  The long story of humanity is very clear on this point: benevolence is fleeting.

And once it’s gone, we are at the mercy of that old Black Raven.

(Igor Birman arrived in Northern California as a Soviet refugee at the age of 13.  He serves as Chief of Staff to Congressman Tom McClintock.)

Occupy L.A.’s Enablers: Villaraigosa and the LA City Council

It’s no surprise, given the press’s sympathy for the Occupy Wall Street movement, that Time magazine named “The Protester” as its Person of the Year for 2011. The magazine’s editors point to the revolutionary uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria—along with riots in Britain and Greece, and those campers in Lower Manhattan. People might not realize that the magazine’s cover illustration, however, depicting a stern woman with a bandanna covering her face, originated not from Cairo, Athens, or New York, but rather from a photo taken at Occupy Los Angeles.

Occupy L.A. didn’t receive as much national attention as did the Occupy Wall Street crowd in Zuccotti Park. In fact, Los Angeles was one of the last major cities to evict the anti-capitalist protesters from a prominent public space. “Two months is way too long to occupy a park, way too long,” said Councilman Dennis Zine after an LAPD raid dispersed the Occupy camp from City Hall on November 30. “You either enforce the laws or you ignore them—these are the consequences. Once you permit this to start, there is no stopping it.” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck held a joint press conference following the closure of City Hall Park, praising the professionalism of the police as well as the “peaceful” occupiers. The mayor called the late-night raid “perhaps one of the finest moments in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department.” No doubt the police acted professionally, but the LAPD has had many fine and proud moments in its history (along with some scandals and disgraces). But after a dismaying stand-off—which dragged on largely because of City Hall’s indecisive leadership—an operation to evict 300 or so scruffy leftists, drug-addled squatters, and union agitators would hardly qualify for a list of the department’s proudest achievements.

City officials should be held accountable for their role in this debacle. Occupy L.A.’s final cost to city taxpayers is still being tabulated, but the toll is expected to top $1 million. And for what? The truth is, Los Angeles put up with the protesters for nearly months before officials found the nerve to call in the police. They didn’t merely look the other way; they encouraged and supported the protesters. In the early weeks of the “occupation,” Zine, Villaraigosa, and their colleagues were all too happy to have hundreds of protesters camped out on the city’s lawn. In October, some council members wandered around the City Hall encampment with cameras in tow, glad-handing protesters and listening to their gripes. Zine told the Los Angeles Times that engaging with the occupiers was “the right thing to do.” City Council president Eric Garcetti was even more accommodating, telling the assembled radicals: “Stay as long as you need to. We’ll continue to work with you.”

On October 19, Villaraigosa and the City Council put their official blessing on record with a joint resolution supporting the “continuation of the peaceful and vibrant exercise in First Amendment Rights carried out by ‘Occupy Los Angeles.’ ” The resolution, authored by Councilman Bill Rosendahl, read as though it had been ghostwritten by the protesters. And because nearly every one of the 15-member council is a liberal Democrat—with one or two passive Republicans—the measure passed unanimously and without a dissenting word.

Even after it became obvious that the occupying mob in Los Angeles was adversely affecting traffic and business downtown, city officials held off ordering a crackdown and instead began a futile series of semi-secret negotiations with the protesters. As time dragged on, occupiers drove a popular farmers’ market from City Hall Park; neighboring businesses reported a spike in vandalism and theft; and the local homeless population began drifting into the camp, bringing drugs and lice with them. There was little reason to hold off from evicting the protesters, since the courts had determined in almost every instance that the encampments were unlawful gatherings, violating a long list of city laws and ordinances. Yet despite the obvious nuisance, city leaders reportedly offered Occupy Los Angeles tax-subsidized office space and even farmland if they agreed to decamp peacefully. The talks went nowhere. The protesters, with their idealized notions of democracy, rejected the idea of “leaders” as hopelessly bourgeois.

Despite the happy ending on City Hall’s north lawn, officials are struggling to reconcile their conflicted emotions over the entire Occupy farce. In his press conference, Villaraigosa suggested that “the Occupy L.A. movement can now amplify their calls for social justice and economic opportunity.” This sort of official nonsense flies in the face of everything the American public has come to know about the Occupy protests. Poll after poll, from Gallup to Rasmussen to Pew, has reported that to the extent people are aware of the Occupy Wall Street movement, they don’t like what they see. Californians have been more sympathetic than most Americans, but even their patience has limits. A Field Poll released the day before the LAPD’s raid on the Occupy Los Angeles camp found that 58 percent of California voters agree with thesentiment behind the protest movement, but nearly half said they don’t identify with the protesters themselves. (Even that result is astonishing: it’s one thing to agree with the fairly straightforward idea that government bailouts of big banks are wrong. But do 46 percent of Golden State voters really identify with drum circles, pot smoking, public urination, indecent exposure, violent brawling, and semi-literate rants against capitalism? And did I mention lice?)

Now that most of the tent cities have been torn down, the Occupy Wall Street movement promises that we haven’t heard the last of it. This may simply be bravado, but Cornel West, the Princeton University “public intellectual,” self-styled democratic socialist, and a regular on the Occupy speaking circuit, predicts that—much like the demonstrations in Cairo, Tripoli, Damascus, and Tunis—the occupiers will ultimately settle their grievances “in the streets.” We’ll see. The question is whether Antonio Villaraigosa and L.A.’s City Council will step in earlier next time.

(Joe R. Hicks is the vice president of Community Advocates and a writer and commentator for PJ Media. This article was first published on City Journal.)

How Democrats Fooled California’s Redistricting Commission

This spring, a group of California Democrats gathered at a modern, airy office building just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. The meeting was House members only — no aides allowed — and the mission was seemingly impossible.

In previous years, the party had used its perennial control of California’s state Legislature to draw district maps that protected Democratic incumbents. But in 2010, California voters put redistricting in the hands of a citizens’ commission where decisions would be guided by public testimony and open debate.

The question facing House Democrats as they met to contemplate the state’s new realities was delicate: How could they influence an avowedly nonpartisan process? Alexis Marks, a House aide who invited members to the meeting, warned the representatives that secrecy was paramount. “Never say anything AT ALL about redistricting — no speculation, no predictions, NOTHING,” Marks wrote in an email. “Anything can come back to haunt you.”

In the weeks that followed, party leaders came up with a plan. Working with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — a national arm of the party that provides money and support to Democratic candidates — members were told to begin “strategizing about potential future district lines,” according to another email.

The citizens’ commission had pledged to create districts based on testimony from the communities themselves, not from parties or statewide political players. To get around that, Democrats surreptitiously enlisted local voters, elected officials, labor unions and community groups to testify in support of configurations that coincided with the party’s interests.

When they appeared before the commission, those groups identified themselves as ordinary Californians and did not disclose their ties to the party. One woman who purported to represent the Asian community of the San Gabriel Valley was actually a lobbyist who grew up in rural Idaho, and lives in Sacramento.

In one instance, party operatives invented a local group to advocate for the Democrats’ map.

California’s Democratic representatives got much of what they wanted from the 2010 redistricting cycle, especially in the northern part of the state. “Every member of the Northern California Democratic Caucus has a ticket back to DC,” said one enthusiastic memo written as the process was winding down. “This is a huge accomplishment that should be celebrated by advocates throughout the region.”

Statewide, Democrats had been expected to gain at most a seat or two as a result of redistricting. But an internal party projection says that the Democrats will likely pick up six or seven seats in a state where the party’s voter registrations have grown only marginally.

“Very little of this is due to demographic shifts,” said Professor Doug Johnson at the Rose Institute in Los Angeles. Republican areas actually had higher growth than Democratic ones. “By the numbers, Republicans should have held at least the same number of seats, but they lost.”

As part of a national look at redistricting, ProPublica reconstructed the Democrats’ stealth success in California, drawing on internal memos, emails, interviews with participants and map analysis. What emerges is a portrait of skilled political professionals armed with modern mapping software and detailed voter information who managed to replicate the results of the smoked-filled rooms of old.

The losers in this once-a-decade reshaping of the electoral map, experts say, were the state’s voters. The intent of the citizens’ commission was to directly link a lawmaker’s political fate to the will of his or her constituents. But as ProPublica’s review makes clear, Democratic incumbents are once again insulated from the will of the electorate.

Democrats acknowledge that they faced a challenge in getting the districts they wanted in densely populated, ethnically diverse Southern California. The citizen commission initially proposed districts that would have endangered the political futures of several Democratic incumbents. Fighting back, some Democrats gathered in Washington and discussed alternatives. These sessions were sometimes heated.

“There was horse-trading throughout the process,” said one senior Democratic aide.

The revised districts were then presented to the commission by plausible-sounding witnesses who had personal ties to Democrats but did not disclose them.

Commissioners declined to discuss the details of specific districts, citing ongoing litigation. But several said in interviews that while they were aware of some attempts to mislead them, they felt they had defused the most egregious attempts.

“When you’ve got so many people reporting to you or making comments to you, some of them are going to be political shills,” said commissioner Stanley Forbes, a farmer and bookstore owner. “We just had to do the best we could in determining what was for real and what wasn’t.”

Democrats acknowledge the meetings described in the emails, but said the gatherings “centered on” informing members about the process. In a statement to ProPublica, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, head of California’s delegation, said that members, “as citizens of the state of California, were well within their rights to make comments and ensure that voices from communities of interest within their neighborhoods were heard by the Commission.”

“The final product voted on by the Commission was entirely out of the hands of the Members,” said Lofgren. “They, like any other Californian, were able to comment but had no control over the process.”

“At no time did the Delegation draw up a statewide map,” Lofgren said. (Read Lofgren’s full statement.)

California’s Republicans were hardly a factor. The national GOP stayed largely on the sidelines, and individual Republicans had limited success influencing the commission.

“Republicans didn’t really do anything,” said Johnson. “They were late to the party, and essentially non-entities in the redistricting process.”

Fed-up voters create a commission

The once-a-decade redistricting process is supposed to ensure that every citizen’s vote counts equally.

In reality, politicians and parties working to advance their own interests often draw lines that make an individual’s vote count less. They create districts dominated by one party or political viewpoint, protecting some candidates (typically incumbents) while dooming others. They can empower a community by grouping its voters in a single district, or disenfranchise it by zigging the lines just so.

Over the decades, few party bosses were better at protecting incumbents than California’s Democrats. No Democratic incumbent has lost a Congressional election in the nation’s most populous state since 2000.

As they drew the lines each decade, California’s party bosses worked in secret. But the oddly shaped districts that emerged from those sessions were visible for all to see. Bruce Cain, a legendary mapmaker who now heads the University of California’s Washington center, once drew an improbable-looking state assembly district that could not be traversed by car. (It crossed several impassable mountains.)

Cain proudly told the story of the district, which was set up for one of the governor’s friends. Cain said he justified the odd shape by saying it pulled together the state’s largest population of endangered condors. “It wasn’t legitimate on any level,” Cain recalled.

The 2010 ballot initiative giving the citizen commission authority over Congressional districts was sold to voters as a game changer. Not surprisingly, it was strenuously opposed by California’s Democrats, who continue to control the Statehouse.

No fewer than 35 Democratic politicians — including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — and their allies spent a total of $7 million to campaign against the proposition. The effort included mailings from faux community groups that derided the commission’s $1 million annual budget as “bureaucratic waste.” Despite this effort, Californians voted 61 percent to 39 percent to wrest federal redistricting from the hands of state lawmakers.

Immediately, Democrats began organizing to influence the citizen commission. There were numerous opportunities.

According to civics textbooks, the aim of redistricting is to group “communities of interest” so that residents in a city, neighborhood or ethnic group wield political power by voting together. The commission took an expansive view of this concept, ultimately defining a “community of interest” as anything from a neighborhood to workers on the same commute, or even areas sharing “intense beach recreation.”

This gave savvy players an opening to draw up maps that benefited one party or incumbent and then find — or concoct — “communities of interest” that justified them.

Democrats set out to do exactly that.

On March 16, members of the California delegation gathered at Democratic Party offices to discuss how to handle redistricting. They agreed that congressmen from the various regions of California — North, South and Central — would meet separately to “create a plan of action,” according to an email recounting the day’s events by Alexis Marks, the House aide. Among the first tasks, Marks wrote, was determining “how to best organize communities of interest.”

Democrats were already working “BEHIND THE SCENES” to “get info out” about candidates for the job of commission lawyer who were viewed as unfriendly. “I’ll keep you in the loop, but do not broadcast,” Marks wrote.

“The CA delegation has been broken down into regions that will be discussing redistricting at the member level,” read another party email from late March. “Members will be asked to present ideas on both issues” — communities of interest and district lines — “and will be asked to come to some consensus about how to adopt a regional strategy for redistricting.”

Over the next several weeks, California Democrats huddled with Mark Gersh, the party’s top mapmaking guru. Officially, Gersh works with the Foundation for the Future, a nonprofit whose declared goal is “to help Democrats get organized for the fight of the decade; the fight that will determine Democratic fortunes in your state and in Washington, D.C. for years to come: Redistricting!”

The foundation is well funded for this fight. Its supporters include longtime supporters of the Democratic Party: the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees as well as the American Association for Justice (previously known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America). The foundation was launched in 2006 whenNancy Pelosi’s office worked with both groups to start it.

Neither Gersh nor participants would describe in detail what was discussed at the meetings. But from Marks’ emails and other sources, it is clear that California’s Democrats sat down together to discuss mutually agreeable districts that would protect incumbents.

The value of coordinating efforts to influence the commission cannot be overstated. If each Democrat battled separately for the best district, it was likely that one Congress member’s gain would harm countless colleagues. Creating Congressional districts is a lot like a Rubik’s cube: Each change reshapes the entire puzzle. The Democrats’ plan was to deliver synchronized testimony that would herd the commission toward the desired outcomes. If it worked perfectly, the commissioners might not even know they had been influenced.

Over the summer, Marks sent out more than 100 emails about redistricting, according to multiple recipients of the messages. According to House records, Marks earned $112,537 in 2010 in her post as deputy director of the California Democratic delegation. That makes her a federal employee. But although many of the messages were sent during the work day, a spokesman insisted Marks did so in her after-hours role as a political staffer for Democrats. They were sent from a Gmail account. Lofgren’s office did not make Marks available for comment, citing policy that staffers do not speak on the record. Instead, they pointed to Rep. Lofgren’s statement.

Federal employees are not allowed to do campaign work on government time, or use government resources, according to House ethics rules.

The emails alerted staff and legislators when the commission was scheduled to discuss their districts and they encouraged them to have allies testify to “community of interest” lines that supported their maps.

Marks told members they would be asked to raise money for a legal challenge if things didn’t work out. The delegation, she said, was working with Marc Elias, who heads an organization called the National Democratic Redistricting Trust. (The trust shares a website with The Foundation for The Future.)

Last year the trust persuaded the Federal Election Commission to allow members to raise money for redistricting lawsuits without disclosing how the money was spent, how much was raised, and who had given it.

The commission blinds itself

Back in California, the commission was getting organized. Its first task was to pick commissioners. The ballot initiative excluded virtually anyone who had any previous political experience. Run for office? Worked as a staffer or consultant to a political campaign? Given more than $2,000 to a candidate in any year? “Cohabitated” for more than 30 days in the past year with anyone in the previous categories? You’re barred.

More than 36,000 people applied. The state auditor’s office winnowed the applicants to a group of 60 finalists. Each party was allowed to strike 12 applicants without explanation. Then, the state used Bingo-style bouncing balls in a cage to pick eight commissioners — three Republicans, three Democrats and two people whose registration read “decline to state” (California-speak for independent). The randomly selected commissioners then chose six from the remaining finalists to complete the panel.

The result was a commission that included, among others, a farmer, a homemaker, a sports doctor and an architect. Previous redistrictings had been executed by political pros with intimate knowledge of California’s sprawling political geography. The commissioners had little of that expertise — and one of their first acts was to deprive themselves of the data that might have helped them spot partisan manipulation.

The law creating the commission barred it from considering incumbents’ addresses, and instructed it not to draw districts for partisan reasons.

The commissioners decided to go further, agreeing not to even look at data that would tell them how prospective maps affected the fortunes of Democrats or Republicans. This left the commissioners effectively blind to the sort of influence the Democrats were planning.

One of the mapping consultants working for the commission warned that it would be difficult to competently draft district lines without party data. She was overruled.

The lack of political data was “liberating,” said Forbes, the commissioner. “We had no one to please except ourselves, based on our best judgment.”

“I think,” he said, “we did a pretty good job.”

The commission’s judgments on how to draw lines, Forbes and others said, was based on the testimony from citizens about communities of interest.

“We were provided quite a number of maps from various organizations,” said another commissioner, attorney Jodie Filkins-Webber. If the groups were basing their maps on political data to favor one party, “they certainly did not tell us that.”

“Districts could have been drawn based on voter registration,” Filkins-Webber said, “but we would never have known it.”

The commission received a torrent of advice — a total of 30,000 separate pieces of testimony and documents. Records suggest the commission never developed an effective method for organizing it all. The testimony was kept in a jumble of handwritten notes and computer files. The commissioners were often left to recall testimony by memory.

The difficulties in digesting and weighing the reams of often-conflicting testimony enhanced the value of people or groups who came bearing draft maps.

“Other people offered testimony; we offered solutions,” said Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a powerful business group outside Los Angeles that persuaded the commission to adopts its Congressional map for the San Fernando Valley.

How Democrats locked down Northern California

Redistricting is a chess game for people with superb spatial perception. Sometimes, anchoring a single line on a map can make everything fall into place.

According to an internal memo, Democrats recognized early on that they could protect nearly every incumbent in Northern California if they won a few key battles. First, they had to make sure no district crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.Then, they had to draw a new seat that pulled sufficient numbers of Democrats from Contra Costa County into a district that included Republicans from the San Joaquin Valley.

The man with the most to lose was Rep. Jerry McNerney, who represented an octopus-shaped district that had scooped in Democrats from the areas east of San Francisco. McNerney’s prospects seemed particularly dismal. Early in the year, he made The Washington Post’s national list of top 10 likely redistricting victims.

Republicans moved first, attempting to create a district that would keep San Joaquin County whole and pick up conservative territory to the south. But then a previously unknown group calling itself OneSanJoaquin entered the fray.

OneSanJoaquin described itself as a nonprofit, but records show it is not registered as such in any state. It has no identifiable leadership but it does have a Facebook page, called OneSanJoaquin, created by the Google account OneSanJoaquin.

The page was posted in early April, just as the commission began taking testimony. Its entries urged county residents to download maps and deliver pre-packaged testimony.

On the surface, the OneSanJoaquin page seemed to be serving Republicans’ interests. But Democrats were one move ahead and understood that a united valley would inevitably lead to a Democratic-leaning district. (Republicans apparently did not understand that federal voting rights requirements ruled out their proposed district, since it would have interfered with the Latino district to the south. That misconception was encouraged by the maps on the OneSanJoaquin page, which were drawn to make this look possible.)

In fact, the only way to make a district with “one San Joaquin” was to pull in the Democrats in eastern Contra Costa — the far reaches of San Francisco’s Bay-area liberals.

The author of OneSanJoaquin’s maps was not identified on the Facebook page, but ProPublica has learned it was Paul Mitchell, a redistricting consultant hired by McNerney.

Transcripts show that more than a dozen people delivered or sent the canned testimony to the commission, which accepted it without question. There’s no sign that commissioners were aware some of the letters had been downloaded from the mysterious OneSanJoaquin page.

After the commission finished, McNerney announced he was moving to the newly created San Joaquin district to run for re-election. It was a huge improvement for him. In 2010, he barely won his district, beating his opponent by just one point. If the 2010 election were re-run in his new district, he would have won by seven points, according to the Democrats’ internal analysis. (McNerney’s office did not respond to requests for comment.)

Summing up the story, an internal Democratic memo said the GOP had been decisively out-maneuvered “Their hope was to create a Republican Congressional seat,” the memo said. “Their plan backfired.”

“McNerney ends up with safer district than before,” Mitchell’s firm tweeted, after McNerney announced his candidacy in his new district. “Wow! How did he do that?”

An under-funded commission

While players attempting to influence the process were well funded, the commission struggled with a lack of time and money. They responded, in part, by reducing citizens’ opportunities for input.

The budget for the whole map drawing undertaking was just over $1 million. At first, the commission had its public hearings transcribed — then the money ran out and they stopped.

The commissioners worked for free, with only a small stipend for expenses. As a result most kept their day jobs at the same time they tried to juggle their roles as commissioners.

It was a grueling schedule, with 35 public hearings taking place over just three months. “I had three days off between” April and August, said Commissioner Filkins-Webber, who maintained her legal practice while serving. “I was working basically on average18 hours a day.”

The commissioners also had to deal with public anger. The Tea Party in California decided to use the hearings as a forum to protest the Voting Rights Act, for instance, and at one hearing got so rowdy that police intervened.

Experts hired by the commission to actually draw the maps were also overworked and underpaid. Half a dozen times the meeting transcripts contain references to map drawers working overnight to prepare maps.

Overwhelmed by the task at hand, the commission decided to essentially shut down public participation halfway through the process. After the first round of drafts, which were widely criticized and abandoned, the commission stopped releasing formal drafts. More importantly, commissioners stopped holding hearings, which meant the next draft was prepared without public input.

The commission moved its meetings to Sacramento, not far from where party bosses had once gathered in secret to set the lines. The commission’s meetings were webcast to the public. But only those with the resources and time could participate.

“You have to ask yourself, who has the money to send people up to Sacramento like that,” said Eugene Lee, voting rights project director at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, which was active in organizing grassroots participation in the redistricting process.

“We didn’t have the money to do that. No way.”

The commission released no further drafts. In July, it made public a “draft final.” Voters had two weeks to submit comments before it became final. Most of those comments came from insiders who had been closely watching the Sacramento meetings.

Southern California Democrats also win

For those who could stay engaged, the Sacramento phase of the commission’s work proved rewarding. One politician who benefited was Southern California Congresswoman Judy Chu.

When it appeared that Chu would get an unfavorable district late in the game, a group with ties to the congresswoman went before the commission in Sacramento and convinced the commissioners to draw a favorable map that included her political stronghold, a town called Rosemead. Chu enjoyed broad support in Rosemead, where she was first elected to the school board in 1992 and later served in the state assembly.

The group, which called itself the Asian American Education Institute, worked with Paul Mitchell, the same consultant who helped engineer the triumph of Northern California Democrats.

Records show that crucial last-minute testimony in favor of Chu’s district was delivered by Jennifer Wada, who told commissioners she was representing the institute and the overall Asian-American community. Wada did not mention that she lives and works as a registered lobbyist in Sacramento, 400 miles from the district, or that she grew up in rural Idaho, where most of her family still lives. Wada says she was hired by the institute to “convey their concerns about Asian and Pacific Islander representation” to the commission.

The second witness was Chris Chaffee, who said he was a consultant for the institute and an employee of Redistricting Partners, Mitchell’s firm.

Commissioners accepted this map without asking a basic question: Who, exactly, was the Asian American Education Institute representing?

The group’s tax records show it had no full-time employees. Its website is barebones, and clicking on the “get active” button on the home page leads nowhere, simply returning users to the home page.

There’s another interesting feature of the Web site: the domain name is registered to a man named Bill Wong, a political consultant who has worked on multiple Chu campaigns, as well as her husband’s successful bid for Judy Chu’s old state assembly seat. Chu paid Wong $5,725 for consulting work in 2010, FEC records show. Her husband, Mike Eng, donated $4,500 to the Asian American Education Institute in 2010 and 2011.

The institute, said Wong, “argued to keep communities of interest together. Since Rep. Chu has been a strong advocate for Asian communities, it would make sense for her to represent them.” Wong added that he “discussed redistricting with a number of Asian-American legislators.”

An email obtained by ProPublica shows Amelia Wang, Chu’s chief of staff, telling Chu and Bill Wong about testimony submitted by another Asian group, Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans for Fair Redistricting, which also intervened at the last minute to offer similar maps. In case that didn’t do the trick, Mitchell himself went before the commission, urging the commissioners to accept the maps submitted by the institute (his employer) and the coalition.

And that’s what the commission did, incorporating proposed lines for both groups anddrawing a map that included Rosemead in Chu’s new district.

Wang told ProPublica that Chu’s office and the institute “did communicate about keeping communities of interest together, including Rosemead. However, Rep. Chu did not hire Bill Wong for redistricting or to testify on her behalf before the commission.”

“Rep. Chu has represented a united Rosemead city since 2001,” said Wang, “it would have been a tragic mistake to divide it.”

Though the process turned out well for Chu, it didn’t work out so well for the town of South El Monte.

To make room for Rosemead in Chu’s district, South El Monte — 85 percent Latino — got bumped into another district across the mountains that is much less Latino, and much more affluent.

The town’s mayor, Luis Aguinaga, say the new lines “don’t make sense.” South El Monte is now split off from sister communities in the San Gabriel Valley — including North El Monte and El Monte.

“We’re always on the same side, always fighting for the same issues,” Aguinaga said. “On this side of the San Gabriel Valley we have a voice. If we’re apart it will be much harder to be heard.”

Other communities lost, too.

Outside Los Angeles, residents of what’s known as Little Saigon begged the commission to undo what they saw as decades of discrimination and put the U.S.’s largest Vietnamese community together in one district. Instead, the community was split in two — a result of testimony by supporters of Rep. Loretta Sanchez, including a former staffer and one of her wedding guests, to get her a safe district. A large section of Little Saigon ended up in a district with Long Beach, a town that is 1 percent Vietnamese.

“Residents who live in Little Saigon share the same needs, but if they’re in two different districts they may not be represented,” said Tri Ta, a City Council member from the area.

“This district is characterized by the Port of Long Beach,” the commission writes in its final report, “one of the world’s busiest seaports and the area’s largest employer.”

“It does not make sense to put the area known as Little Saigon in a district with Long Beach,” Ta said. “The two areas are distinctively different.”

“Congresswoman Sanchez believed strongly throughout the redistricting process that the population growth of the Latino community should be accurately reflected in the newly drawn congressional districts,” said Adrienne Elrod, Sanchez’s Chief of Staff, in a statement, “She’s glad that members of the Orange County community shared her views, and as a result, was pleased to see them take an active role.”

Paul Mitchell, the consultant whose work had such a large impact on the commission’s decisions, said voters benefited from the work done by him and others deeply involved in the process. The commissioners, he said, “knew some of the testimony was being fabricated by outside groups. But what were they to do? They couldn’t create a screen of all testimony and ferret out all the biases.”

The work he did on behalf of his diverse group of clients, he said, “created better maps — regardless of if they came with the additional benefit of helping some local city, union, or incumbent that was the client,” Mitchell said.

“My only regret is that we didn’t do more.”

Corrections: This story originally stated that the Asian population of Long Beach was less 1 percent. It has been corrected to say that the Vietnamese population of Long Beach is 1 percent. The story also previously stated that Rep. Judy Chu previously served as a state senator. In fact, she served in the state assembly.

(Reporters Olga Pierce and Jeff Larson contributed to this story, originally posted on ProPublica.)

More Ballot Wars: The Cost of Crime and Punishment

The cost of prisons, prisoners and public safety could be a major issue on November’s ballot.   If certain initiatives qualify for the ballot, voters will have to decide between their desire for taxpayer savings within the criminal justice system and California’s traditional tough-on-crime stand.

Initiatives are moving forward to change the Three Strikes law by giving courts more discretion on sentencing a third conviction.  A second initiative will ask voters to do away with the death penalty. Meanwhile, Governor Jerry Brown is pushing his tax increase proposal called the “Schools and Public Safety Protection Act” that helps fund the realignment of state prisoners to local lock-ups.

Given the state’s dire fiscal condition, proponents of the Three Strikes and death penalty reform measures are pushing cost savings as a major plus if voters pass the reforms.

The Three Strikes reform proponents will note the fiscal summary of their initiative which says it could save $100-million over time. Death penalty foes have pointed to studies that claim to show that keeping a convicted murderer in jail is cheaper than execution, a charge that has been dismissed by supporters of the death penalty.

Voters have supported the death penalty in the past. They have rejected efforts to soften the Three Strikes law. Many in the law enforcement community have told the pubic that shifting prisoners to the local level comes with some risk.

Will the state’s financial difficulties cause voters to give these measures a second look if they believe the tax dollars will be saved?

Appeals to change the justice system while saving tax dollars have been successful in the past.

Voters approved combining the municipal and superior court systems. Taxpayer savings was one of the major arguments made in the ballot booklet argument on this measure. Voters passed Proposition 36, which promised less prison time and more rehabilitation for drug users with a cost savings to the government treasury. The argument was convincing and the measure passed.  Since that time, there has been a dispute between those who say the measure did not live up to promises and supporters who said it’s funding was abandoned and the program was not allowed to work.

Still, when it comes to public safety, voters tend to be less concerned with cost and more concerned with their safety. The dollar savings argument may not be enough.

Some proponents of the reforms recognize this. Supporters of changing the Three Strikes law also argue the fairness of the issue — pointing out that the third strike for minor crime will offend the voter’s sense of fairness.

But then how will the fairness argument work in the case of the death penalty? Many believe, in fairness to the vicitim, the ultimate crime of murder deserves the ultimate punishment of execution.

Furthermore, voters may be confused by seeing a measure that calls for tax increases to protect public safety at the same time being told by opponents of changes to Three Strikes and the death penalty that these measures will weaken public safety.

Ballot experts tell us that voters will probably not make any connections between the different measures but decide each one on their own merits.

Or, given the many initiatives on the ballot they might throw up their hands and just vote NO.

(Joel Fox is the Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee. This article was first posted on Fox & Hounds.)

Bright Future for North Dakota, Dismal Outlook for California

California’s economic slide is one of choice and consequence, not of necessity. The state still possesses the resources for prosperity, even today, but policies advanced by ideologues, bureaucrats and political zealots in the state capital have tarnished the Golden State. Energy policy and unseen promises of an eventual green job boon are among the culprits.

North Dakota, by contrast, illustrates, as it rapidly becomes the economic envy of the nation, how a different approach to public policy bolsters economic activity and job creation and how traditional energy procurement stokes the state’s economy.

The Peace Garden State retains the lowest unemployment rate of any state in the nation, 3.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and boasts a state budget surplus of a billion dollars. Compare that to the Golden State which has the second highest jobless rate in the country, 11.7 percent, and has a potential $13 billion budget deficit in the its next fiscal year. Just last week the California’s state controller announced that state revenue projections were off by a billion dollars.

Employment rates and state budget health are common and widely used barometers to the economic well-being of a state, but other data points further emphasize difference in the two state economies. In fact, North Dakota’s job boom has caused good problems for a state to have such as the need for more housing to accommodate job growth, infrastructure development, etc. Some rural communities in North Dakota have seen population double virtually overnight, NPR reports. And trying to book a hotel in many places is almost impossible.

The opposite is true of California, where people and businesses are fleeing the state en masse. Outward migration resulted in a net loss 129,193 residents in 2010, according to a recent Los Angeles Times analysis of United States Census data. More people want to get out than want to move in. The percentage of people born in other states now living in California is the lowest it has been since 1900.

(Read Full Article)

(Brian Calle is an Opinion Columnist and Blogger for the Orange County Register. His blog is called Uncommon Ground.)

Keep Government OUT of California Businesses

The Associated Press keeps a running Economic Stress Index which measures economic strain across the United States. They recently published a list of the 20 most and least economically stressed counties with populations of at least 25,000 and their March 2010 Stress scores.

Let’s compare the most economically stressed county, Imperial County in California with the least economically stressed county, Ford County in Kansas. The indicators AP uses are unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies. Here’s a side-by-side comparison:

Stress Index 31.27 4.07
Unemployment 27.0% 3.5%
Foreclosure 4.59% 0.01%
Bankruptcy 1.32% 0.58%

As AP states on their website, “As things get worse the Economic Stress Index score goes up. As things get better the score goes down.” In many ways the two counties are similar, so why are they on opposite ends of AP’s stress index? Well, let me put this as simply and tactfully as I can. Imperial County is in California and Ford County is in Kansas. Please do not think that I have anything against the good people of California. I have many friends there. But 12 of the 20 most economically stressed counties are in California.  Eighteen of the 20 least economically stressed counties are in Kansas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Iowa.

Last week I quoted Abraham Maslow: “The difference between the great and good societies and the regressing, deteriorating societies is largely in terms of the entrepreneurial opportunity and the number of such people in the society.”

In which counties do you think the entrepreneurial spirit has the best opportunity to survive? Do you think the people in Ford County are more entrepreneurial than the people in Imperial County? Absolutely not. California is rich in human and natural resources but its bureaucracy and social policies are choking the life out of the entrepreneurial spirit. If you moved Imperial County to Kansas and Ford County to California, their Economic Stress Indexes would flip.

I can personally validate AP’s findings. One of my best clients is headquartered in Dodge City, Ford County’s most populous community, so I spend a lot of time there. Dodge is no longer a frontier town but it’s never lost its frontier spirit. The frontier spirit and the entrepreneurial spirit are kindred spirits. That’s why Ford County is the least economically stressed county in the nation. The folks out there are determined to keep it that way. And I’ve got a bit of advice for any bureaucrats, politicians or anyone else who tries to change it. Keep the heck out of Dodge.

Editor’s Note: For list of the 20 most and least economically stressed counties with populations of at least 25,000 and their March 2010 Stress scores, click here. For the Associated Press Economic Stress Index, click here.

(Reprinted from the Purpose Unlimited E-Letter: For a free subscription, go to Copyright © 2010 Jim Whitt Purpose Unlimited.)

Feds Insist On Rail Funds For CA Boondoggle

If it is built, California’s High-Speed Rail would be the largest public works project in state history. That fact alone appears be intoxicating to state officials, in a perpetual quest to have California be the first state to do anything.

Despite the warnings of a nearly $100 billion ballooning price tag, no track laid, no trains running, decreasing legislative support and even opposition from diehard rail advocates, the High-Speed Rail Authority is steaming ahead full throttle with plans to build the most expensive high-speed rail system in history.

But there is pushback coming from so many places that it must be difficult to keep up the cheerleading. Even the latest Field poll found that two thirds of Californians want a new referendum on the project. And by a two-to-one margin, they say they’d vote to derail it.

Many say that the plans will only unveil a state-subsidized train system, wrought with malfeasance, payola and unscrupulousness.

And even more question the need for another rail service, with Amtrack already operating throughout California. Others say that California already has high-speed travel — airplanes.

Kangaroo Court

The state legislative hearings with the High-Speed Rail Authority have become something of a bad joke. Legislators ask most of the right questions. They even ask the tough questions. However, High-Speed Rail Authority board members never answer the questions.

Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, has been asking where the money to build the rail system is going to come from. However, Harkey’s questions have also been ignored, by rail authority members who appear accountable to no one, particularly if they are not answering legislators’ questions.

Federal, State and Local Politics

Last week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood practically insisted that California take and use the $3.9 billion in federal money to build the Central Valley segment of High-Speed Rail. A hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was held to look at “mistakes and lessons learned” from President Barack Obama’s rail initiative. House Republicans were critical that the Obama administration mistakenly tried to push high-speed rail in the West, instead of the Northeast, where rail travel is already popular.

But the $3.9 billion offered to California was American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, federal stimulus money, and came with a requirement of use in the economically depressed Central Valley.

While the Central Valley is desperate for jobs of any kind, many in the region are welcoming High-Speed Rail with open arms.

“The fear is that they are going to use the federal funds anyway,” said Harkey. “But the High-Speed Rail Authority is not answering questions.”

Harkey recently attended the High-Speed Rail draft business plan presentation to the Orange County Transportation Authority board.

The OCTA addressed concerns with the rail authority, and called the funding plan “largely speculative,” and cost comparisons “theoretical.”

They were being kind.

Harkey said that she reiterated to the OCTA board that if a rail system is going to be built, High-Speed Rail needs to start in a more realistic location, such as Los Angeles to Anaheim, or San Jose to San Francisco. And she urged the OCTA board to “demand a new and independent ridership study.”

But Harkey also warned the OCTA that if they agreed to support the High-Speed Rail deal, there wouldn’t be any money for local transportation.  One of the funding sources the rail authority is counting on in the future is “cost sharing with local agencies.”

The other worry Harkey has is that the Legislature is not making any moves to take money away from the rail authority. “It’s the governor who wants this,” said Harkey. “I hope he will eventually realize that it’s got to stop.”

Many suspect that Gov. Jerry Brown is looking ahead with an eye toward Central Valley votes if he brings jobs to the region. But the untold story about High-Speed Rail jobs creation is that any construction jobs created by the rail project will be paid with borrowed money. The net effect will be financially negative.

The Emperor Has No Clothes

The state has no extra money for a brand new infrastructure project costing more than $100 billion before completion. California is facing a structural deficit of $35 billion.

The state ended last fiscal year with a cash deficit of $8.2 billion. And by next month, California will be facing an estimated $12 billion cash-flow deficit.

Long-term borrowing is even worse, and has grown from $60 billion to $90 billion over just the past four years. Harkey said that California is nearly maxed out of borrowing capacity and facing a credit downgrade.

A recent report by the Legislative Analyst found that future High-Speed Rail funding sources are “highly speculative,” and the economic impact analysis included in the rail authority’s plan “may be incomplete and imbalanced, and therefore portrays the project more favorably than may be warranted.”

And, congressional Republicans have refused to appropriate rail funds. Private investors, wherever they may be, are said to be demanding a revenue guarantee, which is yet another violation of the 2008 ballot measure.

Stating that its plan for the Central Valley portion of the rail line violates sections of Proposition 1A, a lawsuit filed against the High-Speed Rail plan contends that an operating subsidy will be needed for construction of the Central Valley segment. But an operating subsidy is outlawed under Prop. 1A. Complicating matters, the first segment of the rail system won’t even run high-speed trains until the entire system is build. The initiative required the train to be only high-speed.

Fact Versus Fantasy

At the hearing before Congress last week, LaHood said that California’s High-Speed Rail is “not a cheap project” but “the people in California want this.” But that’s not accurate given the recent Field poll results that found that 37 percent of voters who supported the High-Speed Rail bond measure in 2008 would vote against it today.

Calling the plan a “high-speed spending path,” Harkey said, “We can’t afford to accept the match funding from the federal government… match funds that will be repaid with tax bond dollars by our children. We don’t have a plan, we don’t have a route, and we don’t have the money to repay the costs.”

(Katy Grimes is CalWatchdog’s news reporter. Grimes is a longtime political analyst, writer and journalist. This article was first posted on CalWatchdog.)

Soledad State Nurse Finds Solitude in $1 Million Payroll

As California grapples with its lagging budget and prospective initiatives on the California ballot to raise taxes, Bloomberg News reports that 42 California state nurses were paid $1 million each over a six-year period.

Cited in the study by Bloomberg is Lina Manglicmot who has been paid $1.5 million since 2005, an average of $253,530 a year, to work as a prison nurse in the farming community of Soledad in Monterey County.  Soledad, whose Spanish translation is “solitude”, is located 25 miles from Salinas with a population of 25,738 according to the 2010 census.

Nurse Manglicmot is one of 42 state nurses who brought in more than $1 million in six years, mostly through overtime work, according to payroll data compiled by Bloomberg News. The total price tag for the 42 nurses was $47.5 million.  Extra pay earned through overtime compensation triples the amount they would generally earn through their regular compensation.  Unions representing the nurses have urged state prisons and mental health facilities to limit the use of overtime through more effective scheduling.

California’s nurses earn more than other large states like Texas and New York and far more than the national average of $67,720.  Job protections accorded to civil servants through the legislative and collective bargaining process in California have hampered efforts to close budget gaps.

As Governor Jerry Brown prepares for his State of the State address in January, state financial gurus indicate that revenue has once again fallen short of expectations, triggering $1 billion in cuts to school programs and elder, child, and disability care.

It’s no wonder that as California continues its trend with public employees where government workers are paid more than in other states for performing like duties, the only remedy the Governor has proposed is an initiative to raise taxes.  The Governor and union allies plan to organize to gather signatures to place the five-year tax increase — a combined half-cent sales tax and a series of higher rates on individual filers reporting $250,000 or more a year — on the November 2012 ballot.

Californians can only hope for 2012 that the “top two” and redistricting measures will help bring moderation to the legislature and help to solve problems more effectively. Until then, it’s possible that all the Governor has in his arsenal is a hammer if he can’t streamline government and curb spending on duplicative staffing and programs.

Read more on the Bloomberg study here.

(Judy Lloyd is a senior manager and strategist specializing in government affairs, community outreach, development and public relations.)