Give the FPPC the Power to Fight Illegal Spending

In recent years, taxpayers throughout California have registered numerous complaints about government entities using taxpayer dollars for political advocacy, a practice that is illegal under both state and federal law. Because progress in stopping these violations has been slow, taxpayers will be pleased to hear that the Fair Political Practices Commission sent a request to the California Legislature that it “consider legislation amending the Political Reform Act to authorize the Commission to bring administrative and civil actions against public agencies and public officials for spending public funds on campaign activity.”

Taking up that challenge is Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens — co-author of this column — who has introduced Assembly Bill 1306, which is in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Taxpayers hope that this commonsense, non-partisan proposal becomes law.

Here’s the background. The free speech clauses of the federal and state constitutions prohibit the use of governmentally compelled monetary contributions (including taxes) to support or oppose political campaigns because, as noted in Smith v. UC Regents, “Such contributions are a form of speech, and compelled speech offends the First Amendment.”

Moreover, as determined in Stanson v. Mott, “use of the public treasury to mount an election campaign which attempts to influence the resolution of issues which our Constitution leaves to the ‘free election’ of the people … presents a serious threat to the integrity of the electoral process.”

While taxpayer organizations have been successful in several lawsuits challenging these illegal expenditures, they haven’t fully deterred lawbreaking by the state or local governments, for two separate reasons.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Democratic Assemblywoman Cleared of Harassment is Still Not Out of the Woods

Cristina GarciaThe “Me Too” anti-sexual harassment campaign that quickly yielded several resignations by state lawmakers last fall appears to have hit a lull in Sacramento with Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, now seemingly on track for re-election this November despite scandalous allegations. But new twists may loom.

Garcia, 40, appeared doomed to a primary defeat two months ago. She took a voluntary leave of absence after she was accused of groping a then-legislative staffer four years ago; making inappropriate comments to a lobbyist; playing “spin the bottle” with staffers; and of using racist and homophobic language. The perception that she was a weakened candidate led the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California – which supported her in 2014 and 2016 – to oppose her primary bid.

But between a preliminary probe finding no evidence for the most serious allegation against Garcia – that she groped a staffer – and the strong support of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, Garcia finished first in her June 5 primary. She got 29 percent of the votes to 27 percent for Republican activist Mike Simpfenderfer, a mortgage banker. The other five candidates in the race, all Democrats, split the remaining 44 percent of the vote.

Last week, however, saw two developments that suggested Garcia wasn’t out of the woods yet. The first came when the Assembly agreed to consider an appeal of its finding clearing Garcia of groping former legislative aide Daniel Fierro, who now works as a Los Angeles County political consultant. Fierro sought the appeal last month amid grumbling that the initial investigation of Garcia was released even though it was incomplete.

This concern may have been a factor in the second development: the call from two Democratic lawmakers for a much more transparent and responsive approach to allegations of misconduct involving state lawmakers and staffers.

Anti-gay, anti-Asian remarks could haunt Garcia

State Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, said existing efforts to respond to sexual harassment don’t go nearly far enough to take on a “toxic” culture in the Capitol. They proposeestablishing a new investigative unit that would focus only on discrimination and harassment complaints; would handle probes for both the Assembly and the Senate; and would rely on an independent committee of experts to recommend punishment for those found guilty of wrongdoing. Legislators, however, still would have the final say on what if any penalties were assessed.

But the Mitchell-Friedman proposal targets not just the behavior that Garcia has so far been cleared of but behavior of the sort the Assembly probe found she had engaged in: using homophobic slurs to describe fellow Los Angeles County Democrat John Perez, the Assembly’s first openly gay speaker, and of threatening violence against Asian-Americans after some Asian-American lawmakers balked at affirmative-action proposals that they thought would help some minority groups but not their own.

“The proposed policy … aims to spur a shift in how people in the Capitol community speak and act toward each other,” the Associated Press reported. “It encourages people to report minor incidents such as insensitive comments all the way through more aggressive acts of misconduct.”

Rendon’s decision to defend Garcia while still appearing strongly sympathetic to the Me Too movement has been complicated by comments that suggest he thinks Garcia’s larger record of legislative priorities and accomplishments should matter in judging her behavior. Similar suggestions made in defense of former President Bill Clinton and now-former Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, triggered a furious backlash.

Rendon entered this territory in April when he denounced the building trades unions for seeking to replace Garcia with other Democrats whom Rendon said would be more willing to challenge aggressive environmental policies touted by Gov. Jerry Brown and all the party’s legislative leaders. A spokesperson for the unions said their opposition to Garcia was prompted not by her strong environmentalism but by sympathy for her alleged victim and a belief another candidate would better reflect the values of the 58th Assembly District.

But Rendon rejected the claims in a blistering statement posted by the Sacramento Bee in which he called the unions’ maneuvering “a thinly veiled attempt by Big Oil and polluters to intimidate me and my members,” “ an affront to my speakership” and an “ill-advised political attack.”

This article was originally published by

Democratic Assemblywoman leading #MeToo movement at California Capitol accused of sexual misconduct

An outspoken California lawmaker who has been at the forefront of the Capitol’s anti-sexual harassment movement is herself reportedly under investigation for groping a legislative staff member.

Politico reported Thursday that Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, cornered the employee at a legislative softball game in 2014, began stroking his back, squeezed his butt and attempted to grab his crotch before he extricated himself. The staffer, Daniel Fierro, who no longer works for the Assembly, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Fierro told Politico that Garcia appeared so drunk that night he would not be surprised if she did not remember groping him. He said he told two coworkers at the time, but he did not officially report the incident until last month, when he mentioned it to his former boss, Assemblyman Ian Calderon, who referred the matter for investigation. A representative for Calderon, D-Whittier, was not immediately available.

In a statement, Garcia confirmed that she attended the 2014 softball game, but said the details of the complaint had not previously been brought to her attention. …

Click here to read the full story from the Sacramento Bee

Bill is Back to Remove “Tampon Tax” – Will Raise Liquor Tax to Cover Costs

SACRAMENTO – In his veto message of a series of tax-reduction bills last September, Gov. Jerry Brown explained that “tax breaks are the same as new spending – they both cost the general fund money.” He said such measures should be on the table during budget negotiations, “so that all spending proposals are weighed against each other at the same time.”

Among the bills that were vetoed at that time were two that would have repealed sales taxes on diapers and tampons. Both measures passed unanimously, but the governor wanted to assure that new spending-related measures didn’t lead to deficits. So the authors of those two measures are back again this year – but this time they are addressing the revenue issue.

The Common Cents Tax Reform Act, Assembly Bill 479, would “exempt diapers, tampons, pads and other basic necessities from California’s sales tax,” according to a statement last week from its authors. The February version of the bill would have exempted sales taxes from the sale, storage and use of various physician-prescribed medicines, but was amended to target diapers and feminine products.

To deal with the governor’s concerns, its co-authors (Assembly members Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, and Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego) want to raise taxes to offset the tax cut. The bill would increase the excise tax by $1.20 per gallon on hard liquor that is 100 proof and and by $2.40 a gallon for liquors that are more than 100 proof.

They estimate the tax increase will add about 1.5 cents per gallon to the typical hard-liquor serving and say that it’s a modest increase, but the tax rate would be boosted by more than 36 percent – raising it from $3.30 a gallon to $4.50 a gallon. The state’s excise taxes, however, would remain the same on the sales of beer and wine.

“Common sense is that liquor is a choice and a luxury and human biology is not,” said Garcia, who authored the tampon-tax bill last year. “There is no happy hour for menstruation. Our tax code needs to reflect the fact that it’s not OK to tax women for being born women.” Gonzalez Fletcher, who had authored the diaper-tax measure, depicted the matter as one of “babies over booze.” Because the bill requires a tax increase, it will need two-thirds supermajority support in the Legislature.

But opponents of the legislation caution against using the tax code to favor some goods over others. “Taxing drinks to reduce the taxes on other consumer goods is folly – not least because retailers will mark up diapers and feminine care products to their current price,” said Kevin Kosar, a senior fellow of the R Street Institute in Washington, D.C., and author of the 2016 book, “Moonshine: A Global History.”

“Drink taxes should only cover the social costs they produce – not expenses attributable to normal bodily functions like defecation and menstruation,” he added. “What’s next – taxing drinks to pay for toilet paper and fingernail clippers?”

This is likely to become a partisan issue. Some California Republicans supported previous efforts to reduce taxes on diapers and tampons, figuring any tax reduction is a good thing. Likewise, many Republicans generally took issue with the governor’s statement equating tax cuts as spending. If a cut is the same thing as a spending hike, then it implies the government – rather than individuals – is the steward of all income. But they appreciate Brown’s insistence the budget remain balanced, which means any diversion of revenue has to be made up somewhere else.

California Democrats are jumping on a national “gender equity” campaign designed to reduce the prices of feminine products and other necessities. For instance, the Washington Post reported that New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year signed a law exempting sales tax from tampons and Washington, D.C.’s Democratic mayor signed a law that also removes the tax from diapers. Cuomo blasted the tax as regressive – meaning it hurts the poor the most – and called it a “matter of social and economic justice.”

Assembly Bill 479 isn’t the only recent effort to rearrange the tax code to favor in a targeted manner. “The Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act of 2017,” introduced by Democratic state Sens. Henry Stern, D-Agoura Hills, and Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, would exempt public-school teachers from paying state income tax on their teacher salaries if they stay in the field for at least five years. The goal is to address a shortage of classroom teachers.

The diaper/tampon exemption would be revenue-neutral because of the corresponding booze-tax increase, but the teacher exemption is estimated to cost more than $617 million a year. Although the state’s highly progressive tax code already is filled with special privileges for some and higher tax rates for others, critics worry that this new spate of tax exemptions could spark a frenzy of similar bills, and the slow expansion of state tax exemptions from one favored group to another.

When Gov. Brown vetoed seven tax bills last year, he noted that their cumulative effect would be to reduce revenues by around $300 million. He cautioned about cutting such revenues “when the state’s budget remains precariously balanced.”

Although there’s disagreement on the likelihood of new deficits, there’s little question that California’s budget remains as precarious as ever. That gives the teacher exemption a huge obstacle – but it’s unclear what the governor might do if AB479 passes now that supporters of the tampon and diaper exemptions identified a tax hike to make up for lost revenue.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at

This piece was originally published by

Making It Harder for Politicians to Lie to Their Constituents

legislatureIt was Will Rogers who said, “If you ever injected truth into politics you have no politics.” If the renowned satirist were with us today, he would not be shocked by the dishonesty of the Sacramento political class, even if the rest of us find it offensive.

Many of our current class of politicians attempt to present themselves as standing for the interests of average folks. They pay lip service to low and moderate income Californians, while California continues to have the highest sales and gas taxes in the nation. They claim to be supporters of property ownership, then attack Proposition 13 and then proceed to make it easier for government to take private property through eminent domain.

For those trying to sort out who is actually representing average taxpayers and who, instead, is doing the bidding of powerful special interests, the just released Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association Legislative Report Card will help. The Report Card holds lawmakers accountable by documenting how lawmakers have voted on issues important to taxpayers.

Of the 120 members of the Legislature, 76 received a grade of “F” while only 27 earned an “A” grade.

In the legislative session that ended last month, Gov. Brown signed over 800 bills. These bills create thousands of pages of new laws, spanning dozens of code sections. The HJTA Legislative Report Card also draws attention to the best and worst of these bills. For example, Assembly Bill 2153 (Cristina Garcia) that imposes a new tax on car batteries. It may seem like a small matter to some, but it represents another step by Sacramento to make personal transportation more expensive for average folks.

The Report Card also spotlights lawmakers who support legislation that helps taxpayers. Los Angeles Assemblyman Matt Dababneh received a higher grade due to his carrying an HJTA-sponsored bill, AB1891. This new law allows seniors and those with disabilities to permanently opt out of paying education parcel taxes if they fill out a required form one time, which is sent to their residence.

Votes on 22 bills were used to score lawmakers. These reflect a range of policy issues including new tax and regulatory burdens, and attacks on the initiative process that would make it more difficult for taxpayers to exercise their right to place measures, like Proposition 13, on the ballot.

The Report Card also documents a troubling trend. Some lawmakers, who at one time were supportive of taxpayers’ interests, seem to have shifted their allegiance and now routinely vote for taxes, bonds, and other measures that increase the burden on average Californians. A record number of these legislators received “C” and “D” grades this year. Taxpayers can only hope that this was due to election year politics and not the beginning of a trend.

Seven lawmakers deserve credit and thanks for a perfect score. Members of the Assembly receiving 100% are: Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes, Shannon Grove, Jay Obernolte, Matt Harper and Don Wagner. They were joined on the Senate side by Ted Gaines and Jim Nielsen.

To view the 2016 Legislative Report Card, and find which representatives are proud of their grades, and which would rather they stay hidden, please go to where it can be found under “Hot Topics.”

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Tax on Candy Should Be Rejected … Again

candyIt’s not often that California voters support a ballot measure by over a two-thirds vote but that’s what they did in 1992 when rejecting a sales tax on snack foods and candy. Now Assembly members Lorena Gonzalez and Cristina Garcia want the voters to take a second look at that action by supporting a tax on snack foods and candy to offset a tax cut on feminine hygiene products, diapers and toilet paper. But when you look at the numbers, it appears a gambit to raise taxes rather than a balancing act of budget priorities.

Gov. Brown vetoed the tax exemptions on tampons and diapers, saying the state budget is “precariously balanced.” In total, cutting taxes on diapers and tampons would reduce revenue by $45 million. However the substitute proposal by Assembly members Gonzalez and Garcia would add $1 billion in revenue.

Voters put a prohibition on taxing food products in the state constitution, adding snack foods, bottled water and candy, following a tax increase on those particular products to help balance the state budget during the early 1990s recession. One year later more than 66 percent of the voters supported Proposition 163 to remove the tax on snacks and set up a safeguard in the constitution against taxing food.

The tax on snacks was so unpopular that no argument supporting the tax was published in the official state ballot voter guide. In the argument in favor of Prop. 163 signed by two Democratic Assembly members and an executive with the bottled water association, the tax was called regressive and a first step in taxing all food.

Certainly, times have changed in the last 25 years. For instance, look at the reversal in support of legalizing marijuana then and now. However, snack foods are more common and more widely accepted than cannabis. Are the changes in attitudes so dramatic that a two-thirds support for cancelling a tax on snack foods can be turned into support to tax such products?

The Assembly members supporting a renewed candy tax might embrace a sentence in the Proposition 163 ballot argument that argues California has a proud tradition of not taxing the essentials of life. In pushing the tax cut on diapers and feminine products they have made a similar charge. But substituting a tax on food products for other items considered essential for life and adding hundreds of millions of dollars to the state and local treasuries in the transaction seems more like a budgetary shell game.

The idea of a constitutional amendment to tax candy and snacks puts another focus on the battle over Democrats securing a two-thirds margin in the legislature. With a two-thirds vote, a constitutional amendment eliminating the constitutional provision provided by Prop. 163 could be put on the ballot.

If successful, another line from the ballot argument of Prop. 163 would be put into question. If Prop. 163 passed, the argument’s authors promised, taxes on candy and food products would be prohibited “forever.”

We shall see.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily