California Taxpayers Cool to Costly Climate Bond

In addition to last week’s record-busting $310 billion dollar budget, the legislature is also advancing a $15 billion “Climate Bond” to appear on the ballot sometime in 2024. This “climate bond” should be viewed with a great deal of skepticism by California voters for several reasons.

First, why is a bond – any bond – necessary? Despite a drop off in state tax collections, California continues to produce massive amounts of tax revenue from the highest-in-the-nation income tax rate, highest state sales tax rate and highest gas tax. Taking on further debt makes little sense.

Moreover, this proposal is inconsistent with the principles of sound debt financing. Bond financing can be justified where the cost of a major infrastructure project – at either the state or local level – is greater than could be funded directly from general fund revenues without making significant reductions in service. But proponents have not made the case for why this grab bag of various projects couldn’t be financed from the general fund.

Second, an important consideration for the issuance of public debt is interest rates. Borrowing costs today are higher than they have been in years and while Wall Street bond brokers and bond holders will profit from more California debt, voters have to decide if it is in California’s best interests.

Third, under Article XVI of the California Constitution a statewide bond measure must be limited to “some single object or work to be distinctly specified in the act.” The “climate bond” here is authorized by Assembly Bill 1567, which is entitled the “Safe Drinking Water, Wildfire Prevention, Drought Preparation, Flood Protection, Extreme Heat Mitigation, Clean Energy, and Workforce Development Bond Act of 2024.” This bill is a 25-page listing of various projects ranging from restoring the Tijuana River to providing residential housing for California Conservation Corps members. Even under the most liberal interpretation of “single object or work,” this bond measure doesn’t comply.

Fourth, the fact that a substantial amount of the proceeds from the bond are intended to be used for programs rather than brick-and-mortar infrastructure violates the principle that the “single object or work” should have a useful life that extends beyond the term of the debt repayment. This climate bond is like a family taking out a 30-year mortgage to pay for groceries.

Fifth, California has a horrendous track record of not keeping its promises when it comes to bond measures. The clearest example is California’s High-Speed Rail Project, viewed internationally as the biggest boondoggle on earth. Proposition 1A in 2008 promised Californians a super-fast train that would travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco in about two and a half hours; the ticket price would be about $50; the total cost of the high-speed rail would be about $40 billion; and there would be significant private-sector support –money from investors – to build the project. After 15 years, HSR has yet to hit any of its benchmark promises.

Numerous other bond measures have failed to live up to the representations made to voters, including several water bond proposals that promised the construction of surface water storage projects.

Even more troubling than the broken promises related to bond measures is the fact that California courts will do little to enforce those promises. This was starkly evident in several lawsuits over the high-speed rail project when the courts failed to intervene despite conclusive evidence that the terms of the ballot measure were being violated.

Sixth, general obligation bonds should only be placed on the ballot when the level of total debt is within prudent limits that will not affect the state’s bond rating or solvency. If California experiences even a mild recession, that will increase the percentage of the general fund necessary to pay debt service. If the state’s “debt service ratio” exceeds levels palpable to Wall Street, that could increase the cost of borrowing on top of the already high interest rates.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

California’s shakedown government expands under Gavin Newsom

If you thought Governor Gavin Newsom’s new gas tax, SBX1-2, was about punishing big, bad oil companies, it’s not. It’s actually about much more – and none of it is good news for taxpayers.

For those who weren’t paying attention last week, SBX1-2 was Newsom’s attack on California’s oil producers who, he alleges, have been gouging consumers with high gas prices. This is horrible legislation, not only for its substance, but also for how it became law. The bill’s unusual number, SBX1-2, is the first giveaway that this was not normal legislation, but rather the product of a “special session,” which Newsom called last December.

After no action on Newsom’s declared “crisis” for months, the bill was jammed through in less than a week. There were no meaningful hearings, no public testimony, no opportunity for those directly impacted to present opposing views. Because the legislation was moved during a “special session,” it was able (by design) to avoid many of the procedural requirements of normal legislation. This was a shameful display of raw political power which, thanks to one-party rule, is now all too common.

As for substance, SBX1-2 sets a new speed record in California’s headlong rush toward Soviet-style central planning. The Newsom gas tax law creates a new agency under the California Energy Commission with powers to investigate petroleum companies and impose new penalties, costs and regulations. This new agency is vested with the authority to decide how much profit oil and gas businesses are allowed to make.

SBX1-2 is a gross insult to taxpayers. First, the Legislature’s own analysis projects that it will cost nearly $10 million annually with a minimum of 34 new enforcement bureaucrats. Specifically, according to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, “this bill will result in significant ongoing costs to the [California Energy Commission] in the millions of dollars annually, to develop rules and review data submissions; to establish and administer the Advisory Committee and the Division; to exercise its new authority to set a maximum margin; and to administer a penalty, if created.”

But this cost is a bargain compared to what the creation of this new Orwellian agency will do to the price of gas and other petroleum products. The regulatory scheme created by SBX1-2 is almost certain to disrupt California’s energy market and threaten the reliability of the state’s already fragile fuel supply.

More fundamentally, ponder the notion of the heavy hand of state government judging what an “excessive” profit is. What industry is next? Will there be a new state agency to put a price cap on automobiles? (Oh wait, there is already a bill that would do that).

But SBX1-2 poses another threat that few are talking about. If the Covid era taught us anything it is that government-declared emergencies – real or imagined – create more opportunities for corruption.

Recall that during the pandemic when no-bid contracts were being handed out, behested payments on behalf of the governor surged. These are “donations” for charitable or governmental purposes that are specifically requested by elected officials, often from companies with business before the state. In 2020 alone, hundreds of millions were “donated” at the “behest” of the governor. The practice was so pervasive it even caught the attention of the Los Angeles Times which wrote that “many of the donors have other business before the governor, received no-bid government contracts over the last year or were seeking favorable appointments on important state boards,” which “creates the appearance of a pay-to-play system.”

With SBX1-2, one can easily envision politicians extorting petroleum companies to give campaign contributions or “behested payments” as “protection” money. (“That’s a nice refinery you have there. It would be a shame if something happened to it.”)

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Jon Coupal: Political Reform For Some But Not For All

Over the years, this column has exposed the myriad ways that the California Legislature enacts laws, not for the public benefit, but to cement progressive political power with one-party rule. A lawsuit filed last week in the Sacramento Superior Court illuminates yet another example.

A coalition of business groups is challenging Senate Bill 1439 (Glazer), signed into law last year. The legislation, which took effect on January 1, requires city and county elected officials to recuse themselves from certain decisions that would financially benefit any entity or person that donated over $250 to that official’s campaign in the past year.

Specifically, SB 1439 amends the Political Reform Act of 1974, which prohibits an officer of an agency from accepting, soliciting, or directing a contribution of more than $250 from any party while a proceeding involving a license, permit, or other entitlement for use is pending before the agency. The new law is targeted mostly toward developers and other real estate interests which, rightly or wrongly, are perceived to make use of “pay to play” tactics, especially at the local level.

But prior to the enactment of SB 1439, the term “agency” was defined to exclude those entities whose members are directly elected by the voters. The thinking is that members of local legislative bodies, particularly city councils and county boards of supervisors, are directly accountable to voters, and citizens can either recall or reject for reelection politicians perceived to be unduly influenced by special interests.

SB 1439 removed the exception for local government agencies, thereby subjecting elected officials to the same prohibition as other officials. But despite what may have been good intentions, SB 1439 is flawed and may end up being invalidated.

The legislation’s legal problem is that it may be an impermissible attempt to amend the Political Reform Act without a vote of the People. PRA was an initiative and, as such, may only be amended by a popular vote or by legislation to further the purposes of the Act. Defenders of SB 1439 will argue that the removal of the exemption for agencies whose members are elected by voters is indeed consistent with the overall purposes of the Act.

But how can it be “consistent” with the original Political Reform Act when that law specifically exempted elected officials from this provision?

Moreover, courts are skeptical of arguments that legislative amendments to the PRA “further its purposes.” The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association won such a lawsuit in 2019. That dispute began in 2016 when the Legislature passed, and the governor signed, Senate Bill 1107, which purported to amend a part of the PRA that expressly prohibited public funding of political campaigns.

SB 1107 attempted to reverse the ban by permitting public funding of political campaigns under certain circumstances. Because SB 1107 was so clearly contrary to the letter and spirit of the Act, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association challenged the 2016 law as an improper legislative amendment of a voter initiative. Taxpayers prevailed in both the trial court and the Court of Appeal.

In addition to the questionable legality of SB 1439, taxpayers have reason to be concerned that the law tilts the playing field by allowing some power players to continue to engage in “pay to play.”

SB 1439 is limited to situations “involving a license, permit, or other entitlement for use,” applying to “business, professional, trade and land use” as well as “all contracts” and “all franchises.” By far the biggest “pay to play” problem in California involves public sector labor unions shoveling boatloads of cash to their preferred candidates.

Leaving no doubt that labor organizations have special protection from this law, SB 1439 defines “license, permit, or other entitlement for use” to include “all contracts,” but then specifically excludes union contracts with the phrase, “other than competitively bid, labor, or personal employment contracts.”

Finally, adding insult to injury, lawmakers made sure to exempt themselves from the provisions of SB 1439, defining “agency” to “not include the courts or any agency in the judicial branch of government, the Legislature, the Board of Equalization, or constitutional officers.”

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

The latest threats to direct democracy in California

Since 1911, Californians have possessed powerful tools to control indolent or corrupt politicians. The rights of direct democracy — initiative, referendum and recall — are enshrined in the California Constitution for reasons that are just as compelling in 2023 as they were more than a century ago.

But make no mistake, politicians hate direct democracy and view it as a threat to their political power or, at a minimum, as an intrusion on their legislative responsibilities. It is no surprise, then, when legislators introduce proposals to weaken direct democracy, and this legislative session is no different.

Last month, progressive legislators introduced Senate Constitutional Amendment 1 to gut the recall power. Under current law, voters can recall a state officer by majority vote and, in the same election, elect a successor with a plurality of the vote. In addition, the state constitution prohibits a public official who is the subject of a recall election from being a candidate for successor.

In a fundamental change to the Constitution, SCA 1 would leave an office vacant in the event of a successful recall until a replacement is elected in a special election, or if there is insufficient time to hold a special election, the office would remain vacant for the remainder of the term. This deprives voters of knowing who might replace the officer they are recalling and creates a new concern that a public office could remain unfilled with no one to perform the duties of that office.

In addition, under SCA 1 the rules would be different for a gubernatorial recall. If a governor is removed from office in a recall election, the lieutenant governor becomes governor for the remainder of the unexpired term. In a one-party state like California, this renders a recall for governor nearly pointless.

If SCA 1 sounds familiar, it is nearly identical to SCA 3, which was introduced in the last legislative session but, fortunately, did not progress very far. Perhaps the reason the proposal stalled last year is the realization that, as a proposed constitutional amendment, it would have to be approved by a majority of the statewide electorate. Public polling reveals that Californians support direct democracy, including the right to bounce bad politicians.

Another threat to direct democracy is an effort by the municipal bond industry to obscure the true cost of tax hikes and bond measures.

Senate Bill 532, introduced by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, seeks to weaken two existing transparency bills, Assembly Bills 809 and 195 (by then-Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, 2015-2016), sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Taken together these bills state that for all local tax and bond measures, the rate of the tax, its duration and the total amount of money to be raised are disclosed right on the ballot label. While SB 532 continues to include most of this information, for local bonds and tiered special taxes it relegates it off the ballot label and buries it in the separately mailed voter information guide. When confronting special taxes that will be on tax rolls for decades, it is imperative that voters have as much information as possible.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

What If There Is No Next Big Thing for California?

From its founding, California has been a special place, especially its ability to grow and foster new companies and industries that lead the world in their respective fields. Much of this has been driven by the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation that found a unique home here.

Of course, the first “Big Thing” for California was the Gold Rush of 1849, attracting risk takers willing to cross two thousand miles of hostile territory with no guarantee of survival, let along success. Following closely behind the prospectors were the blacksmiths, shop keepers, farmers and cattlemen to serve the exploding population.

Once fully industrialized, California maintained its reputation as the place where innovation could fully flourish. But companies and industries have a predictable life cycle and are never static. They start small, and then grow exponentially, after which they mature and stabilize. The growth period, of course, is the most dynamic. That’s when the innovators themselves and ultimately their stockholders make substantial profits and employees grow in number and income.

For the last 60 years, California has always had an industry or two in that growth cycle. First it was the oil companies and the Hollywood studios. Aerospace came next, then the first round of technology companies like Hewlett Packard, Intel and Cisco. As they matured around 20 years ago, along came the current wave of tech companies like Google and Apple to surge past them.

In serial order, one new industry after another grew up in California just as the prior wave had crested and was settling into maturity. This trend has not just benefitted the economy and employment. These industries have powered the revenue to the state for decades. The rapidly growing companies have provided a lot of people with very high incomes from stock, stock options and incentive-based employment. Because California’s revenue is so dependent on high-income earners, the recent budget surpluses have largely been driven by these enormous tech incomes.

But now, the current wave of tech companies is maturing. Layoffs at Facebook and Twitter and Salesforce are ongoing. The median income at Facebook is reportedly $394,000, which has meant lots of tax revenue for the state. Some political leaders suggest that we shouldn’t worry about the California economy and assume that there will be another big industry to grow up here to fill that hole in the budget.

But what if that doesn’t happen this time?

What if there is no next wave to replace the maturing Google and Apple? The promising industries of ride sharing and food delivery are struggling, as is autonomous driving. Maybe something like ChatGPT is coming, but there are no assurances there, either.

While there will almost certainly be some “next big thing”, we can no longer be certain that that “thing” will be California-based. Despite high taxes, high cost of everything and onerous regulations, the educated and tech savvy workforce has kept many companies here. However, now those people can be hired remotely by a business in Arizona. Or, whereas once a Californian didn’t want to move out of state, now moving the family to Florida may not look so bad. That spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation that was such a part of California’s culture is eroding at the same time other places are finding their footing with creative growth.

The good news is that this future is avoidable. That culture of entrepreneurship still exists. Innovation and enterprise can still be found and grow here. It may be trite to say, but it only needs a government that will get out of its way rather than suppress its dreams. Yes, it means less regulation and lower taxes. But it also means a government focused on empowering those who produce in order to ensure that there is revenue for public services as well as providing a reasonable safety net for those in need. It may also mean more emphasis on the present local economic climate than the global climate changes estimated in the future. Remember when we had the best schools and police forces in the country? We do. It wasn’t that long ago.

Click here to read the full article in the Los Angeles Daily News

Proposition 13 Is Working as Intended

We were a bit taken aback with the recent article in the Register by reporter Teri Sforza rhetorically asking if major businesses in Orange County are paying enough property taxes. Only toward the end of the piece was there an acknowledgement that in 2020, California voters rejected the “split roll” proposal by voting against Proposition 15. That measure would not only have imposed the largest property tax increase in California history, but it was also the most serious threat to Proposition 13 since the taxpayer protection measure’s overwhelming approval by voters in 1978.

The same people who have always wanted to destroy Proposition 13 so they can raise taxes even higher are now claiming that Prop. 13 must go because it has caused “inequities.” Actually, Proposition 13 is working precisely as intended to achieve a sustainable balance between tax stability and revenue growth. That’s why for over 40 years Prop. 13 has enjoyed such consistent popularity that it has earned the moniker, “The Third Rail of California Politics.” Even after the costly and long-running campaign against it, polling reveals that 60% of Californians believe that Prop. 13 is “mostly a good thing.”

More importantly, Proposition 13 is also good tax policy. First, it limits the property tax rate to 1 percent of a property’s value. Second, it limits the annual increase in taxable value to 2 percent annually. Under Prop. 13, even if a property doubles in market value in a single year, its “taxable value,” against which the assessor applies the one percent tax rate, can only be increased two percent per year. Third, Prop. 13 requires reassessment of property when it changes hands. This provides a stable and predictable source of tax revenue to local governments which has grown virtually every year since 1978 in percentages that exceed inflation and population growth.

Detractors frequently attempt to assert that voters were unaware that Prop. 13 would apply to commercial property in the same way it protects residential property. That too is false. During the Prop. 13 campaign in 1978, opponents pressed that argument in their campaign ads and literature, and it was specifically mentioned in the official ballot pamphlet itself. Voters considered the claim and enacted Prop. 13 anyway.

Sforza quotes longtime Prop. 13 critic and split-roll advocate, Lenny Goldberg, who claims that commercial property in Orange County is underassessed. Goldberg knows better as he is fully aware that, under Prop. 13, taxable value depends on the market value at the time of acquisition. (Despite continuing his jihad against Proposition 13, Goldberg now resides out of state, avoiding the high tax burden in California).

Goldberg is particularly disingenuous when he argues that two major companies in Orange County are under-assessed because commercial properties are reassessed only when a single buyer assumes at least 50% ownership or there are physical improvements to the property. “So if three purchasers purchase 100% of a property, no change of ownership occurs.”

The definition of “change of ownership” is not in Proposition 13, but in laws passed by the Legislature. The 50% ownership threshold for reassessment could be remedied with a change to the law without changing one word of Proposition 13. In fact, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the business community have repeatedly offered to fix this “change of ownership” definition only to have labor organizations, represented by Goldberg, slam the door. Those legislative proposals have been offered by politicians as diverse as former Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, an ultra -progressive from San Francisco, and Orange County’s own Patricia Bates.

California’s taxes are among the highest in every category except for property taxes, and even then, we are in the upper middle among states on per capita property tax collection. Only one thing keeps us from the misery of being at the top of that list: Proposition 13.

Click here to read the full article in these OC Register

A Tax Revolt in San Francisco?

Citizen tax revolts have been waged throughout American history. Indeed, the genesis of the United States was a dispute with Great Britain over taxes. The issue came to a head when colonists in Massachusetts dressed as Native Americans and dumped English tea into Boston Harbor. Literally, the original Tea Party.

But American independence didn’t stop citizens from protesting high taxes. Shays’ Rebellion in 1786 was an armed uprising in Massachusetts in response to a debt crisis among the citizenry and in opposition to the state government’s increased efforts to collect taxes both on individuals and their trades. Many historians believe that the difficulty in suppressing the revolt under the Articles of Confederation provided significant motivation to form a more powerful central government.

While the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788 did in fact provide stronger federal authority, it didn’t prevent tax revolts. The Whiskey Rebellion, a fierce revolt against the new tax on distilled spirits imposed shortly after the formation of the federal government, was an early test of George Washington’s presidency.

Fast forward to more modern times. California’s own Proposition 13, passed in a landslide election in 1978, initiated the modern tax revolt. And, in an echo of 1776, a new Tea Party movement began in 2009 with a call for lower taxes, a reduction of the national debt, and less government spending. The movement launched the political careers of several members of Congress, many of whom are still serving.

Today’s media likes to portray those of us associated with taxpayer advocacy as ultra-conservative. But in a surprising development, there is a nascent “tax revolt” in the Castro District of San Francisco — whose population, by any objective standard, is the polar opposite of “conservative.”

According to an article by Jessica Flores in the San Francisco Chronicle, business owners in the Castro have repeatedly complained to city officials about the damage that homeless people have inflicted in the neighborhood, only to have the city fail to address the problem.

In response to the indifference of city officials, the Castro Merchants Association sent a letter to city officials urging them to take action on behalf of the beleaguered neighborhood. The letter described the usual problems associated with California’s horrific homeless problem: Vandalized storefronts, open drug use, business owners and customers, not to mention the “psychotic episodes.”

Now merchants say the situation has gotten so bad that they’re threatening to possibly stop paying city taxes and fees. “If the city can’t provide the basic services for them to become a successful business, then what are we paying for?” a leader of the association told The Chronicle. “You can’t have a vibrant, successful business corridor when you have people passed out high on drugs, littering your sidewalk. These people need to get help.”

This threat to withhold taxes and fees may not be on the same level as the violent Whiskey Rebellion or the political sea change of Prop. 13. But it does reflect a problem more pronounced in California than almost anywhere else in America: Not getting the services we pay for.  Is it really so surprising that all citizens simply want services commensurate with the taxes they pay? In fact, complaints about California’s high tax burden often take a back seat to the fact that we pay a lot and get so little.

Click here to read the full article at OC Register

Weak Attacks on Proposition 13 Fail Again

Two-thirds of California voters consistently tell pollsters that they think Proposition 13 is a good thing, but even with more than 40 years of constant support, Proposition 13 is still attacked by people who are mad that it’s so effective at protecting taxpayers.

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

Every argument against Proposition 13 boils down to one thing: Control. They may mask it in buzzwords like “economic dynamism” and “equity,” but the reality is that they think they know how to spend your money and use your land better than you do.

California has the highest or near highest tax rate in every category except property taxes and even then, the state is 14th in property tax collections per capita, according to the latest data from the Tax Foundation.

In fact, county assessors are reporting sizeable growth in the value of taxable property. Locally, Riverside County reported growth of 9.26%, reaching a net total of $369 billion in taxable property. San Bernardino County reported a historic high of $288 billion in value, representing a 9.3% increase from last year. Orange County reported a 6.37% increase, to $721.25 billion. In Los Angeles, the county assessment roll grew by a record $122 billion (a 6.95% increase that brings the roll to $1.89 trillion in total net value) during the past year.

Similar gains are happening statewide. Here is just a sampling: Contra Costa County, 7.79%; Sacramento County, 8%; San Mateo County, 8.34%; Santa Clara County, 7.46%; Ventura County, 7.3%; and Yolo County, 7.23%; Marin County, 6.55%; Amador County, 7.03%; Butte County, 6.81%; Humboldt County, 4.73%; Imperial County, 5.6%; Mendocino County, 2.41%; Modoc County, 4.6%; Napa County, 7.12%; Placer County, 9.2%; Santa Cruz County, 6.33%; Sierra County, 6.37%; and Stanislaus County, 6.82%.

While this is likely welcomed news in the county halls of administration, before Prop. 13 it would have been met with great anxiety among homeowners. That’s because before Prop. 13, property tax assessments were based on current market value and property was regularly reassessed. Some property owners saw their assessments jump 50 to 100% in just one year and their tax bills jump correspondingly — even if the gains in value were only on paper. People were losing their homes to higher taxes.

Click here to read the full article at the Daily Breeze

A Win for Direct Democracy and Taxpayers in San Bernardino County

Entrenched politicians loathe the tools of direct democracy, which include the powers of initiative, referendum, and recall. Both at the state and local levels, they do everything they can to limit the exercise of those powers, including going to court to nullify what voters do at the ballot box.

That’s what happened with Measure K in San Bernardino, which amended the County Charter to impose a one-term limit on members of the Board of Supervisors and reduce their pay from more than $200,000 per year to $5,000 per month. The Red Brennan Group, which spearheaded Measure K, said it puts the Board of Supervisors’ salary on par with the median household income in the county, and that a one-term limit would incentivize elected officials to focus on serving the public rather than maneuvering for reelection.

Unsurprisingly, Measure K was extraordinarily popular with voters who passed it by a two-thirds majority (66.84%). But while the citizens of San Bernardino County were celebrating, the Board of Supervisors launched a counter-attack by filing a lawsuit to get Measure K nullified. The Red Brennan Group stepped up to defend their initiative and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation sent a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the legality of the measure.

Along with their lawsuit challenging Measure K, the Board of Supervisors ran to their allies in Sacramento to change the law in a way that would undercut the initiative. Assembly Bill 428 would prohibit term limits of less than two terms for a County Board of Supervisors and further provided that a Board can set the pay of its own members. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association objected to the bill and argued that it thwarted the will of the voters in San Bernardino. The author of the bill, Assemblyman Chad Mayes, I-Yucca Valley, denied that his bill would have that impact but his representations lacked credibility. Eventually, he relented and agreed to insert language into the bill that made clear it would “not affect any term limits that were legally in effect prior to January 1, 2022, in any county.”

Last week, an appeals court issued a tentative ruling in the lawsuit and sided with the voters, upholding Measure K’s one-term limit and the cut to the supervisors’ pay. The court also vindicated HJTF’s interpretation that the original version of AB 428 was an attempt to thwart the will of the voters in San Bernardino.

Noting that the amendment resolved any ambiguity, the court wrote, “Plainly, then, the Legislature did not contemplate that AB 428 would undo Measure K. To the contrary, it agreed with the Jarvis Association that the unamended version threatened Measure K, and thus it amended AB 428 so as to let Measure K stand.”

It’s satisfying to be recognized for the work HJTA does in defense of taxpayers, not only the hundreds of thousands of HJTA members, but all the California taxpayers whose interests are rarely represented by their elected officials.

Click here to read the full article in this the OC Register

The Attorney General’s Taxpayer-Funded Political Advertising

We hate to pick on Attorney General Rob Bonta two weeks in a row, but he’s really given us no choice. Last week we chronicled his hypocrisy on data privacy by posturing as a champion on that issue while negligently allowing his Department of Justice to release sensitive information on Californians who hold carry concealed weapons permits.

What spurred today’s critique was an article in the Sacramento Bee with the headline, “Why is California’s Attorney General spending taxpayer money to send you emails?” First, a hat tip to the Sacramento Bee – typically no friend of conservatives – and its reporter Ryan Sabalow.

The article reports that two months before the June primary election, millions of California voters received an email from Bonta’s Department of Justice with the subject line, “I want to hear from you.” The message was from an official email account and said, “As Attorney General, protecting California and its people is my highest priority” and “your opinion truly matters to me.”

Those receiving the email might have wondered what it was all about. After all, it is unusual to receive an unsolicited email from a state agency unless you’ve opted in to remain informed on a particular topic.

But it’s really no mystery at all. Prior to the primary election, Bonta was serving as the appointed, but unelected, Attorney General. No doubt that his name ID wasn’t very high, and he was willing to do anything possible to elevate his profile. That’s one reason he directed his staff – shortly after his appointment – to include his smiling visage on these email solicitations to as many as 7 million voters.

The Bee article, citing several sources, accurately notes that what Bonta did was technically legal, even if ethically questionable. Indeed, the question of the extent to which elected officials or government agencies expend taxpayer dollars for political advocacy or “self-promotion” is one that the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association gets a lot. In fact, our Public Integrity Project was formed precisely to monitor and to litigate when necessary illegal expenditures of public funds for illegal activity.

Fortunately, HJTA has had a string of successes in the courtroom including an action against the County of Los Angeles for producing a slick television ad advocating the passage of a sales tax to address homelessness. That action resulted in a $1.3 million fine against the county. Other successful legal actions include a suit against California’s then-Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, for spending an unauthorized $35 million contract with a politically connected public relations firm that referred to itself as “Team Biden” on its own website, ostensibly for nonpartisan “voter outreach” and public education.

The bad news is that there is a very high bar to prove illegality when it comes to public expenditures for non-election-related public relations campaigns. Rarely will an elected official or government entity be so foolish to use taxpayer funds for ads that say “Vote for Me” or “Vote for Measure X.”

But just because “outreach” communications, such as those emails sent by Bonta, may be technically legal, that doesn’t mean that they are ethically defensible. The attorney general is responsible for enforcing the law against other Californians. It looks pretty bad for him to skirt the law himself.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register