Check Under the Hood Before Letting California Pass New Fuel Rules

Gas-Pump-blue-generic+flippedDuring World War II, Americans endured rationing of food and gasoline. The federal government issued ration books and enforced tight limits on purchases.

When the war ended, nothing better symbolized the triumph of freedom than the return of gleaming new cars to the showrooms. “Just step on the gas and go,” enthused the announcer in an ad for the “futuramic” 1948 Oldsmobile.

Today, some California lawmakers want to hit the brakes. Senate Bill 350 — no relation to the 350 engine — would force a 50 percent reduction in the use of petroleum for California vehicles by 2030.

You’d think elected officials proposing such a drastic measure would have a clear idea of how they plan to achieve it and a very good reason why it’s necessary.

You’d be wrong.

Their plan is to turn the whole project over to the California Air Resources Board, an unaccountable panel of appointees that write and enforce the state’s regulations on climate change and air pollution. Would CARB impose gas rationing to meet the 50 percent reduction target?

An aide to Gov. Jerry Brown recently laughed that off as “ridiculous,” but SB350’s author, Sen. Kevin de León, said Tuesday he’s working on amendments, which could include a ban on gas rationing. He also said he plans to increase oversight of CARB, though he didn’t say how.

CARB chair Mary Nichols may have the clout to resist any changes. Over the years she has personally donated more than $75,000 to state legislative campaigns and to the governor.

CARB enforces the 2006 law known as AB32, which forced utilities to buy a greater percentage of expensive renewable energy and imposed a cap-and-trade system to penalize greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, California now has some of the highest electricity rates and fuel prices in the nation. SB350 and its companion, SB32, would mandate even higher, costlier targets for greenhouse gas reduction, renewable fuel use and energy efficiency in addition to the 50 percent petroleum cutback.

To enforce the limits, CARB could use data from your car’s onboard computer, downloaded at smog checks, to collect a road-usage tax or a fine for excessive “vehicle miles traveled.” Maybe new regulations will simply make gasoline more expensive until people stop driving, or stop eating.

It remains a stubborn fact that limiting greenhouse gas emissions in California will have absolutely no effect on the climate, now or in the future.

SB350’s proponents say California must lead the world, at your expense. But no other state has followed our lead to establish the type of cap-and-trade system that has left Californians paying higher prices for everything that’s produced or transported in the state. Nobody wants our higher cost of living, or our poverty rate of nearly 25 percent.

Assemblyman David Hadley, R-Torrance, said he doesn’t discount concerns about climate change but worries that the carbon reduction mandates in SB350 will be met “by impoverishing entire regions of California and bankrupting entire industries.” Since California accounts for only about 1 percent of the carbon emissions of the planet, Hadley said, “We could return our standard of living to the Stone Age and we would not move the needle on carbon emissions.”

Those Flintstone cars are going to look pretty silly in the showrooms, and they’re really going to slow down the carpool lane.

There’s no rational reason for Californians to pay ever higher prices for energy in order to achieve absolutely nothing. We should not tie a tourniquet around our own necks. SB350 and SB32 should be killed before they kill us.

Top 5 Taxes You May See on the 2016 Ballot

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image18514272In June 2014, I wrote a column forecasting the tax increase measures that might be on the November 2016 ballot given the conversations going on at the time. I updated the list in March of this year. It’s time for another update, this one prompted by an answer to a question Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León gave to Comstock’s Magazine.

The pro tem was asked where he stood on the change to Proposition 13 to separate commercial property from residential property. De León responded that he had no position on the plan at present but added: “I do think that revenue enhancement measures deserve a very serious debate, whether it’s a continuance or some variance of Proposition 30 or some other proposal.”

While the legislature gets together next week with the opportunity to have that debate, most likely any tax measure on the 2016 ballot will come via the initiative process.

As I wrote previously, situations and strategies change. What’s being discussed most heavily today is not necessarily what will be pushed to the ballot for voters to decide in 2016.

  • OIL SEVERANCE TAX

As reported previously, whether the oil severance tax initiative moves forward depends on one man – hedge fund billionaire and NextGen president, Tom Steyer. Recently, Steyer took the focus away from the oil severance tax and held a press conference supporting a bill for more transparency about oil company revenues. During the press conference, he suggested if the legislature did not act on a transparency bill he may take one to the ballot via initiative. While Steyer certainly has the ability to attempt more than one initiative at the same time, history shows that doesn’t always work out so well. (See John Van de Kamp 1990.) With the potential of other tax measures on the ballot, there seems to be less emphasis moving forward with the oil severance tax. It barely hangs on the list at number 5.

  • SERVICE TAXES

While Senator Bob Hertzberg’s plan was mentioned in previous columns, it was never ranked. However, as Hertzberg works to build support for his plan, which he says will tie the tax system more closely to the current state economy, the idea of many different taxes potentially appearing on the ballot may present an opening for Hertzberg. He could argue that his answer to California’s tax system flaws is a better overall fix than other proposals. And, remember, he also has potential financial support from Nicolas Berggreun’s Think Long Committee.

  • SPLIT ROLL

The grassroots/public union effort to push a split roll is still ongoing. Whether the big money is ready to commit to this approach is uncertain. Since the last rankings a second property tax surcharge on all properties that are assessed on the property tax rolls at $3 million and more has been filed. While this measure doesn’t seem to have the support to move into the top 5, it complicates the split roll position. Some have suggested that the split roll is being pushed to convince the school establishment that any tax measure that reaches the ballot should provide for more than schools. Whether for leverage or an earnest effort to achieve a split roll property tax, there is a decent chance the measure will be filed.

  • CIGARETTE TAX

The cigarette tax holds in the second position although it is clawing to gain the top spot. An initiative has already been filed. However, there will be a lot of talk in the Special Session on Medi-Cal reform perhaps including a cigarette tax increase to help fill the Medi-Cal funding hole. If the legislative session ends with no cigarette tax increase, the chance that such a tax will make the ballot probably jump this one to number one.

  • EXTENSION OF PROPOSITION 30

Extending or slightly changing Prop. 30 and continuing it holds the top spot because many supporters of a tax increase believe this type of measure may be the easiest one to pass. However, when the Public Policy Institute of California asked Likely Voters in May if they supported the extension of Proposition 30, 46 percent said yes, 30 percent said no. Not strong numbers. But all you need to know about a Prop 30 extension remaining the most likely tax measure you’ll see on the November 2016 ballot is the answer Senator de León gave above. Instead of talking about a change to Prop. 13 when questioned, he specifically cited the possibility of continuing Prop. 30. At this time it remains number 1.

Follow Joel Fox on Twitter @1JoelFox1

Court Case Pits Voting Rights of ‘Citizens’ Against ‘Residents’

From the San Diego Union-Tribute, written by Steven Greenhut:

California legislators have over the years been softening the distinction between citizens and noncitizens through a variety of measures that make it harder to deport unauthorized immigrants — and provide them with access to state programs.

While a U.S. Supreme Court case won’t affect a state’s right to pass such measures, it could force state officials to make a firm distinction between citizens and noncitizens in divvying up electoral districts. This Texas voting-rights case, known as Evenwel v. Abbott, could shift power away from poorer, immigrant-heavy urban areas to wealthier and more Republican counties — and from Southern California to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Legal experts were surprised when, last month, the court decided to accept the case. Critics of that decision, including Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, argue it “could lead to a system of political segregation that only counts three-fifths of our population — and essentially ignores the rest.”

Click here to read the full column

Will The Supreme Court Remake California Politics?

Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

Like a bolt out of the blue the US Supreme Court has suddenly thrust front and center the most important question in a democracy: who should exercise political power.  Should it be all the people, or should it just be those citizens qualified to vote?  The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case out of Texas that challenges the 50-year methodology of using all the people in drawing legislative districts.  The ruling could drop on California politics like a brick on a tea cup.

Beginning in 1962, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren handed down a series of rulings that said legislative and congressional districts must be drawn on the basis of equal populations – one person, one vote.  This did away with the old rural-based state senates, including California’s where three small counties had one senator and Los Angeles had one senator.  “Legislators represent people, not trees or acres,” said Warren in explaining why malapportioned districts were unconstitutional.

But the Supreme Court never said who the people were.  The Texas plaintiffs say representation should be limited to just the “citizen voting age population” (CVAP).  They have sued their state claiming that some districts have more voters than other districts, because in some districts almost everyone is a citizen while in others many residents are non-citizens, and thus non-voters.  This violates “one person-one vote,” plaintiffs say

So the issue will be: should districts be drawn on the basis of the voters and potential voters in a state; the over-18 citizen population; or can they be drawn as they are now on the basis of the whole population with citizens and non-citizens counted equally.

While this sounds technical and boring, it has huge political impact.  If California went from all residents in drawing its districts to just CVAP, central Los Angeles with its large non-citizen population and younger population would lose a significant number of districts; they would be shifted to the suburbs and rural California, areas with fewer children and non-citizens.

The Los Angeles State Senate district of Democratic President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon is 67 percent Latino by population, but only 52 percent Latino in CVAP.  So if it were redrawn based on CVAP, the district would need to increase in size thus pressuring neighboring Latino districts and ultimately leading to fewer Latino districts in Los Angeles as districts shifted to higher citizen population areas.

Theoretically at least, Republicans could be winners in this new scheme as their areas tend to be suburban and rural with more citizens.  Latinos and the inner cities would lose out, which is why Latino and liberal groups are already panicking over what the Court might do.  “It would devastate Latinos and Asians and the districts currently held by Latinos, Asians and African Americans in California,” said one redistricting expert.  “The question is whether the cities should enjoy the same per capita representation as their suburban and rural, whiter, older counterparts,” wrote one unhappy academic.

Unfortunately for those on the academic left, the answer might be yes.  The Warren Court rulings said we must equalize the rights of voters to elect their representatives.  But if you have some districts full of non-voters, are you not discriminating against those neighboring districts with lots of voters?

The Warren Court did not face this issue half a century ago because the census did not provide a way to count only citizens.  But now the US Census provide counts of those over and under the age of 18, and the census itself has developed a methodology to determine CVAP in census units.  Meridian Pacific has published an analysis of all the districts drawn by the Citizens Redistricting Commission in 2011 and also provides CVAP for every California district.

The Supreme Court itself seems somewhat enamored by CVAP.  In a 2009 case called Bartlett v Strickland the Court ruled five to four that in drawing minority districts a minority group must constitute a numerical majority of the voting-age population in an area.  This required the Citizens Commission to consider CVAP in drawing most of the Los Angeles districts because of the size of the minority populations, so CVAP has already been used in one instance in California.

My guess is that four of the five justices who made up the majority in that ruling voted to hear the Texas case, and that there are five justices ready to define the Warren-era “one person-one vote” standard to mean those who actually can vote: citizens over the age of 18.

If they do, California might have to completely redistrict before the 2018 election, and that would vastly increase the number of rural and suburban districts in this state.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

They can’t vote, but undocumented immigrants are California’s newest political force

As reported by the Orange County Register:

They live in the country illegally. They pepper their rallies with the chant “undocumented and unafraid.” And they cannot vote.

Still, some politicians have heard their voices.

In California, undocumented immigrants have political clout.

“Today, we remind the rest of the nation that California is different,” said state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, in an April news conference to promote 10 bills he and others believe will help people in the country illegally.

The proposals ranged from a $1 billion plan to extend state-subsidized health care to the undocumented, to the establishment of a new state office that would make it easier for some immigrant crime victims to avoid deportation.

Click here to read the full article

Senator de Leon’s Green Vision Has Valley Seeing Red

Senator Kevin de Leon, the same Los Angeles State Senator who proclaimed that “no one lives out there in the tumbleweeds” when referring to the Central Valley, has proven that he still doesn’t understand the realities faced by hardworking people who live here.

His recent op-ed in the Fresno Bee pitching Senate Bill 350 was an unconvincing argument for an economy-stifling nightmare that might excite people living in San Francisco or Newport Beach but would actually be a burden to people living in the Central Valley. This irresponsible mandate includes plans to force cuts to gas and diesel use by 50 percent, as well as increase renewable energy 50 percent in the next 15 years. Many people in the Central Valley, like thousands of farm workers who Senator de León says he is trying to help, have no choice but to gas up and drive long distances to and from work. Any small improvements to the environment would be overshadowed by the strangulation of the oil and gas industry, not to mention the financial impacts on every driver in this state as the cost of filling up cars, trucks or tractors skyrockets.

Families who have chosen to make their living in the Central Valley don’t have the mass transit options like those in the Bay Area and the great majority certainly don’t have the extra cash to spend on a new hybrid or electric car. Had Senator de Leon bothered to concern himself with the differences between the Central Valley and L.A. or the Bay Area he would know that one-third of all electric vehicle owners in California live in just two counties: Los Angeles and Santa Clara. Less than one percent live in the Valley’s two most populated counties: Fresno and Kern, according to the California Air Resources Board. And almost 70 percent of these elusive, electric car owners make more than $100,000 a year – far more than Fresno County’s median annual income of $45,500.

Californians are struggling to afford the highest cost of living in the nation thanks to high taxes, regulations and a growing dependence on new fees like those collected from cap-and-trade. We must continue to be wary of plans intended to help save the environment that aren’t based in reality and don’t offer any markers for success. California’s families, farmers and business owners can’t afford to foot the bill for Senator de Leon’s extreme energy and environmental policies.

Originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily

Assemblyman Jim Patterson represents the 23rd District, which includes portions of Fresno and Tulare counties.

Get Ready for Higher Electricity Bills

Is Kevin de León trying to kill off what’s left of California’s manufacturing?

He must. The leader of the California Senate a couple of weeks ago introduced a package of bills that call for a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use by cars and trucks and a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings, and demands that 50 percent of the electricity generated in the state must come from renewable sources, all by 2030.

All this earns him the warm applause of his base – he was accompanied by environmentalists, union folks and renewable energy entrepreneurs at his press conference – as he pushes the state’s businesses out into the cold.

Look, Californians already pay 50 percent more than the national average for electricity. Industrial customers, including many manufacturers, pay 79 percent more. As a result of that and California’s other high costs, the state has languished with about 1 percent annual growth in manufacturing jobs since the recession while the rest of the country has boomed at close to 7 percent.

And if these bills pass, electricity rates are bound to become shocking, making the state look even uglier to manufacturers. Of course, the effect doesn’t stop with much higher electricity costs.

“This proposal…is an attack on the petroleum industry,” said Tupper Hull of the Western States Petroleum Association. “It will be extraordinarily expensive and coercive. I mean crushingly expensive.”

How expensive no one seems to have calculated. (Why isn’t legislation like this required to submit an economic impact statement?) But whatever the cost is, Californians may well be all alone in bearing these self-inflicted shots.

“We’re going to oppose this very vigorously and not be apologetic about it,” Hull said.

California already has the highest gasoline prices in the continental United States but hey, maybe we can be twice as high as No. 2. Or three times as high. That’d be great for the economy, no?

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Political Attacks on Gasoline Designed to Create Conflict

The Western States Petroleum Association is strongly opposed to legislative or regulatory mandates designed to force a 50 percent reduction in gasoline and diesel use in California by 2030.

Mandates to force reductions in gasoline use are not climate change policies.  They are attacks on an important industry in California designed to create conflict and controversy.

A mandate to reduce petroleum consumption by 50 percent is an impossibly unrealistic goal.

SB 350 by Sen. de Leon gives the unelected California Air Resources Board open-ended authority to adopt mandates by regulation to achieve unrealistic cuts in gasoline and diesel use.

History tells us two things; mandates designed to achieve a goal of this magnitude will require unacceptably coercive restrictions on our mobility choices and will be crushingly expensive.

Achieving so radical a goal in so short a time will require the removal of 8 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel from our fuel supply annually – with no guarantees that something will be available to replace them.

This proposal is a major distraction from the much more important work that must be done to move California’s climate change agenda beyond the 2020 horizon established by AB 32.

California’s petroleum producers and refiners will be participants in shaping those policies so we can continue the progress we have made toward achieving greenhouse gas reduction targets.

It is one thing to establish goals like those identified in the Governor’s inaugural address and to use those goals to measure the effectiveness of climate change policies.  It is another thing entirely to empower an unaccountable regulatory agency the authority to impose regulations to achieve those goals.

We look forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature to develop serious climate change policies and programs that will move us toward a lower carbon future.  We urge legislators to reject Sen. de Leon’s proposed policy as quickly as possible so that we can get back to work on the real tasks at hand.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd is President of the Western States Petroleum Association

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

CA Senate Oversight Committee Scrapped by de Leon

In a curious action, new state California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, has scrapped the government oversight office created by his predecessor, former Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. The move has swiftly earned de Leon a fresh round of criticism.

Steinberg himself was not shaken up about the news. He expressed confidence that similar work would be done in some other way, according to the Sacramento Bee. “I have every confidence that Kevin is committed to oversight, but there are many ways to do it,” he said. “This is the way I chose to do it and I’m sure he will have his way.” Steinberg’s oversight office was funded directly through the office of the president pro tem.

Personal priorities

That was an expense de Leon clearly did not wish to maintain, despite his willingness to throw a lavish party this October for his swearing in as president pro tem. Many critics, the Los Angeles Times reported, found the bash an “inappropriate extravagance at a time when the state Senate is struggling to shake off the taint of corruption scandals and regain public trust.” Earlier this year, three Democratic state senators were indicted on federal corruption charges.

The celebration’s $50,000 tab was not covered by de Leon himself. Instead, the California Latino Legislative Caucus Foundation, which recently attracted five-figure donations from AT&T and Chevron, footed the bill.

De Leon’s approach to spending was recently on display in his shakeup of the state Senate staff. “Last month, de León laid off 39 employees, including staff who wrote bill analyses, did research and performed secretarial duties,” the Bee reported. A shoeshiner, paid a yearly wage of $13,000 “to provide information to Capitol visitors,” also was let go. Staff costs for Steinberg’s oversight office ran to about $380,000 yearly.

De Leon’s choice to trim budgetary costs by reducing staff, however, has not attracted much attention or scorn. The same cannot be said for his elimination of the Senate’s government oversight office.

Blowback

Steinberg’s oversight office produced a high volume of reports that made a substantial impact. As the Bee reported:

“Investigations found that a lack of scrutiny allowed sex offenders to treat drug addicts at state rehab clinics; that California’s mortgage lender foreclosed on homeowners who were current on their loans; that redevelopment agencies spent money without adequate accountability; and that tax breaks had cost the state $6.3 billion more than anticipated. Other reports made recommendations for curbing fraud in the home health care system and found that an illogical bureaucracy made it hard for regulators to detect fraud in state child care programs. The findings were frequently used as the basis for Senate oversight hearings and also led to new legislation.”

The office’s track record has led some political observers to raise eyebrows and pen editorials calling de Leon’s judgment into question. De Leon’s handling of the issue has left Democrats vulnerable to criticism for trying to return to business as usual following this year’s spate of humiliating scandals, as recent editorial in the Los Angeles Daily News suggested:

“In a further testament to ethical tone-deafness, Senate Democrats have chosen to revive their annual Pro Tem Cup, the golf event and major party fundraiser at Torrey Pines that has charged special-interest representatives up to $65,000 to trade strokes with lawmakers. The event was canceled this year because it wouldn’t have looked so good with Senate Democrats Leland Yee, Ron Calderon and Rod Wright facing ethics charges.”

In another coincidence of timing, cops in de Leon’s district have been handed a new oversight body. In the wake of serious ethics charges of their own, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was put under civilian oversight by the Board of Supervisors, as the Times reported.

And in a second coincidence, the de Leon controversy has unfolded at the same time as a similar one in the federal government, although this time it’s Republicans mainly involved.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, revealed he’ll take a less pugnacious approach to the House Oversight Committee than the chairman he is replacing, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

In 2012, Issa’s actions led to the House of Representatives holding Attorney Gen. Eric Holder in contempt of Congress over the Fast and Furious weapons scandal.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Plot thickens on Hollywood tax credit

State Senate Pro Tem Kevin de León claims to be “100-percent committed” to the CA film tax credit, but hints at room for improvement. The Sacramento Bee reports:

We’re watching for some late plot twists in the Legislature’s effort to keep film production in California.

Some who have an interest in extending the state’s film tax credit matter will meet at the state Capitol today. The main tax credit vessel, Assembly Bill 1839, has so far marched through the Legislature without drawing a single dissenting vote.

But there have been a few wrinkles. A Tuesday item on the Deadline Hollywood blog reported that Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, had cast doubt on the likelihood of a tax credit passing the Legislature this year. The incoming Senate president pro tem’s office discounted the blog item…

Read the full article from the Sacramento Bee here.

 

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