Progressives’ situational, self-serving, love of transparency

CapitolWe’ve all heard of “situational ethics.” This column is about “situational transparency,” a phenomenon among progressives who love transparency in matters of public policy, except when they hate it.

Let’s review the areas in which progressives support transparency: the salaries of CEOs, the race and gender of employees, the details of business supply chains and, of course, extensive disclosures about campaign finance.

But in other matters, particularly relating to their own interests, the same people are flatly opposed to transparency. For example, progressives claim to desire disclosure of who pays for political advertising, and they backed legislation such as Assembly Bill 249, a burdensome mandate to add confusing content to political ads. It was so burdensome, in fact, that an exception was made for ads paid for by labor unions, major backers of progressive politicians.

Progressives also campaigned hard against Proposition 54, the California Legislative Transparency Act, which voters approved despite liberals’ complaints. Prop. 54 requires that bills must be posted online in their final form for at least three days before lawmakers can cast a final vote on them. Proposition 54, which the voters approved in 2016, also requires the Legislature to make video recordings of all public hearings, and it allows any member of the public to record a legislative hearing.

Another example of how those in power resist having the public see what they are doing involves public employee compensation. For years, government agencies and departments have resisted disclosing how much their managers and employees are paid in both salaries and benefits. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association had to file numerous lawsuits — or threaten lawsuits — to get local governments to disgorge the data. After prevailing in all those actions, compensation data is now available for public inspections — a healthy development in countering government entities that constantly plead poverty and demand higher taxes.

Perhaps the most glaring example of progressive hypocrisy when it comes to transparency is revealed by the defeat of Senate Bill 1074, authored by state Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, which would have provided California’s millions of motorists with valuable information about the price of gasoline. Titled “Motor Vehicle Fuel: Disclosure of Government-Imposed Costs,” SB1074 would have required gas stations to post near each pump a breakdown of all the different costs that go into the price per gallon of fuel, such as federal, state and local taxes and costs associated with environmental rules and regulations, including California’s hidden tax, the permit fees that fuel producers have to pay under the state’s infamous cap-and-trade law.

As you might expect, the progressives who control the state Legislature refused to provide the public with the true cost of government when it comes to driving our cars. The same folks who rail against the oil companies and who are quick to allege deep conspiracies about corporate profits have no interest in informing the public about government-imposed costs that dwarf the oil companies’ profit margin on a gallon of gas.

We can also expect them to oppose the government transparency that would be required by an initiative that recently met the signature requirement to qualify for the November ballot.

The Tax Fairness, Transparency and Accountability Act of 2018 would require that any law creating a new, increased or extended tax must contain “a specific and legally binding and enforceable limitation on how the revenue from the tax can be spent.”

Even if the tax revenue will be spent for “unrestricted general revenue purposes,” the law must say so.

California politicians often complain about “ballot-box budgeting” and requirements for voter approval before taxes can be raised. But progressives have earned a reputation for hiding the cost of their policies, and voters can’t be blamed for playing an aggressive defense.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

The relentless battle for legislative transparency

transparencyFor decades, it has been nearly impossible for ordinary citizens to pierce the veil of legislative secrecy in our state capital.

Of course, California is not unique — legislative bodies have sought to conceal their activity for millennia. This is inherent in the differences between rulers and subjects. But we all know too well that mischief feeds on secrecy. The Roman poet Virgil wrote more than 2,000 years ago, “Evil is nourished and grows by concealment.”

In California, the citizens have tried repeatedly to force legislative activity into the sunlight. So last year, to counter the common practice in the Legislature of introducing new bills and passing them within hours, often in the dead of night, voters approved Proposition 54. That important reform requires legislation be in print and available for public review for at least three days prior to final passage.

Passed as a constitutional amendment, Proposition 54 is not stated in discretionary language — its provisions are mandatory. And complying with its terms hardly places an onerous burden on lawmakers. Honestly crafted legislation should easily withstand a few days of public scrutiny.

The state Senate has complied with the will of the people, and even if some of the legislation this body has passed, like the gas tax increase, is repellent to many Californians, senators cannot be accused of keeping their lawmaking a secret.

The Assembly, on the other hand, has arrogantly continued business as usual by approving around 100 bills without the required time for members of the public to examine laws that they will be expected to obey. Assembly leaders say that the people cannot use the initiative process to mandate their conduct, making the lower house the poster child for the view that California government has become a militant special interest, more concerned with its own welfare and longevity, than that of the citizens it claims to serve.

In their pursuit of perks, pay and power, Assembly members are thumbing their collective noses at voters who, by approving Proposition 54, demanded greater transparency in the lawmaking process.

The initiative process in California dates back to 1911 and was a counter blow against the Legislature, most of whose members were beholden to the Southern Pacific Railroad. This form of direct democracy was intended to allow voters to become the lawmakers of last resort when their representatives proved to be indolent, incompetent or corrupt. The state’s most famous initiative, Proposition 13, came about when the Legislature proved to be both lazy and incapable of dealing with a property tax crisis that was forcing thousands of Californians from their homes.

Today, many state representatives are beholden to public employee unions and other special interests. Measures like Proposition 54 are valuable to prod lawmakers to behave in the best interests of all Californians, not just the Sacramento insiders.

If lawmakers continue to refuse to comply with Proposition 54’s reasonable, voter-approved mandate for transparency in their official conduct, there can be no doubt that resolution of this benchmark issue and the Assembly’s misconduct will end up before the courts.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. www.hjta.org

This piece was originally published by the Orange County Register.

Legislature Tries to Dodge Prop. 54 Transparency Requirements

TransparencyThe voters speak, the legislature interprets — and sometimes the translation is not faithful to the original meaning. We saw that last week with resolutions and rules changes that seem to fly in the face of the newly passed Proposition 54 demanding a waiting period before any measure is passed and last session with Senate Bill 1107, which ignores the clear language contained in 1988’s Proposition 73. Now there is a lawsuit on the senate bill charging the new law is out of bounds and a violation of Prop. 73. Perhaps a legal challenge will follow on the Proposition 54 issue.

SB1107 set up public financing of campaigns claiming that the bill was furthering the purposes of the political reform initiative, Proposition 73, passed by voters nearly thirty years ago. One major problem with the reasoning — Prop. 73 banned public financing. How can you further the purposes of a law when a bill takes the law in the exact opposite direction?

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association teamed with former state senator and judge, Quentin Kopp, a co-author of Proposition 73, to file suit against SB1107. In a release, HJTA president Jon Coupal said, “California voters decided to prohibit taxpayer dollars from being used as political slush funds.  If politicians want to change that, they have to take the issue back to the voters.”

I signed the ballot argument on behalf of Proposition 73. At the time SB1107 was being considered I wrote in this space that the bill was a back door way to avoid the voters wishes on public financing. Only a vote of the people can change the dictates of Prop. 73.

I expect the courts to see the law the same way. That could lead to a test on the newly passed Proposition 54.

Prop. 54 requires that bills be in print for three days before a final vote can be taken. The idea is that due deliberation occur before legislators pass judgment. Yet, when the legislature was sworn in last week, resolutions were immediately passed calling on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and calling on the president-elect not to seek deportation of undocumented immigrants. In addition, the legislature set a rule that a bill passed in its original house did not have to submit to the three day rule under a theory that the bill would come back to that house with amendments from the second house.

The legislative majority made a rhetorical defense of their action on the resolutions justifying the procedure by declaring that Prop 54 only covered bills not resolutions or constitutional amendments.

One wonders if the voters made that distinction when voting on the ballot measure.

The proponent of Proposition 54, Charles Munger Jr., told Capitol Public Radio, “It is unfortunate that they would choose to pass their own rules and a resolution without giving their members and the public 72 hours to think about it.”

Perhaps Munger will go to court or wait to see how the Jarvis/Kopp lawsuit plays out.

One odd feature dealing with these two measures is that the Common Cause organization supported both Proposition 54 and SB1107. In fact, Common Cause sent out an email fundraising appeal preparing for a legal defense on SB1107. So here they support the legislature’s interpretation of the law. Will they be so willing to take the same course on Proposition 54?

The goal of the lawsuit is simple: When it comes to the initiative process the people’s verdict is final unless the voters themselves choose to change it.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Can California’s Taxpayers Be Thankful for 2016?

taxesIf taxpayers focus on the results of the recent election, there may not seem to be much to celebrate. While the rest of America took a big step toward fiscal sanity, the same cannot be said of California. At the state level, all three taxes, one on marijuana users, one on smokers and another on higher income taxpayers, passed. Fueled by massive special interest campaign spending, tax hike proponents convinced voters that they were simply raising taxes on “other people” which made them more palatable.

The bright spot among the 17 statewide measures was the approval of Proposition 54, which will provide much needed transparency over the California Legislature. For years taxpayers have wanted legislative bills to be available for public review prior to being voted on. Prop. 54 makes that happen.

At the local level, it looks like 80 percent of the local taxes and bonds were approved. The good news is that, largely due to the requirements of Jarvis initiatives Proposition 13 and Proposition 218, the Right to Vote on Taxes Act, these measures were decided by voters rather than being imposed by out of touch public officials.

However, what encourages and inspires taxpayers greatly, is the ongoing efforts of tenacious individuals around the state who continue, against long odds, to challenge the powerful political class to advance the cause of average citizens.

Howard Jarvis used to say the reason for the success of the campaign to pass Proposition 13 could be encapsulated in three words, “and then some.” Those working to pass tax reform did what was required, “and then some.”

Here are just three examples of those who personify the Jarvis ideal.

Dino Cortopassi is a successful farmer and businessman. He and his wife Joan now focus on responsible philanthropy, using the family foundation to fund a wide array of programs for the benefit of the disadvantaged and the environment. Dino is also deeply concerned about California’s runaway debt that is placing an ever-growing burden on our children and grandchildren.

This is why they funded the qualification of Proposition 53, the Stop Blank Checks initiative, that would have required voter approval of state construction bonds of $2 billion or more.

Of course, those who benefit from unrestricted debt, the deep pocketed “Sacramento gang,” outspent the Yes campaign by 20 to one, focusing their money on a dishonest television campaign. Although Proposition 53 fell just short, Dino and Joan provided a major public service by exposing how government funds its programs, often out of sight and without the approval of the taxpayers.

Knowing this effort fell just short, Howard Jarvis would likely have smiled and offered encouragement. He would point out that before the success of Proposition 13, he had mounted three failed ballot campaigns over a period of 15 years.

Another bright light for taxpayers is Andrea Seastrand, who serves as President of the Central Coast Taxpayers Association (CCTA). The organization works to inform and educate voters on important tax issues at all levels of government. Andrea is constantly advocating for the protection of Proposition 13 and fighting for the forgotten taxpayer. Although Andrea is a former member of the Assembly and House of Representatives, she never voted for a tax increase and always focused on the interests of those who are compelled to pay government’s bills. In the 20 years since leaving office, Andrea has been a tireless taxpayer advocate.

A third example is Richard Rider, Chairman of the San Diego Tax Fighters. With a sharp wit and willingness to do his homework, he has been the outspoken bane of San Diego area politicians who attempt to misuse taxpayer dollars or impose unnecessary taxes. Rider is a former client of HJTA’s legal team who has been unrelenting in his efforts to protect Propositions 13 and 218, the Right to Vote on Taxes Act. Rider, like Andrea Seastrand, is a former recipient of HJTA’s Taxfighter of the Year Award.

There are so many more that deserve mention, and we are grateful for each. With thousands of folks willing to make sacrifices to defend the interests of average taxpayers, if we work together, there is still hope for a brighter future for California.

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.

This piece was originally published by the HJTA.org

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