Feds Insist On Rail Funds For CA Boondoggle

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

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

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

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

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

Kangaroo Court

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

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

Federal, State and Local Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

They were being kind.

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

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

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

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

The Emperor Has No Clothes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fact Versus Fantasy

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

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

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

Soledad State Nurse Finds Solitude in $1 Million Payroll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more on the Bloomberg study here.

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

Brown Plans to Ignore Republican Legislators

 

If Republican legislators thought they were ignored last year in the annual budget dance, Gov. Jerry Brown has made it clear they ain’t seen nothing yet.

In a remarkably candid news conference Tuesday, the governor told reporters that it just doesn’t make political sense to work with GOP leaders next year, especially when he’s going to the voters in an effort to pass a $6.8 billion tax hike.

“As far as I can ascertain, the Republicans – to a person – are committed to not vote to let people vote on a tax,” Brown said after announcing that the state will have to make $1 billion in mid-year budget cuts. “There’s always people who say, ‘Well, if you abolish in 10 years collective bargaining and do a few other things, I’ll give you a vote.’ But the amount – the ask – to get the tax is so high you’ll lose on the other (Democratic) side.”

Earlier this year, Brown spent months working with Republicans in the Legislature, trying to fashion a budget deal that would give him the handful of GOP votes needed to put a $12 billion tax and revenue increase on last June’s ballot. Like Wily Coyote in a Roadrunner cartoon, Brown tried ploy after ploy to corral those elusive votes, always confident that his next maneuver would be the one that worked.

And the Republicans kept dropping the anvil on his head.

Not this year, though. When asked if was going to “aggressively court Republicans to put a tax measure on the ballot,” Brown dismissed the suggestion as a joke.

“Well, I’m not going to serve my good wine in the way I did earlier in the year,” the governor said. “What’s to negotiate? … This courting process doesn’t work unless the (GOP) leaders want to participate.”

State Sen. Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, the GOP spokesman on budget matters, chided Democrats for refusing to seek Republican input on the current budget, which he said included “rosy revenue assumptions and onerous trigger cuts to education.”

“Senate Republicans were ready to roll up our sleeves and hammer out a budget solution then and we are still ready now,” he said in a statement.

But with only a simple majority now needed to pass the budget, Brown only wanted GOP votes to put his tax measure on the ballot. And since he’s going the initiative route with this new tax plan, he has even less need – and desire — to deal Republicans into the game.

“We’re pretty polarized in this country … I think the cleavage is very sharp,” Brown said. “And that’s just the way it is.”

No one can accuse Brown of painting an overly rosy picture of his tax plan’s chances. If other Democratic-friendly groups insist on putting competing tax measures on the November ballot, it “will be difficult” to pass his measure, he said.

“The people of California are saying they don’t want cuts. They’re also expressing reservations about taxes,” Brown said. “We ought to resolve it by a vote,” with no guarantee of how it will turn out.

And since he’ll need the strong backing of the Democratic base of labor, environmentalists, progressives and teacher groups for his tax plan to even have a chance, making nice with the enemy isn’t an option.

Brown drew a few laughs when he said he’s willing to talk to Republicans and “if they’re willing to buy, I’ll have a drink with them.”

But the governor bristled at GOP suggestions that California’s budget problems are simply the result of the state just spending too much money.

“I think any honest observer will say that the California budget is more constrained than it has been historically,” Brown snapped. “And if any of these Republicans has some ideas other than just poor people they’d like to take away child care from, I’ll be glad to listen.”

That’s the kind of talk you hear from a governor who’s decided to burn his bridges to the GOP side of the aisle.

(John Wildermuth is a Journalist and Political Commentator. This article was originally posted on Fox & Hounds.)

Lawsuit Aims At ‘Open Carry’ Gun Ban

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

– Second Amendment to the United States Constitution

You still have a few weeks to strap on your Glock while you do your holiday shopping.

The constitutional guarantee of the right of citizens to bear arms has been under assault by California’s Legislature for decades. The latest salvo was AB 144, which makes it illegal to openly carry an unloaded handgun in public. It takes effect January 1, 2012.

Like a lot of bad legislation, AB 144 passed largely along party lines on the last day of the session when the sausage is cranked out by the barrelful. It is aimed at the so-called “right to carry” or “open carry” gun rights activists, who have in effect shoved their guns in the face of liberal legislators by showing up in groups at Starbucks and other places while packing heat or at least unloaded heat. Naturally, the Democrats shoved back.

“AB 144 seeks to close a loophole, which allows individuals to openly carry unloaded guns almost anywhere in the state of California,” said state Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, in the Senate floor debate on Sept. 8. “The absence of a prohibition on an unloaded open carry has created a problematic increase of guns carried in public, alarming unsuspecting individuals and causing issues for law enforcement.

“Open carry creates potentially dangerous situations. In most cases when a person is openly carrying a firearm, law enforcement is called to the scene with very few details other than the fact that there’s one or two or three or four individuals carrying what is presumed a loaded weapon. In these tense situations the slightest wrong move by a gun carrier could be construed as threatening to a responding police officer, who may feel compelled to respond in a manner that could be lethal. The practice of open carry creates an unsafe situation for all parts involved: the police officer, the gun-carrying individual as well as all individuals nearby. Additionally, the increase in open carry calls is very taxing to law enforcement agencies.”

Firing Back

Three Republican senators fired back.

“The Second Amendment is not a loophole. OK?” said state Sen. Doug La Malfa, R-Butte. “It’s something put there by people a lot wiser than us over 200 years ago to give people a chance for self protection, to protect their property, their families, themselves. This open carry thing is another infringement, the further narrowing of people’s Second Amendment rights, because it’s not in style for some. There’s no problem with this. Cops have very few incidents of a problem with somebody open carrying. Very few people use it much. But they ought to have that right to do so. It isn’t a problem for anybody except for the gun grabbers that continually chip away and narrow our basic rights.

“If you don’t want them in the cities, don’t have them. Up where I’m from, it’s seen as a basic component of everyday life. You might have your thermos, your lunch box and, yeah, you have a sidearm. Especially if you’re out in the rural area where drug laws aren’t being enforced in California anymore. So why in the world wouldn’t you have this right? I’m sick and tired of it being chipped away. And it certainly causes more and more of the impetus for people to want to divide the state between the urban areas that seem to want to lose all their rights on everything, as opposed to people in rural California that just want to be left the hell alone.”

No Complaints

State Sen. Ted Gaines, who represents much of the Sierra Nevada from Mono to Modoc counties, said, “I’ve never had a complaint from my 12 counties, I’ve never had a constituent call with a complaint on open carry. When we take a look at the challenges we are having in much of the forest land across my district where there’s a lot of illegal growing of marijuana, I have talked to individuals that are fearful of going to certain places within their own county. They see a drip line or irrigation line going down a path that they are too afraid to walk down. This, in my mind, is just over the top, it’s unnecessary.”

It’s not just rural Republicans opposed to further restrictions on gun rights. State Sen. Joel Anderson, who represents part of San Diego, said, “It was just a short time ago when this body was concerned about concealed [carry] permits – ‘that if we can’t see the weapons, then it makes us nervous and how are the police going to respond if they can’t see the weapons?’ The one thing that we know is open carry people who are doing that are abiding by the law. We are sending a clear signal to law enforcement: ‘We have a weapon, it’s not loaded, we are playing by the rules.’ Criminals hide their weapons. Criminals carry their weapons illegally. Don’t turn law-abiding citizens into criminals. The more we chip away at our ability to protect ourselves, it’s undermining our freedoms.”

Law Enforcement Backing

De Leon, who was carrying the bill in the Senate for Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, had the last word.

“If it impacts only law-abiding citizens, then why is all of law enforcement behind this measure,” asked de Leon. “Let’s be very clear, this is not the Wild West. This does not infringe on the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, the right to bear arms. How discomforting can it be if you walk into a restaurant, a Starbucks, to Mickey D’s or wherever it is you may go to, and all of a sudden you see someone walking around with a handgun and you can’t discern whether they are a law enforcement agent or undercover, perhaps maybe they are not.

“If you’re a law-abiding citizen, you can buy all of the ammunition you’d like. If you’re a law-abiding citizen, you can buy long guns as well as a handgun. All it says is it makes it a misdemeanor if you carry an unloaded gun openly. This is 2011. It’s nonsensical that we would walk into any public space, any private space and then you see someone with a holster walking around with guns. It just doesn’t make sense whatsoever. This is not a third world country. This is the eighth largest economy in the world. This is the United States of America.”

Fighting Back

Some would argue that restricting gun rights is actually bringing the United States closer to the gun confiscation typical in third world despotic regimes than the country that fired the ‘shot heard ’round the world’ when the British attempted to raid an armory in Concord. And some are fighting back.

Charles Nichols, president of California Right To Carry, has filed a civil rights lawsuit in the Federal Central District Court for California against the ban on open carry of both unloaded and loaded weapons. He intends to serve it on Gov. Jerry BrownAttorney General Kamala Harris, the City of Redondo Beach, its police department and police chief on Thursday, Dec. 15, which is the 220th anniversary of the Bill of Rights.

Reagan Ban

The lawsuit notes that the ban on unloaded open carry is an extenuation of the ban on loaded open carry enacted by the California Legislature in 1967 in response to Black Panther intimidation tactics. Panthers would show up at the scene of arrests of black suspects in Oakland with loaded firearms to ensure against police brutality.

The Panthers put a scare into state Sen. John Nejedly, who agreed to meet with the family of a Richmond man killed by a deputy sheriff  in the course of a burglary. “I met with the family in good faith only to be confronted with an armed group, the Black Panthers,” Nejedly wrote to then-Gov. Ronald Reagan in April 1967. “This group was armed with pistols and shotguns and threatened to obtain ‘justice’ if their demands were not met. Today, this same group is appearing before the County Administration Building similarly armed.”

In response, Oakland Assemblyman Don Mulford introduced AB 1591, banning the open carry of loaded weapons. The Panthers protested the bill by invading the Assembly Chamber carrying loaded pistols, rifles and a sawed-off shotgun. Chaos ensued and legislators dove under their desks. Needless to say, the Mulford bill passed easily and received Reagan’s signature.

Nichols’ lawsuit states that he received a death threat in September and would like to carry a loaded handgun in public for self-defense. The suit argues that he should be allowed to do so, based on the Second Amendment and legal precedent. Nichols expects to lose at the District Court level, but is confident of victory in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

(Dave Roberts is a journalist and political commentator. This article was first posted on CalWatchdog.)

Jesus and the Jock: Tebow Time

Imagine there is a young man of 25 who plays football – and plays it well.  While in college he played quarterback, led his university to not one but two National Championships.  He won the Heisman Trophy, emblematic of the best college player in the country.  He does not smoke, drink or curse, punctuates his interviews with “maam” and “sir”.  He behaves like a Boy Scout because…well…he was in fact a Boy Scout.

In Denver there is such a young man.  His name is Tim Tebow and he has become a controversial figure.  This is partly because of the description above, but mainly because he is, gasp, a Christian who is not ashamed to say so.

While playing at the University of Florida Tebow wore the athlete’s signature eye -black on each cheek, emblazoned with a Bible verse.  He thanks his God after successful games and at the start of media interviews. He is handsome, famous, wealthy and intent on putting off having sex until he is married.

As if all that weren’t bad enough, Tebow is enjoying a spectacularly successful first season as the Denver Bronco’s starting quarterback.  Under his leadership the team, which started the season with a record of 1 – 4, has gone 7 – 1 since he took over.  They are now in position to make the NFL playoffs, a possibility that was laughably unlikely when Tebow became their starting QB.

All of this is just too much for America’s secular secret police. It has driven the usual suspects in the media, on the left and in the Christophobic fever swamps into a carpet-chewing rage. Imagine the reaction if Sarah Palin were elected President, turn it up a notch or two in volume and vehemence, and you have some idea of the hysterical vilification Tebow has endured.

Making the reaction especially odd is the fact that Tebow himself is as mild mannered and unthreatening a personality as can be imagined.  When he prays regarding football his prayer is not that he or his team win but that they all play their best. When the sports media coined the phrase “Tebow Time” to describe the team’s successes, he insisted that it was “Bronco Time”. When asked about his exploits after winning games he always deflects the question into praise for his teammates.

He does not proselytize, criticize other religions or those with no religion and in fact has kind, understanding words for those who criticize him.  Yet the avalanche of acrimony continues to flow toward him. I think I’ve discovered why.

In a recent interview he was asked if he didn’t think he should “tone down” his Christianity in view of all the criticism he was receiving. After making a point of saying he understood and respected those with different views he said he would certainly not change the way he lived or acted because “Christ will always come first in my life”.

How sad that in 2011 America this is a controversial thought. That it is says much more about Tebow’s critics than it does about him. It boils down to the Left’s hatred of all permanent things and values – and what has been more permanent than the Judeo-Christian ethic?

If there are permanent things than there is an objective right and wrong. And if there is an objective right and wrong the entire basis of modern liberalism – situational ethics – is revealed for the tangle of lies and the moral morass which it is. The fact that Tebow is a Christian – and by all appearances a conservative one – just further enrages the Left.  You may be sure that if he were a Muslim thanking Mohammed instead of Christ after winning games he would be a hero in Manhattan and Berkeley, while criticizing him would be considered hate speech.

I suspect that also haunting the Left is the nagging fear – perhaps even the realization –  that Tebow represents an America that is preparing to vote them out of power next November.  They fear, or know, that Tebow’s persona represents the “bitter clingers” in flyover territory. – the vast majority of the country where nihilism is considered a perversion to be avoided, not a creed to live by.  Tebow represents what used to pass for middle class normalcy in America, a concept the Left hates almost as much as it loathes permanent values.

I have no idea what Tebow’s politics are, or if he has ever had a political thought or opinion. I do know however that he has all the right enemies, and that is enough for me to celebrate him. Whether or not he wins another football game his entire life, he has performed a great service by showing the country that even among the jocks, the permanent things still endure.  Long live Tebow Time.

(William E. Saracino is a member of California Political Review’s editorial board.)

Arnold, Brown Push Warming Superstition

Like Jack the Ripper returning the scene of a crime, ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today returns to California for a “climate change” speech. He’s appearing before the the Governor’s Conference on Extreme Climate Risks and California’s Future, hosted by his successor, Gov. Jerry Brown, in San Francisco.

According to the Brown promo, “The Governor’s Conference will focus on the threats of unpredictable and extreme weather events on the state’s economy, business sectors, public health and natural resources. Attendees will discuss the best ways to prepare and protect our state and adapt to these growing risks.”

It should focus on the economy being destroyed by the Arnold-Jerry anti-jobs, anti-business polices, especially: AB 32, Arnold’s beloved Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. And, this year, Brown’s SBX1 2, which mandates 33 percent of California electricity must come from expensive, unreliable “renewables” by 2020.

Meanwhile, under Arnold and Jerry, California’s middle class has been assaulted and is shrinking. A PPIC study showed that the Arnold-Jerry policies have smashed the size of the middle class from 60 percent in 1980 to just 48 percent today.

California now is a severely class-ridden society. At the top are Jerry, Arnold, rich environmentalist Hollywood stars, government workers with generous pay and pensions, Silicon Valley billionaires and drug dealers.

At the bottom — the rest of us — are the slaves/taxpayers who pay for everything and are crushed by massive taxes and regulations.

The AB 32 Joke

Meanwhile, the whole environmental scheme of Arnold’s AB 32 has become an international joke. In the exact wording of AB 32, “The program established by this division will continue this tradition of environmental leadership by placing California at the forefront of national and international efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases….

“By exercising a global leadership role, California will also position its economy, technology centers, financial institutions, and businesses to benefit from national and international efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.”

AB 32′s list of diabolical greenhouse gases is the same as that in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

But the opposite is happening. Just this week, liberal, progressive, far-left Canada said it will withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. Canada’s environmental minister said, “Kyoto, for Canada, is in the past, and as such we are invoking our legal right to withdraw from Kyoto.” The cost of remaining in Kyoto is $13.6 billion. He said, “That’s $1,600 from every Canadian family — that’s the Kyoto cost to Canadians, that was the legacy of an incompetent Liberal government.”

Unfortunately, California continues to suffer from delusional leaders like Arnold and Jerry, obsessed with being “global leaders” in the “climate change” — formerly called “global warming” — superstition.

No Man-Caused Global Warming

Meanwhile, back in the rational world, the New Scientist magazine published a chart showing that the earth actually is in a period of low temperatures:

As you can see, the earth’s temperature has varied widely from the Precambrian, 4.6 billion years ago, until today. Modern industry is only 200 years old, with significant emission of greenhouse gases just 60 years old. Human activity is just a speck on the sundial of time.

Although New Scientist continues to push the global warming superstition, their chart shows what’s really happening: the normal, cyclical warming and cooling of the earth, mainly due to changes in the sun’s heat.

The Canadians, although leftist in most areas, have figured that out.

They won’t be talking about this reality at the Arnold-Jerry confab today.

(John Seiler, an editorial writer with The Orange County Register for 19 years, is a reporter and analyst for CalWatchDog, where this piece first appeared.)

Tenure for Teachers: Enough is Enough

Every year untold thousands of school kids are harmed by teachers who shouldn’t be allowed in a classroom. Parents must be given an opportunity to send their children elsewhere.

A teacher arrives at work high on drugs…daily.

A teacher regularly flies into rages, terrifying kids and coworkers.

A teacher talks in explicit terms about sex to the students.

A teacher makes constant sexual advances to other teachers.

A teacher doesn’t teach her students anything.

These are a few of the teachers that new Perth Amboy schools superintendent Janine Caffrey has to deal with on a daily basis. She is quick to point out that most teachers are committed and talented, but there are a few….

The evil here is tenure or permanence, which in New Jersey bestows a position for life on teachers after just three years on the job. (It’s even worse in other states – in California, for example, a teacher can get into the untouchables club after only two years.) Tenure for teachers would be nothing more than a bad joke if it didn’t destroy the education experience for tens of thousands of children who are subjected to incompetent/cruel/perverted people on a daily basis.

The cases that Caffrey is dealing with are not all that uncommon. In my 28 year teaching career, I saw all the above and then some – like a teacher at my middle school who on a warm day at lunch decided to go topless on the athletic field. Admittedly guilty, the consequence of her action was to be transferred to a nearby elementary school. Another teacher regularly went to his car between his P.E. classes and got plastered. No consequence for him.

The proponents of tenure are typically bad teachers and their protectors — the teachers unions. They claim that tenure is nothing more than due process, and incompetent administrators are the ones to blame if a bad teacher is allowed to stay on the job.

Wrong. As Caffrey says,

“Proponents of tenure will tell you that any school or district can remove a teacher by the due-process system that the tenure law affords. That may be the intent of our tenure law, but it certainly doesn’t work that way.”

The truth is that the system is rigged, plain and simple. A chart supplied by the Education Action Group shows the Byzantine two-to-five-year roadmap that must be followed to get rid of an incompetent teacher. What the chart doesn’t tell you is the procedure’s astronomical cost to the taxpayer. In Los Angeles recently, the school district tried to get rid of seven stinkers — after five years and a cost of $3.5 million, they managed to get rid of four, while two accepted buyouts and one reportedly was reinstated.

Then there is the case of Gabrielle Leko, a teacher in the La Caňada school district in California who, according to many reports, regularly hurls insults at her students dating back to at least 1997. Calling her students such terms of endearment as Jew Boy earned her a brief stint in a sensitivity class. And while the school board and superintendent are figuring out what to do with her, Leko, unchastened, goes to work every day and does what she has always done. And whatever is decided – the next event is a school board meeting on December 21 – Ms. Leko’s fate will be kept under wraps. So even if she does lose her job in La Caňada, she will probably be free to continue foisting her insults on unwitting students in another school district, should she decide to stay in the field.

While tenure laws have been in effect just about everywhere in the country for far too long, there is some good news. There are states – Illinois, Indiana and Florida, to name a few — that have succeeded in moderating or eliminating this abomination. This is all well and good, but until tenure is completely eradicated, children will be continue to be damaged (and in some cases, abused) by teachers who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near them.

Also, Hoover Institution scholar Eric Hanushek claims that if we just got rid of the bottom performing 5 to 7 percent of teachers – a common practice in the private sector — our education system could rival that of Finland’s world class system.

Ultimately, the most realistic way for parents to successfully protect their children is to give them an option to remove their kids from harm’s way via a voucher. Parents should be allowed to take the money that as taxpayers they are paying to educate their child in a public school and apply it to enroll their children elsewhere – in a traditional public, charter or private school. Any school of their choosing.

And to the whiners amongst us who say, “But that could drain money away from public schools,” I say YES, it will! But the good news is that wherever students have been given a choice where to go to school, public schools have actually improved, even with less money. Yes, competition even works in the wacky world of public education.

One final note – if tenure is a disease that we absolutely must eradicate, perhaps political correctness is a close second. You may have read the story about a 9 year old boy in North Carolina who got suspended from school by the principal for two days because he told his teacher she was cute. Yes, he was accused of “sexually harassing” her. A nine year old! Fortunately, his mother decided to fight back – the story went viral, became national news and the boy was reinstated by district officials with an apology. Jerry Bostic, the principal who ordered the suspension, didn’t get off so easy. Downgraded to Assistant Principal, he refused the demotion and retired instead. He thought that after 43 years of service to his school district he deserved better. And maybe he did, but his judgment in this situation was appalling.

In any event, it’s time to give parents a choice where to send their children to school. The traditional forced-zip-code method hasn’t worked well for children, their families and taxpayers for decades.

All need to mark their calendars for January 22, 2012 – the start of National School Choice Week – which will provide a concentrated focus on the need for effective education options for every child. To learn more and get involved, please visit the NSCW website.

(Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.)

 

Civic California: revitalizing local governance in the Golden State

California’s periodic crises have often yielded opportunities for innovation in public policy. From progressive reforms at the turn of the twentieth century to “sunshine” laws in the 1950s, Californians have been quick to act when they perceive that government won’t—or can’t—do what needs to be done. So far in the twenty-first century, however, an ongoing economic crisis may require a different sort of response, one that fundamentally rethinks interaction between residents and governments.

At a time when the California government is synonymous in the popular mind with polarization and mistrust, such a task may seem daunting. But in cash-strapped localities across the state, residents and government officials are working together not only to determine spending priorities, but also to fill in service gaps left by funding cuts. The effort is receiving bipartisan support even in the gridlocked California legislature. Marin County Democrat Jared Huffman’s Assembly Bill 42 allows community groups and nonprofits to help save 70 state parks slated for closure earlier this year. The legislation passed 75–1 in the Assembly and 35–2 in the state senate; Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law in October. Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation, explained that two state parks are already run by nonprofits. But, she added, “both of these required a long and arduous legislative process to get their statute.” With the new law, nonprofits should be able to enter into operating agreements with parks more easily.

In the recent past, such a plan would likely have been seen as a step on the road to privatization—typically a dirty word in the Golden State—and met with strong opposition. But crises have a way of focusing the mind, and Governor Brown’s designation of 70 state parks for termination had exactly that effect. Drawing more than 85 million visitors annually, California’s state-park system is one of the largest in the nation. California residents have taken for granted easy access to state beaches, mountain parks, and historic sites, but now the parks’ future is in their hands.

AB 42 is opening opportunities to creative solutions from civic and business leaders like Tony Magee, founder of the Lagunitas Brewing Company. When Magee, a former resident of Lagunitas, heard that the local Samuel P. Taylor State Park was on Brown’s closure list, he put together a plan to take over economic responsibility for the park from the state. Lagunitas Brewing would set up a nonprofit with a $1 million annual budget to run the park, creating a community project with local employees as well as volunteers.

The potential for such partnerships extends well beyond parks. In collaboration with the National Conference on Citizenship, the Davenport Institute at Pepperdine University (where I’m a research coordinator) recently released a report, “Golden Governance: Building Effective Public Engagement in California.” In addition to providing a guide for communities interested in developing working relationships with residents, the paper highlights several successful collaborative projects.

One such success can be seen in the small city of Auburn, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where residents have demonstrated that civic engagement can mean much more than voting, showing up at a town hall meeting, or clicking through an online survey. It can also mean getting your hands dirty. Residents decided that they couldn’t wait for an economic recovery to start protecting their homes and businesses from wildfires. The city backs onto the American River Canyon, much of which is owned by the Federal Bureau of Reclamation. But due to federal budget cuts, the Bureau has been unable to maintain an 11-mile-long firebreak along the canyon. City residents negotiated permission from the local BOR manager to construct the firebreak. Hired professionals, local firefighters, and members of the California Conservation Corps cut brush and dead trees, while volunteers handled removal. The first such city-sponsored “Project Canyon Safe” day event was held in May 2010; since then, the community has continued with 18 neighborhood projects and a second annual citywide project on July 11, which cleared 4.21 acres of brush in one day.

Observing the young American republic in the early 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville noted the vital roles that civic associations played in public life: “Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantlyunite. . . . I often admired the infinite art with which the inhabitants of the United States managed to fix a common goal to the efforts of many men and to get them to advance to it freely.” For much of the twentieth century, this American way of accomplishing things seemed in decline as a more bureaucratic, administrative state became the norm. But in the face of harsh economic realities, the policymaking landscape is changing. The twenty-first century may prove to be a new era of associative democracy in California, and perhaps nationwide.

(Ashley Trim is research coordinator for the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine University. This article was first posted on City Journal.)

California Still Has a Spending Problem

As we head toward decision time for the budget trigger to be pulled and to what degree, fiscal information is starting to come in from the keepers of the ledgers. State Controller John Chiang revealed last week that while November tax receipts were a half-billion dollars ahead of projections, California was spending almost two-billion dollars more than projected.

The state budget will never be brought into balance until we control spending.

Where California is overspending is a bit of a mystery. The Controller’s Statement of General Fund Cash Receipts and Disbursements shows that practically all the overspending is in the category of Local Assistance. In fact, State Operations is doing quite nicely in the spending department, currently running almost one-quarter of a billion dollars under budget spending projections. However, that savings is easily wiped out by the Local Assistance spending.

While the Controller’s report indicates some of the areas in which overspending is occurring under Local Assistance, the biggest chunk of overspending is an unidentified category labeled “Other Local Assistance.”

The report is clear, for example, that Mental Health programs are overspending by 185% or about $166-million and that the Community Colleges are overspending by 26% or around $527-million. But, the Other Local Assistance category accounts for $1.44 billion of overspending.

Could it have anything to do with the governor’s realignment program sending state prisoners to local jails?

What is clear is that spending continues to be California budget’s Achilles heel. The fix for the state’s spending problem is a solid spending limit. As I wrote last week, voters will likely get a chance to support such a fix when a proposed spending limit appears on next November’s ballot. (Disclosure: I am involved in supporting the proposal.)

One other important note in the Controller’s report is that the budget is balanced on borrowing. The Controller states that both internal borrowing from special funds and external borrowing, which adds to the state’s debt, cover the current deficit. The spending limit initiative proposal aims to not only prevent future borrowing by controlling spending, but also proposes to pay down the state’s current debt when revenues exceed the spending limit.

It seems from the Controller’s latest numbers the spending limit proposal is important and timely.

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

Graphic courtesy mcatalena, Flickr

CalPERS surprise: smaller rate hike for local plans

The rate hike next July for most of the 2,043 local public pension plans in the giant CalPERS system will be lower than expected — an increase of 1 percent of pay or less for four-fifths of them.

The rates reflect the second year of a radical “smoothing” plan that spreads rate increases from huge investment losses over a three-year period.

The CalPERS investment fund dropped 24 percent in fiscal 2008-09 when the stock market crashed. The fund peaked at $260 billion in the fall of 2007, hit bottom at $160 billion in March 2009 and was $222.5 billion early this week.

Actuaries told the CalPERS board yesterday that a 13 percent gain in investment earnings the fiscal year following the crash, 2009-10, was better than what CalPERS expects in an average year, 7.75 percent.

“Most of the plans are experiencing an increase in rate for the 2012-13 year, although the increases are less than we projected in our prior report,” said actuary Nancy Campbell.

“And I may say that overall 80 percent of the local government plans had an increase in employer rates of 1 percent or less, some zero, some less than that,” Campbell said.

The local plan rates are not expected to change much in July 2013, when they will reflect a 21.7 percent increase in earnings last fiscal year, the end of the three-year smoothing period.

The local rates are based on two-year-old investment returns because of the time needed to make actuarial calculations for the 2,043 plans. The new rates for state workers, expected in May, will have a one-year lag reflecting the big earnings last fiscal year.

The state rates are not expected to change much next July. The nonpartisan Legislative’s Analyst Office estimated last month that the state payment to CalPERS, $3.6 billion this year, will increase to $3.8 billion by fiscal 2016-17.

The new rates set by the actuaries for the local plans drew praise from several California Public Employees Retirement System board members.

“I’m pleasantly surprised,” said board member J.J. Jelincic. “All the great fear we have heard about how much rates are going up and how we are destroying Western civilization — 75 percent of all the plans the rate change is plus or minus 1 percent. It would suggest that maybe it’s not as forsaken out there as some people would like to project.”

Member Tony Oliveira, a former Kings County supervisor leaving the board this month, thanked the actuaries and the board for their “courage” in adopting the smoothing plan despite criticism.

He said jobs were saved. As the economic downturn forced cuts in local government budgets, particularly hitting counties who lost state aid for social services, spreading out pension rate hikes allowed time to plan and phase in reductions.

“Because you helped us gain a little more time no one lost a job,” Oliveira said when Kings County cut about 11 or 12 percent of its staff positions. “We did it through attrition.”

The average funded status of the local CalPERS plans is still low. It was 89.6 percent in June 30, 2008, dropping after the stock market crash to 61 percent in June, 2009, and then increasing to 65.8 percent in June 30, 2010.

Actuaries estimated that the big earnings gain last fiscal year adds 7 to 8 percent, which would push the funded status as of last June 30 to about 73 or 74 percent. But with the stock market in turmoil, the funding level has probably dropped since then.

The CalPERS board may revisit a controversy in March, when actuaries are scheduled to make a recommendation about the investment earnings forecast, now 7.75 percent, which critics say is too optimistic.

The actuaries recommended early this year that CalPERS lower the forecast to 7.5 percent, which would increase rates. The CalPERS board decided to leave the forecast unchanged.

Critics contend that the earnings forecast used to offset or “discount” future pension obligations is too optimistic and conceals massive long-term debt.

A leading critic, Joe Nation of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, issued a new report yesterday contending that the long-term debt or “unfunded liability” of the three state pension funds is $500 billion, far greater than reported.

The governor’s budget proposal last May estimated a total unfunded liability of $118 billion for the three state plans: CalPERS $48.6 billion, California State Teachers Retirement System $56 billion and UC Retirement $12.9 billion.

A CalPERS news release said earnings from the pension fund‘s “highly diversified” investments are historically higher than assumed in the Stanford report, which is based on low earnings that “artificially magnify unfunded liabilities.”

When viewed as an average, the rate increase next July tor the 2,043 local CalPERS plans is minimal.

The average employer contribution for miscellaneous plans covering most workers increases from 14.6 percent of pay to 14.9 percent. For the public safety plans covering police and firefighters the increase is from 31.1 percent of pay to 31.2 percent.

Board member George Diehr asked about the “extremes,” 122 plans with a rate increase of more than 5 percent of pay and 41 plans with a rate decrease of more than 5 percent of pay.

Alan Milligan, the CalPERS chief actuary, said the plans where the rate increase is volatile, despite smoothing, tend to be plans with a small number of members. In a small plan, rates can change significantly with the gain or loss of just a few members.

In addition, he said, some of the plans make extra contributions to pay off their “side funds.” When smaller plans with varying assets were placed in a pool to spread risk and avoid rate shock, side funds were created to even out contributions to the pool.

“Incredibly, it seems like the bulk of the significant reductions are probably due to extra payments being made by employers,” Milligan said.

Board member Henry Jones said he agreed with Oliveira’s praise for the three-year smoothing. He also asked about another part of the smoothing plan that allowed the losses to go well beyond the usual “corridor” limiting the spreading of gains and losses.

Milligan said he expected that the rate increase for the last year of the three-year smoothing, beginning in July 2013, “will not be very difficult for employers at all.” But he said the “remaining unrecognized loss within the original corridor” must still be covered.

He said annual actuarial reports to the local plans will try to show the rates they can expect for the next four years, including examples of what might happen if investment earnings fall short of the 7.75 percent forecast.

“We are trying hard to give employers the information they need so they can manage their budgets,” Milligan said.

(Reporter Ed Mendel covered the Capitol in Sacramento for nearly three decades, most recently for the San Diego Union-Tribune. This article was first posted on Calpensions.)

Retirement party photo courtesy NatalieMaynor, Flickr