Citizenship Question on 2020 Census backed by US Justice Foundation

President Donald Trump’s decision to include a question about citizenship status on the decennial census is receiving critical support – as an activist federal judge tries to remove the question from the 2020 Census.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman issued a preliminary ruling that would ban the U.S. Department of Commerce from asking a citizenship question on the national count “without curing the legal defects.” The Trump administration is expected to appeal the lower court decision to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Our government is legally entitled to include a citizenship question on the census and people in the United States have a legal obligation to answer,” Kelly Laco, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said following the ruling. “Reinstating the citizenship question ultimately protects the right to vote and helps ensure free and fair elections for all Americans.”

The Justice Department’s potential appeal will be aided by a new report published by the United States Justice Foundation, which says that the lower court ruling is on shaky legal ground and is ripe for an appeal.

“Throughout history, the American people and government officials have seen the citizenship question as routine and non-controversial,” the US Justice Foundation, a nonprofit public interest organization, finds in its latest report on the 2020 Census. “Citizenship status was included in past census questionnaires, both short and long forms, as well as the American Community Survey.”

Bill Clinton’s Census Defended Citizenship Question

In its detailed report, the US Justice Foundation catalogues the overwhelming evidence to support inclusion of a citizenship question on the population tally, including the Clinton administration’s defense of the question.

Under President Bill Clinton, the US Justice Foundation points out, the Census Bureau identified many key government functions and benefits tied to the citizenship question, including education, employment, social services, provisions under the Voting Rights Act, and at least ten statutory uses.

“The Clinton administration defended both the short and long form U.S. Census questionnaires, including a question of citizenship status,” the US Justice Foundation observes in its report. “It is worth noting that a named party in the case, representing the U.S. federal government, is none other than Clinton Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley, who would later go on to serve as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff.”

In addition to the Voting Rights Act, the Clinton administration U.S. Census Bureau identified other government functions, programs and services where place of birth, citizenship and year of entry data serve the public.

  • Education: Support the Refugee Education Assistance Act, in allocating funds to public and private nonprofit organizations.
  • Employment: Evaluate the effectiveness of equal employment opportunity policies and programs under the Civil Rights Act.
  • Immigration Services: Determine proper staffing and budgeting for supporting non- citizens through the naturalization process.
  • Social Services: Develop health care and other services tailored to the language and cultural diversity of the foreign-born elderly.

84 Percent of California Census Committee Members Democrat

As the legal fight over the citizenship question continues, state-level census committees in liberal states could find themselves facing legal challenges of their own, due to lack of transparency and growing evidence of blatant partisan activities.

The California Complete Count Committee, an official state-level census government panel, recently produced just eight emails in response to a public records request filed by the US Justice Foundation.

The lack of transparency comes as questions are raised about the overwhelmingly partisan nature of the committee’s membership. An astounding 84 percent of California Complete Count Committee members – 21 of 25 – are registered Democrats, a poor representation of California’s actual political profile. Members of the California Complete Count Committee include powerful Democrat Party officials and left-wing activists, including the chief of staff for the California Labor Federation.

“With this decision, Democrats have opened the door to wide-ranging investigations into state-level census committees,” the US Justice Foundation notes.

To access and download the full 31-page report, click here: https://www.usjf.net/us-justice-foundation-backs-citizenship-question-on-2020-census

U.S._Census_Bureau_logo_post-2011 download

Gov. Newsom Pushing For New Taxes on Water and Phones

Water Drought SprinklerGov. Gavin Newsom’s has called for a first-ever water tax and an added fee on phone bills at a time when the state is enjoying what recently departed state Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor called “extraordinary” budget health. Newsom said last week that experts now forecast a $21.5 billion budget windfall in 2019-20. Until recent years, the optics of asking the public to pay more with an overflowing budget would have seemed impossible to overcome.

Specific details have not yet emerged on Newsom’s plan, but it’s expected to be similar to a rejected 2018 proposal from state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, to tax residential customers 95 cents a month to help fund water improvements in rural farming communities in the Central Valley and throughout the state.

It would raise about $110 million to get clean water to what the McClatchy News Service estimated last year to be 360,000 people without such access. Others looking at the problem see it as much worse. Newsom said 1 million residents face health risks from their own water supplies.

Newsom emphasized what a priority the water tax would be for him on Friday by taking his cabinet on a “surprise” tour of affected Central Valley communities.

The dairy industry would also face $30 million in new fees. The $140 million annually that Newsom hopes to get from his plan is dwarfed by money already available from a $7.5 billion 2014 state water bond. While the largest chunk of the bond – $2.7 billion – was reserved for water storage projects, one of its listed priorities for the remaining $4.8 billion was providing access to clean water.

Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President Jon Coupal saw Newsom’s water tax plan as part of a historical continuum. He told the Sacramento Bee it was only the latest example “of California’s knee-jerk reaction to default to a new tax whenever there’s a new problem.”

But Newsom depicted his 2019-20 budget as reflecting discipline, touting its emphasis on continuing to add to the state’s rainy day fund and because of commitments to prepay some of CalPERS’ and CalSTRS’ unfunded long-term liabilities. Finance officials say every $1 billion prepaid now saves more than $2 billion in the long haul.

Governor cites urgent need to upgrade 911 system

Newsom also confirmed that he wants to add a 20- to 80-cent fee on monthly cellphone and landline bills to upgrade the 911 emergency notification system. That would take a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

A similar proposal died late in the legislative session amid fears that it was a regressive tax that could cause headaches for incumbents on the November ballot.

But Newsom depicts the fee as a vital part of upgrading a 911 system that has outdated technology and is not up to the challenge of keeping safe a state facing devastating wildfires on a yearly basis.

The 911 fee was part of a larger wildfire-response program Newsom announced last week in the aftermath of last fall’s Camp fire in Butte County that killed at least 86 people and destroyed about 14,000 homes and the Woolsey Fire in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties that caused three deaths and torched 1,500 homes.

The governor wants to add $105 million to the $200 million already earmarked for improved wildfire response efforts in fiscal 2019-20. The extra money would be used to boost forest clearing efforts, to expand emergency fire rescue crews and more.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Gavin Newsom’s Budget Calls for More Spending, Higher Taxes

Gavin Newsom budgetTo the surprise of absolutely no one, California’s new governor has proposed a state budget with billions in increased spending and lots of tax hikes. And, as an added bonus, he is proposing new mandates on businesses and local governments as well as depriving Californians of the right to vote on certain kinds of local debt. From the perspective of taxpayers, this is not a propitious start.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget envisions spending $144 billion of general fund dollars, a 4 percent increase over former Gov. Jerry Brown’s last budget, which clocked in at $138 billion. To put this in perspective, general fund spending was less than $100 billion just six years ago. In California, state government is the No. 1 growth industry.

No California spending plan would be complete without new “revenue enhancements.” And the biggest item on this list is the imposition of the “individual mandate” for health insurance. Recall that President Obama’s so-called Affordable Care Act (which was anything but affordable) imposed a burdensome tax on millions of Americans. (Indeed, it was only the fact that the ACA imposed a “tax” that saved it from a constitutional challenge).

The good news is that Congress repealed the tax at the federal level. The bad news is that Gov. Newsom wants to reimpose it at the state level in order to save Covered California from imploding. The cost to Californians for a state-imposed individual mandate with a penalty?: $700 per person, which is projected to raise $500 million in new revenue.

To read the entire column, please click here.

California Legislature Shouldn’t Tax Innovation

TaxesWhen it comes to innovation and job creation, let’s keep the gold in the Golden State.

The role of private equity in funding the growth of many bread-and-butter, consumer-based firms that call California home – companies such as Peet’s Coffee and El Pollo Loco – is in serious jeopardy due to the possible re-emergence of faulty legislation in 2019.

Last year in the Legislature there was a proposal (Assembly Bill 2731), borne of understandable but misguided frustration over federal tax policy, that would have pushed the private funds financial services industry to other states. Fortunately, that proposal did not advance. Lest California lawmakers think again about cutting off an economic engine in a self-destructive over-reaction, the idea should be permanently shelved.

California is the earth’s epicenter for innovation, attracting entrepreneurs and talent from across our state and around the globe.  It’s blessed with world-class universities, robust markets, and it’s been a pace-setter in emerging industries. All of this is made possible by one essential element – access to capital.

Data from 2016 shows that the Bay Area is the number one market in the nation for venture capital, generating an impressive $23 billion in investment; more than three times that of New York sitting at number two.

A proposal like AB 2731 would put a chokehold on venture capital in the state by creating a 17 percent add-on income tax on the private funds financial services industry. The tax would apply to so-called “carried interest income” earnings – but interestingly enough only in the financial services sector, not in other sectors such as real estate, oil and gas development in which such earnings are also common.

An economic impact analysis of the proposal conducted by a professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business understandably concluded that the tax would be “so impactful that the industry will likely move out of state.”

The consequences of such a flight from California would be devastating. The industry directly employs more than 100,000 workers and pays a combined $2 billion a year in state and local taxes.

The American Investment Council estimates that private equity companies invested $66 billion in 583 California companies in 2017 alone. Those companies combined provided more than 400,000 jobs. In addition, an estimated 5,200 California-based companies now with more than 250,000 workers relied on venture capital funding to get off the ground.

To push back against federal tax policy by even considering a large, state-only tax increase on an industry that fuels economic growth and job production is destructive folly. Jobs would be lost, economic growth would be diminished and there would be a net loss in state and local tax revenue as a result of industry flight from California.  This proposal failed last year, and should not be reconsidered this year.  There is never a good time for a bad idea.

resident & CEO, Silicon Valley Leadership Group

This column previously appeared in the Sacramento Bee

L.A. Teachers to Strike After Rejecting Offered Pay Raise

unionAfter a temporary delay, teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District seem likely to go on strike Monday morning. They are demanding, among other things, a 6.5 percent pay increase after rejecting a 3 percent hike offered by the district.

About 30,000 teachers in the nation’s largest school district had originally planned to strike on January 10, but union leaders postponed the strike until Monday after a judge ruled that the union had failed to give the district adequate notice for the work stoppage. Even with a few extra days to reach an agreement, the two sides remain apart, according to the Los Angeles Times, despite the district offering to pay an additional $75 million to meet union demands regarding staffing levels and class sizes.

The main disagreement, of course, is about wages. The union wants a 6.5 percent raise immediately, while the district has offered a 3 percent raise followed by another 3 percent raise next year, the Times reports. (Update: The average LAUSD employee earns $73,000 annually.)

Even without handing out pay raises, the Los Angeles Unified School District finds itself in dire financial straits.

On its current trajectory, the school district will face a $422 million shortfall by 2020, driven in large part by its $15 billionin unfunded health care benefit liabilities for current workers and retirees. A task force that studied the district’s fiscal condition in 2018 concluded that the structural deficit “threatens its long-term viability and its ability to deliver basic education programs.”

A major driver of the budget problems at the LAUSD is employee pension and health care costs. According to the budget task force, those costs will consume more than half of the district’s annual budget by the end of the next decade. Since there is no way to give employees raises without also increasing the future liabilities owed by the pension system, boosting pay now will only add to the long-term problems facing the district.

“LAUSD has already offered much more than it can afford (increase teacher pay across the board, dollars for lower class sizes, and new positions) so either way the resolution will likely expedite the drawdown of the district’s reserves,” says Aaron Smith, an education policy analyst for the Reason Foundation, which publishes this blog.

The other major issue is class sizes. The union is demanding that the district hire more teachers and staff to reduce the average class size in Los Angeles schools—which currently range from an average of about 26 students per class in elementary schools to nearly 40 per class in the city’s high schools. In its most recent offer, the school district said it would set caps of 37 students for high school classes and 34 students for lower grades.

But while smaller class sizes would be nice, that’s far from the only consideration facing the LAUSD. As even former Obama-era Education Secretary Arne Duncan has argued, teacher quality matters far more than class size as a determinant of student outcomes.

Hiring more employees is unlikely to solve the district’s problems. Since 2004, the LAUSD has seen a 16 percent jump in administrative staffers while student enrollment has fallen by 10 percent. Increasingly, students (and their parents) are opting for charter schools, which have proven to be successful and efficient alternatives. More than 160,000 students already attend charter schools in Los Angeles, and another 41,000 are on waiting lists trying to get in.

The school district likes to blame its structural problems on the loss of students to charter schools—but the real problem is that LAUSD has failed to adapt to changing circumstances. In 2015, the district’s Independent Financial Review Panel made a series of recommendations to help the district adjust to competition from charters—for example, if employees and retirees had to cover just 10 percent of their health insurance premiums, the district could save $54 million annually. Those ideas have mostly been ignored.

A long strike will likely only exacerbate those problems, warns Smith. A protracted strike may encourage more families to seek out alternatives to the public schools.

“If anything,” he says, “the strike will further illustrate exactly why more (not fewer) charters are needed.”

This article was originally published by Reason.com

California’s Budget “Surplus” Ignores Crushing Debt Burden

BudgetCalifornia’s new governor, Gavin Newsom, delivered an inaugural address earlier this week that accurately reflected the mentality of his supporters. Triumphalist, defiant, and filled with grand plans. But are these plans grand, or grandiose? Will Governor Newsom try to deliver everything he promised during his campaign, and if so, can California’s state government really deliver to 40 million residents universal preschool, free community college, and single payer health care for everyone? It’s reasonable to assume that to execute all of these projects would cost hundreds – plural – of billions per year. Where will this money come from?

While California’s budget outlook currently offers a surplus in excess of $10 billion, that is an order of magnitude less than what it will cost to do what Newsom is planning. And this surplus, while genuine, is the result of an extraordinary, unsustainable surge in income tax payments by wealthy people. California’s tax revenues are highly dependent on collections from the top one-percent of earners, and over the past few years, the top one-percent has been doing very, very well. Can this go on?

To illustrate just how unusually swollen California’s current state tax revenues have gotten, compare state tax collections in FYE 6/30/2017 (our most recent available data) to seven years earlier, in 2010. Back in 2010, California was in the grip of the great recession. Total state tax revenue was $94 billion, and $44 billion of that was from personal income taxes. Skip to FYE 6/30/2017, and total state tax revenue was $148 billion, and $86 billion was from personal income taxes. This means that 80 percent of the increase in state tax revenue over the seven years through 6/30/2017 was represented by the increase is collections from individual taxpayers, which doubled.

It isn’t hard to figure out why this happened. Between 2010 and 2017 the tech heavy NASDAQ tripled in value, from 2,092 to 6,153. In that same period, Silicon Valley’s big three tech stocks all quadrupled. Adjusting for splits, Apple shares went from $35 to $144, Facebook opened in May 2012 at $38, and went up to $150, Google moved from $216 to $908.

While California’s tech industry was booming over the past decade, California real estate boomed in parallel. In June 2010 the median home price in California was $335,000; by June 2017 it had jumped to $502,000. Along the California coast, median home prices have gone much higher. Santa Clara County now has a median home price of $1.3 million, double what it was less than a decade ago.

As people sell their overpriced homes to move inland or out-of-state, and as tech workers cash out their burgeoning stock options, hundreds of billions of capital gains generate tens of billions in state tax revenue. But can homes continue to double in value every six or seven years? Can tech stocks continue to quadruple in value every six or seven years? Apparently Gavin Newsom thinks they can. Reality may beg to differ.

Just a Slowdown in Capital Gains Will Cause Tax Revenue to Crash

The problem with Gavin Newsom’s grand plans is that it won’t take a downturn in asset values to sink them. All that has to happen to throw California’s state budget into the red is for these asset values to stop going up. Just a plateauing of their value – which, by the way, we’ve been witnessing over the past six months – will wreak havoc on state and local government budgets in California.

The reasons for this are clear enough. Wealthy people, making a lot of money, pay the lion’s share of state income taxes, and state income taxes constitute the lion’s share of state revenues. Returning to the 2017 fiscal year, of the $86 billion collected in state income taxes, $28 billion was from only 70,437 filers, all of them making over $1.0 million in that year. Another $7.3 billion came from 131,120 filers who made between a half-million and one million in that year. And since making over $200,000 in income in one year is still considered doing very, very well, it’s noteworthy that another 807,000 of those filers ponied up another $15.1 billion in FYE 6/30/2017.

There is an obvious conclusion here: if people are no longer making killings in capital gains on their sales of stock and real estate, California’s tax revenues will instantly decline by $20 billion, if not much more. And it won’t even take a slump in asset prices to cause this, just a leveling off.

Debt, Unfunded Pension Liabilities, Neglected Infrastructure

When considering how weakening tax revenues in California will impact the ability of the state and local governments to cope with existing debt, it’s hard to know where to begin. To get an idea of the scope of this problem, the California Policy Center just released an analysis of California’s total state and local government debt. As shown on the table, California’s total state and local government debt as of 6/30/2017 is over $1.5 trillion. More than half of it, $846 billion, is in the form of unfunded pension liabilities.

Calculating pension liabilities is a complex process, with controversy surrounding what assumptions are valid. In basic terms, a pension liability is the amount of money that must be on hand today, in order for withdrawals on that amount – plus investment earnings on that amount as it declines – to eventually pay all future pensions earned to-date for all active and retired participants in the fund. Put another way, a pension liability is the present value of all pension benefits – earned so far – that must be paid out in the future. The amount by which the total pension liability exceeds the actual amount of assets invested in a fund is referred to as the unfunded liability.

The controversy over what is an accurate estimate of a pension liability arises due to the extreme sensitivity that number has to how much the fund managers think they can earn. Using the official projection which is typically around 7.0 percent per year, the official pension liability for all of California’s government pension funds is “only” $316 billion. But Moody’s, the credit rating agency, discounts pension liabilities with the Citigroup Pension Liability Index (CPLI), which is based on high grade corporate bond yields. In June 2017, it was 3.87 percent, and using that rate, CPC analysts estimated the unfunded liability for California’s state and local employee pension systems at $846 billion. Using the methodology offered by the prestigious Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, California’s unfunded pension debt is even higher, at $1.26 trillion.

Where pension liabilities move from controversial theories to decidedly non-academic real world consequences, however, is in the budget busting realm of how much California’s government agencies have to pay these funds each year. California’s public sector employers contributed an estimated $31 billion to the pension systems in 2018. Extrapolating from officially announced pension rate hikes from CalPERS, California’s largest pension system, by 2024 those payments are projected to increase to $59 billion. And these aggressive increases the pension systems are requiring are a reflection more of their crackdown on the terms of the “catch up” payments employers must make to reduce the unfunded liability than on a reduction to their expected real rate of return.

Huge unfunded pension liabilities are another reason, equally significant, as to why California’s state budget is extraordinarily vulnerable to economic downturns. If assets stop appreciating, not only will income tax revenue plummet. At the same time, expenses will go up, because pension funds will demand far higher annual contributions to make up the shortfall in investment earnings.

A cautionary overview of the economic challenges facing California’s state government would not be complete without mentioning the neglected infrastructure in the state. For decades, this vast state, with nearly 40 million residents, has been falling behind in infrastructure maintenance. The American Society of Civil Engineers assigns poor grades to California’s infrastructure. They rate over 1,300 bridges in California as “structurally deficient,” and 678 of California’s dams are “high hazard.” They estimate $44 billion needs to be spent to bring drinking water infrastructure up to modern standards, and $26 billion on wastewater infrastructure. They estimate over 50 percent of California’s roads are in “poor condition.” In every category – aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, wastewater, hazardous waste, the energy grid, inland waterways, levees, ports, public parks, roads, rail, transit, and schools, California is behind. The fix? Literally hundreds of additional billions.

What Governor Newsom might consider is refocusing California’s state budget priorities on areas where the state already faces daunting financial challenges, rather than acquiescing to the utopian fever dreams of his constituency and his colleagues.

Gov. Newsom Wants to Expand a Dubious Universal Preschool Plan

shocked-kid-apCalifornia’s new Governor Gavin Newsom envisions a future where the state will be involved in your children’s lives from conception to adulthood. Newsom told EdSource in September, “Our role begins when babies are still in the womb and it doesn’t end until we’ve done all we can to prepare them for a quality job and successful career.

Newsom refers to his nanny-state-on-steroids plan as the “California Promise.” If his massive scheme is realized, the only certain promise is that even higher taxes are in store for a state that has already been accurately dubbed as Taxifornia. Particularly pernicious is his idea for universal preschool for 4-year-olds. And that ball is already rolling, as Sacramento Assemblyman Kevin McCarty introduced three bills in December that would expand preschool to allow more 3- and 4-year-olds to attend.

There are many problems here. First off, the failing k-12 system in the formerly Golden State is not exactly an enticement to send your kids off for yet another year of subpar education. Our latest NAEP (nation’s report card) scores are pathetic. On the 2017 test, we were near the bottom nationally, with 69 percent of 4th grade students not proficient in both math and reading.

And just what kind of track record does preschool have? A pretty bad one, in fact. Study after study has shown it is an extraordinary waste of money. The last great push for universal pre-k in California – renamed transitional kindergarten (TK) – went down to defeat in 2014. At the time, I wrote that pre-k accomplishes little more than adding unionized teaching and educational support jobs to the state’s payroll – a state that is already over a trillion dollars in debt. Oh, sure, the sales pitch sounds great. As State Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg said, “Expanding transitional kindergarten can be accomplished with just a fraction of increased Proposition 98 funds while saving billions of dollars in the long run by reducing the extra costs of special education, grade retention and juvenile crime.”

In fact, the U.S. has a near 50-year history of funding early-childhood programs in the form of Head Start. The federal government released the last of a three-part longitudinal study of the $8 billion-a-year program in 2012, and the results offered little cause for jubilation. According to the report’s executive summary: “…there was little evidence of systematic differences in children’s elementary school experiences through 3rd grade, between children provided access to Head Start and their counterparts in the control group.” The 2012 report reinforced some disappointing findings from the study’s second phase, which showed that any gains “had faded considerably by the end of 1st grade, with Head Start children showing an edge only in learning vocabulary over their peers in the control group who had not participated in Head Start.”

Other studies purporting to show preschool’s benefits also have failed to prove that spending billions on pre-k would be money well spent. Two oft-cited studies, the famous Abecedarian and Perry Preschool projects, for example, are now nearly 50 years old and involved no more than 60 children. As American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray wrote in 2013, both studies “were overseen by the same committed, well-intentioned people who conducted the demonstration projects. Evaluations of social programs are built around lots of judgment calls—from deciding how the research is designed to figuring out how to analyze the data. People with a vested interest in the results shouldn’t be put in the position of making those judgments.”

Also in 2013, the Brookings Institution’s Grover J. Whitehurst wrote, the group that went through the Tennessee Voluntary State Pre-K Program, a full day program for 4‐year‐olds from low-income families “performed somewhat less well on cognitive tasks at the end of first grade than the control group, even though [three-quarters] of the children in the control group had no experience as 4-year-olds in a center-based early childhood program.” Whitehurst concludes: “Until the field of early education becomes evidence based, it will be doomed to cycles of fad and fancy.”

Just last week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel rolled out a $175 million plan to offer pre-k to all 4-year-olds by 2021-22. Commenting on the proposal, education scholars Lance Izumi and Kerry McDonald write that its proponents “often cite the results of an earlier effort, the Chicago Child-Parent Center program for low-income children, to bolster their case for universal preschool.” But it turns out that the Chicago Child-Parent Center program “relied on extensive parent training, a feature notably absent from universal preschool proposals such as Assemblyman McCarty’s in California.”

Izumi and McDonald add, “As psychologist Dr. Michael Thompson of Children’s Hospital in New Orleans noted, if policymakers mistakenly believe that preschool results in better life outcomes, “they may mistakenly invest in these programs when the money might be better invested in parenting-skill programs or other interventions to increase parental involvement.”

Clearly voluntary parental skills programs show much more promise than Newsom’s unproven universal pre-k plan. California’s new state budget will be released soon. Have the smelling salts nearby.

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 and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Do We Have a Right to Shelter?

Tent of homeless person on 6th Street Bridge with Los Angeles skyline in the background. California, USA. (Photo By: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

Does everyone by virtue of their existence have a right to shelter? It’s a question the California legislature will consider in 2019.

Earlier this month, Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, introduced Senate Bill 48. This Right to Shelter Bill “aims to ensure that homeless individuals and families throughout California have reasonable access to shelter, including navigation centers,” according to Wiener’s office. This “right” includes:

  • “A safe place to sleep and keep one’s belongings.
  • “An ability to access shelter without having to sign up on a daily basis.
  • “An ability to remain with one’s partner.
  • “An ability to access services necessary to stabilize one’s life and transition into supportive housing or permanent housing, including mental health, addiction treatment, and other services.”

When Wiener declares that “California’s housing crisis, along with our mental health and addiction challenges, are driving people into homelessness, and we must act,” we can’t disagree. But shelter is a right? On that we cannot agree.

In the case of SB 48, the “right to shelter” is fabricated out of the loss of others’ rights. Funding for shelter is provided only when others’ right to their property — their money — is violated. Obligating some to pay for others’ “rights” corrupts the proper understanding of what a right truly is. It assigns a burden to society that it did not ask for.

Rather than establishing a heretofore hidden right, the bill actually introduces a mandate, which is defined as “an official instruction or command.” Rights cannot be commanded into existence, nor can commands be interpreted as rights. A more fitting name for Wiener’s legislation would be the “Demand to Provide Shelter” Bill.

None of this means we’re indifferent to the homeless. Humans need housing. But issuing mandates isn’t going to solve the homeless problem, particularly in California, where the housing crisis has forced thousands to go without suitable shelter.

The best policymakers can do is get out of the way. That, however, requires them to take an active role. Government has been the primary author of the housing crisis, and its network of hurdles must be undone. Replace the California Environmental Quality Act with law that reasonably protects the environment but doesn’t create conditions that discourage home building. Forbid rent control laws in every corner of the state. Streamline and shorten the building permit process, and reduce, and waive when possible, permit fees. Lift local regulations that inhibit construction. Overhaul local zoning laws that block housing expansion.

In the best of all cases, policymakers would tear down every barrier they have erected. Eliminating even one of the hurdles mentioned above will do far more for the homeless than passing laws intended to create rights for them.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

Welcome Back Legislators. Now Stop Making So Many Laws

legislatureToday’s column is easy to write because I’m actually pulling up a column I think is worth repeating when welcoming legislators back to the capital. Don’t drown us with so many new laws. In fact, spend some time getting rid of old ones.

No one can possibly keep up with all the bills that actually become laws each year. Any idea how many new laws the California legislature put on the books over the past 52 years?

If you guessed under 60,000 you would be wrong.

According to an October release from the Senate Office of Research, 62,858 new laws have been added to the rolls since 1967. That averages over 1,208 laws a year under the governorships of Ronald Reagan, Jerry Brown, George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson, Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown, again.

Actually, the trend in lawmaking is going in the right direction—although it certainly has not gone far enough. Under governors Reagan, Brown (1.0) and Deukmejian, well over a thousand bills were signed into law each year. You have to go to the first year of Governor Wilson’s second term before you find less than a 1,000 bills enrolled, and it was close—982.

There was a stretch of 15 consecutive years when the 1,000 law mark was not breached from Gray Davis’s last year 2003, through the Schwarzenegger years, and the first seven years of Jerry Brown. However, this last year, Brown’s final one in office, 1,016 laws were enrolled breaking the streak.

But seriously, do the people of California really need so many laws to guide their lives?

Yet, woe be it to the business or citizen that ignores any of those laws. Especially with predatory attorneys lurking, looking for opportunity.

In many instances, new laws come with regulations and paperwork attached, which rob the affected parties, often businesses, of time to fill out the paperwork and keep up with the changing regulations while trying to run a business.

Here’s a suggestion this newly elected legislative class can do with its time. Eliminate some of the many laws on the books and focus on your non-lawmaking duties of managing the government efficiently an effectively.

Start with the DMV.

(Hat tip to Chris Micheli of Aprea & Micheli for directing me to the Senate Office of Research document.)

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Brown Leaves Newsom a Managerial Mess at DMV

dmvJerry Brown’s last days as governor have been filled with laudatory media accounts of his half-century-long political career.

Many of the plaudits were deserved. Some were not, such as claims that he single-handedly rescued California from the brink of a financial meltdown. Even he acknowledges that luck – eight years of unleavened economic expansion – played a big role in balancing a budget drowning in red ink.

Missing in the positive descriptions of Brown’s career was any mention of his penchant for shunning responsibility for shortcomings in the state government he managed for 16 years.

Infamously, he replied “shit happens” when asked about huge cost overruns and construction flaws in the project to replace a third of the San Francisco Bay Bridge – and that’s been pretty much his attitude on other problems.

He’s refused, for instance, to accept responsibility for whether a huge change in school finance he proposed and shepherded through the Legislature actually has its intended effect of improving the educations of poor and English-learner students.

In public statements, and even in responses to lawsuits, Brown has taken the attitude that having provided the extra money meant to help those kids, he should not be held responsible for whether it works.

Rather, he preaches a doctrine he calls “subsidiarity,” shifting the onus for what happens to local school officials – a handy rationalization since so far, the Local Control Funding Formula has not appeared to have much positive impact.

And then there’s the Department of Motor Vehicles, the state agency that Californians love to hate – with good reason.

The DMV and its director, career bureaucrat Jean Shiomoto, came under fire in the Legislature last year after revelations of hours-long waits at field offices for even the simplest of transactions.

The Legislature was on the verge of ordering State Auditor Elaine Howle to delve into the agency’s obvious managerial shortcomings when Brown intervened and privately persuaded members of the Legislature’s audit committee to back off. A critical report from Howle would have been a black mark on Brown’s gubernatorial legacy.

But no sooner had Brown dodged that bullet than it was revealed that the DMV had made many errors in automatically registering Californians to vote when they did business with the agency – errors so grievous that Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who oversees California’s election system, demanded a managerial overhaul.

It was embarrassing to Padilla and other Democratic politicians who had touted “motor voter” as a way of expanding voting in a state that has a very low participation level.

Late last year, Shiomoto saw the handwriting on the wall and announced her retirement. But then another DMV imbroglio surfaced.

The federal government had notified DMV in November that it was using a faulty process in implementing “Real ID” driver’s licenses, meant to defeat counterfeiting that would allow terrorists to board airliners.

California had already issued more than two million licenses or identification cards and the DMV claims – or hopes – that they will be honored even though the agency didn’t fully follow federal guidelines for confirming the identity of cardholders.

Beginning this year, DMV said, it will require applicants for Real ID to provide additional proof of legitimacy. Real ID will be required to board commercial aircraft in October 2020 and the agency was already way behind schedule on implementing the program.

The Real ID problem will fuel new efforts in the Legislature for a top-to-bottom audit of the agency’s managerial mess and how incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom deals with them will be revealing.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.org