Renovating a home in California is about to cost more

By Julie Cart, CALmatters | Owning a home in California could get more complicated starting next year with a new law intended to cut energy consumption, partly by increasing the efficiency of home heating, cooling and lighting systems.

The legislation requires a doubling of statewide energy savings by 2030. All sectors of California’s built environment — state buildings, commercial and industrial structures and schools — will be asked to do their part, along with 9 million single-family homes.

Major renovations on existing homes will have to be undertaken with energy efficiency in mind, using products and systems that meet an updated state building code. California’s code is already among the strictest in the nation.

Abiding by the revised code will come with an increased price tag. State officials say that homeowners’ up-front costs will be recouped over time in lower monthly power bills and added resale value. But do Californians typically stay in their homes long enough to reap these benefits?

New homes will also be required to meet higher energy standards.  By 2020, each home built in California should produce as much power as it consumes. At least one builder estimates that advanced energy systems will add $50,000 to the cost of a new, super-efficient home. What will that mean in a state where low-cost housing is in short supply?

Is state leaders’ wish to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions worth the added cost? Do you think the savings over time will offset the initial sticker shock? Join the conversation on the CALmatters website.

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Sacramento should stop new tax on driving

By Michelle Steel | Do you want the government following your car every day? Most of us don’t like that Orwellian vision, but a tax scheme brewing in the legislature might do just that.

Michelle SteelHardworking Californians don’t want a new tax on driving. As of December, the state pilot program to create a new mileage tax had only convinced 570 Californian drivers to sign up — a tiny portion of their 5,000-driver goal. The reason Californians aren’t participating is clear, we don’t trust Sacramento with more of our money.

Proponents of this new tax on driving claim it will replace the existing taxes on gas, but when is the last time you heard of a government eliminating a revenue source? The California sales tax was created as a temporary “emergency measure” in 1933, and it never went away. As Ronald Reagan said, “government programs, once launched, never disappear.”

A similar pilot program underway in Oregon requires drivers to pay new mileage taxes on top of their existing gas taxes. Drivers must wait to get a refund after the fact. This monthly billing process will only create greater issues with the creation of a bureaucratic collections agency.

Proponents also claim gas tax revenue is drying up, but according to the most recent annual report from the California Board of Equalization, gas tax collections were up a half billion dollars in fiscal year 2013-14 from the year before, and gas consumption was also up by over 100 million gallons during the same period. Despite the increase of fuel-efficient vehicles, gasoline usage is not in terminal decline. Overall tax revenues have also continued to grow, and the state budget has reached record spending levels every year of Governor Brown’s time in office.

There’s an irony here as well: State government is hard at work to get Californians to drive less, but at the same time they want to tax us based on how much we drive. Just as one example, many cap-and-trade tax grant programs require projects to show they will reduce “vehicle miles traveled” before they can be eligible for funding. But the vehicle mileage tax only works if Californians keep their “vehicle miles traveled” up. By pushing two contradictory systems the state is setting taxpayers up for yet another failed tax scheme.

The existing mess of a gas tax system we have today is not the result of an outdated tax policy, or because of Californians using less gas. It is due, in part, to a decision by Sacramento politicians to divert gas taxes from roads and use them instead for other programs. Why would we trust that adding a new tax on drivers would fix the problem? Might it not be more likely this new tax, just like the old taxes, is another attempt to take more money from struggling California drivers?

The problem with transportation taxes is not with collections, it’s with spending. Money meant for roads and highways is consistently being raided to balance the budget or put towards newer programs deemed more important than safe and reliable roads. Adding a new tax system will not fix that problem.

The first step to creating a more transparent tax system is ensuring that the tax dollars we work so hard to pay are going where they should go. This means that politicians should turn their attention away from new tax schemes, and toward ensuring that all transportation related revenue be spent on funding roads and highways.

Today, hardworking, long-driving Californians can’t trust what Sacramento will do with our tax dollars. Until we can, I urge Sacramento to park the new tax on driving and to lose the keys.

Michelle Steel is​ an​ Orange County Supervisor (2nd District) and​ a former elected member of the​ California State Board of Equalization.


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Senator Moorlach introduces AB 1251 to give voters access to state’s balance sheet

Facing unfunded pension and retiree medical liabilities of $220 billion or more, California has the highest debt total of all the 50 states, yet voters are asked every election to approve even more bonded debt and to vote for candidates with varying philosophies for state spending and debt.

That’s why Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) has introduced SB 1251 – to require the state’s updated balance sheet, including accounting for outstanding debts and unfunded liabilities, to be printed in the state’s official Voter Information Pamphlet prior to each election.

State Senator John Moorach“California voters need more information by which to assess and decide on ballot questions,” said Senator Moorlach, who is the legislature’s only member trained as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). “We should all be in favor of greater transparency and information for the voters. Providing the state’s balance sheet in the voter information pamphlet is a good first step.”

“Taxpayers are being asked to approve more bonds, higher taxes, and more debt,”continued Senator Moorlach. “Before we ask them to make that choice, shouldn’t we let them know what the state’s current fiscal situation is?”

SB 1251 would require that the state’s latest financial numbers, as compiled by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) from the latest Comprehensive Annual Finance Report (CAFR), be printed in the first few pages of the Voter Information Pamphlet, including:

  1. Immediate past fiscal year state revenue
  2. Immediate past fiscal year state spending
  3. Current unfunded state pension fund and retiree medical liabilities
  4. Current estimated of unfunded transportation infrastructure needs
  5. Current issued bond debt
  6. Current Net Unrestricted Assets or Net Unrestricted Deficit from the most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).

“As a CPA, I understand the value of making good decisions based on sound data,” continued Senator Moorlach. “When we have an informed electorate, we’ll also have an engaged electorate. The more information we can give the voters, the more likely it is that they’ll feel they’re making informed decisions. That will benefit all of us.”

This article was released by the Office of Senator John Moorlach.

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Hospitals inflict pain on taxpayers

By Jon Coupal | In 2012, those of us who opposed Proposition 30 were told that the measure, which was the largest state tax hike in American history, was just a “temporary” fix to address the emergency of a severe budget shortfall. But just as Milton Friedman noted that “nothing is so permanent as a temporary government measure,” here in California it appears that nothing is so permanent as a temporary tax increase.

Jon CoupalHowever, in their journey to extend the Prop 30 tax hikes, the tax raisers started tripping over their own greed. Even the public sector union bosses weren’t reading off the same page and different proposals began to emerge, each targeting billions of dollars of tax revenue to their respective constituencies. And compounding the problem was the fact that the “emergency,” which was the entire justification for Prop 30 in the first place, disappeared. California now has a budget surplus.

But greed being a powerful motivator, the special interests worked out a compromise that focused on extending only the income tax portion of Prop 30 and jettisoning the sales tax. This move was politically expedient given that only the income tax portion targeted “evil” rich people while the sales tax extension would have been an almost impossible sell. (If the version of the Prop 30 extension currently gathering signature passes, California’s highest in the nation tax rate of 13.3% would be extended until 2030).

In Sacramento, the normal political dichotomy is between those interests seeking to preserve what they have (i.e., businesses and taxpayers) and those interests seeking to take resources from, or impose regulations on, the former. For example, homeowners want to keep their tax dollars and thus are supportive of Proposition 13 while public sector labor interests and local governments want more of those dollars and thus loath Proposition 13 as it impedes their tax raising ability.

But the dichotomy sometimes breaks down because the line between private interests and public interests isn’t always clear. For example, California has both private and public hospitals with private institutions outnumbering the public by a factor of six. So one would think that the interests of hospitals would be more aligned with seeking lower taxes. But because hospitals get billions in public revenue for Medi-Cal, they have no problem seeking higher revenues for themselves at the expense of others.

And that is why the California Hospital Association has donated $12.5 million to the effort to extend California’s sky high income tax rate. Apparently, they remain unconcerned about the economic damage that comes from excessive taxes.

But the hospitals’ doubling down on the Prop 30 extension may not have been well thought out. That is because they want desperately to have voters approve another measure that has already qualified for the ballot in November. Originally intended for the 2014 ballot (but they missed the deadline) this proposal requires high procedural requirements (two-thirds vote of the Legislature and voter approval) before some of the existing Medi-Cal reimbursements to hospitals can be reduced.

So the question that voters must now ask themselves is why should we support the hospital industry in its effort to protect what it currently gets from government while it is also trying to force a $6-11 billion annual tax hike on Californians?

Good question.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

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Fullerton’s contract city attorney Richard Jones won’t be getting a CalPERS pension

By Thy Vo, Voice of OC | Following a lengthy review, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) has determined that Westminster City Attorney Richard D. Jones [also the City Attorney for Fullerton] was never entitled to a state pension through his position and is reversing more than 22 years of his pension payments.

Fullerton City Attorney Richard Jones

In December, Voice of OC reported on a controversial arrangement between Jones and Westminster, whereby he was granted status as a full-time employee with a $210,000 salary and allowed him to pay into a state pension. This despite a roster of outside commitments that made it impossible for Jones to spend as much time at City Hall as his timecards indicated he did.

Voice of OC‘s reporting prompted CalPERS to launch a review. On Monday, the agency issued a letter stating that Jones has “never qualified for” membership in the pension system through his position at Westminster.

Jones performed part-time services for up to 30 hours a month or 960 hours a year, just shy of the state minimum for a full-time employee, 1,000 hours a year, according to the CalPERS review.

CalPERS also determined that because the city has never established the office of city attorney, Jones is operating as an independent contractor and is specifically excluded from receiving a pension.

Read the rest of this article . . .

To read the letter from CalPERS, CLICK HERE

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George Orwell comes to Fullerton City Council meetings

By Sean Paden | Take a look at Item #5 on Tuesday’s Fullerton City Council agenda (on the consent calendar). This is an amendment to the rules of decorum for City Council meetings. It isn’t all bad, but there are some troubling changes. The biggest? This little doozy found in Section 2:

“To encourage citizen participation and expression of all points of view, clapping, booing or shouts of approval or disagreement from the audience are not allowed.”

Got that? To encourage free speech, free speech is now curtailed. Oh, and on top of that, per Section 14(A) speaker cards are required for ALL agenda items the speaker wishes to comment on and per Section 14(C) public comments after 30 minutes are reserved for the end of the meeting. So what happens if a speaker wishes to use public comments to pull a consent item from the calendar?

As anyone who has attempted any kind of community activism at the local level knows, persuading otherwise disengaged residents to show up for a City Council meeting is the most effective method of persuading the local agency to listen to your concern and vote accordingly. It is also guaranteed by the First Amendment right to “peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances.” This change not only violates the intent of the First Amendment, it also kneecaps the most effective method the general public has for persuading the City Council.

I should note that not all of the proposed changes to our rules of decorum are as objectionable, and some will constitute an improvement, such as the limiting of presentations to five minutes, and the amendment that makes it explicitly clear that signs are permitted inside the council chamber. But the proposed changes to Section 14 and especially Section 2 are an impermissible restriction on free speech and should be rejected.

I would encourage all members of the public to oppose these particular changes to the Rules of Decorum at the next City Council meeting — tomorrow night, Tuesday, March 15.

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Daylight Saving Time: A Government Annoyance

By James Alexander Webb, Mises Institute | On March 13 Americans will, in their tolerant nature, acquiesce once again to a government initiated (and hardly popular) loss of one hour, and the setting of clocks out of sync with our planet’s celestial rhythm.

After an earlier (unpopular) 1918 trial of Daylight Saving Time and its later repeal in 1919, it was re-enacted nationwide under Nixon under the “Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act of 1973.” It’s now a relic of inappropriate interventions of the early seventies that included wage-price controls and the 55 mph speed limit. It represents what we don’t need. Consider some of the reasons for repeal:

Read the entire article . . .

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The Fullerton Council’s budget vote

Or why can’t we get a majority of our council to be concerned with our budget deficits?

By Barry Levinson | On Tuesday of last week, the 9th of June, the city council split their votes 2 for and 2 against the 2015-2016 and the 2016-2017 budgets that had projected million dollar plus deficits for at least the next two years. Fitzgerald and Flory voted for the budget and Whitaker and Sebourn voted against approving the budget as presented by the city. Council member Chaffee was absent, which created an even number of council members to be present and thus resulted in the budget vote going down to defeat. It will be revisited in tonight’s council meeting (see Agenda Item 17).

In voting for it Council member Fitzgerald said that the projected deficits did not consider all the additional revenues that new projects will bring to the city going forward. I am assuming she was referring to the Downtown Core and Corridor Special Project and the College Town Project among others.

That comment was very enlightening because it seems to indicate that not only is Ms. Fitzgerald in favor of these additional large-scale projects but that she expects them to be passed by the council. (She is therefore counting the revenues before the council has taken any action.  Does she know something that the public does not know?  Has she discussed this with at least 2 other council members, which is a clear violation of the Brown Act?) She said this despite the fact that many citizens spoke out during the previous two council meetings for a moratorium on any major new building as long as the drought restrictions are still in place.  I know for sure that these new massive projects will not be “Water Use Neutral”.

At the same time the citizens have been told by the Fullerton Water Systems Manager, Dave Schickling, that to meet the mandatory 28% water usage reduction citywide that homeowners will have to reduce their outside water usage by 50%.

It is very curious that Ms. Fitzgerald expects to add major new developments with major new water usage at the very same time the citizens of Fullerton are asked to sacrifice to meet a state mandated 28% water usage reduction.

The above may make perfect sense if the council’s highest priority is ensuring that the city has the necessary money to continue to pay for employee salaries and benefits.

I then remembered that it was Ms. Fitzgerald’s good fortune that shortly after being elected to the Fullerton City Council she also got a new day job as well as Vice President of Curt Pringle and Associates (Consulting and PR Firm).  We all know how PR and Consultant firms love major new projects where they can represent various developer interests and make a lot of money in the process.

Let me try to summarize what the city is planning to spring on the public.

First they will pass the budget deficit budgets thereby protecting the jobs and benefits of all their employees.

Second they will approve the College Town and the Downtown Core and Corridor Special Projects to ensure the revenue streams continue to be sufficient to support them in the fashion they have become accustomed to.  If Ms. Fitzgerald was not sure these would be approved, why did she state at the council budget meeting that those yet to be voted for revenues would in fact reduce the projected budget deficits?

Third, they have already put in place very strict water usage restrictions for Fullerton homeowners, which the Fullerton Water Systems Manager stated must include a 50% cut in homeowners outside water usage in order to meet the state’s mandatory 28% water reduction for Fullerton.  They have also identified what they call “passive” city parks that will have its water usage cut by a whopping 85%.  Remember we just learned that all city of Fullerton water usage is a pass through cost to the public via higher water rates.  A responsible city would accumulate and pay directly for their water usage separately and show it as a legitimate cost of running the city government.  What does Fullerton do in contrast?  They pass all their water usage directly to the ratepayers in the form of higher water rates.

I hope most of you are realizing that all the above moves and lack thereof (i.e., placing a moratorium on new major development), favors one small group over a much larger group. The small group being the city employees and their representatives and the larger group being the citizens of the city of Fullerton.

If that does not describe a corrupt city, there is no such thing.

I report, you decide.

Posted in Barry Levinson, City Budget, City Council | Comments Off

June 2nd Fullerton City Council Meeting Results

By Barry Levinson | They are considering three options to reduce the water loss at Laguna Lake. However, the only action taken on Laguna Lake at the last regular meeting on June 2 was to approve a consultant contract to determine the cause of and solutions for the water loss and bring back the results not later than the July 21 meeting. I will keep residents informed when this item comes back to council. The rest of the plan was officially approved at the meeting.

The willingness for this council majority to basically rubber stamp this plan (everyone except for council member Whitaker) shows that this council really has its own agendas and is not interested in representing the people of Fullerton, in my opinion.

Why do I make that claim? Simply because something this important that will impact almost everybody’s pocketbooks, lifestyles and maybe even health and safety (potential for brush fires) requires reviewing the plan with an objective but critical eye in order to improve the plan. How often have any of you put together a draft proposal quickly and believe it was the best you could do and make no improvements going forward? The answer is never!

As soon as you try to hold city departments and/or council accountable it seems that council member Flory can’t contain herself and has to defend the city. To paraphrase her at council  — nobody’s perfect.

Ms. Flory, nobody is expecting perfection, but competence and a willingness to work with independent members of the public would do for starters.

P.S. — One of the highlights as far as entertainment value was concerned was watching council member Fitzgerald staunchly support the idea of adding more high-priced PR/consultant personnel under the guise that public works needs them to provide basic information about construction projects to the public.  I questioned the propriety of her unwavering support for the motion to set up a list of NO BID PR/consultants with the language that more could be added at the whim of the city. I said that at the very least her support gives the appearance of a conflict of interest. Ms. Fitzgerald, like a good politician, did not respond to my comment. What conflict you ask? After being elected to the Fullerton Council she was hired as a Vice President of Curt Pringle and Associates, one of the largest PR/consultant firms in Orange County. But why do you think she was hired after she became council member and not before? I guess it was just a coincidence.

P.S. — Final vote for additional PR/consultant list was as follows: Ayes Fitzgerald (who probably never met a PR/consultant she did not like in my opinion); Flory (who at a past council meeting said the following to a council member (paraphrasing) — your mother did not breast feed you enough; Ms. Flory is such a lovely and charming lady), Chaffee (who not once but twice asked to be able to scuba dive at Laguna Lake; Mr. Chaffee that was over the top even for you, sir) and our own “conservative” Mayor Sebourn.  Nays: Whitaker

P.S. — Question: How does a “conservative” earn a living promoting big government and big government projects? I think someone should ask Ms. Fitzgerald that question at our next council meeting. Maybe, just maybe, that shows more than just the appearance of a conflict of interest.  Where does our city attorney stand on this subject?  Maybe someone should ask him that question at the next council meeting as well?

I report, you decide!

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California government turns on traffic court rules

By James Poulos, CalWatchdog | In a matter of weeks, all three branches of California government have turned against the state’s widespread traffic violations bureaucracy. The system, which subjects rich and poor alike to spiraling penalties, fees and surcharges, has come to symbolize both the hidden costs of lower-income life and the inefficiency of regulations hiding in plain sight.

Leading the charge, Gov. Jerry Brown made instant headlines with his withering criticism of the current system.

“Calling California’s traffic court system a ‘hellhole of desperation’ for the poor, Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing an amnesty program for residents who can’t afford to pay off spiraling fines and penalties that have resulted in 4.8 million driver’s license suspensions since 2006,” the Associated Press observed.

To read the entire article, please click here.

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