California’s Own Shutdown

Schools are open but shelves are barren.

Everyone can see the federal shutdown is reducing some public services but California legislators are turning a blind eye to their state’s own shutdown. Public schools in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose and other urban centers are providing just a fraction of full services, resulting in understaffed classrooms, underpaid teachers, and fewer arts, science, math, and other classroom offerings. One result is that the poor and minority students that make up a large share of those urban districts underperform poor and minority students in other states that spend much less per student.

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Governor Brown Is 100 Percent Correct

But California needs 500 percent.

Governor Jerry Brown’s 2018–19 budget proposal prudently calls for filling the state’s Rainy Day Fund to its constitutional capacity of $13.5 billion. Doing so will “soften the magnitude and length” of budget cuts occasioned by the next recession, of which Brown reminds us there have been ten since World War II.

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TeacherPensions.org: Thanks to Rising Benefit Costs, San Diego Needs Your Help Cutting Its School Budget

This afternoon, I spotted a tweet from a San Diego parent: 

There's something particularly wrenching about being asked what services should be cut at your kid's school to pay for increased employee pension & healthcare costs, when most working parents don't have pensions. https://t.co/Vs6uMojuSt cc @sdschools

— Ashley Lewis (@AshleyJPL) January 12, 2018

I followed the link to the survey, and a message from the San Diego Unified School District said it was seeking input on how to resolve a growing budget shortfall due to "increases in costs outside of the district’s immediate control, such as healthcare costs, utilities expenses, and state retirement contributions that are all expected to rise for the foreseeable future." 

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CA Legislators Must Walk MLK Day Talk

Actions speak louder than tweets.

Today California legislators are tweeting quotations from Martin Luther King. They should compare the objectives expressed in their tweets with the state of affairs for their constituents, starting with the six million children in California public schools and the 14 million customers of the state’s single-payer health care system.

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Shades of Political Deception

LBJ, Trump and Nancy Skinner.

Viewers of Steven Spielberg’s new film The Post are being reminded of the murderous lies told by the Johnson Administration as it ramped up the war in Viet Nam. While today’s media is more capable of catching lies as they occur, most focus on high profile deceivers like Donald Trump. But deception isn’t limited to the Oval Office. There’s plenty in Sacramento too.

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Tithing To California’s Democracy

Our Political Giving Pledge

My wife and I donate at least 10 percent of our income to the support of pro-citizen members of the California Legislature. Our objective is to free state legislators to govern in the general interest. We think of it as tithing to democracy. We also established Govern For California to help create a network of like-minded donors.

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Immorality in California Politics

It goes well beyond sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment by elected officials in California is all over the news but less visible forms of political immorality are just as prevalent. One example is that of state legislators who sell students, families and vulnerable citizens down the river to boost prison guard compensation. Another is legislators protecting the profits and turfs of cronies while ignoring the healthiness and convenience of 14 million customers of the state’s sub-functional single-payer system, Medi-Cal. Other examples include state officials opposing student civil rights and legislators robbing K-12 students and young teachers of their futures out of fear of powerful commercial interests.

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CA’s Next Budget Will Not Tell The Truth

On January 10 Governor Jerry Brown will present his proposed budget for the 2018–19 fiscal year. That budget will not reflect financial reality. That’s because state and local governments operate under accounting rules that enable untruthful financial reporting. For example, Brown’s last proposed budget in January 2017 ignored expenses of $16 billion, as explained hereherehere and here. Those unreported expenses magically became debt, none of which was presented to citizens for their approval.

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More Pension Math

The real reason CalPERS hasn’t recovered.

Many legislators don’t understand why massive gains in the stock market have barely improved the Funded Ratio of California’s principal pension fund, CalPERS. The answer is simple: massive growth in liabilities.

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Misunderstanding Citizens United in CA

California already had Citizens United rules.

Recently an acquaintance complained about the Citizens United (CU) decision in 2010 by the US Supreme Court that held governments may not prevent corporations or unions from engaging in political spending. When I pointed out that the CU decision had no impact on California state politicsbecause the state operated under those rules before the CU decision, my friend disagreed. Unfortunately, his misunderstanding is common.

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Courage: The Most Overused Word In Politics

Does it take political courage for a California Democrat to attack Donald Trump? Obviously not, just as it didn’t take political courage for a red-state Republican to attack Barack Obama. To qualify as courageous, a political act must threaten the actor’s political future. Neither of the foregoing examples qualifies. Qualifying examples include Abraham Lincoln, who took on every political interest and more to preserve our union, and Lyndon Johnson, who took on his own party to pass civil rights legislation. More recent examples include Gina Raimondo, the governor of Rhode Island who took on the most powerful interests in her party in order to protect services for citizens, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took on both political parties in leading successful efforts to end gerrymandering and partisan primaries in California. Not every action taken by those actors was courageous — look no further than LBJ’s Vietnam legacy. Each political action must be evaluated separately.

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Jerry Brown Steps Up For Citizens

But CalPERS lets down local government employees.

California Governor Jerry Brown has filed a legal brief with the state’s Supreme Court arguing that pensions for government employees should work no differently than pensions for non-government employees. Students, citizens, taxpayers and future government employees would be better off if the court agrees.

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San Jose Mercury News: Opinion: How did CalPERS dig a $153 billion pension hole?

During the next five weeks, the CalPERS board, custodian of $326 billion in assets needed to fulfill retirement promises for 1.8 million California public employees and beneficiaries, will make decisions affecting government budgets for decades to come.

The problem is, despite their fiduciary duty under the state Constitution to “protect the competency of the assets” under their absolute control, CalPERS is roughly $153 billion short of fully funding the retirement promises earned to date.

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Future Firefighters Beware!

California’s recent fires reminded citizens that robust fire and police staffing levels are critical for public safety, including the safety of the brave Californians willing to serve in those roles. Fortunately for our society, a good number of young people growing up today hope to become firefighters and police officers. But less fortunately for those young people and our society, some California officials are eroding the ability of future governments to hire enough police and fire personnel while also maintaining public spending on other services.

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You Have More Power Than Facebook

Do you believe everything you read? Of course not. While it’s true that corporations, unions, Russians and plutocrats spend money on elections and employ misleading posts on Facebook and other social media sites when doing so, far more impactful is that individuals don’t spend enough in direct support of good politicians.

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A Tale Of Two Public Pension Plans

Two public pension plans started off in the same spot before the Global Financial Crisis and went through the same investment markets since then but ended up in very different spots.

The plans — let’s call them “O“ and “C” for now — reported nearly equivalent “funding ratios” (the ratio of pension assets set aside to meet pension liabilities; the higher, the better) before the crisis, both lost big in the crisis, and both participated in the subsequent stock market boom. But their funding ratios diverged, with B’s plummeting 16 percent and O’s improving 10 percent as of their most recent published annual reports. The difference arises largely from two factors...

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Dark Money Didn’t Cause This CA Problem

Little about political contributions in California is hidden. Information is easily accessible at Cal-Access, a website run by California’s Secretary of State. For example, look here to see contributions to a special interest and then here for unfortunate consequences from political activity by that interest. There’s nothing dark about that money. Still, uninformed or lazy commentators all too often blame the state’s political problems on dark money. But that’s not true.

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