The Financial Power of California’s Government Unions

There is no special interest in California that wields more influence over state and local politics than public sector unions. At every level of government, from the office of the governor to a school board managing a district with only a few hundred students, public sector unions are omnipresent. With rare exceptions, to defy their agenda is certain political suicide.

The reason for this power is money. Lots of money. Every two-year election cycle, not millions, but hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by California’s public sector unions to support or oppose candidates, campaign for ballot measures, lobby the legislature, and pay for public relations campaigns. While wealthy individuals or powerful corporations may at times challenge these unions, their concerns are narrow in focus. Nothing matches the perennial torrent of public sector union money; the opposition may stir up a flash flood, but these unions are the Amazon.

Twice in the past five years the California Policy Center has attempted to estimate just how much money public sector unions collect and spend each year. In 2015, a rough top-down estimate that used US Census Bureau data on union membership and general assumptions on the average union dues payment came up with $1.0 billion per year. In 2018, exercising an abundance of caution, referring to the 990 forms that unions file with the IRS, as well as researching membership information that is often provided by the unions on their websites, the total public sector union spending estimate was Read More

Affordable Housing in Suburbs is a Money Grubbing Scam

There are few if any slurs that offend the conscience of Americans that carry more weight than the term “racist.” For this reason, most Americans go out of their way to live their lives in a way that is fair to everyone, regardless of race. Also for this reason, in order to get support for their agenda or project, people will often claim that it targets racism.

So it goes that in 2015 the Obama administration came up with the “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” (AFFH) regulation that “established a 92-question survey and grading tool requiring local jurisdictions to assess their own racial and economic disparities and present detailed plans on how to address them.”

Because this regulation was designed to combat racism in housing, like everything that says the magic word, it didn’t get the scrutiny it deserved. The other reason it never became an issue was because after Trump’s surprise victory a year later, he quietly gutted many of its provisions. Then, on July 23, President Trump repealed the regulation altogether.

If it wasn’t an issue in 2015 or 2016, it’s shaping up to be a big campaign issue in 2020. And true to form, candidate Joe Biden and a chorus of media pundits are accusing President Trump of catering to “racist” voters in American suburbs.

The problem with this analysis, however, is that voters in America’s suburbs are probably the least racist American voters in an America that has never been less racist than it […] Read More

California Supreme Court Finally Rules on Case Affecting Pensions

On Thursday the California Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case Alameda County Deputy Sheriff’s Association vs Alameda County Employees’ Retirement Association. In plain English, this was a case where attorneys representing government unions were challenging pension reforms enacted by California’s state legislature in 2013. The ruling, which had the potential to empower dramatic changes to pension benefit formulas, was measured. But it is generally considered a victory for the plaintiffs.

Pete Constant, CEO of the Retirement Security Initiative, which advocates “fair and sustainable public sector retirement plans,” found the ruling encouraging, stating “the court has confirmed that the public interest is of utmost concern when determining whether public pensions need reform.”

What advocates for financially sustainable pensions are up against is the so-called “California Rule,” an interpretation of California contract law that dramatically limits the ways in which elected officials, or voters in a ballot measure, can modify pension benefits for public employees. The prevailing interpretation of the California Rule is that it prohibits changes to pension benefit formulas for active public employees, even for work they have not yet been performed.

In practical terms, obeying the California Rule means that whatever pension benefit package was in place on the date a public employee was hired must be maintained throughout their career. If it is changed, the employee must be given a compensatory new benefit of equal value.

Pension benefit formulas for California’s state and local public employees are typically calculated based on three variables – […] Read More

How Much Do California’s County Workers Make?

In April, with the pandemic shutdown sending California’s economy into free fall, Gavin Newsom convened a Zoom meeting with the four living California ex governors. He asked them to describe the biggest crisis they faced while in office. As reported by the New York Times, according to Pete Wilson, it was the 1994 Northridge earthquake. For Gray Davis, it was the electricity brownouts that cost him his job. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown both cited the Great Recession as their biggest challenge. None of them considered what they faced to be comparable to what Newsom is up against.

In June, as the lockdown eased, California’s economy started to come back to life. Maybe the damage would be contained, and maybe recovery would be swift. But when the COVID case count ticked upward in late June and early July, Newsom tightened the screws. He called his new approach using a “dimmer switch,” which would turn up or down depending on rates of positive cases and hospitalizations.

Whatever it’s called, the consequence of Newsom’s dimmer switch is less economic activity. In February 2020, California’s unemployment rate was at a historic low of 3.9 percent. Three months later, in May, it was at a historic high of 16.4 percent. As the lockdown eased, it ticked down a bit, tracking at 14.9 percent in June. With the new lockdown measures, it could go back up. One thing is certain: The pandemic shutdown is not going to end soon, as was hoped […] Read More

The Battle for Cities is Over, the Battle for Suburbs Begins

“Sauron’s wrath will be terrible, his retribution swift. The battle for Helm’s Deep is over, the battle for Middle Earth has begun.” – Gandalf the White, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, 2002

When applied to American politics and public policy, this quote from the Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s classic novel “Lord of the Rings” succeeds as a metaphor in two related contexts. First it might describe the 2016 election, where the good guys won, just as they did in the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Now the relentless assaults by the deep state and its formidable lineup of violent activists and their allies in the press and both political parties (Sauron’s minions) against the Trump administration and its supporters are the War for Middle Earth.

But there’s another more specific way to view this metaphor. The Battle for Helm’s deep represents the battle for voters in America’s cities, and the Battle for Middle Earth represents the battle for voters in America’s suburbs. Only in this case, the good guys lost the first battle. America’s cities are lost to the forces from Mordor. The following image graphically depicts just how thoroughly the Uruk Hai dominate America’s cities, controlling elections at the same time as they destroy the schools and allow the overall quality of life to deteriorate.

Where there is still hope, but where hope is fading fast, is in what could be the ultimate battle, the battle for America’s suburbs. If Read More

A Bold Idea for California’s GOP

After attempting to energize the grassroots back in January with mass emails declaring “President Trump Needs Your Help!,” and “President Donald Trump vs. 45 CA Democrats,” and “Trump wants to fix California’s homeless problem,” and “Will the Impeachment Sham Ever End?,” this month the California State Republican Party’s emails have a new focus. Instead of defending President Trump, they are attacking Governor Newsom.

Unfortunately, in both cases, this appeal to the grassroots rings hollow. Despite 4.7 million Californians voting for Trump in 2016, and despite the president retaining overwhelming popularity among California’s registered Republicans, the CAGOP establishment knows better than to spread a pro-Trump message to California’s wider electorate. They launched a targeted endorsement of Trump to their base that was designed more to raise money than to convey any sort of sincere appreciation for Trump. It was a hollow gesture, and the base knew it was a hollow gesture.

What the CAGOP leadership did, acting like they support Trump while being terrified of saying so to a broader audience of Californians, might be forgiven as simply an acknowledgement of political reality. That’s debatable, of course, if you believe, as the GOP base obviously does, that Trump’s policies matter more than his personality, and that on policy, Trump has been right again and again. Why not proclaim that, if that’s true? Why not own it? But in any case, Newsom is a completely different story. The CAGOP attacks on Newsom don’t have to ring hollow.

What Gavin Newsom increasingly represents […] Read More

Why Are Potentially Viable COVID-19 Treatments Being Suppressed?

The only thing we know for certain about COVID-19 is that more people are dying this year than in previous years. A lot more. CDC data on deaths from all causes show an increase through May 20 of 11 percent above the average through that same date for the previous six years. That’s over 127,000 Americans, dead before their time. Because of the CDC’s eight week lag in compiling complete data, this is the most reliable comparison possible so far. The number undoubtedly will increase significantly.

You can’t fake death. You can decide which “co-morbidity” to list as the primary cause of death, but “alive” vs. “dead” is a binary choice. So something horrible is happening in America this year. This disease, whether it was engineered or not, overblown or not, handled properly or not, is nonetheless a mass killer.

What is inexcusable is the ongoing and blatant suppression of valid debate over how to treat COVID-19. We’re not talking here about an irresponsible meme that recommends somebody drink bleach. We’re talking about distinguished, credentialed doctors and scientists, with decades of front line experience in virology, infectious diseases, pandemics, microbiology, pharmacology, emergency medicine, and a host of related fields, whose opinions are being banned.

When it comes to treating COVID-19, not only are dissident opinions by medical experts either ignored by the media or only featured in the context of being “debunked,” but their postings on YouTube and Facebook are routinely taken down. Alternative websites that attract far less […] Read More

How Much Do California’s City Workers Make?

With the economic shutdown devastating private sector employment in California, with small family owned businesses the worst hit, how are California’s public employees doing? A recent report by NPR paints a grim picture, “Cities Have Never Seen A Downturn Like This, And Things Will Only Get Worse.” From the San Francisco Chronicle, “California cities warn of widespread layoffs and service cuts.” And from the Los Angeles Daily News, “LA County approves deep-cut budget plan, cutting thousands of positions.”

“Layoffs and service cuts.” “Cutting thousands of positions.” Is there an alternative?

In a word, yes. California’s public employers can make the same hard choices that private employers are forced to make when confronted with declining revenue. That is, they can not only layoff employees and eliminate positions, they can also cut the pay and benefits for the jobs that remain. To the extent they do this, they can keep more of their workforce employed, and they can keep more of their services intact.

In this context, it is useful to compare the average pay and benefits earned by California’s public servants to the average pay and benefits of the people living in the various cities where they work. With pay and benefit data for 2019 now available from the California State Controller for all of California’s cities, it is possible to accurately calculate compensation averages to provide current benchmarks.

How Much Do California’s City Workers Make in Pay and Benefits?

The first chart, below, shows the change […] Read More

Towards a Colorblind America

According to the latest woke wisdom, to be “colorblind” is actually a way to “uphold racism.” Writing for the esteemed publication Psychology Today, Monnica Williams, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, explains:

“Colorblindness is the racial ideology that posits the best way to end discrimination is by treating individuals as equally as possible, without regard to race, culture, or ethnicity. However, colorblindness alone is not sufficient to heal racial wounds on a national or personal level. It is only a half-measure that in the end operates as a form of racism.”

From expert psychologists to pop culture, the verdict is in. If you’re “colorblind,” you’re a racist. As Samantha Vincenty, a “white Latinx,” puts it in her article for The Oprah Magazine, “Being ‘Color Blind’ Doesn’t Make You Not Racist—In Fact, It Can Mean the Opposite.” Elaborating, she writes “Color blindness relies on the concept that race-based differences don’t matter, and ignores the realities of systemic racism.”

Judging from recent and not-so-recent events, however, America is in no imminent danger of becoming “colorblind.” In pursuit of racial justice, America’s institutions now boast a fifty year legacy of preferential treatment for “people of color” in literally every significant facet of society. Affirmative action policies, either explicit or defacto, govern university admissions and faculty hiring. Similar policies are in place across corporate America, enforcing racial quotas in hiring and promotions. In applications for government loans and government contracts, minority owned businesses always get […] Read More

L.A. Teachers Union: Give us $250 Million, Or Keep Schools Closed

The second largest public school district in the United States is in turmoil. Los Angeles Unified School District, with over 600,000 students in kindergarten through twelfth grade at over 1,000 schools, may not be open for the business of teaching on August 18. How to handle the COVID-19 pandemic is the issue, and there is nowhere near a consensus on how to handle it.

The union representing LAUSD teachers is the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), which has recently put out a lengthy document outlining what they believe are “Safe and Equitable Conditions for Starting LAUSD in 2020-21.” It’s a doozy.

Laced throughout the document are references to the disproportionate effect COVID-19 has on “people of color.” The document leads off with a section entitled “The Same Storm, But Different Boats,” making the case that LAUSD’s student population is disadvantaged compared to the general population. They are more likely to live in higher density housing, more likely to live in multi-generational households, more likely to live further away from medical care, more likely to use mass transit, etc., etc. Their point: All of this “structural racism” means that compared to other school districts in California, more will have to be done before LAUSD can open.

The problem with this litany is it predates COVID-19 and ignores a crucial question: Are disadvantaged communities going to be better off or worse off if schools don’t reopen? If it is impossible to meet all of the conditions that might be […] Read More